Legends of Tomorrow: 103 “Blood Ties” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
The episode after a show’s pilot is undoubtedly a crucial one. No matter if the pilot was strong or weak, it’s the following episode where the formula is set, and the long-term viability of the show was determined. Legends of Tomorrow split its pilot in two, so this week’s episode was effectively its ‘week two’, and the first test of its longevity.
Blood Ties was a solid third instalment that kept up the show’s momentum as it broadened out to focus on characters a little more, with fewer bombastic action scenes than last week – but this episode did expose a critical flaw within the show’s DNA. As with last week, Blood Ties split the Legends into small groups with one character in each group receiving the greatest amount of character development: under the microscope this week were Captain Cold, Ray, and Sara, three of the more established faces from the team. These storylines were of a far more consistent quality than last week’s episode, most likely because of the minimal involvement from the terminally bland Hawk (formerly Hawks, never forget), even if some of the character development, especially in the case of Ray, feels a little perfunctory in its execution.
Captain Cold (and by extension, Heatwave) seemed like an odd fit for this motley team of heroes, but, as his storyline in Blood Ties proved, he’s quickly becoming a really valuable asset for Legends of Tomorrow. One of the most interesting aspects of Cold’s latter appearances on The Flash was the growing sense that Captain Cold is merely a persona created by Leonard Snart that exacerbates his selfishness in order to cover his deep-seated insecurities from his childhood, and Blood Ties ably capitalises on that concept by utilising time travel to accomplish something that could never be done over on Flash. Snart’s speech to his younger self was undoubtedly the most emotional part of this episode, and Wentworth Miller really sells the moment by displaying considerable depth in his performance, discarding his usual languorous drawl in order to show the real Snart hiding beneath the layers of villainy that he’s created. Having Snart on the team allows Legends of Tomorrow to present a seemingly unapologetic villain and then peel back the layers to reveal that the bad guy suffers from the same kind of vulnerabilities that the heroes do, and merely took a different path in his life due to his circumstances. Most of the Legends already have their hearts in the right place, and thus their character arcs will be smaller, involving only an aspect of their personality being changed (such as Ray’s insecurity, or Sara’s bloodlust). With Snart, however, Legends can present a long-term arc that sees a character genuinely transform on a macro level from villain to… well, something approaching a hero, and that’s undoubtedly a good move.
Meanwhile, Rip and Sara went heisting in order to drain Savage of his funds. The sword/knife fight with the bank guards is one of the highlights of the episode, ably underlining Sara’s animalistic brutality through sound effects and direction that genuinely have an impact to them, despite the conspicuous lack of blood on screen. The exploration of the Lazarus Pit’s after-effects on Sara feels like old ground considering how Arrow has been mining this territory a great deal with Thea, but it’s solid enough character work, presenting a darker and more tortured version of Sara who once again sees herself as a monstrous assassin that’s a stark but effective contrast to the brighter and almost effervescent Sara that we’ve seen in the last couple of episodes. Her storyline here also concludes well with a cleverly directed fake-out, using the familiar sight of Sara furiously stabbing someone (supposedly) and then pulling back to reveal that this moment of seemingly given in to her bloodlust has been quite the opposite. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Lazarus Pit’s after-effects as a plot device because it breeds repetitive storytelling, but considering that Sara’s post-Pit state was left mostly unexplored on Arrow, this was a decent progression of Sara’s character.
Ray’s inferiority complex also assumed an important role as he was tasked with shrinking down and entering into Kendra’s bloodstream to save her life. It’s the visuals that mark the real highlight of this storyline – the sight of a miniature Ray blasting his way through a blood vessel is exactly the kind of outlandish comic-book action that Legends of Tomorrow should be delivering. Ray’s actual arc, however, isn’t quite as solid. There’s things to enjoy here, such as Brandon Routh’s convincingly earnest performance and the moment where Legends of Tomorrow subverts itself a little by revealing that Stein’s seemingly ridiculous moment of clarity about Ray’s brilliance was a complete lie cooked up to push Ray forward, but it all feels a little rote and uninspired. We know that Ray feels insecure about his heroism, but the storyline suffers from the fact that it takes very little for Ray to actually snap out of his funk, with his emotional revelation to Stein about the death of his fiancée lacking much impact because it’s a reheated version of a very similar scene from Arrow (where Ray describes his fiancée’s death to Felicity). It’s not badly done per se, but it’s not quite as revelatory about Ray’s character as you might hope, resorting to a conventional formula of a moment of panic followed by an inspiring pep talk that has played out on The Flash ad infinitum. In a less busy episode, this may have succeeded, but Ray’s storyline only has enough time to play out a take on a formula that has been done before numerous times by the creative team behind this show, resulting in an arc that does its job efficiently but doesn’t break any new ground.
The final fight with Vandal Savage was generally an enjoyable one, utilising the clever idea of a fanatic cult dedicated to the immortal man to add some unusual new visuals to this final battle with the otherworldly red tint of the weird cult room. Again, this fight possesses the enthusiastic silliness and sense of fun that’s really distinguished Legends of Tomorrow from the start – within its means, there’s a feeling that it’s going for broke in terms of action every episode, resulting in chaotic but hugely enjoyable action scenes that feel like they’re ripped from the pages of a comic book. Despite this, this final scene does expose a major problem with the way Legends of Tomorrow is currently telling its story; specifically, how it’s using Vandal Savage.
It’s not the fault of Casper Crump this time, who rises to the occasion in this final scene by dialling up the scenery-chewing to finally convey Savage’s enormous God complex and sadistic disposition in a way that’s at least relatively convincing. Instead, this show’s problem with Vandal Savage rests with the story. It’s a similar problem to Jessica Jones faced (but Jessica Jones only ran into this problem halfway through the season, as opposed to very early on) – by introducing its villain as a major, regular presence so early on in a serialised story, Legends of Tomorrow is straining to find reasons to prolong its own story, resulting in frustrating moments where the villain escapes a situation that really should have been his end thanks to the heroes’ lack of foresight. Except this problem is worse than Jessica Jones, because there’s no particular reason other than arbitrary mythology keeping the heroes from taking Savage out, or at least kidnapping him and preventing him from ever escaping. It’s acceptable enough in Blood Ties, because it’s been well-established that the Legends are novices at this early point in the season, but if Legends is going to fill its sixteen episodes in a way that makes the most of its potential, it’s going to have to vary up the formula a little by not having the heroes constantly face off against Savage only for him to escape once more. There’s more to Legends than the fight against Vandal Savage, and the show could really benefit from introducing other foes and situations in order to take advantage of the considerable potential for unusual and exciting conflicts that time travel provides.
On the bright side, it appears as if Legends is finally moving on from 1975, and is ready to journey to another decade that can be portrayed cheaply on a network TV budget. Next stop, 1986…
Blood Ties is another pretty accomplished entry into this fledgling series, packing in enough interesting character work and fun action to ensure that Legends of Tomorrow is remaining on the right track for now, even if it indicates that the show may have overplayed its hand early on with Vandal Savage.