Legends of Tomorrow: 113 “Leviathan” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Legends of Tomorrow has always been a show that’s aspired to reach the spectacle and nimble storytelling of summer blockbuster movies, and it’s an ambition that’s often been at odds with its status as a broadcast show with a sixteen episode order and a special effects budget that’s infinitesimally smaller than the movies it aims to emulate. With this week’s episode, however, Legends has gone a long way towards delivering on that ambition.
Leviathan is an extremely ambitious episode for a CW superhero show, and I’m really glad to see the show making some big swings both with its action and series arc after a string of episodes where the main plot has barely progressed. It really does feel like a season finale in not only its expansive scope, but also the way it travels back to the pilot’s first moments to bring the Vandal Savage story to a head, and it’s notable that Leviathan’s chief misstep comes when the blockbuster ambition bumps up against the requirements of broadcast television for unnecessarily decompressed storytelling. Despite that one late-game slip up, this was a top-drawer episode that allayed some of my concerns about this season while doubling down on what Legends has been doing well already.
Leviathan returned to the Vandal Savage plot big time after a couple of weeks off for the tyrannical despot, and it actually manages to craft a compelling story out of Legends’ deeply flawed central villain. One of the big problems Legends has had with Savage is that the fearsome rhetoric about his subjugation of the world has always felt at odds with the portrayal of the man himself, who’s always lacked a genuinely imposing presence thanks to Casper Crump’s slightly toothless performance. Finally, however, Leviathan makes up for lost time by delving into the impact of Savage’s invasion upon a terrified London, and it’s pretty effective at doing so. Flipping the balance between showing and telling, Leviathan portrays the fallout of Savage mostly on a visual level with striking images of scorched rebel camps and terrified refugees that do a far better job of conveying the idea that Savage is a ruthless dictator capable of bringing the world to his knees than his previous appearances have done. The threat posed by Savage feels a great deal more credible when we’re actually seeing evidence of it rather than being told, and the increased credibility of his villainy means that when Savage does show up for an extended period, he feels like a genuinely imposing threat who’s barely fazed by any of the attacks thrown at him. Leviathan doesn’t retroactively fix Legends’ fumbled treatment of Savage, but it recalibrates the character effectively by actually substantiating all of the foreboding descriptions with tangible, impactful visual evidence, putting him in a much better place for the final three episodes of the season where he’ll presumably play a crucial role.
A major addition to Savage’s portrayal here was the introduction of his daughter, Cassandra. Her character arc of slowly turning to the side of good doesn’t get a lot of time to breathe with everything that’s going on elsewhere, so it plays out in notably economical fashion. This compression of her character arc means that her sudden awakening to her father’s true nature plays out a little too quickly to be genuinely credible – the episode needs her to turn against Savage in time for the final battle, and it gets there by rushing through this huge change in her life when there was a lot of room to explore the seismic impact of this revelation upon a previously brainwashed woman’s psyche. It may be rushed, but Leviathan gets the broad strokes of this arc right nonetheless through judicious usage of Snart as her ‘interrogator’. The scenes that Snart and Cassandra have together portray an enjoyably spiky cat-and-mouse game between two people with very transparent agendas, and there’s a lot of fun in seeing how Snart will prevail in this battle of wits given how convinced Cassandra seems of her father’s righteousness. It doesn’t alleviate the fact that the aftermath plays out too quickly, but the actual trigger for Cassandra’s change is surprisingly convincing – Leviathan takes care to have Cassandra cite Savage’s defeat of Per Degaton as the very first justification for his crimes, so the moment in which she discovers this is a lie does feel true to the character as she had been established. It’s an intriguing arc that dabbles with the themes of free will versus fate that are circulating through this episode as Cassandra casts off her blind reliance on fate to make her own choices in life, but it’s a pity that it doesn’t quite have the breathing room it needs to become truly compelling instead of merely interesting.
Legends has consistently been trying to one-up itself with its big fight sequences for a while now with scenes like the Chronos fight and the stop-start battle with the Pilgrim, but I’m not quite sure it’s ever going to craft an action scene more joyfully exciting than the giant robot fight that Leviathan delivers. Sure, it’s a fight that’s limited by budget so the effects aren’t blockbuster-level (Ray’s face dips well into the uncanny valley, looking disconcertingly as if it’s been inflated like a balloon), but this was still some really impressive spectacle given this show’s constraints. Aside from the aforementioned Ray problem (honestly, his enlarged face was kind of haunting), the effects are pretty solid, which means that Leviathan is able to deliver gleefully bonkers visuals like Ray using a cell tower as a melee weapon or finishing off the Leviathan by punching through his head unencumbered by unconvincing CGI. It’s the kind of unapologetic, high-concept fun that I expected from this show pre-release – and while it’s certainly a cliché, it really does feel ripped from a comic book with the kind of visuals you can imagine taking up whole pages at a time. I can only hope that there are still a few coins left in the effects budget for an action scene or two in the final three episodes.
It’s a good thing that Leviathan builds up a shedload of goodwill with the giant robot fight, because it really does trip up in the final straight. Considering this is episode thirteen in a 16-episode season, Savage was never going to die here – there was always going to be something to prolong the conflict for three more episodes, even if it genuinely felt here like Savage’s story had run its course. I can see why Legends saw fit to reintroduce Carter at this key moment to bring Kendra’s struggles to a head while keeping Savage alive for a while longer on a basic storytelling level, but in execution it all falls flat. For one, the eternal relationship element of Kendra’s story has been handled pretty shoddily this season. That’s partially due to the fact that Ciara Renee and Falk Hentschel are hardly the show’s most compelling performers, but mostly because Legends has done very little to encourage viewer investment in their pairing. Kendra’s fraught relationship with Ray has been utterly repetitive, circling the drain as Kendra goes through the same character arc of feeling tied to Carter and then casting off her destined relationship to be with Ray, and that repetitiveness has led to Kendra’s character arc becoming something of a slog to watch; stodgy filler that offers next to no satisfying narrative progress and not a whole lot of dramatic value. The flashbacks to Kendra and Carter’s past lives haven’t helped either, broadly reiterating what we already know about their relationship with each other and life on the run without adding anything genuinely compelling to supplement previous knowledge.
Therefore, when Leviathan puts all its chips on how much Kendra means to Carter as a way to justify Savage’s survival, it badly misfires. The episode wants us to believe that Kendra’s bond with Carter is so strong that she’d deviate from the entire mission she signed up for, but the set-up for this has been so weak (including the fact that when they were together early on, Kendra never seemed that bothered about Carter) that the development ends up feeling contrived. It’s the problems Legends has had with Savage writ large – showing its hand too early and allowing Savage to be illogically kept alive once more just to fulfil the needs of this extended season order. Kendra’s choice doesn’t collapse Leviathan, but it’s certainly a poorly thought-out storytelling choice that rests far too much on a plotline we’ve been given no reason to care about, meaning that there’s a sense of anti-climax after the hugely exciting build-up.
So, with three episodes left this season, Savage is safely cooped up in the Waverider’s prison – but, like every other super-villain who’s been captured, it’s safe he won’t be there for long. Leviathan may have made a choice that feels like a cynical way to stretch the season out further, but I’m still interested to see where Legends goes with the Savage story now that he’s been removed from the timeline. There’s also the Time Masters’ storyline which has been left entirely unresolved, so it’s safe to say that Legends has plenty on its plate for this season’s endgame…
Leviathan is, on the whole, a great episode that convincingly substantiates the threat of Savage while providing a sense of narrative momentum that’s rarely been felt this season, alongside some hugely entertaining spectacle in the form of that giant robot fight. Unfortunately, it falls short of truly excelling with the frustrating and unconvincing twist with Carter that means the episode fumbles a crucial moment of resolution.