Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)

“Dancing Queen” makes one thing about everyone’s favorite magic narc perfectly clear: When he follows his own moral compass, Ray-Ray can’t fail.

Many a thread gets tugged in the rollicking third episode of Legends Of Tomorrow’s fourth season, up to and including Nate’s heartbreak, Gary’s love life, the ongoing Constantine-Mick feud, Zari’s continued turmoil about her inability to change the past, the Nora thing, the state of the Sara-Ava union, Constantine’s backstory and the threat he’s hiding, and the team’s shifting dynamics. They also find time to get Zari’s totem back in a piece of jewelry and work in several grade-A Captain Lance quips. Oh, and they find a way to bring Maisie Richardson-Sellers back into the fold. No big deal.

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That’s a lengthy to-do list, yet Legends sets them up and knocks them down with admirable efficiency. They get so much done, in fact, that one could be forgiven for considering “Dancing Queen” a character study, much in the way that “Here I Go Again” served to further develop Zari and “Welcome To The Jungle” was a Mick-centric affair. We’re overdue for a Ray story, not because his character is particularly shallowly drawn (though there was a stretch in season two when Ray and Nate seemed to speak in the same voice), but because Ray (Brandon Routh) is such a key part of this show—every bit as important as Sara Lance. Take out that gentle goofiness, that earnestness and honesty, and nothing would sing quite the way it does now.

Put that gentle goofiness, that earnestness and honesty into a punk band? That’s just brilliant.

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It’s not exactly groundbreaking to use an episode centered on one member of a sizable ensemble to further develop or explore said character—that’s an idea that goes back decades—but this is a pretty decent example of the tactic. It’s also a great example of one of the things Legends does best: Tweaking the circumstances to put a character in the most interesting possible position through the magic of time travel (and of magic). “Dancing Queen” does that four times, actually. It puts Ray with a punk band (a punk band! Ray-Ray the punk!). It puts Constantine with his mother and father, and puts a particularly weary, sad Zari there to walk him through it. It puts Nate in a position to process his breakup with some help from Gary, also newly dumped. And it puts Amaya back in the narrative just in time for Charlie the punk (Anjli Mohindra) to get stuck with her face, a circumstance that should draw interesting things out of all the characters going forward.

All four work, to varying degrees, but Ray’s takes the cake. Legends has regularly floated the idea that Ray Palmer, a genius inventor with a heart of freakin’ gold, is often underestimated by the people around him. Amaya did it. Damien Darhk did it. Mick, Sara, and both halves of Firestorm have done it from time to time. And here, all the Legends do it, first making him wait in the van, then setting him up to steal a royal corgi by asking for it nicely (if it would please the crown), and lastly, and most damningly, by not listening to his repeated assertions that damning this young being to hell is the wrong move—wrong tactically, wrong morally, wrong.

Ray calls Amaya the team’s moral compass, but he’s filled that role before, too—most notably in the Nora-Damien storyline, when after shooting Nora he returns to help heal her, putting himself in mortal peril (and leading to one of last season’s best episodes.) And that’s what he does here, though it should be noted that he doesn’t actually get anyone to listen to him, as Zari doesn’t take the air off Charlie until she’s speaking out of Amaya’s face. Still, when left to his own devices, Ray has no choice but to follow his instincts. When he’s pretending to be someone he isn’t, the mission is in peril. When he’s just being himself, and going with his gut, things go pretty much swimmingly. Well, mostly.

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It’s pretty cool that Legends managed to explore the idea of authenticity and the nature of punk in the context of a shapeshifting story. It’s even cooler that the same mechanism allows the series to bring Maisie Richardson-Sellers back onto the Waverider. The fact that they tie all of that to an existing adventure of which we know but have not seen is just the cherry on top. It’s clean and clever, zany in the way that Legends is almost zany but deliciously purposeful.

Cheers to writers James Eagan & Morgan Faust for pulling it off, and making room for all that good character development and those delightful one-liners. Cheers to director Kristin Windell, who uses every frame efficiently but never makes the proceedings feel rushed (and the corgi sequence is particularly excellent). And cheers to sweet, sweet Ray Palmer, who knows that punk isn’t about an Irish accent (ahem, Declan) or any kind of purity test. It’s about disrupting the system and waking people up, even if those people are your friends, and even if you have to expose your super-science Atom suit to a potentially dangerous shapeshifter to do it.

Stray observations

  • Why the fuck not: “Gary gives Nate a welcome-to-the-office that’s actually a mythterious man-eating plant” has got to be tied with “Ray gets so caught up in the spirit of punk that he gets a tattoo of a mohawked royal corgi,” yeah? With an honorable mention for the ball kick paradox?
  • Gideon, what’s the most meta moment this week?: Taco Monday? They “dare to defy.”
  • Did anyone else catch the Doctor Who-esque theremin in the score as the Waverider raced off to “Jolly Old”? Especially appropriate, given that Anjli Mohindra played a major role on the Who spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures.
  • Speaking of Mohindra, the only downside of Charlie’s new face is that she won’t be able to return. Really great guest turn.
  • The article about the mystery disco group includes a mention that “two of them disappeared before the encore,” so that would be Nate and Amaya boning mid-mission, as revealed in “Here I Go Again.” And as a reminder, the disco mission was to stop Napoleon Bonaparte from getting his hands on an 8-track of ABBA’s “Waterloo” (hence Ray’s “Mamma Mia”).
  • “She’s not gonna sleep with you, Haircut,” followed by Zari’s little shrug? Perfect.
  • “I can see where your nipple was.”
  • Line reading of the night: “Because I like to watch you grow.”
  • “It’s like a little flag hanging from someone’s neck, saying, “I’m a liar.”
  • If this whole shapeshifter storyline is just a way of allowing Richardson-Sellers to speak in her own accent, that’s just fine by me. Very much looking forward to seeing what she does with a new role.

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