The novels of Jane Austen combine biting social commentary and wry humor with genuine romance, a blend that has made them enduring classics. There have been many adaptations, both faithful and loose, over the years; the most successful never lose sight of the comedy laced throughout her stories, even in the face of heartbreak and mortality. (That list includes Clueless, which is perfect. Moving on.) Those that fall short most often sacrifice that element in service of others—like, say, zombies. All that is to say that Austen’s not particularly easy to do well. It’s not enough to be funny; it has to be the right kind of funny. It’s not enough to be romantic; it has to be honest and simple, too. And above all else, it has to be really, really smart.
“Séance And Sensibility” doesn’t check all those boxes, but it’s a lot of fun and a little bit moving, all the same.
The trouble with doing an Austen-inspired episode is that comparisons will inevitably be drawn to the writer’s work, and that’s a high bar to clear. While the writing on Legends is generally very good and sometimes excellent—they did successfully make the team fusing into a giant being of goodness and light in the form of Beebo, God Of War an emotionally resonant moment, after all—it’s not Jane Austen. There are other comparisons that this episode, credited to Grainne Godfree and Jackie Canino, brings upon itself as well, namely in that we’re living through a pretty good time for musical numbers on television, from classics like Buffy’s “One More With Feeling” to the more recent triumphs of The Magicians, to say nothing of the fact that TV’s greatest musical series just ended its run on the network Legends calls home.
That’s all quite a lot to live up to for a series working at a bit of a disadvantage. (More on that later.) I’ll admit that on a first watch, “Séance and Sensibility” seemed like a real missed opportunity to me. It wasn’t clever enough or romantic enough to feel like it lived in Austenland, and the musical number, while engaging, seemed less like a necessary piece of the story and more like an excuse to do something audacious. But when revisiting this Alexandra La Roche, the flaws seem to fade and the heart comes through. Whether or not this fictional Jane can deliver one-liners quite as savage as her real-life counterpart matters a lot less. What’s important is the exploration of the hang-ups preventing Zari (Tala Ashe), Nate (Nick Zano), and Mona (Ramona Young) from confronting, processing, and accepting their own feelings: their pride, prejudice, sense, sensibility, grief, fear, and anger. They may identify these qualities in others at the episode’s outset, but through its events, are forced to confront those they find in themselves. All that is very Austen.
Having a compelling heroine is also very Austen, and Legends certainly has that in Ashe. While this hour doesn’t rival “Here I Go Again,” the show’s finest hour to date, in opportunities for Ashe to dig deep, it’s still a marvelous showcase for one of the series’ most consistent and capable performers. She’s just marvelous. Watching Zari navigate her persistent sexual and romantic tension with Nate, the ribbing of her teammates, the machinations of a charming driver who’s actually a god who’s actually a guy named Sanjay, the understandably volatile emotions of Mona, and the spinning dancers of her very own dance number is a total pleasure. Ashe plays nearly everything a little close to the vest, as Zari almost always has, but it’s an even more effective choice here than usual. It means that when she finally gives way to overpowering, unguarded sensibility—like Marianne Dashwood by way of Lydia Bennett—the contrast is striking.
Zano’s approach, nearly as effective, is very different. As Nate confronts the death of his father at, he thinks, the hands of a woman his dear friend helped to escape, he gradually gives way to more and more of the anger and bitterness that percolate through him. It’s an emotional state eventually done in by the discovery that his dad wasn’t torturing magical creatures, but attempting to train them so he could create the theme park of young Nate’s dreams; how it will affect his relationship with the rest of the team remains to be seen, but it’s a safe bet it won’t be good.
Where the episode really stumbles is in Mona’s storyline. Zari is an Elinor Dashwood gradually goaded into becoming a Marianne/Lydia hybrid; Nick’s a bit of a Mr. Darcy and a bit of an Elizabeth Bennett, stoking an indignant fury because he’s operating without all the facts. Mona, then, is bit Marianne Dashwood, a bit Anne Elliott (from Persuasion), and while Young (with Ashe’s help in that pivotal argument) makes a convincing case for Mona’s “pure and elevating passion,” as Austen might have called it, the show has yet to really do the same.
This is where the disadvantages come in. This first trio of episodes after the mid-season break seem to be doing a lot of table-setting, and it’s likely this will be the end of that: Zari and Nate are now properly positioned for a romance, Ray and Nate for conflict, Ava and Sara for continued heartbreak or reconciliation, and Constantine for pursuit of the demon now ruining the lives of his friends, as well as himself and his lover. But not all of that setting has been effective. This hour goes a long way to making the unexpectedly fast-moving Zari-Nate pairing a plausible one, but Konane’s death means that while Mona may have been able to fall in love with him very quickly, the audience had little chance to do the same. Yet the episode’s climax depends on that relationship carrying emotional weight with viewers. In this writer’s opinion, the show never quite gets there.
It’s a shortcoming that sets off-balance an episode that’s engaging at worst, delightful at best. It can’t diminish Ashe’s performance, however. This fictional Jane Austen may not have a wit as sharp as the real deal, and this story may not be a match for her works, but it’s a winning hour all the same, anchored by an actor willing to explore the pain and fear behind the quips and detachment. All that, and she sings, too.
- The sex dream version of Ray-Ray sexily asking for sexy consent? A+, Legends.
- That cheek kiss? Also A+.
- Also A+? The filmmaking here. This is one of the best-looking episodes of Legends to date.
- History lesson: Cassandra Austen. Also, taking a turn about the room is like pure, medical-grade Austen shit. It’s right up there being astonished, earning one’s approbation or disapprobation, and politely tolerating rich idiots and/or irritating relations.
- Why the fuck not?: I cannot stress this enough: Bollywood number in the Regency era spurred by licking the ashes of a god. Sort of makes the dry-humping at the wedding, the shipwide sex dreams, and the fact that Rory got possessed by Papa Heywood all seem kind of chill, huh?
- Line-reading of the week: Any and all uses of the word “smash” were perfect, but let’s all salute Sara Lance saying “Ava” in her sleep, too.
- Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: “We’re so not passing the Bechdel test right now.”
- Updated season four episode title ranking: 11 and 10 (tie). Witch Hunt (too easy) and The Getaway (same); 9. Dancing Queen (disappointing lack of disco, bonus for surprise appearance of the queen); 8 and 7 (tie). Tagumo Attacks!!! (love the exclamation points, dinged for lack of cheesy pun) and Lucha De Apuestas (exciting, to the point, also no pun); 6. Tender Is The Nate (needed more F. Scott Fitzgerald, made me giggle); 5. Hell No, Dolly! (no musical numbers? You’re killin’ me, writers); 4. Wet Hot American Bummer (still laughing, months later; for a fun bonus, imagine Constantine doing Paul Rudd-style cleaning); 3. Séance And Sensibility (excellent); 2. The Virgin Gary (solid contender for best Legends title, though nothing will ever beat Guest Starring John Noble); 1. Legends Of To-Meow-Meow (see #2).
- Inspired by last week’s comments, here’s this week’s Legends in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song form. (Almost went with “I’m So Good At Yoga,” but this is actually much more in the spirit of the episode.)