Legends is on quite a hot streak. By my extremely precise calculations, there hasn’t been an episode that could even kind of be considered a dud since season three’s “Amazing Grace”—an episode which, you’ll remember, includes one of Legends’ best-ever gags in an episode-ending tribute to Axl the rat. “Tender Is The Nate” is no dud, but it does share a few things in common with last week’s “Tagumo Attacks!!!” in that it fits in so much story that it’s difficult not to regret the avenues unexplored.
Put another way: This hour sure is fun, but I wish there’d been more time for Hank and the Minotaur to stare into each other’s souls. That, and more naked yoga.
As enjoyable as the stints in the Time Bureau are—and Ava, Nora, and Mona’s friendship incubator brims with delight—it’s starting to seem as though that additional split in the show’s focus is perhaps more than can be easily sustained. It’s too early (and totally unnecessary) to worry, as even a spread-too-thin Legends is its own kind of wonderful and there’s no reason to suspect that there aren’t more “Here We Go Again”-s in our future. But this is the second episode in a row, and the third (and perhaps the fourth) this season, that could have benefitted from a narrower focus.
It’s not that all these storylines aren’t crackerjack. But imagine what could come from more time with the Fitzgeralds, or with Nate and Charlie, or with Ray trying to write a letter and just deciding to go in the envelope himself, or with Hank high on Gideon’s painkillers and plotting the hunting of the minotaur, or even one more minute with Ava and Sara. Nate Heywood went to Paris in the ’20s and didn’t try absinthe? I object.
Still, put yourself in that writers room and imagine trying to cut one of these sub-plots. (Indeed, it almost feels as though one was cut, as surely there was at least some desire to watch Zari and Constantine kill time on the ship with Gideon’s new face.) How can you blame credited writers Phil Klemmer and Matthew Maala for not wanting to axe even a single moment of the friend incubator? So, were they supposed to cut some of the actual minotaur stuff instead? Surely not—there’s already not much there. The budgetary stuff is a) hilarious and b) the entire reason Hank is on the ship, so that stays. If Nate’s involved, the Charlie/Amaya stuff must be contended with, so that’s not going anywhere. What’s left? Cut Sara showing up in non-work shoes? Not on your life.
That’s the trouble with scattering your players: You can only devote quality time to so many, and to attempt to cover them all is to slightly weaken all. It’s a state of affairs that seems unlikely to be rectified anytime soon, now that Nate’s officially gone corporate (and now that Jess Macallan is a series regular). As is fitting, based on the title—a good one*—the lion’s share of narrative energy goes to Nate and Hank. It’s interesting territory, but well-trodden, too, and while it may be more emotionally honest to show that Nate and Hank’s previous issues would pop up again and again, it’s not the liveliest ground covered. Still, it gives Nick Zano a chance to do that funny-sad-wry-resigned-irritated-funny-again blend he does so well, and leads to a few great scenes between Zano and Tom Wilson, who’ve played very well off each other in this fourth season. Nate’s decision to permanently move off the Waverider does seem a bit sudden, but I buy into it because the actor sells the emotional arc so well.
That last bit is also true of the fast-forged friendship between Nora, Ava, and Mona. Ava’s irritation, frustration, and resentment are all perfectly in keeping with the character—remember her earliest interactions with the Legends?—and so is her gradual thaw. It helps that, as was the case with “Wet Hot American Bummer,” a thoughtful character pairing brings out new and interesting layers for each. Ava’s lack of a childhood could not be more different from Nora’s lack of a childhood, and their messed-up parental issues are equally dissimilar. But there’s a resonance there that would never have occurred to this viewer before they started to talk, and Mona’s eager presence added a compelling wrinkle and plenty of warmth. So that’s all pretty well handled, too.
That means that it’s the monster-mission itself that really gets short shrift here—well, the mission, and the pack of 20th century luminaries that wander through Paris. Hemingway gets plenty of jokes (“I’ll never surrender, but I will strategically retreat” is a particular highlight) but the setting, and the players, are largely and frustratingly incidental (again, save Hemingway). Legends has done more with less interesting settings in less time, and that’s a bit of a bummer.
And yet, how much of a problem is that in the long run? We haven’t covered the pizza party, Uncaged Desire, Mona’s cubicle decor, Sara using her assassin skills to hide in her lingerie while Hank is in Ava’s office, Charlie clocking Nate, Mick’s face when Charlie clocks Nate, or Gideon’s repeated reminders to the team that she exists, to name just a few giddy elements of this episode. It’s not a masterpiece of construction, nor is it the most emotionally resonant hour of a surprisingly affecting series. But it’s a goddamned hoot, and I enjoyed every minute.
Come on, this is an episode that worked in a who’s-on-first style bit that began with “Someone say loot?!” in which a somewhat retired thief perks up when a historian mentions the name of the stringed instrument he plans to play to lull a minotaur to sleep. What’s not to love?
* — Season four episode titles, ranked: 6. Witch Hunt (too on the nose), 5. Dancing Queen (disappointing lack of disco, bonus for surprise appearance of the queen), 4. Tagumo Attacks!!! (love the exclamation points, dinged for lack of cheesy pun), 3. Tender Is The Nate (needed more F. Scott Fitzgerald, made me giggle), 2. Wet Hot American Bummer (still laughing, weeks later; for a fun bonus, imagine Constantine doing Paul Rudd-style cleaning), 1. The Virgin Gary (solid contender for best Legends title, though nothing will ever beat Guest Starring John Noble). Next week’s episode is called Hell No, Dolly! Expect it to rank high.
- Why the fuck not?: Hank Heywood, played by Tom Wilson, lulls a minotaur with daddy issues to sleep by playing and singing “Sweet Baby James” in a café in 1920s Paris.
- Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: “Sounds like some classic Legends hijinks to me!” followed by “And hopefully learn some life lessons along the way.” Would also accept “No ‘shipping the inmates.”
- Line reading of the week: “That was complete garbage, I’m American, soccer, yard sticks, ranch dressing, weasel.”
- I agree, Ava. Who doesn’t want to see a Ray Palmer love letter?
- “I thought he blew up in space.” “You are so insensitive.” Legends is insanely good at casual, funny, but highly relevant throwback references to earlier episodes. That one’s a beaut.
- The Legends play D&D! Quick: Ray, lawful good; Nate, neutral good; Sara and Zari, chaotic good; Rory, chaotic neutral; Ava, lawful neutral; Gary and Gideon, neutral good; Nora, Charlie, and Constantine, chaotic neutral. Too early to tell: Hank and Mona.
- Uh, why doesn’t Gideon produce the condiments, too? The costumes I can imagine being somehow tricky, but if she can make beer, surely she can also make beer mustard. And while we’re at it—the Waverider has a budget of many millions of dollars, yet no one gets paid? Nate is right. Unionize.
- Arrow corner: I know y’all have been doing this in the comments, so figured we’d make it official (though I can’t guarantee I can watch live every week). I thought it was good! A bottle episode that wasn’t a bottle episode. If Diaz is truly done, it’s not a moment too soon. And I wish that the Stanley reveal hadn’t felt so inevitable. Still, pretty into it, overall, and it was a far more satisfying conclusion than the end of The Flash’s prison storyline.