This Legends of Tomorrow article contains spoilers.
Legends of Tomorrow Season 6 Episode 1
There’s a bit in the sixth season premiere of Legends of Tomorrow, “Ground Control to Sara Lance,” that made me furious. Gary, the comic relief sidekick who gets retconned this episode to have been an alien infiltrator, has explained his whole backstory to the abducted Sara Lance, who wakes up on an alien spaceship just in time to see it hyperdrive away from Earth from a rear window. Sara wants to get home, so she tells Gary, “Give me everything you know about this ship.” Gary’s response is to start to explain how she and Ava first started dating.
When I heard this, I got so mad. It’s completely unfair that the cast and crew of Legends is so good that they can hand in a B+ episode for this show that contains within it the single best Muppets joke in over a decade.
Legends returns to airwaves with its first episode in almost a year, and it continues to amaze how this show just can’t miss. This cast is so obviously comfortable with each other, and the crew so in touch with what makes the characters so entertaining, that Legends’ floor is better than many shows at their best, and good episodes turn great because of those strengths. There’s a confidence and efficiency in the storytelling that lets the show dispense with a lot of setup and exposition quickly,to give the characters space to breathe and the jokes time to set. Case in point: “Ground Control to Sara Lance.”
At the end of last season, Sara was abducted by aliens, setting the stage for this season’s space and alien-themed adventures. The purpose of this episode was to reintroduce the characters and setting, and set up the conflict for the rest of the season. This was done mostly with two sequences: one that showed how deeply comic book-y this show can be, and one that showed how efficient it is.
The reintroduction of the team was done largely through Ava’s eyes. She’s flushed awake by Mick after passing out drunk on the Waverider’s toilet, where she realizes Sara never brought her to bed the night before. So they head out to find everyone. Constantine and Zari just finished hooking up; Astra is card sharping an entire poker room dry; Behrad’s getting the munchies out of his system with a Buckingham Palace Guard; and Nate’s explaining his extremely convoluted love life to David Bowie. When Bowie shows the team that Sara was ready to propose to Ava before being abducted by aliens, Ava springs into action. I’m 85% certain she used time travel to clean up her hangover, and came back with a checklist for how to deal with the problem, one that had specific, character-by-character instructions on how each would respond and how to get them to serve the mission despite that.
This whole thing is extremely similar to how Bronze Age and earlier comic issues worked – each issue was treated like someone’s first, so the storytellers had to take the first 3 pages of the 22 page story to reintroduce and recap, but the effective, elegant ones would do it without you ever noticing. Ava’s checklist and hunt for her teammates performed the same function just as effectively.
Incidentally, while this show is extremely comic book-y, it’s also straight up disrespectful to the concept of comic book shows in an utterly delightful way. Legends continues to interact with the rest of the Arrowverse – the DEO is referenced as destroyed here, in a nod to Supergirl’s fifth season – but this show feels like it’s taking the tics of comic book shows and poking fun at them. When you’ve spent years watching every show with an ear for potential easter eggs, your first instinct when you hear a character on a DC TV show say “he’s with Starman” is to clap and wonder if it’s Jack, Ted, Mikaal, or Prince Gavyn. Then and only then does a David Bowie cameo feel like a cop out. The same goes for Ava referencing Sara’s pre-her love life by saying “swing a dead cat…” I had to stop myself from looking up if Sara and Roy Harper hooked up.
The episode ended with that same efficiency that made the opening so effective. Sara battles the tentacly captain of the ship while Gary tries to open a wormhole home, and Sara wins the fight with a move straight out of Alien: she opens an airlock to throw him out. And when he doesn’t get all the way out the door, she releases pods of other kidnapees from their alcoves to knock him into the wormhole behind the ship. The captain, along with the aliens in the pods, fall into the Bleed and eventually travel through time, setting up the Legends to hunt them down last season, while Sara and Gary figure out how to get home.
Legends is a show that shouldn’t work. It’s ridiculous and earnest and geeky and could so easily slide into terminally cheesy and corny. But it never does, even for a minute, because the cast and crew are so joyful and confident and talented that they sell every bit of the emotional stakes. The only complaint I have is that this show is so consistently good that it almost demands being graded on a curve. “Ground Control to Sara Lance” would be a 9.5 or a 10 on any other TV show, but because Legends of Tomorrow routinely does so much bananapants shit, it’s only an 8. But praise Beebo, it’s a high 8.