With “White Knights,” DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow loses its grip on the elements that brought charm and style to its first episodes, delivering an uninspired adventure set against the backdrop of the Cold War. The stakes are very high—the episode starts with the team breaking into the Pentagon and ends with the Soviets capturing multiple members of Rip’s crew—but that’s part of the problem. The show is trying to deliver a blockbuster story in every episode, but big events are diminished when they’re not balanced by smaller, more personal stories. Right now that balance is off and the sweeping superhero elements take far more precedence in the series than the character development, making it difficult to connect with the series on a deeper emotional level.
This week’s episode of The Flash is a sterling example of how to strike a perfect balance of superhero fantasy and grounded character work, but that show has the benefit of a season and a half of material to build on while Legends Of Tomorrow is still laying the groundwork for this team dynamic. The Flash’s “Metahuman of the Week” episodes can feel like filler sometimes, but they serve a purpose in the broader scheme of the series, allowing the writers to slow down and spend time on the cast before jumping into the next big catastrophe. With every episode of Legends Of Tomorrow a race against time to find and stop Vandal Savage, slowing down isn’t a priority, although the show benefits when it does, like with the meeting of Martins Stein in the second half of the pilot and the exploration of Leonard Snart’s past in last week’s episode.
The Pentagon break-in at the top of this episode is the high point, largely because it showcases how these characters work as a team. When it comes to heists, it’s a by-the-numbers sequence—stealing key cards, creating distractions, jazzy music playing in the background—and while it’s a bit too easy (Mick creating a distraction with arm wrestling makes the Pentagon’s security look like idiots), at least it’s an ensemble effort. Once the story moves to the Soviet Union, the team splits up for various subplots, and it doesn’t assemble again for the rest of the episode. Kendra and Sara would be a huge help in the episode’s climactic sequence where Ray, Leonard, and Martin try to prevent the Soviets from creating their own Firestorm, but they’re never called into action, a decision that defies logic in order to set up the next episode.
The two women wonder why they were left in the dark and Rip tells them it’s because he didn’t want them to be compromised too, but if Rip doesn’t know the mission is going to be a bust ahead of time, why would he keep them out of action? It could be because of their shared rage, which makes them a potential liability in battle. I understand the writers’ impulse to create some common ground between Sara and Kendra, but their situations are so similar that it makes their subplot this week very repetitive. While Sara is dealing with the berserker rage caused by being resurrected in the Lazarus Pit, Kendra is dealing with the berserker rage caused by being the reincarnation of the Egyptian Hawk-goddess Chay-Ara, and Rip’s solution to both of their problems is to have them fight until they learn to control their fury.
After Kendra goes out of control in the field, Rip tells Sara to train her. Sara gives Kendra a motivational speech, they fight for a little bit (a missed opportunity to include some kind of ’80s music cue to keep with the trend of the past episodes), and then Sara loses control. Kendra goes to Rip, who tells her to train Sara, and after Kendra delivers a motivational speech, they fight some more. Even though Kendra insists they have different problems—Kendra is trying to control the Hawk-goddess while Sara is trying to hold on to her humanity—it doesn’t play as very different at all in the execution. Having so much overlap between the characterizations of the only two women on the team makes the female representation very weak, especially when primal rage is the main quality they share, and hopefully there will be stronger distinctions drawn between Sara and Kendra as the series progresses.
This episode features the introduction of a new female face in Soviet scientist Valentina Vostok, who is played with strength and swagger by Mr. Robot’s Stephanie Corneliussen. Ray and Leonard team up to gain intel from Valentina, and while Ray fails miserably at the spy game (as is to be expected), Leonard’s coolness enchants Valentina. As Ray and Leonard try to solve the mystery of Savage’s “Operation Svarog,” Rip is confronted by Time Master Druce, a former mentor who now plans to have Rip killed for messing with the timeline. Rip’s conflict with the Time Masters is one of the weakest aspects of this series, and there’s very little tension in that plot because so little about Rip and his history with the Time Masters has been revealed.
With no context for Rip’s relationship with Druce, the Time Master’s betrayal doesn’t have much impact, and the main purpose of that subplot is to have Jax get injured, which reveals new sides of Jax and Martin’s bond. Writers Sarah Nicole Jones and Phil Klemmer finally explore the ramifications of Martin kidnapping Jax and sending him through time, and it’s nice to see Jax attack Martin for ripping him away from his old life without any consideration for his feelings. Martin responds with a wildly insensitive and presumptuous temper tantrum that make him look like a giant asshole, but like Martin’s motivational speech to Ray last week, it’s a performance intended to get a specific reaction from Jax by making him angry. Martin is still kind of an asshole for being so emotionally manipulative, but we get a better understanding of why in this episode as he explains that he’s afraid of losing Jax the way he lost his former Firestorm partner, Ronald Raymond, a revelation that adds dimension to Martin’s character while explaining the motivation for his action later in the episode.
A major reason “White Knights” disappoints is because the design takes a dip in quality, with less dramatic costuming and generic sets that don’t project a specific time period. This isn’t a show like Mad Men where you need a nuanced, realistic depiction of the era; it’s more exaggerated, which means the designers can be louder in distinguishing the time jumps. The bland design doesn’t do anything to improve the underwhelming story, resulting in a flat episode that doesn’t take advantage of the creative opportunities afforded by the show’s concept.
- How about that peek at Jonah Hex in this week’s The Flash? I’m very excited for this show to go to the Wild West.
- Leonard is smooth as ice when he catches the Pentagon employee after she slips on the wet floor. Nice framing of that catch, too.
- I like how much of a goober Ray is on this show, exhibited this week by the pride he takes in being an accomplished Eagle Scout.
- There’s a close-up shot of Kendra with her wings out that shows just how sloppy the CGI is for the wings, particularly at the point where they attach to her back.
- Chronos feels so much like a Powers Rangers villain.
- Ray: “Really? We’re trying to save the world and you’re lifting wallets?” Leonard: “It’s called multitasking.”
- “I guess I’ll bone up on the ballet. Gideon: bone me.”
- “I guess I should just be happy you didn’t swipe her wallet.” (Leonard pulls out Valentina’s wallet.)
- Valentina: “You work for the American government.” Leonard: “I’m wanted by the American government. Does that count?