“This isn’t a fun time period.” “These hats say otherwise.”
Those two lines of dialogue encapsulate the tension laced through “Witch Hunt,” the ambitious second episode of Legends Of Tomorrow’s fourth season. This is one of the darker hours of the show (excepting that first season, but we don’t talk about that), and certainly the darkest since “Necromancing The Stone” turned Sara Lance into a death witch bent on inflicting both physical and emotional trauma on her teammates. But unlike that episode, and other storylines that tackle horrific events, the darkness doesn’t arrive via an evil external force of some kind. No Mallus, no Darhks, no Legion. Just the evil that men do, and the rage that can grow in those subjected to that evil.
It’s all that, and it’s also an hour with a fairy godmother, a talking piglet, a credit card from 1953, a musical number, and Gary coming for my job before displaying the space where his nipple should be. These hats say otherwise.
That blend is Legends at its best—Zari’s “fun montage” in “Here I Go Again” emerges from and leads back into despair; Sara’s belief that she’s not worthy to wield a totem creates to a supergroup that includes Jonah Hex, Helen of Troy, and Jefferson Jackson; an E.T. parody ends up actually being about Ray-Ray’s loneliness. It doesn’t quite find the perfect balance here, for reasons that may have nothing to do with the writing (more on that immediately below), but both the sense of fun and the admirable ambition make even the stumbles easy to forgive.
And to be fair, the fact that “Witch Hunt” is funny at all is a testament to the episode’s writing, acting, and direction. To say that the story of “Witch Hunt,” particularly Zari’s story, is timely is to pretend that it wouldn’t be relevant in any time period in history. As she admits when asked, people always fear what they don’t understand, and that fear can all too easily become something violent and hateful. At the same time, it would also be foolish to pretend that this episode airing in this week doesn’t root the story in something even more painful.
“This woman is your neighbor,” Zari says, as she and Jane Hawthorne prepare to born. “She doesn’t deserve this. No one does.”
The temptation to focus on the goofy stuff when writing about Legends can hardly be resisted, and trust me, we’ll get there. But Zari and Prudence’s stories, and Tala Ashe’s predictably excellent performance, make up both the strength of this episode and the source of its weakness. The issue is this: Just that story alone is more than enough for 42 minutes, and even though Ashe sells each and every one of those leaps from thought to thought and scene to scene, it still feels as though some big beats were left on the cutting room floor. I’m not sure what the solution to that problem might be—not cutting the pigs, or Gary’s recap, or Nate’s currency problem, that’s for sure—but it’s hard not to feel that, well as it all worked, it could have worked so much better.
Maybe that’s in part because Ashe does such good work—the episode itself seems to want more of her. Perhaps if this episode had arrived a few more weeks into the season, giving the anger and guilt stirred up in Zari when she sees her mother time to stew and strengthen, it wouldn’t make the viewer wish for more time to process that stuff alongside her. It’s an active, simple performance—in Ashe’s hands, Zari processes things quickly, acts impulsively, and realizes what she feels about her own actions as they happen. And through it all, she’s weary, grieving, and furious. As she mentions in the episode’s closing moments, sarcasm is a pretty great mask for a bunch of dark stuff, and even her attempts at humor spring from a deeply wounded place, something Ashe makes clear but doesn’t oversell. “Well, at least one of you Puritans gets the point of that book,” she sighs, so tired, so angry. The scene continues, and then it’s back to the fairy godmother.
The most impressive thing about that Legends silliness-darkness potpurri is that even when the throughline is a heavy, sad, or disturbing one—or all three, as this one is—the humor never feels out of place. If there’s a balance issue here, it’s not that there’s too much goofiness, but that the pull of the big issues is so strong that it can be difficult to dive back into that other landscape at first. Once you’re in, though, it’s smooth sailing, making it all feel more human, rather than creating any kind of cognitive dissonance. It’s something Doctor Who has pulled off, something Buffy sometimes accomplished, but something that’s difficult to pull off in any medium. Legends, at this stage, does it each and every week.
And this week’s silliness is top-notch. Gideon’s tattle-tale tendencies and “narc mode.” An entire sub-lot dedicated to Ava, Gary, and Nate doing a funding pitch for the father to whom Nate just said, “I don’t want your money” after calling the projects he funded a waste of taxpayer money. Mick and Constantine instantly realizing they are going to make terrible roommates. Constantine trying to recruit the fairy godmother to keep him safe from whatever hell-fiend is after him. Ray and Mick as pigs! Sara over-doing a pun! Gary recapping the season finale! All wonderful stuff—the pigs especially.
But at the end of the day, this is an episode about three scenes—Zari tries to save Jane, almost killing the men of Salem by stealing their breath; Zari pleads first to the people of Salem to see what they’re becoming, then to Prudence to not become something as dark as those who wronged her mother; Zari goes to Sara expecting a lecture and gets only sincere understanding and compassion. All three are great. All three can easily get under the skin. All three hinge on a great performance. And the pigs and the songs and the jokes are all the sweeter for the pain. It’s painful indeed, but the hats say otherwise.
- Jane Carr: a total hey-it’s-that-lady who’s been in all kinds of shit, but who I recognized right away from playing Gilmore family personal dresser Nora on Gilmore Girls. Laura Regan: Played Harry Crane’s wife Jennifer on Mad Men; also co-starred with Nick Zano on the really lousy series spinoff of Minority Report, in which they were both much better than the material.
- Sara’s previous time in Salem was glimpsed briefly in the season two premiere.
- Confidence, charisma, and... crap! That was the order, both times.
- Why the fuck not?: At the suggestion of commenter The Left Hand of the Son of Coul, we’ll be doing a WTFN moment of each week. This week: Nate returns to the Waverider to find none of his friends, but instead a pig who he almost immediately recognizes as Ray, and with whom he can also converse, culminating in a promise to carry said Ray-pig to the Time Bureau, where he eventually turns back into a naked Ray-Ray, still cradled in the arms of the now-steeled-up Nate? Why the fuck not?
- Zari’s going to get a cool new setting for her stone now, yeah?
- Please make Beebo Blox real.
- I am absolutely going to use mythteries until the show tells me otherwise by coming up with something better.
- That musical number was great, but man, I wish they’d brought in fellow CW resident Rachel Bloom to write it.