For an episode to be about how much exertion humans have over their lives, “Destiny” does not hit this well-worn but rich topic in as many exciting ways as it could. Part of the problem owes to too much telling and not enough showing. And another part of it owes to a last-minute introduction of new technology that supposedly imagines the entire season as inevitable and fated, not by time itself but by the guiding hand of the Time Masters.
Legends of Tomorrow has been built on the idea of whether people can affect the world. Can Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) save his wife and his son from Vandal Savage (Caspar Crump)? Can this team, told by Rip to have had no significant impact on the future, make a positive difference in the world, even at the cost of their lives? The first question is going to have a disappointing answer: either Rip does save them, so his team is competent and negates the second question, or he does not save them, which may make the journey seem pointless. The second question can still be interesting, as just about every teammate has a different goal in mind for what it means to have an influence on the world (Snart: steal everything; Mick: burn everything; Stein: expand human knowledge; Sara: atone for the past; Ray: help people), hence each character provides the potential for exciting stories.
But with such a large cast, that accomplishment has been deferred so many times this season that it feels like trolling: for example, having Snart now become a reluctant hero is less interesting than a reluctant hero who also happens to steal a lot while he’s on the job.
The problem is when you set up an object to explain away inconsistencies earlier in the series, that object being the Oculus, a device that shows the future as it is preordained to exist.
There is also something a little too magical about the Oculus to fit well in a series whose concept of time travel seems more in line with science fiction than fantasy. That is not to ignore a intermingling of science and magic: Renet in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one example. But the show’s fixation on machines for time travel, drawn from H. G. Wells to Back to the Future, causes such a device to seem too incongruous with the overall context. That the device also can be destroyed is also a bit of a stretch: it’s too convenient, like having a centralized data network rather than backing it up to other servers. And indeed a server network is how the Oculus is portrayed: GIDEON loses contact with the Oculus when it is destroyed, hence cannot see into the future to know whether the timeline is still stable.
While GIDEON tells Rip that his wife and son have been killed by Savage, as he himself brags to his captive Kendra (Ciara Renée), those deaths lose a sense of inevitably and now can feel more tragic. As the Oculus had influence on everyone’s future, that the team was too late to destroy it makes the deaths of Miranda Coburn (Alex Duncan) and Jonas Hunter (Kiefer O’Reilly) hurt more. And that those deaths occurred at the same time (or, rather, the same time for us viewers, different times for the team and Savage) as Jax (Franz Drameh) surprising the team with his unpredicted return, suggests that the future can be changed, and nothing is fated as it was before. I do not know what to do with any of this: it feels like the series is still writing its time travel rules as it goes along, rather than, as with Back to the Future, largely having its rules determined far enough ahead before an apparent inconsistency is noticeable to the audience, or Gargoyles, where time travel actually creates stable loops rather than deviations.
To address this question of how much influence predestination has on a person, the episode tries to have a narrative trick–that Rip sees through the Oculus that Ray (Brandon Routh) will die by the end of this episode–without making that deception clever or emotional painful (or even that clear that he did die). It is one bit of the future that is most on Rip’s mind, which is less interesting than, say, as with The Flash Season 1 finale, showing us multiple bits of the future (Killer Frost, Barry in jail, Rip’s team fighting a giant robot) that are obscure enough conclusions without clear paths to those endings. Maybe Rip could have seen instances other than the immediate one of Ray’s death, so that the subversions can be more shocking when that one with Ray does not actually happen, hence casting doubt on all the other potential futures Rip sees.
(Then again, overloading an episode with too many potential futures can be tiresome as well. For example, Agents of SHIELD did so this season as well, and it has become interminable: yes, I know, Daisy got a vision of the future in which a teammate will die, yeah, they’re going into outer space, oh, look, Mack got a cross–I don’t care, just end this season already so I can re-watch a better show like Jessica Jones or paint drying.)
Oh, and Ray doesn’t actually die, so destiny is not absolute in this series. Instead, it is Snart (Wentworth Miller) who holds down the Oculus’s fail-safe so his teammates may escape before they destroy large parts of the Vanishing Point and enough Time Masters with it.
And I don’t feel as much about that death as I think I should. It is not that I do not mourn Snart’s death: the character has been charming since Miller first played him on The Flash. The episode does good enough with the team mourning his loss, especially Sara (Caity Lotz) and Mick (Dominic Purcell).
Yet the episode does not set up the pain of Snart’s death to really affect me, I think for two reasons.
First, this is a time travel show, so one reason I do not feel as much pain over Snart’s death is because I anticipate some time travel shenanigans will bring him back for the season’s finale. (That Snart died at the Vanishing Point and not, say, in Star City, will save the series from explaining why Snart gets to be saved by time travel but not Laurel Lance in Arrow.)
Second, as with the Oculus itself, the episode is trying to avoid showing its hand too soon. The show does a decent job in foreshadowing Snart’s death just enough so that you can see it coming, without feeling like such an ending was inevitable. In this way, Snart’s death gets to be more surprising than it should be, as the writers were not doing, as happens in many series, building up a character far too much in their very last episode to make their death feel weightier than it has a right to be.
Like many shows in the Arrow-verse, Legends of Tomorrow is better when it shows rather than tells. I don’t need Stein to tell me Rip was tortured: I just saw it, and if it was not clear, then you should have improved the makeup to make Rip look much more obviously physically damaged.
LIkewise, I don’t need Snart to talk at Sara about the idea of sharing a kiss. In fact, don’t even set up a Snart and Sara romance: if the chemistry between them is not palpable by this point, it never will be, and even if it is not, the kiss at the end before Snart sacrifices himself is already such a standard in action television that it is enough to have occur, without need. It is the equivalent of having Leia kiss Han before he gets frozen: just let the moment happen, without long-winded setup.
Where it works better is when the show sets up that Snart is going to die. (Unless, seeing as this is a time travel show, he is saved at the last minute.) The setup was adequate: Snart shows off the ring and talks about a job going south. He would not reflect on the past and over a keepsake, one passed onto Mick, without the show trying to imbue both his monologue and his item with some larger thematic value. Of course I knew he was going to die in this episode–supported by remembering the synopsis I read beforehand about Snart learning what it means to be a hero. Granted, I thought the ring would go to Sara instead, since he was speaking with her (and I knew the kiss was coming). But handing the ring off to Mick is far more fitting.
As the penultimate episode, “Destiny” also clears the board so that key players and core concepts can be placed back at the center: the show gets to return to a focus of Rip’s team against Savage, without Time Masters to depend upon for additional information. The future can no longer be seen. Ray gives the speech to Mick about tabula rasa (Mick: “Pretend for a moment I don’t speak Greek.” Ray: “Latin.” Mick: [death glare]), and while it renews a sense of free will, it hides a problem. The Time Masters, as wicked as they are, were a regulatory force, albeit a dangerous one. When that kind of authoritarianism is removed, it leaves a power vacuum. So, the season finale has an opportunity to introduce, likely in its last minutes, the setup for Season 2: who will fill that vacuum? Who is the new villain that can be a threat to a world where the future is now unknown?
Instead of pursuing that question, I fear that the series will opt for a less interesting villain. DC has no limit of time travelers for villains, which can be entertaining. Maybe try Time Trapper, and as with some of the animated shorts, tie that into another superhero team from the future, the Legion of Superheros (already introduced in The Flash Season 1 finale).
But the namedropping of Thanagar–its invasion of Earth in the far future inspiring the Time Masters to ally with Savage to take over the world and defend it from Thanagar–suggests Season 2 will be the team fighting a seemingly inevitable future extraterrestrial invasion–which is dull. Alien invasions already have been the focus to Supergirl (and, thank goodness, will persist in Season 2, albeit on a new network). But fighting aliens in the future saps the show of an opportunity to play with time travel. And dividing the episodes for Season 2, where some are about fighting Thanagarians and traveling through time, divides the focus as well: at its best, it can be like Daredevil Season 2, where, sure, critics dislike the numerous storylines, but I think the smaller arcs helped with worldbuilding Hell’s Kitchen and Matt’s world, and, at its worst, it is like Season 2 of The Flash, where the Zoom episodes are dull while the filler episodes are entertaining.
- Oh, and Kendra was in this episode. Thanks for giving her so much to do, show.
- As with The Flash this week, in which Barry is at the center of the screen before leaving the Speed Force, I appreciate the shot with Mick in the center, contending with his grief for Snart’s death.
- Wait, so in the future, Thanagar invades the Earth? Oh, jeez: really, Arrow-verse? We just introduced the Hawkpeople as reincarnated beings, now you have to complicate that idea by having the Hawkpeople also be aliens from Thanagar? I know that’s canon to the original DC Comics, but just because it’s canon doesn’t mean it was clear then, or that an adaptation cannot do a better job just skipping that problem. At least try to do it as well as the animated Justice League did.
- Wait, so cupcakes in the future have sugar, but other snacks don’t? Damn, the Time Masters really did make the future suck.
- I absolutely believe Jax knows enough about the machinery of the Waverider to help Past!Stein (Victor Garber) apply what he already knows from Cisco and Ronnie’s time machine (from the Season 1 finale of The Flash) to build yet another time machine. What I wish had happened, however, was letting Jax show off this time machine know-how earlier. The show has had Jax in previous episodes engage in vague repairs around the ship, but nothing to the extent of Kailey on Firefly engaging so in depth with the machine, or getting to bond with Rip in repairs on it. Much more of that showing rather than telling would help.
- Oh, and Jax forgiving Snart for roofying him–ha ha ha, no, I’m not so forgiving: that moment is still one of the most infuriating of this season, and the drugging jokes are not funny.
- HIjacking GORDON to make him sing the Captain and Tennille: I want more of that sense of humor from this show, and I want to know who is the fan of that music, Snart or Sara.
- Why, if the fail-safe had to be held down, didn’t Snart just freeze Mick’s hand to it, cut off his hand, then regenerate it on the Waverider? Gruesome, yes, but this show has skipped letting non-fatal injuries stand. Or was it that someone had to stay behind to fight off the Time Masters so they could not reverse the fail-safe?
- Rip shrinks Ray and puts him in his pocket. And no one makes a bawdy joke about it. I mean, not in the show: enough jokes were made about that online.
- “The difference between ‘murder’ and ‘execution’ is a matter of authority. I have it. You don’t.” Supervillain dialogue that is actually well-written: good work, show.
- “If you tell the team I care, I’ll shave your head.” Mick then returns to his cupcake. “Hmm, this is good.” Between that and hitting Ray in the shoulder because it was preordained, Mick was the winner of best dialogue for the night: his prize was watching his best friend die.