“Left Behind” is the episode where the Legends Of Tomorrow writers realize they can do some crazy things with character development on a time-travelling superhero show. After two weeks away, the series returns stronger than ever, primarily because the narrative takes advantage of the time-travel conceit to considerably alter the team dynamics. Ray, Kendra, and Sara are stranded in 1958 by the rest of their team and left there for two years, during which Ray and Kendra start a new life together while Sara returns to the League Of Assassins to serve Ra’s Al Ghul and his young daughter Talia, who makes her Arrowverse debut. The rest of the team appears to rescue them but misses the 1958 return date by two years, and the events of the past two years are now a part of Ray, Kendra, and Sara’s characters moving forward.

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“Left Behind” still has its share of goofy moments, like the unintentionally hilarious opening sequence where the actors and director desperately try to realize the high stakes of heroes free-falling through time in a spaceship, but there’s a new level of ambition in the storytelling from writers Beth Schwartz and Grainne Godfree. They’re thinking bigger, quickly making sweeping changes because they’re working within a concept that makes that possible. Yes, the episode continues to rush the Kendra/Ray pairing, but it rushes it at superspeed, fast-forwarding to a point where they’re now a committed couple on the verge of marriage.

I admire the writers’ willingness to take that leap to accelerate the romance, and it introduces an interesting conflict when Ray and Kendra are reunited with their old teammates. Brandon Routh is better at capturing the emotional heft of their relationship than Ciara Renée, but that fits the characters’ general perspectives on the situation; Ray falls in love with Kendra and views their time in the past as an opportunity for them to create a new life together, and while Kendra also falls in love with Ray, that doesn’t diminish her longing for her old life. As Kendra learns later, she was suffering from “time drift,” a side effect of spending too much time in a new time period that disconnects you from your old identity, which is why she’s so relieved when the rest of the team shows up, restoring her tether to who she used to be.

There would be more tension between Ray and Kendra if we had a better idea of what the last two years of their life were like, and it makes me wish the writers had devoted an entire episode to just Ray, Kendra, and Sara’s experience over those two years. (They could have even met some late ’50s DC characters, like, say, the Challengers of the Unknown.) The resolution of the lovers’ story has Kendra telling Ray that she doesn’t want to lose him because for the first time in all her lives, she got to decide who she fell in love with instead of it being decided for her, but her words don’t have much impact on the viewer because we didn’t see her make that decision. I still buy Ray and Kendra together more than Carter and Kendra, though, so it’s a success in that respect.

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Sara Lance is also suffering from time drift, and she’s completely shed her old self to become Ta-er al-Sahfer, Ra’s Al Ghul most skilled assassin. Sara’s teammates unite to retrieve her from the League Of Assassins, but she has no interest in leaving, and instead sells out her old friends to her new master. This is a great episode for Caity Lotz, who once again proves why she’s one of the best action performers in the Arrowverse as she kicks loads of ass, first when she’s showing off for Ra’s and Talia, then later when she faces off against Kendra before joining the team in the fight against Chronos. Sara ultimately finds her way back to her old identity by being reminded of the White Canary name that Laurel gave her, and it’s fitting that Sara is saved by her sister, who has been saving her since she died.

As usual, the series is more fun if you don’t think too hard about the time travel mechanics and just go along for the ride, which is an especially twisty one this week. The big surprise of “Left Behind” is that Chronos is actually Mick Rory, who was rescued and trained by the Time Masters after Snart abandoned him in “Marooned.” Mick’s heated personality has been cooled down considerably by his repeated deaths and rebirths at the hands of the Time Masters, but he still has a burning hatred for Snart, and his sadism has intensified as his pyromania faded. Mick captures Snart with the intention of making him watch as he kills his sister over and over again, and Dominic Purcell does very strong work maintaining Mick’s intensity while focusing it in a way that feels more controlled and frightening than Mick’s old personality. Heatwave had a bigger, bolder character that made him entertaining and pretty fun despite being a villain, but Chronos is severe and direct, a laser beam instead of a wildfire.

The highlight of this episode is the team’s fight against Mick-Chronos, a dynamic sequence that gives Ray, Kendra, and Sara ample time to shine. There are many cool moments in this scene, like Kendra swinging Chronos around by flying into the air and putting him in a headlock with her thighs, Sara performing a double pirouette while swinging a sword, and Ray uppercutting Chronos into the air and sending him across the room with an atomic-powered punch. There’s a certain joy to be had in watching these fantastic figures fight side-by-side, and director John F. Showalter captures that gleeful energy in his filming of the action.

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This series is still far from perfect, but “Left Behind” reveals the show’s potential by embracing the vast narrative possibilities of the concept, delivering major new developments for the characters that leave the team dynamic in a very different place than where it was at the start of the episode. The episode’s ending could use work because the team soaring off to a new time period no longer makes for a very compelling cliffhanger, but on the whole, tonight’s episode makes significant improvements by committing to superhero fantasy and using it to take the characters in new directions.

Stray observations

  • I really like the long shot of Ray, Kendra, and Sara standing alone in the middle of the woods, surrounded by the snow and looming trees. It emphasizes how lost and alone they feel when the rest of the team disappears.
  • Overly hasty editing makes Kendra’s “Happy Anniversary” to Ray seems disingenuous, although that may be intentional.
  • Are we sure Grainne Godfree isn’t a Jack Kirby character brought to life?
  • Ray Palmer having Bill Gates’ father in his science class is a little too cutesy, even for me.
  • Snart breaks free from his cuffs by using his feet to shoot his cold gun toward the shackles, and while he misses his target, he does completely freeze his hand, allowing him to shatter it and break free. That’s some intense dedication right there, and it all works out in the end when Rip Hunter uses his limb regenerating device to just give Snart a new hand. Yay, superhero stories!
  • This episode has the characters correctly pronouncing Ra’s Al Ghul’s name, with “Ra’s” pronounced “Raysh,” not “Roz.”
  • Snart: “The ladies will be left in 1958!” Jax: “What about Ray?” Snart: “Like I said.”
  • Sara: “Here you go. $10,000 salary.” Kendra: “That’s it? I made more as a barista.” Sara: “Well it’s 1958. You’re lucky to make that as a woman.”
  • “Lucky water vase?”
  • “Incredible! Sara became a member of the secret organization that trained her to be an assassin 50 years prior to when she joined.”
  • “I used to think the most beautiful thing on Earth was fire. Now I know: it’s vengeance.”
  • “Oh, I can’t believe I’m back here.” Ray really can’t believe he’s back in Nanda Parbat.
  • Rip: “My god.” Mick: “There is no god.”

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