Warning: This contains spoilers. For how to watch Legends of Tomorrow, click here.
The cliffhanger for last episode had Little Ray Palmer (Jack Fisher) befriending an unseen creature in a sewer pipe, while he was hiding from bullies. It’s an easy leap from that to the intro to this episode, which has Lil’ Ray getting shot by the government agent known as Glasses (last seen in the Invasion crossover), while trying to save his (still unseen) alien friend. Cut to adult Ray suddenly disappearing in the Legends’ present (just as he’s doing team-bonding trust falls with Mick, no less) and we’re off and running for a very entertaining riff on E.T. – with several other great film references thrown in for good measure.
The Legends are old hands at this time anomaly thing by now, so they quickly figure out when Lil’ Ray got killed and head to Ivy Town (a stand-in for New Haven, Connecticut and The Atom’s hometown in the comics) in 1988. Since they arrive the day before Lil’ Ray gets killed, Big Ray promptly reappears, which is just as well, as the episode wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without him. As they secretly observe Lil’ Ray’s behaviour throughout the day, the writers take the opportunity to mix some terrific character work with a poignant observation about memory, in that Big Ray remembered the local bullies as his friends, but watching them bully his younger self, he’s forced to confront the less-than-sunny reality of the situation. (This is repeated later, when he realises his mother – played by Susie Abromeit – wasn’t quite as supportive of his nerdy shut-in qualities as he’d thought.) This is lovely writing and a very revealing character moment, as it speaks to Ray’s relentless optimism and tendency to always see the best in everything, partly as a coping mechanism for the tragedy in his life (an absent father, losing his fiancée as an adult, etc.). It also feeds into what turned him into a big ol’ nerd in the first place.
Big Ray and Zari quickly discover that Lil’ Ray is hiding a cuddly-looking baby alien under his bed and that he’s feeding it with shop-lifted candy. (Ray is horrified that his younger self would stoop to stealing, but Mick, of course, is both amused and impressed). Worse, the baby alien – which Lil’ Ray has named Gumball – is actually a baby Dominator and its mother (quickly nick-named the Mominator) is looking for it.
When Sara investigates the presence of another spaceship, she has an encounter with the Mominator, which reads her mind and discovers the location of her offspring. Meanwhile, government agents kidnap Zari, Lil’ Ray and Gumball, who’s hiding in Lil’ Ray’s backpack, along with a shrunk-down Big Ray. There’s a fun moment where Lil’ Ray mistakes Big Ray (who hasn’t yet revealed himself) for an action figure and later on, the show teases the idea that Ray’s costume design may have been inspired by this childhood memory, although they don’t explore that too closely, because of pesky time paradoxes and the like.
Anyway, Nate and Amaya head to Lil’ Ray’s house in the hopes of heading off the Mominator and Nate – who has already been rather sleazy in his open ogling of Lil’ Ray’s mom (“We heard there was a cougar on the premises…”) – ends up making out with Ray’s Hot Mom, who (Gasp!) turns out to be the Mominator. (In a cheeky hat-tip to the movie Species, the reveal is a great shot of the Mominator’s claw reaching around Nate’s head.) The film references fly thick and fast at this point, as Amaya bursts in and shouts “Get away from him, you bitch!”, thereby ticking off Aliens. That does seem a little out of character for Amaya, given that she’s from the 1940s, but let’s not worry about that too much.
Meanwhile, the government agents are about to execute Big Ray, Lil’ Ray, Zari and Gumball, when Gumball takes control of their minds and makes them sing “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain, which we’d seem him watching and nodding along to with Lil’ Ray back in the bedroom. It’s a very funny nod to both Singin’ in the Rain and Wall-E (specifically, his attachment to Hello Dolly), which was also inspired by E.T..
Their escape leads to the episode’s best moment, which has Zari using her air totem powers to lift their bikes into the air, in a shot-for-shot recreation of the classic scene from E.T., right down to the image of them crossing in front of the moon. They then rendezvous with the Mominator (who’s been lured to a pre-agreed spot by Sara, Nate and Amaya) and reunite Gumball with his mother, while Lil’ Ray says a tearful farewell. They don’t really get close to the tear-jerking power of the same scene in E.T., but it does the job. All that’s left is for Big Ray and his super-friends to give Lil’ Ray some reassurance about the future and to scare off his bullies by appearing in costume on Halloween and having Mick threaten them. LOLs, etc.
Meanwhile, in the episode’s only subplot, Mick and Jax realise that Martin has been keeping himself to himself lately (more evidence that Victor Garber’s screen-time is winding down before his imminent exit from the show) and suspect – somewhat unfairly, especially given Jax and Stein’s supposed psychic bond – that he is secretly ratting them out to the Time Bureau, because he doesn’t want to be on the team anymore. In fact, it turns out that he has been jetting off in the jump-ship to spend time with Lily, his Time Anomaly Daughter, who is, of course, about to give birth. He’s also been in constant contact with her. thanks to a time communicator thingy he’s rigged up that looks a lot like Skype. (Tympe? No, that doesn’t work. Let’s move on.)
Anyway, Jax and Mick discover the truth just as Lily goes into labour, so they steal the Waverider (it’s not at all clear why they can’t take the jump ship or use the time portal thingy Mick stole from the Time Bureau agents, but never mind) to make sure Stein is there for the birth of his grandson, whom they name Ronnie, in a nice tribute to the original half of Firestorm. Just why Martin, rather than Lily (who never met Ronnie) gets to name the child is something else that goes unexplained, but here we are. This all leads to the episode’s cliffhanger, which has Jax approaching Ray and asking him to help him break up Firestorm. So it looks like Stein will probably be leaving around the time of the mid-season break, if not before. (He’s due to appear in Hello Dolly on Broadway with Bernadette Peters in early 2018, if you’re into that sort of thing.)
All in all, Phone Home is hugely entertaining and a great example of what Legends of Tomorrow is capable when firing on all cylinders, delivering exciting action, genuine emotion and laugh-out-loud character humour. If it only had a kick-ass Sara Lance fight scene it would be up there with the show’s best episodes to date. Tune in next time, when the Legends re-team with Rip and encounter a familiar face in 1895 London.
Footnotes of tomorrow
– There’s no mention of Mallus (or possibly Mollus, as pronunciations seem to vary) this episode, which is probably for the best, as this is a great stand-alone instalment. It seems like the season’s Big Bad will be making an appearance next episode, so there’s that to look forward to.
– There’s no sign of the Time Bureau, either, although you could be forgiven for thinking the government agents were Time Bureau types. The only clue to the contrary is the afore-mentioned re-appearance of Agent Glasses, aka. Agent Smith, played by Jacob Richter.
– In the trick-or-treat sequence, we briefly see Zari in a white costume that confirms her character’s connection to the comics character Isis, although it’s unclear whether we’ll see that costume again outside of the Halloween scene.
– Mick continues to be full of surprises. This episode, we learn that his favourite musical is Fiddler on the Roof.
Legends of Tomorrow Season 3 is available on Sky 1 every Wednesday, within a week of its US broadcast. Don’t have Sky? You can stream it live or catch up on-demand through NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription, no contract. A 14-day free trial is available for new subscribers.