On “Legends of Tomorrow,” Rip is now a MacGuffin

“Raiders of the Lost Art.” Legends of Tomorrow Season 2 Episode 9. Directed by Dermott Downs. Written by Keto Shimizu and Chris Fedak.

This review is a week late. Let’s pretend I made a very witty time travel-related joke and move on.

Legends of Tomorrow is rather loose with time-travel rules. Inheriting some of these rules from The Flash and by extension DC Comics, it adheres closer to Back to the Future rules of alterations to the past eventually catching up to the present. Such an interpretation doesn’t follow the rules of time travel laid out by better series like Gargoyles and the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (H/T Ian at Monsters of New York for this explanation): in those settings, time is already fixed, so the actions taken in the past have already occurred, such that going back in time was what was going to happen anyway, so the actions taken by the characters cannot be altered. In other words, if you know it was going to happen, anything you do in the past won’t matter anyway.

I prefer the conception of time travel as one of being unable to change the past: it simplifies storytelling, eliminates easy solutions that make a complex plot too easy to conclude, and it places more responsibility onto the characters without giving them an easy-out to undo the past. And it leads to less occasions for me to go cross-eyed as I try to figure out conundrums–such as how Ray (Brandon Routh) and Nate (Nick Zano) can still be inspired by the works of George Lucas (Matt Angel), still have memories of their prior roles as scientist and historian, still know they were the Atom and Steel, and yet at the same time lack the Atom suit–the physical object confirming Ray’s background–because alterations to the past just haven’t caught up with them.

It’s all the funnier that time has not caught up with the characters when this episode begins with a flashback to the Season 2 opening two-parter–and says “Six Months Ago,” when, really, that doesn’t work. The caption means six months ago with respect to the Arrowverse characters currently having their stories in the year 2017. The flashback is from World War II, not six months ago. It was six months ago in real-time for the Legends (at least as far as they remember, Mick [Dominic Purcell] having been put in decades-long stasis on the WaveRider).

The flashback also addresses the title to this review: Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) has become this series’ MacGuffin. He is just a figure that the Legends and the Legion want to possess, whether out of dedication to an amnesiac teammate or to gain his knowledge.

And I feel foolish for not realizing that sooner. One reason I didn’t realize was because this season has distracted me with more interesting storylines other than the search for Rip, whether Sara’s (Caity Lotz) dilemma about avenging Laurel, the arrival of the Justice Society, Stein’s (Victor Garber) discovery of a daughter, and Mick’s turmoil how to move forward from Snart’s death. There have also been really dull moments this season, and yet were still more interesting than Rip’s disappearance: Amaya (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) just being there until she can avenge Rex’s death, Nate serving as a less interesting and more annoying carbon copy of Ray and with really shabby metallic CGI effects, and getting to see three white dudes doing nothing but mugging for the camera and discussing their evil vaguely-defined plans.

(And how the hell can you have a “Legion of Doom” with only three villains? Even when Snart eventually joins, that’s still only four. Screw that–get that number up to five at least.)

All of this is to say, when Rip is not here, I don’t miss him. I thought the season opener was going to be an easy out to just write-off the character.

The writers of the show succeed as such because they have had other plotlines this season so that I have forgotten about Rip–which, seeing as Rip has forgotten who he is, is appropriate. It also speaks to how dull the character has been. There are layers to him that can lead to a more interesting character, one that would better suit Arthur Darvill’s talents. But when you begin the character as yet another man seeking to avenge the deaths of his wife and child, you better make that character complex or you have another stock cliche. Daredevil was able to lend depth to Frank Castle because we saw him in multiple contexts: in battle, in court, just hanging out. With Rip, Legends of Tomorrow has the chance to show him in other contexts: How about an episode of just him and Jonah Hex? And we could finally confirm Rip is Booster Gold’s son so that we can get some hilarity out of Rip’s seriousness against Booster’s buffoonery–but, for whatever reason, such as rights issues, no Booster yet in this DC time travel show. Heck, we got a reference to the Legion of Superheroes on The Flash, yet still nothing in this show.

If the writers wanted to move beyond Rip’s origin story and his dead family, then can we see what Rip does for fun with the crew, or how interacting with 2010s time-travelers eases some of his stoicalness having come from a near-dystopian bleak and overly serious future? I mean, that kind of interaction of a stick-in-the-mud Brit trying to retain dignity in the face of raucous largely American characters, while cliche and nationalistic, at least can be written intelligently and humorously.

But the show doesn’t seem to care about Rip, so why should I care about him? Even in his last moments before self-lobotomizing himself are spent not mourning that he is about to lose the last things he has of his wife and son, his memories of them, but a really esoteric allusion to Star Trek (H/T Screen Rant)–and in the middle of a Star Wars tribute episode! What is even going on with this mixture?!

So, if Rip has almost no chance to be a character, then he’s a vessel–and, seeing as it is his brain that knows the location to the remaining pieces of the Spear of Destiny, he is just some object to be protected and pursued, the MacGuffin itself. It’s therefore clever when Rip, or, rather, Phil, now a film student in the 1960s, is the one to define MacGuffin to Sara and Jax (Franz Drameh). But cleverness is no substitute for a blood-and-skin character. This episode needed that.

Instead, “Raiders of the Lost Art” is with little substance, little reason to root for the characters, a lot of special effects, and some slight ret-conning of the past–which sounds a lot like the Star Wars prequels, which makes this episode the best George Lucas tribute ever!

Stray Observations

  • I reviewed little about the plot itself. We do get the side-story of Mick thinking chunks of Snart (…ew…) got lodged into the computer chip jammed into his brain (…ew…), so he asks Stein to pull out the chip. I love the interactions between Mick and Stein, as they seem easy to write with sufficient payoff: one’s crass, one’s elite. Sure, the “wrong kind of doctor” gag is a bit much, but Stein is also so arrogant I can imagine him thinking that doing brain surgery is no big deal. And this plotline at least keeps reminding us that Snart is coming back–even if, due to limited screentime, the writers don’t bring back Wentworth Miller for this episode and have Mick talking to empty air.
  • I’ll leave it to Star Wars fans to identify every allusion to Lucas’s works in this episode. Ellak Roach already told me Jax’s jacket looks like Finn’s, and as I said, Screen Rants has a list of other allusions.
  • Hanna-Barbera gets a namedrop–so, here’s an obligatory mention that DC Comics has also been adapting those characters for recent revival comics, including a forthcoming one in which Snagglepuss is a gay southern playwright in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. This sounds really problematic, especially as right now a minority of United States voters let a homophobic bigot into the White House–but I’ll suspend criticism until reading.
  • Howard the Duck exists as a film in the Arrowverse. Thea on Arrow already alluded to Hawkeye’s farmhouse from Age of Ultron in last season’s Arrow/Flash/Hawkpeople crossover, so it’s been long confirmed that Marvel Comics exists in this DC universe.
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