Season One, Episodes Twelve & Thirteen — “Last Refuge”, “Leviathan”
By Jarrod Jones. I’m about to go on a rant, so please be forewarned.
A common gripe with Superman is that most writers don’t know what to do with him. You can watch Superman: The Animated Series, Man of Steel, Superman Returns or read a damn comic book — odds are, you’ll perceive the character in entirely different ways each time. He’s either a nigh-omnipresent demigod scowling down on the Earth below him or he’s a smirking be-caped super friend who knows how to take a punch. There’s no damn throughline for Superman, primarily because, yes, his power set is difficult to interpret. So more often, you’ll see a writing team play fast and loose with the character — he can hoist a giant Kryptonite landmass into outer space whenever a script needs him to, and you bet he can get swatted around by Batman because, yup, the script needs it to happen.
Convenience and safety is what makes Superman boring. And wouldn’tcha know it? That’s what makes Legends of Tomorrow boring too.
The primary issue with Legends of Tomorrow (beyond narrative convenience) is that its central cast is a particularly odd assortment of characters — eight superheroes purloined from Arrow and The Flash who possess their own unique skill set — and they’re in the hands of a writing staff who can scarcely comprehend the precarious balancing act of remaining true to a character’s core concepts while impressing on the viewers that, hey — superheroes can be people too. What’s more, these characters are hurtling through time and space, nothing new to the sci-fi television subgenre that gave us such brilliant examples of the form with Star Trek: The Next Generation, Firefly and the Battlestar Galactica remake — but this writing team has absolutely nothing intelligent to add to it, unless you count tired-ass Back to the Future and Star Wars references. Their insipid interpretation of this particular corner of the DC Television Multiverse has finally painted Legends of Tomorrow into a corner, and it’s not gonna fix itself. At least, not this season.
I fear for Season Two. I really do. Because if Legends of Tomorrow has already borrowed from Star Trek, Back to the Future (Parts I, II, and III), and now with “Last Refuge”, The Terminator, where else will it find its inspiration? Anything else would require a visit to the library, a guiding hand from someone who knows what they’re doing (Geoff Johns! This show needs you!) and a diligent study of each of these characters (time to crack open a Who’s Who, people). Because right now, all we’re watching is a show that peppers its Easter Eggs with Wikipedia articles and cringe-inducing pop culture references. And that just won’t do.
WHAT WORKED: It’s something I’ve said before, but it bears repeating: when Legends of Tomorrow tightens its focus on a few of its key players and gives them enough room to explore themselves, the rewards are great. Case in point: Jax’s tearful meeting with his deceased father. Franz Drameh has always had the dramatic chops (see his boffo debut on The Flash), but Legends has rarely afforded him time to exercise them. With “Last Refuge”, Jax is in control of his destiny for the first time, possibly ever (he’s been dragged into one skirmish or another against his will since the very beginning), and the emotional fallout that comes with it is palpable.
That’s what makes this moment work so well — it’s the only example where basic humanity is on display. Jax is given agency, something this character (and Kendra, Legends‘ one other person of color) has desperately needed. This show often confuses displays of anger with agency, and replaces a keen awareness of pop culture with a personality. Jax has been the victim of this truth for too long.
WHAT DIDN’T: “The Omega Protocol calls for precision. Multiple attempts from The Pilgrim could cause irreparable temporal damage” is TV for, “the show needs to be an hour long, so here’s this totally fabricated conceit.” I’m not mad at Legends anymore. I just don’t have the energy. But the way it just conjures up its own logic without paying any mind to its own made-up rules from previous episodes is too much to ignore. So The Pilgrim can only kill you at one point in time, but Jax can warn his father about his imminent death, right? Rip’s little pat on Jax’s back says it all: Whatever, man. It’s just a TV show.
My god, this Ray/Kendra/Carter bullshit just isn’t gonna end, is it? I know Ray is a dweeb, but he’s not an idiot: proposing marriage right after he nearly dies is a betrayal of his established trust with Kendra. He’s been working on his clinginess for about six episodes now, but now he decides to break out the engagement ring? Show — he already decided he wasn’t going to do that. Even in death, Carter Hall keeps popping up in Ray’s face. Any sane human being, especially one who once dated Felicity Smoak, would know when to bow out. This show finds excuses to drag this out, and it just hurts anymore.
I’m already way over my word count max, but I’ll take a moment to mention that Cassandra Savage was exceptionally awful, and I think it rubbed off on Casper Crump. I’ve been defending Crump’s performance as Vandal Savage since he first appeared on The Flash, but there’s just no arguing here. With “Leviathan”, Crump is downright awful. He has the looks. But he doesn’t have the chops. I’m so melancholy right now.
“Thousands of years of reincarnation… and I’m guessing you’ve killed a grand total of ‘nobody.’ Yet here you are, entering into the Olympics of Murder.” – Mick.
BEST MOMENT: Jax meets his father. I know that the show’s producers would probably prefer it if the conversation was about that Atom/Leviathan super-tussle, but it just ain’t. The only moment where I felt anything — anything — at all was when Jefferson Jackson finally got to meet the father he never had. Time travel can be used to devastating emotional effect, and while Legends of Tomorrow rarely sticks that landing (if ever), this sequence was enough to make me set my laptop down and simply watch.
EPISODES’ MVP: Rip Hunter. Oh, he’s a magnificent sort of bastard, of that make no mistake. But Arthur Darvill is 100% committed to the role. Every scene he’s in, Darvill is full-steam-ahead. He stares the camera down like a hawkish sonuvabitch, and he drops his bon mots with stylish aplomb. If Season Two has one carry-over from this disaster season, Rip Hunter better be it.
BE BRAVE AND BEHOLD:
– Maybe it’s just a thing where — if you disappear from the history of the universe — you disintegrate into a plume of blue smoke. Because that’s exactly how Eobard Thawne went out at the end of the first season of The Flash.
– Yup. One minute into “Last Refuge” — where The Waverider attempts to stop the killing spree of a time-traveling assassin — and we’ve already dropped a Terminator reference. (Ray: (to a young Mick Rory) “Come with me if you want to live.”)
– Fruit Brute. Rip keeps Fruit Brute on The Waverider. Does General Mills have stock in DC Entertainment? Wouldn’t shock me in the least, and it would certainly explain this.
– Of course Rip’s adopted. If we actually got to find out who his real parents were, the entire internet would set ablaze, for two reasons: One, his father is the superhero Booster Gold, and Two, no one (repeat: NO ONE, and not even Geoff Johns, probably) knows who Rip’s biological mother is.
– Speaking of Booster Gold, his true identity is Michael Jon Carter. So that makes Rip’s “real” name — Michael — a cute little not to that. Quit teasing me, Show.
– Sara: (on Carter) “You ever think about him?” Kendra: “I try not to.” She’s lying to you, Sara. It’s, like, every single week with this woman. “Carter” this… “Carter” that… it’s a whole thing.
5 out of 10
Next: “River of Time”, soon.
Before: “Progeny”, “The Magnificent Eight”, here.