Arrow: 408 “Legends of Yesterday” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
This year’s grand crossover extravaganza and ratings magnet got off to a speedy start on The Flash, with a thoroughly entertaining part that threw Vandal Savage, the Hawks and Oliver’s long-lost kid into the mix. With all those characters now in play for Arrow to pick up, did the concluding half of the crossover hit the mark?
Legends of Yesterday is a great conclusion on the whole, but it’s marred by a couple of frustrating storytelling flaws that hold it back from being an all-time classic. There’s more good than bad here, however, and one of the strongest parts of Legends of Yesterday was the return of time travel, something that’s been left by the wayside ever since The Flash introduced alternate universes. Of the two usages of time travel we’ve had before, this episode stuck closer to the Out of Time template, with Barry speeding away to redo a catastrophe. Like that episode, Legends of Yesterday takes up the opportunity to really mess with audience expectations, with the out-of-nowhere death of Hawkman a genuine shock, which was followed by the slightly perverse fun of seeing most of Arrow and The Flash’s supporting cast (including Oliver!) incinerated. It’s the kind of bonkers Source Code-esque visuals that are only possible with time travel, and it’s just as exciting and surprising as it was when The Flash first used time travel midway through the first season, providing an unexpected boost of stakes and pace to the episode’s mid-section.
It’s also followed up on in a far more effective fashion than The Flash’s thinly concealed reset button – Legends of Yesterday does a good job of contrasting the two timelines, with the fun resting in the clear moments where the timeline diverges from what we’ve seen before. By playing scenes that are close to the original timeline rather than diverging off into another story like The Flash did, Legends of Yesterday really highlights the changes going on, with the previous timeline where everyone died hanging over the episode’s final act like a dark cloud. The time travel plot, then, is one of the episode’s chief successes, with a plot that pivots around the meaningful consequences of changing time rather than merely cursory nods.
Another element that works rather well is the Egyptian flashbacks to the origin of the Hawks and Vandal Savage. I’m aware their comic origin is bonkers, so it’s good to see that their origin is cleaner and more streamlined here, all stemming from the same event at the same time. It justifies Vandal Savage’s obsession with the Hawks, and keeps things in a time period that’s just about recent enough to keep suspension of disbelief intact. Okay, ancient Egypt’s not modern, but it’s a more recognisable time period than the Stone Age (comic Savage’s stomping ground) – at a guess, I’d say that immortal cavemen would be a step too far for an episode of Arrow that’s ten times wackier than anything the show has ever attempted. The flashbacks are a little camp, and there’s moments where the insanity of flashbacks to ancient Egypt on a show that began as a Dark Knight homage becomes a little distracting, but they establish a neat origin story for all three Legends characters that’s about as simple and clear as they could realistically get without making major changes to the characters themselves.
Kendra’s arc reaches a solid conclusion here, with a patiently delivered arc that treads familiar ground in effective style. Nothing here is really new, but it’s a good continuation of the arc The Flash got going – one that takes its time to explore Kendra’s doubts and her slow turn towards believing in herself and accepting her powers, meaning that the final payoff as her wings sprout in the battle against Savage feels earned and organic. Surprisingly, Carter aka Hawkman proves to be a more interesting presence than expected – his spiky training style and slight air of complacency that Kendra will inevitably gain her powers and begin a relationship with him means that he’s a more dynamic character than the typically bland hero he initially appeared to be. Legends of Yesterday sets up a fun odd couple relationship between two individuals who kind of don’t like each other but are bound together by destiny that looks like it’ll be intriguing to see long-term, but the Hawks’ exit, together no less, is a bit of a clunker. It’s the typical contrived exit from town that every spin-off character has had so far, and the reasoning as just as shaky and rushed as it’s been before. Hawkman and Hawkgirl obviously needed to be out of the way, but it’s a shame that they’re dispatched in a cursory, rushed manner that doesn’t do justice to the great work this crossover has done to flesh both out.
All criticisms above are really just nitpicks of otherwise well-executed elements, but there’s one real black mark for Legends of Yesterday, and that’s Oliver’s long lost child arc. I expressed concern back in The Flash review about dredging this up, and Legends of Yesterday failed to alleviate those concerns with a plotline that’s tangential to the main story and contains a couple of really frustrating scenes. There’s great moments within this plotline, such as the heartwarming final scene where Oliver meets his kid, but nothing here really hangs together as it should do. The mother, Samantha, is way too intangible and nebulous a character to really empathise with – she’s just kind of popped back up after two seasons, so the choice to pivot large sections of the episode around her just falls flat, as we know her far too little to really understand her struggle. If there had been a little more build-up to this arc, the scenes between Oliver and Samantha would have sparked with the palpable history of two characters that really know each other – but as it is, it’s essentially just scenes between Oliver and a new character whose previous screen-time has totalled about five minutes total.
Then there’s Oliver and Felicity. Earlier in these seasons, both Arrow and The Flash seemed to be picking up on past criticisms regarding secret keeping as a source of tedious drama, prioritising honesty between characters to streamline emotional arcs. Unfortunately, The Flash has recently fallen off the wagon with Patty, and Arrow joins it here with a frustratingly regressive spat between Oliver and Felicity. It doesn’t feel natural, and it’s not based on what reasonable people would do – it is simply contrived drama for the sake of drama, which was a chief flaw in the divisive third season. Felicity breaking up with Oliver, even if it was only to be temporary, was a huge step back in a season that’s presented their relationship as mature and co-operative, regressing back to the days of petty feuds that weighed down episodes. The conclusion the arc reaches, too, is similarly cack-handed – despite the promise that Oliver would do things better in this timeline, all we’re left with is the return of secret keeping and the thoroughly unexciting promise of a second round of fighting between Oliver and Felicity when the secret spills again. In a strong episode, this doesn’t bring down the action around it – it simply sticks out more as a poorly written and retrograde plotline.
Still, like The Flash, this is just too fun to slate too much. Arrow, while staying relatively dark, has become more heightened and optimistic this year – and this crossover really allows it to let loose with a story that outdoes even The Flash in the crazy stakes. I mean, what other show ends its episode with John Barrowman scooping up ashes of a psychotic immortal Egyptian guy while reciting the immortal’s trademark speech? That’s right, not even The Flash ends like that.
It’s safe to say that despite the ham-fisted subplots in both halves, this year’s crossover has been another resounding success, with the writers pulling off the tough task of telling a tonally consistent, seamless two-part story over two different shows with style. The two episodes really do feel like the natural conclusion (for now) of the DC TV universe’s increasing ambition, with this crossover functioning as a thrilling 90 minute movie that’d play pretty well in the cinema with some spruced-up effects and a more consistent perspective. If this is what Legends of Tomorrow will be like every week, then count me in.
Considering how much fun this has all been, it’s almost a shame to go back to pure Arrow again. Then again – it’s mid-season finale time next week, with the ongoing (and admittedly slightly silly) feud between Team Arrow and Damien Dahrk sure to reach a violent boiling point. After all, somebody’s gotta fill that mystery grave…
It bungles the Oliver/Felicity drama, but Legends of Yesterday is just as much of a blast to watch as part one, combining ever-escalating levels of craziness with a fun use of time travel. Bring on next year’s three-night crossover with Arrow, Flash and Legends. That’ll happen, right?