Legends of Tomorrow: 102 “Pilot, Part 2” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
The latest addition to the rapidly growing DC TV universe, spin-off Legends of Tomorrow, began last week with an opening episode that, despite countless bouts of exposition and a messy structure, showed a great deal of promise that the pilot’s consistent sense of fun could become something more substantial. That was only the first half of the pilot, however, so how did the concluding half fare?
There’s still plenty of niggles, and not all of our Legends are compelling presences, but Pilot, Part 2 was certainly a solid step up from last week’s opener. Second episodes usually provide a much more reliable indication of what a show will look like going forward, and this was no different, with a clear format emerging that’s, if not completely streamlined, a lot less cluttered and messy than last week’s opener. Pilot, Part 2 began and ended with the whole team fighting together, hiving off groups of two or three characters into groups to carry out their own missions in the interim, and it’s a structure that gave this episode a far greater sense of cohesion, even if the show’s focus is still spread a little thin.
Pilot, Part 2 certainly began with one hell of a cold open, with the gang infiltrating a black market weapons bazaar. It’s probably here where the episode peaks, delivering a fun build-up that combines unexpectedly hilarious character moments such as Stein’s weirdly threatening behaviour and a surprise cameo from Arrow villain Damien Dahrk, followed by a terrific fight sequence involving the whole team. This opening fight delivers just about everything you’d hope from this show’s fight sequences – fun and creative uses of the team’s powers (Ray tucked away in Stein’s pocket like an action figure) and sweeping, cinematic camerawork that evokes the filmmaking of blockbuster superhero movies. It’s unashamedly silly, with nukes that have big red buttons and a clear countdown on them, but it’s not worth complaining too much when that same nuke is taken and absorbed by Firestorm in a thrilling end to the cold open.
From there, Pilot, Part 2 diverges into three separate storylines. Of the three, it’s probably the business with young/old Stein that was both the funniest and provided the strongest character development of the episode. With this plotline, Pilot, Part 2 gets to have its cake and eat it – the episode gets a lot of mileage out of poking fun at the sheer disparities between the pot-smoking, relaxed young Stein and the paternal, irritable older Stein for a while, but then flips gears to explore the notable similarities between the older and younger Steins. It’s a surprisingly nuanced look at how the core of someone can remain exactly the same despite the surface changing massively over time – and though the episode never quite capitalises on the twist of young Stein finding the Waverider and stumbling in, it’s nonetheless a slice of very solid character development for Professor Stein. There’s also Sara knocking out young Stein with a bong and then casually breaking in and beating up Savage’s scientists while she’s completely stoned, so it’s safe to say that this plotline combined character development with this show’s requisite light touch very effectively indeed.
Just as teaming Sara up with Captain Cold and Heatwave worked wonders last week, Ray’s presence on the mansion heist with the two criminals was a lot of fun too. Again, this is a case of Pilot, Part 2 presenting a dynamic that appears to be solely comedic (despite his comments about Snart and Rory, Ray’s earlier actions appear more like an attempt to enthusiastically impress the cool kids), then delving into something deeper. Legends of Tomorrow is going to have to work on subtlety, but right now it’s doing well as it throws up character combinations that generate a handful more revelations about the nature of everyone involved. Here, the pairing of Snart (Wentworth Miller is continuing his entertaining acting method of drawing out the last word of every sentence for about 5 seconds) and Ray presents two men who are good at pretty much the same thing, yet due to their upbringing and dispositions, ended up in professions that are almost the antithesis of each other. It’s a well-executed paralleling of characters that particularly benefits Snart – despite how much fun he is as the unrepentant bad guy, the glimpses of something more noble and vulnerable underneath the façade provide the best case for Snart’s continuing presence on the show.
As for Mick Rory? Of all the familiar faces from The Flash and Arrow, Rory is probably most in need of development, which will certainly come in time – but for now, the show has settled into a nice groove of Rory as the psychopathic, growling dispenser of pithy one-liners, which complements Snart’s loquaciousness well. Dominic Purcell’s performance has also improved considerably since Rory’s pair of appearances on The Flash – Purcell’s performance here retains Rory’s entertainingly unhinged nature, but the almost ridiculously hammy nature of his Flash performances has been dialled back a little to a more manageable level.
Unfortunately, the third of the separate plotlines is far less interesting. The Hawks already stuck out as the blandest characters of the ensemble last week, so an entire plotline focusing on them is sparse on entertainment value. It doesn’t help that the plotline is mired in uninteresting, muddled mythology that isn’t elevated much by the performances, which are simply not as dynamic as the rest of the ensemble. There are decent moments of character development within this plotline, but it’s based on shaky foundations – and, moreover, it exposes a clear problem with the show as a whole; Vandal Savage and the Egyptian backstory of the Hawks.
It’s immediately apparent from these first two episodes that, despite the motley mix of future technology and ancient mythology, the crux of Legends of Tomorrow is the immortal Vandal Savage, and by proxy the Hawks who give him his power. It’s good the show has found this centre from which everything else can spring, but the fact remains that this core element is somewhat weak. The reincarnation idea is okay on paper and ripe for character development, but the Egyptian flashbacks used to illustrate the idea are cheap and tacky, filled with expository dialogue and marred by the fact that the Hawks are still using their American accents in flashbacks set before American accents existed (that’s a nitpick, but it’s one that’s damaging the already-shaky credibility of the flashbacks). Likewise, Vandal Savage, despite the great premise of his character, has never lived up to his fearsome reputation when he’s appeared on screen – Casper Crump is doing decent work, but his performance lacks the imposing gravitas necessary to sell the fact that this guy could conquer an entire planet using his charisma as a weapon. It’s a good thing that Savage rarely appears this episode, so it’s not much of an issue in the short term, but it could develop into a major recurring problem if Crump’s performance stays in ‘sinister stalker’ mode for the rest of the series.
The separate plotlines eventually coalesce again for the big finale, where Pilot, Part 2 once again surges. We get another short yet hugely entertaining team fight between the Legends and Vandal Savage’s minions, and the most surprising twist the show has delivered thus far in Hawkman’s death. I haven’t exactly been quiet about my dislike of this universe’s version of Carter Hall, so it’s safe to say that Carter’s death didn’t elicit the emotional impact that Legends of Tomorrow was aiming for – more of a sense of relief that the deadwood was being thrown out from this viewer.
And yet, Carter’s death still worked. Despite my lack of emotional investment in Hawkman as a character, his death is a smart move from the writers because it instantly turns the stakes from abstractly huge, glimpsed briefly in shots of the future but mostly just talked about by Rip, to evidently personal, with Savage’s brutality underscored by the way he tears the dagger out of himself before stabbing Carter in a scene that’s surprisingly visceral for a show where most of the violence involves no blood whatsoever. In short, it’s the moment that Aldus’ death from last week aspired to be – an illustration that no-one is safe and anyone from the regular cast could be offed at any point, which considerably raises tension going forward. It’s also a good move for the development of Kendra as a character – she wasn’t particularly interesting when she was having her hand held by a mentor who could tell her everything about her baffling history, so the prospect of Kendra having to deal with everything without her mentor figure is a far more intriguing one that could yield some solid character development. And it’s a good way to change up the team dynamics as a whole – the team’s bickering and screwing up of missions has been fun, but consistent bickering can get tedious quickly, so an event that pulls the team together a little more is much appreciated (and I’m sure there will still be plenty of bickering, alongside a greater focus on teamwork). Even if the character who was killed off was pretty dull, it’s still a well-advised plot development that shakes up the show just two episodes in.
Two episodes in, and Legends of Tomorrow already possesses the confidence some comic book shows take most of a season to gain. It’s perhaps not quite as accomplished and focused as The Flash was straight off the bat, but it’s certainly closer to that show’s opening in terms of quality than the shakier opening salvo of Arrow, which took a good ten episodes or so to properly warm up. The show will need to try and improve its central villain and uninspiring mythology as it goes forward, but Legends of Tomorrow already feels like it’s achieving the creators’ goals of being pure popcorn television, with signs of character development to supplement that entertainment factor already coming through. If this is what this show will be like going forward, then count me in.
Pilot, Part 2 is an improvement from its predecessor, possessing a cleaner storytelling structure, more expansive action scenes, actual character development while retaining the sense of joy and fun that was already evident last week. The Hawks and Vandal Savage, who are proving to be a shaky centre for the show, weigh it down, however.