Warning: This is a recap and contains spoilers, so do not read this until you have watched the episode. For information on how to watch it, click here.
After last week’s adventure with Civil War zombies, we head back to the future (well, at least the future, as far as 1865 is concerned) this week for another visit to the 1980s. The episode starts promisingly, with Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) doing a shady deal in full-on Miami Vice gear, with all the appropriate music and everything, but sadly that joke only lasts one scene.
A dash of brilliance followed by disappointment is typical of this episode, which has a couple of great ideas, but doesn’t really know what to do with them. Still, on the plus side, there is some excellent character juggling on display, plus we get some forward motion, as a handful of future plots are set up.
The episode starts with Nate building a time seismograph in order to detect timequakes caused by aberrations in history. This rather ignores the fact that they were spotting time aberrations perfectly well before Nate came along – What is Gideon, anyway? Chopped liver? etc. – but whatever, they have a time seismograph now and they’re damn well going to use it.
Once again, it does seem a little odd that they’re all focused on this time seismograph thingy instead of, you know, hunting down Rex Tyler’s killer, which is the whole reason Amaya stowed away on the Waverider in the first place. If I were Amaya, I’d be unleashing a whole load of animal spirits on their collective asses right about now, but I guess they’re saving the Reverse-Flash pursuit for later in the season.
Anyway, Nate’s handy new time seismograph points them in the direction of Washington in the 1980s, where they realise Darhk is trying to interfere with the INF treaty that reduced the stockpile of nuclear weapons between the US and the Soviet Union. Does that mean we’ll get to see actors playing Reagan and Gorbachev this week? Sadly, no. No, it doesn’t.
So they infiltrate the White House (represented here, quite poorly, by a couple of nondescript corridors) and discover that Darhk is a member of Reagan’s administration and therefore has the President’s ear. And who else should happen to be hanging around the Presidential entourage this week, but Young Martin Stein (Graeme McComb)?
The show has had great success in the past with its contrast between Young Stein and Old Stein, and it repeats that trick nicely here, once again putting Stein’s relationship with his wife, Clarissa, in jeopardy, as Stein observes his younger self and realises just how much he took Clarissa for granted in the past. To rectify that, he gives his younger self a powerfully emotional speech about how much they love their wife and that Young Martin should pay more attention to her, rather than obsessively pursue his work.
There’s also a lovely scene where Old Stein gets to dance with Young Clarissa and it’s actually pretty romantic stuff, as well as one of those moments where you realise, with pleasure, that this is something that only this particular show could pull off. Anyway, other than Old Stein sustaining the same, non-fatal injury when Young Stein gets shot, we don’t see any direct consequences of Stein’s interaction with his younger self, but you can bet your bottom dollar this is all going to come back to bite him somewhere down the line.
In the past, Legends of Tomorrow has often struggled to give exactly the right amount of screentime to its many characters, but it completely nails that balance here, pulling off some extremely impressive character juggling that gives everyone a significant moment.
After Stein, it’s probably Mick and Ray who have the most to do, and their ongoing bromance continues to be delightful. First, Mick gives Ray Snart’s cold gun and Ray does his best Snart impression (actually not too bad), trying to be all super-cool and laid-back. Mick’s more unsettled by that than he lets on and it soon becomes clear that he’s burying some pretty big emotions about the death of his former partner in crime. And given the fact that Snart is due to return fairly soon (possibly as a member of the Legion of Doom and, therefore, still a bad guy), this is some fairly heavy-duty emotional plot-work they’re laying down here and it will be interesting to see where it goes. (Fun theory: Mick is constantly seen eating these days and it’s not too big a leap to see that as him channelling his grief into comfort eating.)
In addition to Mick’s unspoken grief issues, we get some top quality nerdery from a still suit-less Ray, who turns out to be something of a US President geek (he has a list of his all-time favourites and everything) and positively squeals with delight when he comes across a jar of Reagan’s red, white and blue jelly beans (and promptly steals some of them). Other great Ray moments this week include him practising with the cold gun and accidentally freezing / shattering all Mick’s beers.
Perhaps the least successful storyline is the sub-plot involving Amaya, which seems really promising and gives us a great guest star in Lance Henriksen, but ultimately goes nowhere. Is it possible some of it ended up on the cutting room floor? It certainly seems that way. Anyway, Amaya announces that the JSA (Justice Society of America – keep up at the back there) have an official training facility in Washington, so she heads there with Nate to try and recruit them for the mission, only to discover that the entire team mysteriously vanished in 1956. This is in line with the comics, but I wouldn’t be surprised, if the show attempts to solve that particular mystery somewhere down the line.
Anyway, Amaya and Nate enter the facility and meet former teammate Todd “Obsidian” Rice (Henriksen), the only member of the JSA who’s still around, having escaped the fate of the rest of the team for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, but have something to do with his “not being trusted”. This is perhaps something to do with the character’s comics-ordained homosexuality, but that isn’t dwelt on here in any significant way. Instead, Obsidian serves as a painful reminder to Amaya of what she’s lost, by leaving the team when she did, while also bringing home just how much the world has and hasn’t changed in the intervening four decades.
We also get more detail on Amaya’s background, specifically her relationship with Rex Tyler, which is picked up on by Nate. Like Mick, Amaya is denying or down-playing her true feelings about Rex’s death, perhaps because their relationship was strictly forbidden by JSA fraternisation rules, but she nonetheless opens up a little to Nate, telling him that they had planned a life together once they had retired from the superhero game. There’s also a sweet moment where Amaya tells Nate about how his grandfather (Commander Steel) used to sing for the JSA, but even though there’s a slight hint of chemistry between the pair (not to mention Nate appearing on screen the moment Obsidian tells her she has to take the chance for love where she can), I don’t think the show is going to pursue a full-blown romance, at least not when the Rex issue hasn’t been completely laid to bed. I mean, he’s still got to show up in their future, right? Right?
As for Jax, he’s sidelined slightly by what’s going on with Martin, but he still has his fair share of plot development. In particular, his experiences with slavery last week have convinced him that the team need to stop being, as he calls them, “time janitors” and actively make changes to the time-line in order to make the world a better place. Positioning Jax as the team’s idealist is a nice idea and it gives him some strong material to work with, so hopefully this will play out in interesting ways for him as the season progresses.
Other than that, Jax argues with Stein (of course) about messing with the time-line and makes a Back to the Future reference, causing Stein to say that he doesn’t know who Doc Brown is. (This is some very poor continuity on the show’s part, given that Stein directly quoted Back to the Future – like a proper fan-boy, at that – when he was singing for the Nazis a couple of weeks ago, but never mind.)
As for Sara, it’s a great episode for her too, as she continues to demonstrate just why she’s the perfect choice as the team’s leader. She gets to kick plenty of ass, including a great scene where she beats up a bad guy with her heels, which is probably already a GIF somewhere. Anyway, she decides, definitively, that her quest to avenge Laurel by killing Darhk will have unforeseen consequences on the time-line, so she lets it go, but not before delivering a highly satisfying speech to Darhk, where she tells him that all his maniacal schemes are doomed to failure, because he gets killed in 2016, so there. Unfortunately, in doing so, she has almost certainly given Darhk too much information, as well as motivating him to team up with Eobard Thawne / Reverse-Flash, with the possible aim of thwarting his death in the future. (We saw this idea last season, with vengeful Rip telling Vandal Savage that in the future he murders his wife and child, which seemed like maybe it gave Savage that idea in the first place. The Sara / Darhk scene definitely has echoes with that and it will certainly have repercussions somewhere down the line. At any rate, it’s a great exploitation of the show’s time-travel premise, so let’s hope there’s some proper follow-through.)
Other highlights of include the multiple 1980s references, from a Ghostbusters joke about not crossing the streams (with Ray and Mick’s guns) to a faux-retro TV broadcast from Channel 52 news. We also get some nice soundtrack details, such as the synth music that accompanies Darhk’s first appearance, plus the fact that the live band play a jazzy version of Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone at the State dinner. However, one thing the show is lacking this week is a big action set-piece, which makes you wonder whether they blew the entirety of the special effects budget on the preceding Civil War zombie episode and didn’t have anything left over.
All in all, this is a patchy but still fun episode that gives us plenty of solid character development and some nice plot-shuffling, even if it occasionally feels like it’s re-treading familiar ground in its setting. And speaking of familiar ground, tune in next time, as the team head back to the wild west for a reunion with Jonah Hex!
Footnotes of Tomorrow
– It’s a small issue, but Damien Darhk isn’t a time-traveller (as far as we know), he’s just really, really old and is living through time, like Vandal Savage. So wouldn’t his actions in the White House have been his actions in the original time-line anyway, rather than causing a time anomaly? Or was he somehow prompted by his previous encounter with the Legends, meaning that all this is actually their fault again. This idea goes annoyingly unaddressed by the show, so we’ll have to assume it’s an oversight on the part of the writers.
– I’m not saying the inclusion of a black-and-white photo of a 1940s superhero team (the JSA) is automatically a nod to Watchmen (both the movie and the graphic novel), but it’s a nice visual reference, even if it’s not deliberate.
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