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In its eighth episode, Legends of Tomorrow strands its heroes and villains in both space and time, with pretty solid results. From a plot standpoint, it’s pretty simple: they go from having no leads in their hunt for Savage to a specific time and place in history, and Mick’s volatility moves past the point of simply worrisome and into full-tilt mutiny. But in putting the big mission aside and focusing on the characters and relationships, Legends delivers its best episode to date.

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It’s also the most fun, and arguably the most hard-hitting as well. While not all the individual storylines prove compelling—stop trying to make Ray and Kendra happen, it’s not going to happen—most have a quiet, understated gravity, and manage to maintain the show’s levels of bombast without sacrificing depth. Even the silliest and briefest of the sub-plots, that of Dr. Stein realizing he needs to save his teammates alone, feels honest and earned, with Stein treating a potentially catastrophic situation like the once-in-a-lifetime adventure that it is. When life hands you lemons, you embrace your inner space ranger, steal a guard’s beret, and get out there and save your friends, dammit.

But as great as Stein is in this episode (Victor Garber, national treasure), he’s far from the main event. After receiving a distress call from another Time Master (and confessing to Stein that he’s out of leads in the hunt for Savage), Rip decides to head out and help this stranded captain, in hopes that it will lead to information on Savage. (It all has something to do with the ship’s connection to time, and this is where being a Doctor Who fan gets one in trouble, because this would all be much easier to explain in terms of the TARDIS and the time vortex.) This essentially splits the heroes into two groups: those who stay above the Waverider—Sara, Snart, Ray, and Kendra—and those who run into the pirates. Yes, pirates.

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Aboard the Acheron, Rip, Jax, and Mick get tossed in the brig with the ship’s erstwhile captain, and Rip’s mounting frustration butts directly into Mick’s. Dominic Purcell has never been my favorite performer in the Arrowverse, but he really sells the hell out of everything he’s given this week, layering his performance with anger, betrayal, and humiliation. The moment when Rip tells him he was just a part of the package with Snart hits particularly hard, and best of all, the emotional nuance doesn’t dull any of the edges from his character. Instead, it makes him seem all the more dangerous and volatile, a quality that’s key to making a story like this work. Work, it does.

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It helps that he’s got not one but two solid performers opposing him in “Marooned.” As mentioned above, he’s thrown up against Arthur Darvill, who finally gets a chance to dig into what makes Hunter tick. While the flashbacks don’t prove particularly compelling, they offer some valuable character insight. They also help to feed the panic, helplessness, and rage that explode out of Hunter, first at Mick, and then in an athletic and beautifully edited fight sequence that connects all the disparate storylines. Best of all, the first flashback leads directly to one of those wonderful twists that, in spite of being surprising, feel inevitable. Hunter’s courtship story might not be thrilling, but it’s worth it for the connection between Miranda’s brilliant move in the battle simulator and Hunter using that same move to get rid of the pirates. The memory of her has now saved his life, and that underlines his need to find a way to save his family.

The group about the Waverider may not have to airlock some pirates, but they have troubles aplenty, and a blast door separates them into two camps: camp super-suit and space-date, and camp freezing-to-death. If “Marooned” has a sour note, it’s this Ray-Kendra storyline, which doesn’t feel remotely organic. There’s no denying that Brandon Routh has got the awkwardly charming thing locked down, but if the whole thing is a bit of a whim—and that’s what it seemed to be last week—then those teary declarations feel a bit over the top.

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No, it’s camp freezing-to-death that does the heavy lifting. Caity Lotz and Wentworth Miller are terrific together, with Lotz’s quiet honestly helping to emphasize the subtle things hidden in Miller’s stylized Captain Cold. Their conversation about death, which Sara describes as lonely, leads directly into the story of Rory and Snart’s first encounter, and it’s an affecting little scene made all the more impressive by the fact that nobody kicked anyone or froze anything or made a pop culture reference. All those things are great, but sometimes it’s just nice to watch people do some good old-fashioned acting.

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If you have not watched the episode and do not want to be spoiled about a major occurrence, stop reading here.

In addition to being well-acted, well-written, and and well-directed (by Gregory Smith), the scene also adds an element of foreshadowing. Looking back at “Star City 2046,” it makes sense that the rift that gets brought to the forefront in that episode should reach a breaking point, though it is surprising that it arrived so quickly. On television, it’s never good to trust a death until you see a body (and a body, in the Arrowverse, is no guarantee either), so it’s entirely possible that Mick won’t be an icicle next time we see him. Regardless of what happened when Snart pulled that trigger, it’s clear that something’s irrevocably broken.

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The final scene was affecting, of course, but it’s the one that precedes it that packs the real punch: they can’t just drop the mutinous Rory in 2016, Snart says, because he’ll go after all of their families. That’s what’s become of the relationship that started when a guy who stood up for the littlest kid in juvy. It’s a surprisingly brutal statement, made all the more so because Miller delivers it without a trace of Snart’s customary sneer. He’s a mad dog, plain and simple, and he has to be put down.

In spite of the darkness, “Marooned” is a fun and energetic installment in a series that has, to date, struggled to find a balance between maintaining the stakes and not taking itself so damn seriously. This is an episode where they found that exact balance. Perhaps they can go back in time and find that balance in past episodes, or at least make sure that it happens in the future.

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Stray observations

  • Thanks to Oliver for letting me fill in this week!
  • Hey-it’s-that-guy watch: Callum Keith Rennie, a.k.a. Leoben Conoy!
  • “NASA has rather strict guidelines about near-sightedness.” “And smoking weed.”
  • “Correct me if I’m wrong—you Rip frickin’ Hunter? Thought you’d be taller.”
  • “That slogan should come with its own shovel.”
  • “Make sure Picard here doesn’t get us all killed. “Actually, I’m more like Sulu right now.”
  • “Now, who would care to join me in a daring escape?” “Space Ranger!” “Indeed.”
  • Here’s more about Jon Valor, and just for kicks, one of the phrases Rip used to activate Gideon’s emergency protocols.
  • It’s an odd thing, writing about the Time Master with guilt issues and a stolen ship, played by Arthur Darvill, and his passenger, Mr. Rory.

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