Let’s talk for a moment about that cameo. Not this cameo, delightful as it may be:
Vandal Savage returning only to be won over by the warmth, patience, and dopey charm of Ray-Ray Palmer is a classic post-season-one Legends move, self-aware and silly and wonderful. In a lesser show, Savage would show back up (and who knows, he might again), fool Ray-Ray into thinking he’d reformed, and reveal his duplicity as soon as Ray, Nora, and John fairy-bopped away, but not our Legends. Here, he loves those groovy guys. Pure, stupid, perfect. Jenga time! But that’s not the cameo in question. It’s this one:
This is the alchemy of Legends Of Tomorrow in two shots. Seeing The Monitor in the stands at Heyworld’s live superhero spectacular, you may have let out a little gasp, or felt a certain thrill of dread. (I did.) As Nate mentions in this very episode, they skipped the crossover, so it’s possible some of you have no idea who that is. But the shot itself—somber, dark, and still in a place of chaos and color—aims to strike a note of apprehension whether you’ve seen the Arrowverse shows on which he appears or not. His presence indicates that things will not go well.
Then a dragon, which a certain other television show recently reminded the world could be considered a weapon of mass destruction, shows up. Deadly. Disastrous. We’re already concerned that we’re going to lose one or more Legends tonight, to the intricacies of time travel or the ins and outs of dealing with a demon, and then this beast shows up. We cut back to The Monitor.
Yep. That’s the stuff. That’s some pure, uncut Legends Of Tomorrow right there.
What makes that joke so satisfying isn’t just that it takes the piss out of the Arrowverse’s considerable darkness and doom—which, in last week’s Arrow, was pretty darned effective, truth be told. It’s that it takes the piss out of all the darkness and doom without actually diminishing or undercutting the gravity of what’s happening. Legends is the fear of loss and the bag of popcorn in one. It’s Voltron Beebo, symbol of the power of love and trust and ridiculous sight gag. It’s Hank Heywood’s spirit singing peacefully in the rafters, warging into Mick’s body for one awkward, off-key line, and then a lovely, sincerely moving sequence of people coming together to once again harness the power of love to save, not all lives this time, but one.
Legends Of Tomorrow has the range.
Like the best episodes of this very fine show, the success of “Hey, World!” can’t be pinned to one thing, but it has a few elements in common with some of those other excellent installments. Characters making decisions with roots in both personal and recent history. Rooting long-running stories in the challenge-of-the-week to find new corners to explore. Revisiting familiar themes to give characters a chance to demonstrate growth. Tying those themes to the plot in an active way. Dividing the cast up into mini teams, then reuniting them in the final act. Doing what’s expected in an unexpected way. And perhaps most fundamentally, doing things that shouldn’t possibly work, and finding a way to make them sing—sometimes literally..
Cue Hank Heywood doing his best James Taylor on a beam above a sawdust stage.
You don’t quite forget that Nate knows he could save many people by offering up his life, but John throwing down his own makes so much sense given his own arc this season that while jarring, it doesn’t seem like a con. Then Nick Zano (terrific in this episode, as he so often is) says “mate,” and that early scene with Astra comes speeding back—John playing NeRay, complete with his voice. Some real Faceless Man shit, you might say. Just before he shows his cards, you might remember, and gasp, and just like that, Nate Heywood is dead. It’s a surprise and inevitable at once. And then Hank starts to sing.
It’s not the singing that shouldn’t work but does (although that could easily have crossed over into maudlin). It’s the storybook sweet let’s-hold-hands-and-sing love magic stuff that shouldn’t work. Yet somehow, as with Voltron Beebo, it does, without the show ever forgetting that the idea is both hackneyed and silly. Legends does moments like that with a wink, but not a sneer or any kind of smugness, balancing earnestness and self-awareness in an incredibly effective manner. It has its heart on its sleeve and its tongue firmly tucked in its cheek. It knows the big ideas are a little heavy-handed, and that this climax in particular is seriously simplistic; the characters know it, too. But it gets us from “Make America Hell Again” to “Sweet Baby James” all the same.
“It’s going to take more than a musical number” says John Constantine, the cynic who saved the world with a kiss, and it does. It takes self-sacrifice and the power of friendship, a willingness to see past differences and the ability to channel love and hope instead of fear and despair. But it also takes a musical number. That’s wonderful, isn’t it? In doing so, it brings several of characters to an endpoint (or at least the next stage) in their current arc. Sara Lance, onetime death witch, allows herself to hope in a moment of loss, and has no problem channeling the light. Ava and Nora, for precisely opposite reasons existing outside the circle of the Legends even last year, find themselves inside it because of the ways they’ve grown and changed. Mick Rory writes a play, helps a cop, and threatens John when Haircut seems lost forever. Gary Green stops trying to make himself part of the team and becomes part of it. And Zari, sweet Zari, first lets friends in, then lets love in, then loses them both because of it, getting her brother back in the process.
Then Legends goes and takes a minor piece of plot mechanics and makes it (one assumes) the basis for next season. Get ready for Mary Tudor, Charles Manson, Joseph Stalin, and Genghis Khan, among others; fair to assume that some other citizens of hell might be in the mix, namely one Damien Darhk, whose current residence has already been mentioned this season. But the next chapter matters a lot less in this moment than the one that just ended, which hinges on the pure joyful love between two time bros, between a woman and her family, between a witch and her belief in her own capacity for goodness and a ninja who came back from death to be a force of light. It’s a good show, is what I’m saying, and it’s going to be a long wait. Who’s up for a singalong?
- Season MVP: Tala Ashe, for sure. Very strong cast, Caity Lotz is arguably the Arrowverse all-time MVP, and honestly Tom Wilson was great every damn time he was on the show. But Ashe has been on a roll since “Here I Go Again,” and hasn’t missed a step since.
- Seriously cannot believe how much of this season centered on openly expressed love and affection between two platonic male friends.
- Did Hank Heywood confirm that Legends exists within The Good Place universe?
- Jane Carr with not one but two fight scenes this week. Bless this show. Eaten by a dragon but not forgotten.
- So, about Zari. No way Tala Ashe is leaving the show. First, she’d get a good sendoff, a la Garber and Drameh. (Sorry, Wally.) Second, this is a time travel show, almost nothing is permanent. Wondering if they’ll maybe pay tribute to this Doctor Who storyline, an all-time great, IMHO. Bonus points if they find a way to include Rip.
- Why the fuck not?: Sara, Nate, and Gary pose as Supergirl, the Green Arrow, and the Flash to drum up interest in a theme park designed to make magical creatures less threatening, the cornerstone of which is a “superhero live show” that in reality is just a talent show for the creatures, including a singing ogre and a guitar-laying minotaur.
- Line-reading of the week: Literally every time anyone said “dick.” “Dick” is definitely this show’s favorite word.
- Sentimental line-reading of the week: “I haven’t been far.”
- Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: “They said hard pass.” “We should have done the crossover.” Runner-up: “Didn’t we do this last year?”
- Updated season four episode title ranking: 16 and 15 (tie). Witch Hunt and The Getaway 14. Terms Of Service 13. Dancing Queen 12. Hey, World! 11 and 10 (tie). Tagumo Attacks!!! and Lucha De Apuestas 9. Tender Is The Nate 8. The Eggplant, The Witch, And The Wardrobe 7. Egg MacGuffin 6. Hell No, Dolly! 5. Wet Hot American Bummer 4. Nip/Stuck 3. Séance And Sensibility 2.The Virgin Gary 1. Legends Of To-Meow-Meow.
- Edited to add: Just wanted to thank y’all for the delightful comments section (and the occasional kind word elsewhere on the internet). I didn’t always have time to join in, but they were always such a pleasure to read. See you next year, and come say hi on Twitter in the meantime.
- Here’s this week’s Legends in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song form. All the Legends, plus Zari’s brother but minus Zari, at the end: