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Character and pacing issues plague a more playful Legends Of Tomorrow

Illustration for article titled Character and pacing issues plague a more playful Legends Of Tomorrow
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DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow had a very rocky first season, but the most underwhelming aspects of the series—Vandal Savage, Hawkgirl and Hawkman, the Time Masters—were done away with in the finale to give the series a fresh start moving forward. Freed from their mission to stop Vandal Savage and no longer hunted by the Time Masters, Rip Hunter and his teammates are now the only force policing the timeline, spending their days tracking aberrations in history like ray gun-wielding assassins in the court of Louis XIII. It’s a less restrictive concept for the show than the first season’s goal to stop an immortal dictator from creating a dystopian future, and while this episode shows that the writers are giving themselves more freedom to play around and have fun with the time travel conceit, it still suffers from the characterization and pacing problems that plagued earlier episodes.

“Out Of Time” jumps ahead a few months after last season’s finale, and while it doesn’t reveal exactly what Rex “Hourman” Tyler told the Legends when he appeared in Star City, 2016, it does reveal the main gist of his warning: Don’t go to New York City in 1942. They’re able to keep away for a while, but then they learn that the Nazis are going to detonate an atomic bomb in New York City in 1942, so they head off to New York City for an adventure that ends with the Waverider getting caught in an underwater nuclear explosion. The premiere announces all of this at the start with a framing device that has Mayor Oliver Queen and new character Dr. Nate Heywood (Nick Zano) discovering the Waverider at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. They find Mick Rory in stasis, pull him out, and then listen to him recount the events leading up to the explosion while the action cuts away to show the Legends in the past.

The very first scene of the team in action is the highlight of this premiere, and going to France, 1637, to make sure that Louis XIII isn’t killed before having sex with his wife and conceiving Louis XIV is an effective way of establishing a lighter tone for this season. It’s all frilly blouses and swordfights, sprinkled with a little same-sex seduction as Sara Lance gets freaky with Anne Of Austria to keep her safe. No, there is no historical evidence that Louis XIV’s mother was sexually attracted to other women, and yes, this moment feels like it’s thrown in to get 13-year-old viewers hot and bothered, but the sex and swashbuckling in France is much more fun to watch than Hawkgirl whining about her destiny and Rip crying about his dead family. That’s not to say that dramatic stakes aren’t important. They’re absolutely necessary, but the writers of this show have realized that fun should be a top priority for a time-travelling superhero show.

The biggest challenge for this series is building those stakes while providing spectacular entertainment, and “Out Of Time” continues to struggle in that respect. There’s not very much suspense in the main plot given the beginning of the episode reveals what’s going to happen to the team at the end, and the other main dramatic thread of the script—Sara hunting Damien Darhk to make him pay for Laurel’s death—doesn’t have the emotional foundation it needs to makes Sara’s thirst for vengeance believable. “Out Of Time” doesn’t do enough to reestablish what Laurel means to Sara beyond having Anne comment on the necklace Sara’s dead sister gave her. It becomes easier to forget the depth of that sibling bond as more time passes, and a refresher (perhaps a guest appearance from Katie Cassidy) would do a lot to make Sara’s arc more compelling.

The majority of this episode focuses on the Legends stopping the Nazis from getting their hands on the atomic bomb, beginning by abducting Albert Einstein (Joe Rubinstein) before the Nazis get their hands on him. The script depicts Einstein as a slimy womanizer to upend expectations and bring his personality closer to Mick Rory than Martin Stein (who are paired up to kidnap him), but the broad comedy pushes Rubinstein’s performance into caricature territory and undermines the tension of the plot.

Incorporating real-life historical figures into this series is tricky, and it’s easier to take artistic license with people like Louis XIII and Anne Of Austria than with Einstein, who is one of the most prominent figures of the last century. At the same time, there’s an inherent silliness in having Einstein kidnapped by superheroes, and then joining them in the field when they go save his ex-wife, Mileva Marić, and stop the Nazis from launching the atomic bomb she made for them. This episode treats Einstein with the same lack of subtlety it applies to everything else, so even though it’s a cartoonish interpretation of the man, it fits well within the world of this series.


It would be nice to see this show bring more nuance to the storytelling because the characterizations of the main cast need it. There’s a lot to cover in this episode so the personalities are especially archetypal, giving any new viewers a basic idea of each character but not offering much more. Some conflict arises when Ray gets involved with Sara’s quest for vengeance, but for the most part, this episode is focused on telling a large-scale story about beating Nazis. With the exception of Sara, there’s not much work done here setting up individual character arcs for the season, and when the episode does set up an opportunity to delve deeper into these characters, it ultimately squanders it.

Just before crashing the Waverider into the Nazi’s atomic bomb to absorb the impact of the explosion, Rip Hunter activates the “timescatter,” which saves the lives of the other team members by sending them to different points on the timeline. (Mick is stuck on the ship because his recent gunshot wound makes the time jump too dangerous for him.) The writers introduce a twist that could have opened up the door for more personal stories by focusing on the characters in their respective timelines, but instead the episode rushes through each period to get the team back together by the end of the premiere. I understand that there are budgetary restraints that make it difficult to juggle multiple timelines, especially when one of them is prehistoric and involves expensive CGI dinosaurs, but these short glimpses of the characters separated (with the exception of Martin and Jax) and trying to survive in different periods feel like teasers for a different show that wants to actually explore the inner lives of these characters instead of just using them as tools to advance a sprawling superhero plot.


Sure, it’s fun to see Ray Palmer up against a dinosaur and Sara Lance taking out citizens of Salem, Massachusetts, that want to burn her at the stake, but there’s barely any time for the viewer to process what being separated from the group has done to the characters. That’s because the writers don’t really care about the emotional impact of being stranded in time. They care about shallower, more direct storytelling: the surprise of seeing the dinosaur, the laugh when Sara jokes about pleasuring the women of Salem. Those moments are enjoyable, but that kind of superficial storytelling will only go so far. DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow will continue to meander without strong character definition and compelling conflict rooted in personal relationships. The playful tone of this episode is a step in the right direction, but there’s still more work that needs to be done before the show gets on a track that leads to superhero greatness.

Stray observations

  • Eager to discover what’s going on with the Justice Society Of America teased at the end of last season? Tonight’s premiere probably disappointed you, but next week’s episode is called “Justice Society Of America” so you won’t have to wait much longer.
  • “Out Of Time” is full of white guys. Losing Kendra, one of the few women and people of color on this show, at the end of last season delivered a big hit to this show’s diversity, and this week’s premiere adds a new white male hero (Dr. Nate Heywood) and two white male villains (Damien Darhk and Eobard “Reverse-Flash” Thawne). Diverse representation makes for more interesting storytelling, especially in the increasingly dusty superhero genre dominated by straight white men, so I’m hoping that the addition of the JSA, with two black members (Vixen and Dr. Mid-Nite) and a gay member (Obsidian), will freshen the show next week.
  • The action in this episode is fine, but the later fight sequences in New York City aren’t able to match the thrill of the team in France. The sword fighting has a retro charm that makes it stand out from the more traditional superhero fisticuffs, and the rousing score and rapid editing work with the fight choreography to give the team a memorable reintroduction. A sword is a far more dynamic weapon than a gun (or an energy blast, in the case of Firestorm) and putting a blade in Rip’s hand brings out an old school, Errol Flynn-esque action hero quality in Arthur Darvill’s Rip Hunter. (The costuming also helps.)
  • This episode has two jokes built around Newton’s third law of motion, and I much prefer the one where Stein punches Einstein in the face over the one that has Einstein sexually harass random women.
  • “In my defense: they were happily corrupted.” Sara’s sexuality is used in this episode for titillation and laughs, but I’d like to see the show commit to a more meaningful story centered on her bisexuality.