Like all the best episodes of DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow, “A Head Of Her Time” is operating on two levels. First, and most obviously, there’s the fun level, because Legends is a show that prioritizes fun. That’s what makes it such a balm to watch, and it is absolutely a balm. But that fun is built on a foundation of great characters dealing with complicated, human stuff, and often two characters wind up confronting similar issues in very different ways.
So here’s the Zari-and-Constantine variety hour, a story that’s mostly about taking down Marie Antoinette (the encore of the week) and appeasing a ghost who hates lies. Yet it’s also about the difficulty of interrogating who you are, confronting your own shortcomings and mistakes and lies and acts of self-deception. Half of it’s good, half is great, but it’s all textbook Legends in the best way possible.
“A Head Of Her Time,” credited to writer Morgan Faust and stylishly directed by Avi Yoabian, splits our heroes into two groups, then splits one of those groups again. (We also get a little Astra storyline.) The mission story centers largely on Zari and Ava, one still trying to figure out who she is in a post -Time Bureau world, the other wrestling with what a lifetime in the spotlight has made her while also contending with flashes of some other, flannel-wearing self. Meanwhile, John, Charlie, and Gary are off dealing with a death-witch (no, not Sara), an exposition-heavy storyline that pushes both Charlie and John to admit some truths they’ve been burying for a long time.
The former is more successful, not least because the show makes the bonkers-but-perfectly -Legends decision to have Courtney Ford, who appears as Nora in Waverider-video-chats with Ray, work overtime this week. Ford also plays Marie Antoinette, summoned back from hell by Astra and taking her revenge of the revolution by beguiling the masses to party themselves to death—quite literally letting them eat cake, and it could not be more obvious that Ford is having a very, very good time. It’s absurd, and that’s as far as its possible to be from a complaint. It’s also part of that Legends sleight-of-hand on display last week: While you’re watching Ford do her best costume-drama drag, Tala Ashe and Jes Macallan turn in funny but slyly subtle performances about questioning where you fit in, how you operate, who you underestimate, and why.
Macallan is great, but it’s really Ashe’s hour, a chance for her to begin to slowly knit together the Zari we knew before (let’s call her Zari Prime) with the Zari who got famous at age 6, figured out how to turn that into a business, and never looked back—until now. Faust and Yoabian underline this idea in ways both big and small. There’s a montage of memories triggered by Zari biting into her first doughnut in almost five years, and yes, that is very funny and perfect; there’s also her new replacement duds, cooked up by Gidget—sorry, Gideon—who clearly remembers some version of Zari Prime, somewhere.
But there’s also her final scene, a quietly emotional sequence which sees Zari reckon with the fact that at long last, despite her best efforts to stop it, she has friends again. That evokes a very particular scene from Zari Prime’s history, one that’s also just a girl in a red and black flannel sitting down for a warm and gentle conversation with the blonde and very tough Captain of the Waverider. This time, it’s Interim Captain Sharpe, who’d underestimated her new friend and been underestimated in kind. Then, it was Captain Lance, there to help her process her time in a time-loop.
As the two Zaris inch closer and closer together, the lies John Constantine tells himself come face to face with his darkest truths, and all the while poor Gary’s being led away by a tiny creepy child in an animal mask. This is where “A Head Of Her Time” trips up—it’s all compelling stuff, watching Constantine (and Matt Ryan) admit that his biggest failure is even worse than he’s prepared to admit to himself, and the idea of having him confront that reality at the hands of a malevolent spirit/former lover who takes him on a tour of his past is an incredibly rich one. But we don’t spend quite enough time with John to make that story hit as hard as it might. By the time we arrive at the climax of that story—his admission, followed by Natalie (Alice Hunter) telling him that Charlie’s presence is no accident and Constantine grilling Charlie until she explains—it already feels mostly like exposition, and once Charlie drops her own truth-bomb, that’s only compounded.
Still, it leads to a hell of an ending: Astra (Olivia Swann) trading a favor to a mysterious hell craftswoman in exchange for that woman accelerating John’s death by 10 years and giving him instant terminal lung cancer. It’s the second week in a row that John and Charlie’s storyline has felt like set-up; hopefully now we’re past that point and they can get on with the business of hell.
- Constantine Korner: The place they’re at seems to be the House Of Mystery. It’s possible that Natalie is a spin on Veronica Delacroix. Mucous Membrane is straight from the comics, as is John’s punk lewk. And the Constantine-has-lung-cancer story comes from one of the most celebrated Hellblazer stories, Garth Ennis’s “Dangerous Habits.” Don’t click that if you don’t want to know where the season might be headed (though it would have to change a lot.)
- Also worth noting that in the comics, John has a close friend named Gary... and things don’t go well for him. (Again, don’t click if you don’t want to know a thing that could happen.) That said, that character’s last name is Lester, which is a name Natalie trots out, so our Gary is probably safe.
- And all that said, I am no Constantine expert, though I expect our very own John Constantine might show up in the comics to share some wisdom.
- Somebody in the writers’ room loves Queer Eye.
- A salute to the commenter who made the Z Nation connection last week—we all should have seen those popularity zombies coming.
- There’s something weird going on with Nate. He’s always been the bro-iest of the time bros, but this week especially so, and kind of toxic to boot. The line about letting Zari dress like the French upper crust because he’s got a weakness for corsets and updos, thinking of Ava as “one of the guys,” which Behrad assures her is a compliment, and sucker-punching DJ S’more Money out of some gross territorial impulse? Weird.
- “Can your computer lady make me some cucumber water? I’m parched from that dry interaction.”
- “Is that where you whiz and it hurts?”
- Today in Ray Palmer is perfect, he’s delighted about the lei, is the only one who reads the ALOHA binder, and actually walks off still studying it intently. Precious boy.
- Episode MVP: A pretty great ensemble episode, to tell the truth, but I think Tala Ashe has the advantage on them—the Zari evolution is a lot of fun and a pretty cool challenge, I imagine. But Matt Ryan is a close second.
- Why the fuck not?: Fight with the headless reanimated corpse of Marie Antoinette, a classic bit of Legends WTFN which just gets better once she gets her hands on Mick’s flamethrower. (Also, DJ S’More Money.) (Also, “Don’t get creepy, Ray,” a totally filthy joke.)
- Line-reading of the week: Amy Louise Pemberton’s perfect “The results of my body scan indicate that you do, in fact, like like her.”
- Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: Here’s how I imagine things went in the writers’ room: “Who should we cast as Marie Antoinette?” “Uh, I don’t know, how about Courtney?” “Cool, sounds fun.” (Either that, or it was an elaborate product placement for 23 And Me.)
- Season five episode title ranking: 4. Miss Me, Kiss Me, Love Me 3. Meet The Legends. 2. A Head Of Her Time. 1. Slay Anything. An all-timer.
- This week’s Legends in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song form.