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DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow has the unenviable task of making DC Comics’ convoluted superhero mythology accessible and engaging outside of comics, which is especially difficult when working within the confines of TV. There are budgetary restrictions, which limit how much the story can rely on spectacle to captivate the audience, and then there’s the challenge of interpreting extraordinary events in a context that falls within The CW’s general brand. That brand has considerably expanded in recent years, but it’s still built on series that combine soap-operatic relationship drama with various genres, from superhero to horror, history, sci-fi, musical, and telenovela. With a cast of nine (including Hawkman, who will most certainly be back in some capacity), Legends Of Tomorrow has a lot of characters to create drama with, but the writers are struggling to bring emotional weight to the story when it drifts into more fantastic territory.

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The primary example of this shortcoming is the conflict between Rip Hunter and Vandal Savage, the former a time traveler fighting to the stop the latter, an ancient Egyptian immortal, from taking over the world in the near future. Savage killed Rip’s wife and son, but because the show has yet to do any work showing Rip’s relationship with his family when they lived, their loss is hollow motivation for the sake of giving the character some sort of motivation. At least Rip has vengeance for his family pushing him forward; Savage is simply an immortal madman who could be compelling if Casper Crump’s performance was more authoritative and intimidating.

Crump really hams it up at the end of “Blood Ties,” but without those other characteristics, his performance plays as very forced and exaggerated to the point of parody. Crump’s acting fits the way the character is written, though, and there’s not much for him to use to show different sides of Savage. There’s very little done to humanize Savage, and while the writers have mentioned his romantic obsession with Kendra, it’s an afterthought that hasn’t received much attention since it was introduced. The concept of an insane immortal fixated on world domination could be very scary on its own if Crump made that desire believable, but at this point, Savage is a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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It’s a shame that this show’s central conflict is so flat, because the rest of this episode is a lot of fun. To start, there’s the Atom shrinking down to microscopic size to destroy shards of a magical knife that are making their way to Kendra’s heart, a subplot that is very comic-booky, but also delivers strong character development for Ray and Martin. Ray, whose inferiority complex has been a big part of his personality on this series, is rapidly losing faith in himself, so Martin gives him a pep talk to get him back in shape to shrink down and save their teammate. That pep talk is full of the typical clichés about getting over past failures and believing in yourself, but Victor Garber sells it by showing genuine compassion, and when he lies to Ray about pretending not to remember him as a student, it’s easy to believe him. It’s a welcome twist when Ray realizes that Martin lied to him to lift his spirits, excusing those earlier clichés by revealing that Martin was following a script that he knew would get the desired results after it was delivered.

This episode has a lot of exposition, but it’s necessary to give new viewers the context they need to emotionally connect with the subplots. Characters like Ray Palmer, Sara Lance, and Leonard Snart already have established personal stakes from their past Arrowverse appearances, and this episode takes advantage of those stakes to push their characters forward. Sara Lance is still dealing with her lethal blood lust, a side effect of being brought back from the dead via the Lazarus Pit, and she slips into a murderous rage when she and Rip go to a bank to sabotage Savage’s finances. The Guardians Of The Galaxy influence is heavy in this week’s action sequence set to Montrose’s “I Got The Fire,” and the retro music cue adds a lot character to the fight, which is much more impressive than the bigger stand-off between Savage and the superhero team later in the episode.

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Caity Lotz’s skills as an action performer are extremely helpful for making Sara Lance’s blood lust convincing, and she fully conveys Sara’s frenzied intensity in battle as well as her remorse when she regains her composure and sees the damage she’s done. Sara’s frightened by her potential for death and destruction, and while she’s put up a carefree front since jumping to the past, there’s still a lot of turmoil under the surface. That inner turmoil is what bonds Sara to Rip, who is beating himself up for not killing Savage when he first went back in time to stop him before assembling his current team, and giving Rip a stronger connection to his teammates will help make him a more intriguing character over time.

While Martin and Ray team up to save Kendra and Sara and Rip track down Savage’s finances, Leonard and Mick coerce Jax into serving as their driver to Central City, where Leonard swipes the emerald that will send his father to prison when he tries to steal it. Leonard has selfish intentions, but they’re the good kind of selfish, and rather than taking advantage of the past to increase his wealth, he takes advantage of the past to try and give him and his sister a better life without an abusive father. Self-preservation is Leonard’s M.O., but it’s interesting to learn what that entails. There’s a pain deep inside Leonard that he wants to rid himself of, and when he runs into his child self, Leonard tells him to protect his head and heart and always look out for himself. He wants to strengthen himself as early as possible, and if his plan to keep his father out of jail fails, at least he’s still able to impart that message to his younger self.

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Wentworth Miller does great work with Leonard’s emotional arc in this episode, and the most heartbreaking thing about his story is the hope Miller brings to the character, who eagerly anticipates a change in his emotional state after giving the Maximilian Emerald to his father. Nothing feels different, though, and Leonard learns the hard way that some events can’t be changed; his father doesn’t steal the emerald, but he’s arrested when he tries to sell it to an undercover cop, dooming young Leonard and Lisa to the same fate. It’s an effective plot because it’s grounded in a character dynamic that has already been developed in past episodes, and it uses this show’s time travel conceit to bring out a more sensitive side of this show’s coldest character. Bringing that same level of emotional depth to Rip Hunter and Vandal Savage would greatly improve this series, but there’s enough strong material in this episode to overcome the weaknesses of those newer characters.

Stray observations

  • I hope this show finds ways to make Rip, Leonard, and Mick more dynamic in battle, because having them stand there shooting their guns is pretty bland compared to Sara and Jax’s hand-to-hand combat. (Rip getting his hands dirty with Sara is much more exciting.) Also, it seems like Leonard and Mick’s weapons have been toned down considerably. Was anyone even frozen or burned in that final fight?
  • I never mentioned the shot in last week’s opening fight that had Atom flying across the warehouse, beating people up at miniature size. That was a sweet moment.
  • If anyone was hoping for Kendra character development separate of her relationship with Carter, they will be disappointed by this episode.
  • I hate the Arrowverse’s commitment to pronouncing the Ra’s in Ra’s Al Ghul as “Roz” instead of “Raysh”.
  • Any guesses on the song we’ll hear when the team jumps to 1986 next week? A fight set to 1986’s #1 single “That’s What Friends Are For” would be a lot of fun, but there are a lot of great tracks to use from that year.
  • The room where Savage desecrates Carter’s body looks like a banquet hall, which is a set design fail.
  • “Exactly how many knives do you have?”
  • Jax: “Is there anything you think about other than yourself.” Leonard: “Yes. Money.”

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