Legends of Tomorrow: 109 “Left Behind” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
After a three week hiatus, Legends of Tomorrow is back for the final half of the season (and, unlike Arrow and Flash, no break from here on out). Legends’ first eight episodes were fun, but the show continues to be shackled by an overall story arc involving Vandal Savage that seems entirely haphazard and intermittent in its pacing, weighing down just about every episode it’s in. However, Legends came back from its break here with an entirely Savage-free instalment, so how did Left Behind fare?
Left Behind is probably the last piece of evidence needed to prove that Legends of Tomorrow is immeasurably better when it’s telling standalone stories that have little bearing on the main plot – it suffered from some overly compressed storytelling and a disappointing guest appearance from Ra’s al Ghul, but this was snappy, exciting stuff that managed to alleviate some of this show’s most damaging character issues while providing some really intriguing story ideas for the season’s back half. The promotion for Left Behind focused heavily on Ray, Sara and Kendra’s marooning in 1958 – and while Sara’s new situation formed the basis for the final act of the episode, it was surprising to see Ray and Kendra rescued after two years in the past barely ten minutes into the episode.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and the time Left Behind did spend establishing Ray and Kendra’s new lives was efficiently spent to convey as much information as possible in a short amount of time. In fact, their two years in the past has a really positive effect on their previously unconvincing and forced relationship by adding a palpable sense of history and memories shared to the couple. While most of their life together is shown off-screen, their relationship no longer feels quite as underdeveloped and lacking basis, because they’ve had two years to bond and establish their relationship while learning more about each other. Their time spent in the past has a considerable bearing on their character development throughout the episode, creating a genuinely interesting conflict in their difference of attitudes towards abandoning the lives they had created. It’s a smart and interesting use of time travel to reveal more about the characters and how important the show’s central mission is to them, and it’s true to say that Ray and Kendra’s differing thoughts on their return to the Waverider speaks volumes about their characters in a way that Legends has struggled to do before, especially with Kendra. If I’m not 100% sold on Ray and Kendra now, then I’m at least a lot more invested in this relationship due to the clever way Left Behind used time travel to its advantage to deepen their relationship with very little screen-time.
A major twist here, and one I certainly didn’t see coming right up until it happened was the revelation that Chronos the bounty hunter was in fact Mick, who was merely left behind by Snart in the future two episodes ago. This is easily one of the best twists that Legends has come up with for a whole lot of reasons. Most obviously, it turns Chronos, a villain who was an increasingly annoying plot device created to make the team travel somewhere, into an engaging and somewhat tragic character almost retrospectively, forcing the viewer to reconsider all of those times that Chronos attacked the team as the latest step in a personal, burning vendetta that had been ruthlessly cultivated by the Time Masters. It’s notable how quietly twisted and brutal Mick’s ‘origin story’ as Chronos is, with the idea that he was killed and brought back again and again lending a certain level of pathos to a villain who could easily be a blank-faced Terminator.
Legends had found success with Mick by making him into a tragic villain back when he was temporarily removed from the picture, and this feels like the natural next step of an arc that’s far more complex and expansive than I initially gave credit for. It’s a really encouraging move for Legends because it takes a character who was more or less a comically sadistic sidekick and turns him into a tragic villain in the midst of a genuinely unpredictable redemption arc, showing how it’s using the characters that are less interesting on paper in really intriguing ways with the help of the time travel conceit. Once again, a lot of credit has to be given to Dominic Purcell here – his performance is recognisably informed by his psychotic turn as the old Mick, but it’s notably dialled down and more restrained, with a slightly sinister level of control now present in a previously fiery turn, thereby adding weight to Mick’s transformation by showing how substantially his plight changed him on a psychological level.
As for the Nanda Parbat material, where Sara is found – it’s fun enough, boosted by the strong ideas introduced in the first half of the episode, even if the return of Matt Nable’s Ra’s al Ghul is a bit of a damp squib, with Nable’s typical restraint increased to the level where he seems frankly bored and detached from events. Sara’s struggle is competent enough, acted well by Caity Lotz and linking in nicely to her previous arc on Arrow in order to take advantage of the character history, but it’s when Chronos enters where the Nanda Parbat material really sparks to life. The fight scene with Chronos is short, but it’s an encapsulation of the efficiency that Left Behind brings in spades, giving each character a brief moment to shine as they work together to take down Chronos – it’s one of the most convincing displays of the Legends as a cohesive team in action on the show yet, and a really solid example of how to use a bunch of CG-heavy characters in a way that keeps things cost-efficient but satisfying nonetheless. Legends’ action scenes have always been terrifically fun involving the entire team, with set-pieces that feel ripped from a comic-book in their unabashed silliness, and Left Behind’s final set-piece is just the latest example of how these scenes are getting more consistent while avoiding stagnation.
Left Behind packs a lot in – there’s a handful of really substantial character arcs here, two major DC comics villains and the major twist of Chronos’ identity, and for the most part, this surplus of plot is handled well, leading to an episode that’s densely packed yet focused enough to give each storyline a relatively equal amount of attention. It’s a testament to how Legends has improved that this episode’s sweeping ambition mostly works as it juggles all these separate storylines, but this expansive scope does have its drawbacks. Left Behind compresses some storylines that play out over years like Ray and Kendra’s time in the past, Sara’s trip to Nanda Parbat and Mick’s treatment by the Time Masters, and it’s hard not to feel, as efficiently as all these storylines are handled, that it would have benefited from perhaps splitting storylines over a couple of episodes in order to give everything time to truly breathe. Left Behind is forced to fill a lot of things in with exposition, and this means that it’s telling rather than showing in a lot of cases. Mick’s tragic back-story would have been even more convincing with a couple of brief flashbacks demonstrating his brainwashing at the hands of the Time Masters, and Ray and Kendra’s life in 1958-60 would have considerably benefited from a couple more scenes of them forging a new life for themselves. These flaws might look like critical issues, and they’re not, because Legends captures the broad strokes very compellingly, but it’s hard not to shake the idea that, within this great episode, there was an outstanding couple of episodes that handled the storylines seen here with greater depth and a deeper thematic focus, creating a slight sense of opportunities missed.
Despite those issues, Left Behind sees Legends return more confidently than ever before – able to deliver genuinely impactful and exciting twists alongside thoughtful character material, layering on the fun set-pieces that have been there since the start. As this episode proves, in my view, Legends of Tomorrow is so much better when it’s simply a motley group of time travellers bouncing throughout time and getting into scrapes with an assortment of famous DC characters – without the inhibiting, recurring flaws of the Savage arc, there’s a real sense that the show can cut loose and do what it does best. Next week’s episode is a Savage-focused one, which wouldn’t seem to bode well, but it does focus on the eternally interesting moral quandary – if you could kill a dictator who would grow to up kill millions when he was a child, would you? My guess is the answer will be no here, but Legends has shown an increasing capacity to surprise…
With an increased level of narrative ambition, Left Behind is the best episode yet, and a very encouraging indicator that Legends is figuring out what kind of show it wants to be – but despite that, it’s still clear that the show would benefit from a bit more patience in the way it tells its stories, because a lot of nuance in intriguing storylines is cut out here as the episode stampedes on to the next plot point.