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Legends Of Tomorrow combines slapstick with souls in peril to great effect

Brandon Routh
Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)
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One of my favorite narrative tricks is when a writer manages to hide something in plain sight. I don’t necessarily mean that in a mystery, Agatha Christie-esque sense, though that’s always fun, too. I mean when a piece of the story sits there in plain sight, yet unobserved, and then it all comes together in a deliciously casual way, as if the writers are merely tossing their heads in the direction of the thing you overlooked. When you revisit it, it’s there in plain sight.

There are a couple of those in “Egg MacGuffin,” but the one that really matters isn’t the egg that turns out to matter quite a lot. The one that really matters is Gary’s damned nipple, both literally and metaphorically.

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“Egg MacGuffin” isn’t the first episode to demonstrate that Gary (Adam Tsekhman, invaluable for this episode and, frankly, the series) has a bit of a dark or even ugly side. The biggest example was his probably weird negging of Mona, and a certain sense that he felt entitled to her affections that went along with it, but there are others. Fleeting, but there. There’s even one in this very episode, as we hear Gary crying in a bathroom stall seconds before he emerges, dry-eyed and cheery, to answer Ray’s call and come running.

It was subtle, but there all along. Even more obvious and ever-present: The constant, low-level impatience, carelessness, unkindness, and even cruelty exhibited toward Gary from every corner. Hell, it happens a number of times in this episode alone, but only one stands out—the last, delivered by Constantine, which arrives after Neron’s seduction of Gary is already in process. It stands out precisely because the writers have done one of those appealing, casual nods of the head and underlined it; it is in no other way any different from the sorts of things often said to Gary in this and every other episode in which he appears. But there’s one key word that Gary misses, which would have made the whole more palatable previously: the word “we.” If there’s one proof that Gary has fully gone over to the dark side, it’s that the verbal abuse means more to him than the fact that he’s included in that “we.”

It’s too early to actually get into if and how Legends is exploring the idea of the put-upon nice guy as a potentially toxic figure, and if and how those who surround others with casual but not pointed cruelty are responsible for their descents into darkness. But the show certainly went out of its way to demonstrate once again that Gary’s cheeriness is a facade, right before he reconnected his infernal nipple to his body in the single weirdest, funniest, most upsetting pacts with the demon these eyes have ever seen.

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The Neron story lives exactly in that spot, actually, somehow dangling between strange, slapstick comedy and life-and-death, deadly serious struggle. It’s a credit to both Tsekhman and Brandon Routh that the episode works at all. Had they strayed too far to one side or the other, it would sink like a stone with a hell-blasted nipple stuck to the bottom. Instead, Routh does broad physical comedy without cracking jokes, and Tsekhman takes that inching nipple perfectly seriously. It’s a bonkers combination, and a perfectly Legends one. I honestly can’t believe it works, but it definitely works.

Much of that is due to the work the show has already done in developing these characters, sweet Ray-Ray in particular. We know Ray so well that we already understand he’d rather cut off his hand than use it to wound a friend. We watched him throw himself into an insane amount of danger when he thought there was a chance of saving the then-possessed Nora, after he fatally wounded her. We know much of his childhood was defined by loneliness and the wish for friends. So when Nate shows up, it’s the worst of all possible worlds—and the choice to give up his autonomy and, you know, soul to Neron makes sense, when the alternative is holding the knife that kills his Time-Bro.

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Ray’s story also works well as a companion piece to the Sara-dons-the Death-Totem episode from last season, and while structurally the episodes are very different, the similarities make such a comparison worthwhile. In both cases, a supernatural element forces the protagonist to confront one or more of their worst fears, and the things about them they least prize. Sara’s essentially lost for most of the episode, so hers is a struggle back; Ray’s is a story about struggling to get the better of potent, deeply damaging impulses. Both are largely successful with some hiccups—and here I must acknowledge that one of them is that Routh, one of the most reliably engaging performers on a show full of them, seems oddly uncomfortable in all the Neron mirror scenes, though he’s great by episode’s end.

There’s a lot more to unpack—Nora’s official entry into the time bureau, the fact that Nate and Zari skipped right past won’t they and into will-they (much more successfully than I predicted, truth be told), Mick’s slow-burn journey into accepting and saying openly that he’s a writer (the Rebecca Silver, in fact), and Sara joining that book club—and not a lot of review left, so let’s do them quickly. The first two feel like new chapters for the series, with Nora now properly in the fold and trusted by the person least disposed to do so initially, and Nate and Zari doing full Indiana Jones cosplay in an effort to get the audience on board—again, successfully, at least for this writer, particularly when they arrived at the where doesn’t it hurt moment. Sara and Ava are mostly observing this week, but their brief storyline feels like the new status quo, rather than the turn of a page. Mick’s storyline feels oddly like the end of something, but we’ll talk more about that next week.

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Stray observations

  • Next week’s episode is called “Nip/Stuck,” a title that was already a little funny before its meaning became clear. His NIP, it STUCK back on his chest.
  • This week, in Legends does right by women: Nate and Zari face down that scene of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ from Entrapment, and it’s Nate who does the contorting.
  • Part of Nate and Zari’s story tonight is essentially the premise of Game Night, which you should watch, as it is a blast.
  • Why the fuck not?: A demon promises to make Gary “whole” again, which in this case means both making him feel powerful and in control, and literally replacing his damned nipple. And that’s damned, as in cursed, and nipple, as in nipple, which inches across the floor of its own volition. There are loads of WTFNs in this episode, though.
  • Line-reading of the week: Boom boom.” Runner up: “The book from book club!”
  • Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: Let’s go with the entire sub-plot in which a writer defends his fans at a con against a person who looks down on them and assumes the relationship is totally mercenary. I assume that means the LoT writers love your cosplay, y’all. (I have seen many Constantines but sadly few of the other Legends at cons.)
  • Speaking of cosplay, loved seeing all those Garimas. 
  • Updated season four episode title ranking: 13 and 12 (tie). Witch Hunt 11. Dancing Queen 10 and 9 (tie). Tagumo Attacks!!! and Lucha De Apuestas 8. Tender Is The Nate 7. The Eggplant, The Witch, And The Wardrobe 6. Egg MacGuffin (Works in concert with the episode to trick the viewer into assuming the egg is pointless, only dinged because it’s not super funny) 5. Hell No, Dolly! 4. Wet Hot American Bummer 3. Séance And Sensibility 2.The Virgin Gary 1. Legends Of To-Meow-Meow.
  • Arrow corner: “Spartan” — Bring back Ernie Hudson more! That was fun. Having a very hard time getting invested in the Emiko story, but enjoyed multiple generations of Diggle secrets. “Confessions” — This was a surprising sort of formal experiment for the show. Sort of Rashomon lite. I mostly really liked it. Again, the Emiko stuff doesn’t thrill me, but the first two thirds of the episode were pretty damn interesting and I definitely wasn’t expecting to see Oliver sandwiched between pieces of building.
  • Here’s this week’s Legends in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song form. This one goes out to Sara and Ava, betting on their friends’ weird work date.

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About the author

Allison Shoemaker

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