Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Matt Ryan, Olivia Swann
Matt Ryan, Olivia Swann
Photo: Shane Harvey (The CW)
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Caity Lotz is great at her job. No surprise there. I’ve called her the Arrowverse MVP in these reviews, and my predecessor used similar language. There are lots of reasons for that—she’s a thoughtful performer with great timing and has skillfully navigated the many, many changes in Sara Lance’s life (and characterization)—but high on any list of her skills has got to be her affinity for action sequences. It’s easy to imagine the Legends Of Tomorrow writers room dreaming up excuses to take advantage of this skill: Let’s put her in feudal Japan! Let’s do a thing with Vikings! Let’s have a totem take control of her and turn her into an all-powerful Death Witch! And in “Mortal Khanbat,” Lotz’s television directorial debut, they do it again, handing her an episode chock full of combat and allowing her to go nuts. It’s just that this time she’s on the other side of the camera.

Seems like a pretty solid decision, no?

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Were it not for these terrific action sequences, it’s possible that “Mortal Khanbat” might feel fairly lopsided. Charlie gets some thin but still compelling character stuff in the form of her onetime dalliance with Behrad, all of which seems to feed her newly-revealed season storyline (she’s a fate!), and there’s a lot of fun stuff in Genghis Khan’s arrival in 1997 Hong Kong, but really, it’s about the fights. And they’re great! The long-awaited return of Citizen Steel, sliding across the floor on his scooter to take out three guys at once! Ava blasting with both hands! And good god, that magnificent toothpick pull, a move that in any other episode would have been an instant Sara Lance classic, here given to Charlie because Sara’s a little busy at the moment. (Still classic.) Nor is it just the energetic staging and camerawork in the fight scenes—there’s some great stuff as Charlie’s being haunted by the sound of her sisters, John flits in and out of hell, and so on. Great, fun, lively, inventive stuff.

Tonally, the Constantine storyline and the Genghis Khan adventure could not be more different—one is a focused, sometimes meditative, emotionally rich character study, the other a heady marriage of John Woo-inspired ’90s action and the kind of Legends ridiculousness we’ve come to expect from this show (pour one out for Scoots McGoots). The connection, however, is right there in the title—one is fighting to kill, the other is battling his own demise.

There have been great Constantine scenes in this series (and a few in Arrow, too) and a few top-notch episodes, but “Mortal Khanbat” is next level. It would not surprise me if Matt Ryan’s been hungry to play “Dangerous Habits” for years, and the only disappointing thing about it is that it seems as though it might be over. (I sincerely hope I’m wrong—not that I want the character to have cancer, but I sure as shit want Ryan to be able to keep playing scenes like these.) He’s always very good as Constantine, but here he’s given the chance to play a lot all at once and more than rises to the occasion. From those early moments (“Well, there’s no point in quittin’ now”) to his total jubilation in the episode’s final scene, it’s always in keeping with the character we know, but there’s a lot to unpack, giving him the chance to dig even deeper into this character and how he operates. Put his last several scenes up against any other show you watch this week. The acting on Legends is always good, but as Constantine races from flippant dismissal of his situation, to rage, to desperation, to acceptance, to defiance, to joy, with many stops in between, Ryan does some of the best work we’ve seen on Legends, or any Arrowverse show.

Hell, let’s say any show airing at the moment. Ask me next week what the best TV performances of this week were, and I’ll probably say, “Oh, Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn on Better Call Saul, Ben Mendelsohn and Cynthia Erivo on The Outsider, and Matt Ryan and Brandon Routh on Legends Of Tomorrow.” How’s that for a transition?

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It’s nowhere near as flashy or dynamic, but Routh is, in a much quieter way, nipping at Ryan’s heels this week. While I doubt that I need to convince anyone watching the series of this, I would, week after week, gladly and giddily make the case for Routh as giving one of TV’s most delightful supporting performances as Sweet Ray-Ray, a golden retriever in human form. But here (as he did in the Crisis), Routh, with some help from the Legends writers, reminds us that both Ray and Routh contain multitudes. With one very brief exception (the mention of his two fiancées*), there’s no reference to Ray’s personal history, distant or otherwise, but this is a character who has experienced a lot of loss. (Perhaps that’s part of why he and Sara are so tight.) Yet Routh puts it all into his performance, even in the moments of levity (see: his confused, alarmed response to Constantine’s “back-alley surgery plan,” which is not an immediate no, but a question as to which parts exactly might be required.) Hell, he chops vegetables with unbelievable tenderness. What a wonderful supporting turn.

His isn’t the only performance to benefit from personal history and small character bears this week, either. Nick Zano has a moment in the car with Behrad, when the latter explains that Charlie left without saying goodbye (“Yeah, that sucks.”) We get Zari’s small private smile when she realizes that team meeting includes her. Gary is Gary, but even the more hysterical, broad moments are pretty grounded (his sprint into Ava’s arms was wonderful.) Some actors, when they become directors, prove to be unsurprisingly skilled at working with other actors, and while it’s possible that everybody just decided to make sure their performances were extra layered this week, I suspect Lotz is one of those directors.

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All in all, it’s a hell of a debut from Lotz and an admirable effort from all concerned, including one top-shelf storyline, one solid one with terrific fight scenes, and an episode overall that’s among the show’s most lively and stylish. All that, plus this:

Illustration for article titled Caity Lotz directs a top-notch iLegends /ithat’s part John Woo fight-fest, part funeral feast
Screenshot: The CW
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What’s not to love?

Stray observations

  • * Anna Loring and Kendra “Hawkgirl” Saunders. The death of the former led to Ray becoming the Atom. The latter is Hawkgirl.
  • “Does Marie Kondo rest just because she built an empire? No! No. She tidies up.”
  • Episode MVP: It’s clearly Matt Ryan, but it’s also Brandon Routh. I like it up here on this hill, seems like a fine place to die.
  • Why the fuck not?/Constantine Korner: Scoots McGoots, with a nice runner-up to the talking cane—not the victor here only because I couldn’t verify whether or not that was a Hellblazer thing or a Legends thing, though the reference to the insertion of said cane and any subsequent pleasure resulting from that insertion is almost certainly a Legends thing. Seriously, am I blanking on a talking dog cane, or a bulldog in general?
  • Also: Marie Antoinette is still on the ship! Please, for the love of Beebo, let her stay in the brig for the whole season, occasionally eavesdropping and offering commentary. It is so delightful. Then maybe eventually she can hang out on The Flash? Or anywhere? Does Nancy Drew need a French queen Charmed?
  • Line-reading of the week: It’s not a line, it’s a shrug, and it’s the weird, neck-touching, cool-guy thing Nick Zano does after Nate rolls in on Scoots. Instantly recognizable from countless teen movies of the ’80s and ’90s.
  • Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: Genghis Khan asking Charlie and Behrad if they slept together.
  • Season five episode title ranking: 5. Miss Me, Kiss Me, Love Me 4. Meet The Legends. 3. A Head Of Her Time. 1 (tie). Slay Anything and Mortal Khanbat.
  • This week’s Legends in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song form. I almost went with one of the darker ones, but how could I not pick this for an episode in which Charlie comes onto Zari, Zari flirts back, and Constantine smooches Gary?

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves television, bourbon, and dramatically overanalyzing social interactions.

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