“Legends of Tomorrow” pushes through a perfunctory season premiere–and wastes some potential storylines

 

Legends of Tomorrow Season 2 Episode 1, “Out of Time.” Directed by Dermott Downs. Teleplay by Marc Guggenheim and Phil Klemmer. Story by Greg Berlanti and Chris Fedak.

I was promised Sara Lance in a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story–and darn it, I didn’t get what I was promised! And how did Mick narrate this when he wasn’t there for most scenes?!

I’m just going to assume the theme for this year’s DC on CW shows is “Resetting,” with Legends of Tomorrow being the latest.

Like Supergirl, the episode starts with a recap of the previous season that ignores any details not relevant to this season’s story: Supergirl skipped mentioning Alura, brain-damaged Non, Lucy Lane, and Max Lord, and Legends skips the Hawkpeople and Rip’s (Arthur Darvill) work to avenge his family’s death at the hands of Vandal Savage.

And like The Flash, history changes just a bit–albeit, here, the repercussions are likely less severe, as such drama would impede Legend’s fun blockbuster atmosphere, and such melodrama is more suited to Barry Allen’s soap opera life.

And finally, like Arrow, we get a reset on the team: much as Ollie lost most of his teammates, the Legends are still without two Hawkpeople, Hourman from the end of last season is nowhere to be found until the upcoming Justice Society battle royale, and now Rip Hunter is gone and historian Nate Heywood (Nick Zano) is the team’s new expert on time.

Heck, with the upcoming crossover episode, potentially drawing Supergirl’s universe into the one shared by the other three shows, maybe the writers are prepping the audience for whatever Crisis on Infinite Earths event is coming up. Starting fresh is not a bad idea for a show that struggled to fix its problems when it realized it could accomplish two entertaining feats that The Flash and Arrow could not: self-contained genre pastiches (some two-parters), and having a team of interesting characters on silly adventures. The latter was difficult when the Hawkpeople and Rip’s separate storylines were providing the plot–and were competing over the same antagonist, Savage, who, rather than just being the big bad fascist to defeat, had to be a dull villain desiring to make things person for Kendra, Carter, and Rip. Instead, we get a season of adventures with the Justice Society and the Legion of Doom–fun, silly, comic book-y, and thus filling a gap that the earnest (though entertaining and politically vital) Supergirl, the soap opera (and increasingly painful) Flash, and the dull Power Rangers knock-off Arrow sometimes fail to accomplish.

Having Kendra and Carter leave last season to take a break from superhero-ing helps to give the show more focus on its core characters, but the re-introduction of those characters has mixed results. It really depends on how far you can make each character a cartoonish caricature: Ray (Brandon Routh) is the “billionaire boy scout” (Captain America with a money and a shrinking super-suit, or miniaturized Iron Man without the snark), Stein (Victor Garber) is the enthused scientist, Mick (Dominic Purcell) is the grumpy thief, Jax (Franz Drameh) is the young, advanced engineer…

…And the caricature chosen for Sara (Caity Lotz) is the assassin after her sister’s killer and who is part of a lot of gags about her sleeping with women. Those jokes fell flat for me, reducing Sara to a one-note that, hardly a funny caricature, was dependent on just her sexual identity, worsened when she is now the only female in the core team, and pending the addition of Vixen and potentially Star Girl, the range of personalities for the many male characters is going to be far wider than it is for the one female character. I don’t know that individual jokes failed, or that they contradict Sara’s previous behavior: her intimacy with the Queen of France is similar to her smoking pot last season, something that delays the mission but sticks to the general purpose of that mission, her task in this case being to guard the Queen against anyone breaking into the bedroom–and the expectation that this adept assassin could still do so even while sleeping with her.

Less successful is writing out Rip. He put the team together, he hints repeatedly that he is too old for this nonsense, he is grooming many members of the team to take over for him, notably Jax as engineer. Sara was already captaining the Waverider last year, Mick already has knowledge about time travel from his time as Chronos, Stein and Ray can fill in the remaining scientific know-how, and Nate has the knowledge of time to keep history accurate. Therefore, with Rip’s mission of vengeance concluded, and with no reference to any ongoing grief about his wife and son–neither of whom are named in this episode–it’s as if this episode hints that Rip is redundant to the cast of characters, and has no problem to solve that could contribute to the show’s plot. The episode ups how annoying Rip can be, serving here as a Dr. Smith, whining with doom and gloom about how the team breaks the rules. So, the show seems to set up, let the team itself be its own enemy, and send Rip away–until he probably pops up again, since we never found a body, and so he and Jonah Hex can reminiscence some more this season because at least that pairing makes for fun exchanges.

I don’t know what there is left to Rip’s story, yet I felt numb to the swiftness of writing him out, as well as problems to the narrative: how did Mick know about so many events that occurred without him, or when he was knocked out? It would be funnier if Mick actively mis-narrated this opening, so that his teammates acted out-of-character. Instead, that storyline is wasted.

And speaking of wasted, so were the misadventures of the other teammates, already spoiled in the trailer: Ray was with dinosaurs! Jax and Stein were entertaining a medieval child-king with a smartphone (that must have the best battery life)! Sara was in Salem! And those stories are done as soon as they start? No! I want to see the Atom going small then giant to punch out a T-Rex! I want Jax and Stein meeting Merlin and Entrigan! I want a film adaptation of The Scarlet Letter that doesn’t suck, has Sara kicking ass, and so I can teach it in class and write about it for another article that combines nineteenth-century United States literature with contemporary popular culture! And you took that away from me, Legends of Tomorrow! What, I’m supposed to write fanfiction about those moments? I mean, yeah, I will–but it’s going to be really hackneyed and full of typos!

Harumph!

…Okay, rant over. At least it’s still better than Agents of SHIELD: at least this story had potential, camp, and something actually happening–and no pointless Inhumans storyline.

Overall, as with the series premiere of Legends of Tomorrow, this episode is a poor start to the season for two reasons. First, it has to reintroduce itself to viewers. Second, it is better viewed in the context of other episodes before ascertaining how bad it is. Today Netflix posted the entire first season, and I was surprised going through Episodes 2 and 3 how much better the show holds up when looked at as a whole, especially the development of Snart and Mick. With Nate as the new crewmate, who is introduced at the beginning of this episode, who brings the team back together, and who knows history to make it all right, perhaps his story is going to be that guiding narrative–and, right now, that historian has no obvious problem to solve that makes the story compelling. So, again, the show is either going to have really good genre pastiche episodes, or it has to quickly find a season arc. The Legends, as a team, versus the Legion of Doom can be fun; to make it legendary, something else must be added, and it can’t be fit into just a 44-minute episode. 

Random Observations

  • Stein may be a fan of Einstein (John Rubinstein)–“I’m Stein–without the ‘Ein’”–but his ignorance about his hero’s history was a bit annoying, as was Einstein’s lecherous. However, the writing then rewards viewers: we learn that Einstein has had some failed relationships, Stein forgot Einstein had a separation from his wife Mileva (Christina Jastrzembska), who contributed to his theories in physics. And, whereas The Flash had history changed to make life worse for Joe, Iris, Cisco, and Caitlin, this show gets to change history in a small but significant way: Einstein must acknowledge Mileva’s contribution, thus when people are called an “Einstein,” the term denoting intelligence is now gender-neutral. After this week, with a buffoon trading on misogyny in a run against who is likely going to be the first female President of the United States, that small touch is far more appreciated than whatever The Flash was trying to accomplish.
  • Oh, yeah, Damian Darhk was the villain with a bunch of Nazis. As with Hellsing Ultimate, this seems cheap: it’s easy enough to write villains, no one likes Nazis, and they aren’t interesting villains, serving just as cannon fodder (“Roasted Nazis,” growls Mick). And Dahrk still seems so blase as a villain, whether Neal McDonough’s performance–at least here varying his flat dull faux-nice guy stiche with a lot yelling–or his visually dull power set.
  • At least Eobard’s (Matt Letscher) arrival to set up the Legion of Doom is a decent cliffhanger, along with the Justice Society coming to have our obligatory hero vs hero misunderstanding plotline.
  • So Sara targets Past!Darhk, Darhk can look up her name and face, can then recognize her sister Laurel in the future, and then target Laurel. Great, Sara: you did what Rip did with Savage, giving Darhk all the information he needs about the future to kill your family.
  • Oh, yeah, Ollie was in this episode. I don’t care. I mean, Nate already knew where the Legends’ Waverider was located, so why go to Ollie except for, I guess, a submarine to go underwater? And, what, no diving suits?
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