Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Nick Zano, Jes Macallan, Caity Lotz, Dominic Purcell, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Matt Ryan, Tala Ashe
Nick Zano, Jes Macallan, Caity Lotz, Dominic Purcell, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Matt Ryan, Tala Ashe
Photo: Jeff Weddell (The CW)
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Last week we ran down some of the greatest hits of the Legends repertoire. Two major items were missing from that list, but perhaps it was fate (or the Fates) because both popped up this week. First, there’s the obligatory physical-manifestation-of-Gideon episode, a rare but reliably entertaining occurrence. If Gideon shows up, the episode in question is bound to be something of an event. And then there’s the Legends episode that seems like a romp—and is, in fact, at least sort of a romp—but which is also an exploration of a rich, complex theme. Some, if not all, of the show’s best hours do exactly this, and “I Am Legends,” a promising, thoughtful, bonkers “part one” of an episode in the vein of “Hello No, Dolly!” and “Guest Starring John Noble,” does it very, very well. The theme, naturally, is death.

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And actually, there’s a third greatest-hit to add to the list: Sara Lance dying. Nobody does it better—or more frequently.

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Sure, these deaths—or most of them, at least—won’t be permanent. (Gary will make it through, if only because no one else would remember to feed Gary Jr. II his fabricator veggies.) But “I Am Legends,” credited to Ray Utarnachitt, Leah Poulliot, and Emily Cheever (Cheever and Poulliot each making their TV writing debut) does an impeccable job of making those losses feel real and shocking. Some of that is down to sheer cleverness: The episode hinges on that chalice-granted immortality, which means they can’t be killed—super-zombies, if you will. It allows them to take risks they might not otherwise survive; that’s heightened by a few other near-death experiences without the immortal touch. But it’s not all broad strokes, and the writers thread the needle gently. When Ava’s not popping up after being shot in the head and Mick isn’t throwing himself out of the back of a moving car without even attempting to tuck and roll, the characters spend their time talking about memory, remorse, loss, and love—you know, death stuff—and thus the hijinks and more delicate thematic elements all emerge from the same place.

There’s also a very simple trick that “I Am Legends” pulls, and it’s essential to the success of this strong hour. It’s that shot to the head that Ava takes, a shocking jolt, brutal and violent and comically impermanent. The Legends, Sara tells Ava, are all about improvisation; a solution inevitability arises even when there seems to be no way out. (“Get in losers, we’re going Looming.”) But Sara spends the episode in a state of ominous calm, and when Ava finally asks her about it, the tone shifts immediately. Up to that point, with the possible exception of Zari’s slightly delayed return to the land of the living, it’s all Ava popping back up and ejecting the bullet from her body. But once that scene happens, once the Time Team starts to get sentimental as they wait for their one great hope to charge up, there’s a definite shift. It’s there before Zari’s timer ever runs all the way out. They all know it. Eventually, even for time-travelers, death comes calling.

Legends Of Tomorrow has nearly always** done a better job of exploring big ideas thematically than all of its Arrowverse brethren (and many other TV shows), specifically because it often approaches the heaviest stuff from a weird, funny angle. It’s not that it takes mortality, love, and regret any less seriously than other such stories—Ava’s clone backstory, for example, has been both solid comedic fodder and an opportunity to explore issues of identity, memory, betrayal, and self-loathing. Yet it never stops being fun. Sara Lance was a death witch when the death totem possessed her. John Constantine threw himself a funeral. Ray’s remorse over fatally wounding Nora led to a dueling Damien Darhk heist. Zari died over and over again, but she still got the fun montage. “I Am Legends,” a very funny, very silly episode that sees a bunny-hopping Amy Louise Pemberton play Gideon as imagined by Gary as Gary Jr. II, carries on that fine Legends tradition. It’s all fun and games until—well, it never stops being fun and games. It’s just that it was always bigger than that, too.

The episode does, however, raise some sticky time-travel issues. How does Sara’s power interact with time-travel? If they’re capable of changing the future—and we’ve seen endless evidence that they are—then what prevents them from changing Sara’s fate (and thus the fate of them all)? And since we’ve seen Sara prevent a future she’s seen from happening (“Zari, hide that fork”), what makes this circumstance different? And while I doubt very much we’ll ever see an answer to this, how does Sara’s SaraVision correspond to and interact with Gideon’s abilities when it comes to future events? If Sara gets a flash and the Legends find the encore/correct the anachronism/solve the mythery, would she touch the same person or object and find it’s changed? And for that matter—apologies to those of you who only watch this show and not the rest of the Arrowverse—how does SaraVision relate to Cisco’s abilities as Vibe?

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Still, I’m content to mostly not think about it too much. While Sara takes a backseat here, by her own design, “I Am Legends” is a fitting approach to a story about the impending death of this particular character, who has died and died and died again, with a few comas thrown in for good measure. If anyone in this story has a practical yet emotional response to death, it’s Sara Lance. The apocalypse doesn’t faze her, and neither does her own end. She’s content with her life, and she trusts her friends, and her co-captain, to do what’s best and necessary, whether she comes back or not. (Which, of course, she will.)

If the A-story is that of the Legends moving unknowingly but inexorably toward death-by-zombie (just be glad Martin Stein was spared this particular adventure), then the B- and C-stories were Zari and Constantine’s side-quest and Gary’s adventures aboard the Waverider. The Zari/Constantine story is just an excuse to get them to bicker and make out; while they haven’t totally put in the work to sell that particular story yet, the actors have such solid chemistry that I’m fine with it. And this is a particularly solid use of Adam Tsekhman’s Gary, whose suitably bonkers sub-plot gives him things to actually do, rather than relegating him to punchlines and screw-ups. Both also concern themselves with mortality, as Gary survives electrocution in order to try to bring Astra back to the side of the good guys and Zari and Constantine talk about and then actually confront literal death. That, and Amy Louise Pemberton bunny-hops across the floor. That’s some good shit right there.

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So yes, it’ll all almost certainly be undone. But the feeling, as Sara Lance’s journey over the last several years indicates, will linger. Death comes calling for all of us, and not always in a permanent way; it touches us through the deaths of others, accidents and illnesses that could have been much worse, the car that swerves just in time and the handrail that allows you to catch your fall. Assuming Charlie can best her sisters, the Legends will find that handrail. But the shortened breath and quickened pulse, the burst of fear or gratitude or both—that’ll stick around. At least, until they all get turned into puppets again.

* - I assume, despite steeling up, that Nate died as well—perhaps his strength just gives out? And while Constantine doesn’t have a soul, he presumably also bit the dust.

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** - We won’t mention season one.

Stray observations

  • It matters not at all, but this was the first episode in years in which I heard Dominick Purcell’s impeccable accent slip, and it happened repeatedly.
  • Thoughtful of the Legends to head right for the Quarantine zone.
  • The score has been terrific for a few episodes in a row but the Gary/Gideon buddy theme was especially fun.
  • I don’t know what the Zari/Constantine ‘ship name is and I refuse to look it up because it should be “Hellbreezer” and I will accept no other.
  • Episode MVP: Jes Macallan sold the holy crap out of those last few scenes. Some of the best acting all season, honestly. This is also the second solid episode in a row for Olivia Swann.
  • Why the fuck not?: Just a bunch of temporarily immortal time-travelers, waiting for a bus.
  • Sight-gag of the week: Couldn’t pick a line-reading, so just want to shout out two perfect uses of Nate’s Steelability: First, when you heard the zombies unsuccessfully attempt to bite him; second, when Mick pushed him out of the back of the truck and sparks flew.
  • Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: Nate using air-quotes when saying they’re “friends” with Astra now; the Shaun Of The Dead/The World’s End vibe.
  • Season five episode title ranking: 12. Miss Me, Kiss Me, Love Me 11. Meet The Legends. 10. A Head Of Her Time. 9. Zari, Not Zari 8. Ship Broken 7. I Am Legends. 6. The Great British Fake Off. 5. Freaks And Greeks 4. Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac. 3 and 2 (tie). Slay Anything and Mortal Khanbat. 1. Romeo V. Juliet: Dawn Of Justness.
  • This week’s Legends in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song form. This is a repeat but I don’t care even a little, it’s too perfect.

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

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