With three team members holed up in Soviet gulag, the Legends Of Tomorrow gang has a clearly defined mission for this week’s episode: rescue their comrades, and prevent Vandal Savage from creating an army of Soviet Firestorms that will doom the future. “Fail-Safe” is a fairly straightforward prison break story, but this central plan gives the episode a stronger direction than last week’s scattered chapter, focusing everyone’s attention on a shared goal that they can only achieve by working together. It’s basic team stuff, but the basics are what this series needs to work on right now.
If Rip Hunter had his way, this team would never come together as a cohesive unit because they would never be in the field at the same time. He refuses to let Jax and Kendra help Snart and Sara with the prison break because they’re the two people Savage wants to get his hands on, and Jax’s comment that it feels like he and Kendra are on the J.V. team is an apt observation. The cast is split between the varsity veterans of the Arrowverse (Sara, Snart, Mick, Ray, and Martin) and the newer faces that haven’t proven themselves as captivating characters (Jax, Kendra, Rick, and Savage), and the series hasn’t given that latter group the development it needs.
Of those four, Jax is the closest to becoming a fully realized character, largely because he’s been given more opportunities to hang out with the varsity players, but Franz Drameh is still struggling to break free from the broadly drawn jock stereotype that dominates Jax’s personality. At this point, there isn’t much to Jax beyond the passion for being a team player that he gained from sports, and while the show has tip-toed around deeper developments for Jax, it doesn’t fully commit. His animosity towards Stein for kidnapping him and sending him through time could be a very interesting angle for the character and his relationship with his Firestorm partner, but the writers veer away from that to emphasize how much Jax and Stein need each other.
Unfortunately, Jax and Stein haven’t actually spent all the much time together as a pair, so the viewer doesn’t know why exactly they make such a good pair. The script says they are, but it doesn’t ring true given what we’ve seen thus far, which is Stein mostly acting like an asshole and Jax being supportive of him for some strange reason. We saw this in the second part of the pilot when Jax gave Stein a pep talk after they met his arrogant younger self, and despite being the recipient of some harsh words from Stein last week, Jax once again steps up to be his support system when the going gets tough.
When Stein merges with Valentina Vostok to become a dangerously unstable new Firestorm fusion, Jax saves the day by simply getting in the way, using Stein’s fear of another Ronnie Raymond incident to paralyze Valentina. Stein won’t be responsible for the death of another partner, and Jax’s faith in him gives him the strength to pull away from the fusion, which leaves Valentina on her own to have a nuclear meltdown that most likely kills everyone in the gulag and in the nearby vicinity. There are a bunch of dead Soviets now, but there isn’t an army of Firestorms burning down Star City in the future, so the team is technically victorious even if the collateral damage is high.
After an episode without Vandal Savage, the show’s big bad returns this week to continue sucking the energy out of every scene he appears in. Casper Crump’s performance isn’t getting any better, and his dialogue continues to demand a bigger presence than the one he brings to the screen. The show is trying to establish a millennia-spanning enmity between Savage and Rip, but it falls flat without any context regarding Rip’s relationship with his dead wife and son, which is such a huge part of why he hates Savage so much.
Both Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell starred together as brothers on Prison Break, so this episode is like going home again for them. Snart and Mick benefit from their actors’ experiences playing other characters that have spent considerable time behind bars, which gives their performances a harder edge appropriate for the criminals in the group, and the rapport between Miller and Purcell makes it easy to understand why Snart is so committed to busting his partner loose. “Fail-Safe” also does considerable work to strengthen Mick and Ray’s friendship, and Ray’s unyielding heroism rubs off on his villainous colleague, especially after it saves Mick from being tortured to intimidate Stein.
The most captivating character dynamic in Legends Of Tomorrow is the one developing between Sara and Snart, partially because Caity Lotz and Wentworth Miller have outstanding chemistry, but also because their characters are similarly torn between good and evil impulses. When Rip tells Sara to kill Martin if there’s ever any risk that they can’t rescue him, Snart immediately figures out the back-up plan and serves as Sara’s conscience, telling her that you don’t take out anyone that’s on your team, and he doesn’t let up, especially once Sara has Stein in the crosshairs of her sniper rifle. Snart does a much better job helping Sara reclaim some of her humanity than Kendra and Rip did last week, and hopefully the writers turn Sara and Snart into legitimate besties because they work together so well.
“Fail-Safe” ends with the team crash-landing in Star City in the year 2046 after being attacked by Chronos again, and I’m eager to see how this show fares when it forward in time instead of backward. The reveal of a new black Green Arrow is an exciting way to end the episode, and there are a lot of opportunities for more powerful character moments as the team discovers their sad dystopian future. Hopefully those opportunities will be seized, because while Legends Of Tomorrow is proving to be fun superhero escapism, it’s not resonating on any meaningful emotional level yet.
- Poor Kendra barely does anything this episode. That woman is in desperate need of a good plot.
- Kudos to whoever decided to serve up a giant slab of beefcake this episode, first when Rip fights a Russian mob boss in a bathhouse, and later when a shirtless Ray and Mick are tortured for information. These actors had to work for those toned bodies, so why not show them off a little?
- Valentina Vostok’s work attire is totally inappropriate for a lab setting (especially one where she’s around nuclear materials), but it’s very much in line with the CW’s idea of appropriate lab wear.
- How did the inmate know Ray is American if he speaks perfect Russian? I’m trying not to think too hard about how the translator pills work.
- What happened to the whole Guardians Of The Galaxy gimmick with popular songs playing in the background of fight scenes? There were a lot of missed opportunities for some ’80s music cues in these two episodes. Some Russian folk music for the bathhouse fight would have also been acceptable.
- “Can you make it fast? I despise the heat.” Then take your robe off, Snart!
- “Impressive. How many weapons you can fit into that outfit? And how much stupidity Ray can fit into this one?”
- “I changed my mind. Ivan Drago lives at the end of the movie.”
- “Barry Allen who?”
- “Hey Mick, this is a strange kind of hug.”