“Legends of Tomorrow,” AKA Scrappy Nate and the Scoobies in Edo Japan

Tonight’s episode brings the camp–only with a dull hero in the form of Nate Heywood.

“Shogun.” Legends of Tomorrow Season 2 Episode 3. Directed by Kevin Tancharoen. Written by Phil Klemmer and Grainne Godfree.

Spoilers below.

We get samurai. We get Ray (Brandon Routh) facing what makes him a hero. Stein (Victor Garber) and Jax (Franz Drameh) discover Rip’s secret from Barry Allen’s (Grant Gustin) future, and Mick (Dominic Purcell) discovers ninjas and maybe a new friendship from new stowaway Amaya (Maisie Richardson-Sellers). Sara (Caity Lotz) kicks ass. Many of these details are sufficient in one way or another, be it camp (samurais and ninjas), action (Sara), character development (a new path for Ray to contribute to the team, Amaya learning more about her new teammates), and setting up future storylines (Barry’s future message).

And in this episode, Nate (Nick Zano) gains his superpower–and I do not care.

It’s bad enough the effects on his Steel form look too polished: they don’t quite reflect his immediate surroundings, so he looks like some of the more awkward metal patterns I have made in PhotoShop. I think what looks silliest is the hair: sorry to quibble, but if it was only Nate’s skin and not his hair, I think the design would look less goofy. After how well the other DC on CW shows have had Barry at fast speeds, Kara flying, and even Killer Shark and Gorilla Grodd, something is missing visually in Steel to make him look more like Silver Surfer and more like early 2000s X-Men Colossus.

The poor effects around Nate’s appearance could be mitigated if I cared about this character–and I don’t. Nate reeks of that character inserted into a story to appeal to fans, as if they want to see another Star Wars-quoting superhero fanboy joining this adventure. And he’s such a screw-up, as if the writers are finding every way to have him make such mistakes that he rips a hole in the side of the WaveRider–because somehow that is possible, but not Firestorm’s blast–and send himself flying out and leaving him and Ray stranded in Edo Japan so Ray can have his Atom suit stolen by the Shogun. This is such monumental foolishness on Nate’s part that it annoys me, although seeing as Ray was encouraging him, and he’s shown to be such a screw-up for two seasons, I guess he deserves some blame.

Nate feels like he is going to become a Creator’s Pet or a Scrappy, when, as an audience surrogate for superhero fans watching this show, he needs some better qualities that make viewers care about him, rather than the show, or he himself, insisting he should be liked. Masako (Mei Melançon), the woman who rescues Nate after his fall from the timestream into Edo Japan, says Nate’s foolishness and willingness to die makes him akin to a samurai rather than, you know, an idiot, and Sara at one point name-drops “Man of Steel” in referring to Nate–and these comparisons are so unearned as to provoke annoyance, as if the show is over-selling this character. Nate’s own insistence that he deserved this opportunity because he’s a historian, because he’s a legacy superhero, because he was denied this opportunity before. All that comes through to me is that Nate is prideful, and unless something is done with that quality to give him a comeuppance that sticks, his character will be in a rut for quite a while. That Nate actually says “I did it” when destroying the Shogun’s ATOM armor, ignoring Ray and Masako’s contributions, he’s self-absorbed. That Nate actually ends the episode thinking Masako is now in love with him reeks of his desperation, and while she turns him down, that expectation is bothersome after making him so insistent throughout this episode that he wants the superhero limelight. It’s largely benign by him, but it is discomforting and, in another story, may suggest a darker edge to such a character leaping at the call: Nate’s ambitions so far are troubling me, so I’m curious whether it foreshadows a darker path the character could take.

With Nate, there’s a difference between adding Wesley Crusher and adding Wil Wheaton: the former was a poor attempt at adding a kid-appeal character, and the latter has earned his cultural cache through earnestness and an insistence on ethical behavior within fan communities. While Nick Zano’s acting certainly conveys Nate’s excitement, it’s not of interest to me. It’s not as if this show cannot have a rookie superhero: we have Jesse Quick in The Flash this season, and while she is not an expert, she shows competence. Spending an entire episode in which Nate tries to determine what unlocks his powers is just putting in time until the climax when he can “steel on” again to save designated temporally-displaced love interest Masako and impress his new mentor Ray.

I know the show’s writers are insisting in interviews that this season is in part Nate’s journey, so of course he would be a massive screw-up as almost any amateur hero would be. Yet Nate’s screw-ups seem so goofy compared to the initial uses of power by Jesse Wells, Cisco Ramon, or Barry Allen–and Barry crashed face-first into the back of a laundry truck in one of his first attempts at super-speed. My complaint is hollow, however, because it shows Nate at least will have a different path; whether it is a good or bad path is not yet clear, and for now, it is plagued by the character’s annoying qualities.

One such annoyance is the story’s insistence that Nate save the day at the risk of overshadowing more established characters, and that he is, as Ellak Roach referred to him, a white savior for Masako. At least the episode acknowledges Masako confronting the Shogun initially–only to have her fall down, which is realistic, and then be saved by the newly powered-up Nate, which is largely out of narrative convenience. This action, coupled with Nate bestowing the sword of Masako’s brother back to her and saying she was the true hero, is patronizing, another instance of a male character bestowing power to a woman that she already has, a la the previous episode in which an overwhelmed Stein makes Sara the team-leader, when she already proved she was. I don’t mean to sound like Oliver Sava typically does (and I’m posting this review without reading his take at The AV Club), but this pattern is sticking out to me, perhaps because I work in gender studies, or because it is still so striking to me.

Random Observations

  • Amaya’s skepticism about ninjas may make sense historically, but the dramatic irony–that Sara is already a ninja, that we in the 2010s are well-versed in ninjas as a pop culture phenomenon–felt too goofy a running joke. I had to look it up, and Wikipedia claims (without adequate sources yet) that the earliest representations of ninjas in Western popular culture was in the 1960s. Even if 1940s Amaya pre-dates that occurrence by about 20 years, surely given all the weirdness she has seen, she would not be so skeptical. The payoff is Amaya swallows her pride to give Mick a tsuriken to prove he did confront ninjas, so it felt like a poor excuse to reach a productive moment in character development.
  • Speaking of ninjas: Masako picking up the male traveler from the future reminded me of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III–then Sab Shimono, who was in that film (and the Nickelodeon animated series) pops up in this episode as Masako’s father. Coincidence.
  • If Amaya was trying to attack Mick, why not have her use snake powers to constrict him? Such implementation of her animal abilities were rather inconsistent or absent in this episode.
  • Also, Amaya assumes Mick and the Legends killed Rex because, with his last words, he blamed a “time traveler.” Rex, I know you were dying, but I think there are two things about Reverse Flash that stand out more than his time traveling, such as his speed and that gaudy outfit. Be more specific, Rex: you could’ve said “Banana Peel Suit Speeding Man.”
  • Why were the captions needed to know when and where Nate landed? If he was going to tell us viewers to show us his knowledge, then don’t put up the captions.
  • Ray freeing himself from the samurais, while an out-of-nowhere moment, was at least impressive. So much for not being a “real hero.”
  • Who wants to bet the Shogun wasn’t killed, only he and the Atom suit shrunk? Hey, remember that–how the suit is supposed to shrink? That would’ve been interesting to have the Shogun discover that ability, since that’s supposed to be Ray’s power. Remember that, before he was some Iron Man/Blue Beetle knockoff?
  • Sara, killing samurai left and right, seems to have her bloodlust under control since last season’s resurrection.
  • Now Jax and Stein get to keep secrets from Sara. So much for respecting her leadership. It better be worth to spread out this mystery, show.
  • “Steel on”? I know Thea on Arrow already referenced Age of Ultron, but the idea that Marvel Comics exist as fictional texts in the Arrow-verse is weird.
  • Stein: “Where are Dr. Palmer and Dr. Heywood?” Sara: “Have you checked outside the window?”
  • Mick: “For God’s sake, say it how it is–we’re screwed!” GIDEON (Amy Pemberton): “We’re screwed.”

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