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NeRay exploits human foolishness in an overstuffed Legends Of Tomorrow

Brandon Routh
Photo: Sergei Bachlakov (The CW)
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It is to the great credit of Legends Of Tomorrow that the show’s writers have discovered a very particular sweet spot, one shared by some of TV’s best comedies. One example: The late, lamented American Vandal, which, like Legends, found that it could somehow balance absurdity, big ideas, and pain on the head of a pin. American Vandal found pathos in handjob animation and fruit ninjas. Legends found genuine emotional catharsis in a giant Beebo, in a fun montage, in the name “Rayge.” The show has taught its audience to enjoy the WTFN of it all, but also to probe a little more deeply, to consider big questions, to interrogate the stories of the heroes and villains alike, and to assume that many of those we encounter might be a little of both.

“Terms Of Service” is good, but it’s not in that Legends sweet spot. They can’t all be.

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Let’s start with the things it does well. First, the actions taken by its characters are all tied to what we know of them already; they either act as we anticipate or surprise us in a way that feels earned and honest. (Not the sort of thing one should take for granted.) Beyond that, Neron’s big play—make people afraid of magical creatures, which causes them to download an app, then take away something meaningful because they can’t be bothered to read the fine print or think about the broader implications—not only resonates thematically with the storylines of John and Nora, it’s also in keeping with the themes the series has been exploring throughout the season. Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t make it dangerous or scary. You can’t blindly accept the word of nefarious government agencies, or any other monolith. We gloss over the potential consequences of an action at our peril. The list goes on.

All that stuff is great, and the intertwining ideas of those three stories does a lot to keep this episode together. Driven by affection and compassion, Nora accepts a deal blindly, and pays the price (as will others, one assumes). John also takes a group with an agenda at their word, and fails to consider what time may have worked on the person he wishes to save. He’s also got more than a dollop of hubris, and assumes his calculations about himself and Neron are correct and risking not only his soul, but the souls of Ray-Ray and Astra in the process. And then there’s NeRay (™ Mona Wu), who like many a mogul before him, uses fear to sell shit, though in this case the suggested retail value is one immortal soul.

Also good, unsurprisingly: The performances, particularly those of Courtney Ford, Matt Ryan, Adam Tsekhman, and the delightful Jane Carr, who I’m glad to see still playing Tabitha (the last episode sure made it sound like she’d be getting a new host body in this episode). Tsekhman has a particularly tricky needle to thread, and if the Gary stuff doesn’t totally work (more on that in a bit), it comes close thanks in no small part to his efforts. Gary and Mona share a similarly trying effect, in that both are written to be a bit irritating (I’m assuming that’s the idea with Mona, as Sara’s early annoyance with her served as an episode-driving story). Yet Tsekman has mostly succeeded in making all that Gary-ness feel driven by the character’s need to impress or ingratiate, something that hasn’t yet happened for Mona. Ford and Ryan, on the other hand, remain predictably strong, but no one phones it in—though it must be said that Brandon Routh seems less than comfortable in some of his scenes as NeRay; he’s actually best when NeRay attempts light banter, as though the soul of Ray Palmer is fighting to get out.

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Still, because it’s Gary who monopolizes most of the Legends, he similarly eats up a lot of the show’s real estate. That’s a little unfortunate, because the handling of the Gary story—similar in many ways to other adversary-becomes-teammate stories the show has attempted—marks a rare misstep for what’s become one of The CW’s best and most consistent series. From a distance, it’s all classic Legends: the team initially wants to get the situation handled without considering what’s motivating the action, but something or someone prompts them to consider the whole picture; the Legends then use that information to persuade the adversary to cease whatever harmful thing they were about, and when shame or remorse might drive them away, they’re instead welcomed into the band of misfits. (See also: Zari, Amaya, Charlie, Mona.)

But “Terms Of Service” brushes past one of the big questions the show might otherwise address, however lightly: It doesn’t really acknowledge the immensity of the violation Gary perpetrates, both in this episode and the last. However wronged he might be—and particularly after this episode, I think it’s fair to say he wronged, particularly by Ava—it’s no excuse to take away someone’s autonomy, and he does it for two episodes in a row. It’s particularly distressing when he forces a whole book into the heads of the book club participants in seconds, and when he sets Ava and Sara up to dance themselves to death, a great sight gag that’s nevertheless disturbing (particularly as it’s a man asking two women in a romantic relationship to perform for him.)

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Does that mean that Gary can’t be welcomed aboard the Waverider at episode’s end? No. If any show could take a Kilgrave-lite situation and make it forgivable, it’s this one, since it has “you are not your worst day” spray-painted across its side in big bold letters. But “Terms Of Service” seems to be missing some beats of understanding, both on the part of the Legends and of Gary himself. We get from horrorshow to all-hands-on-deck very, very fast. Sara and Ava, smiling and laughing to keep the fragile man from hurting them or others—that’s an upsetting, and all too familiar, sight. It’s unlike Legends to treat such a thing lightly

None of that makes “Terms Of Service” a bad episode of Legends Of Tomorrow. It does, however, render it somewhat less satisfying than its fellows, and makes Gary’s new friendships seem more dubious and uncomfortable than I suspect they were meant to be. Here’s hoping for better from Gary, each of his three nipples, and the show in next week’s finale. 

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Stray observations

  • A nice piece on Legends in The Mary Sue.
  • I, too, would love a ghost friend.
  • I am not a Hellblazer expert by any stretch, would love any of you who have to share your thoughts on the Triumvirate/Astra.
  • “The worst part is, Ray loves tech events.”
  • “Yeah, forming stupid Beebos.”
  • Why the fuck not?: Put “the Legends save the Bake Off cast from a pernicious fairy” in the “why was that off-screen?!” hall of fame, next to the ABBA caper.
  • Line-reading of the week: “GARY YOU DICK!”
  • Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: “Oh, that’s why Mick’s always grumpy.”
  • Updated season four episode title ranking: 15 and 14 (tie). Witch Hunt and The Getaway 13. Terms Of Service (Thematically and narratively accurate but kind of dull, no?) 12. Dancing Queen 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.
  • Arrow corner: Full review coming, will update when finished.
  • Here’s this week’s Legends in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song form. Gary, to the Legends:

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About the author

Allison Shoemaker

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves television, bourbon, and dramatically overanalyzing social interactions.