Legends of Tomorrow: 115 “Destiny” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
That’s more like it. Last week’s episode of Legends was a bit of a misfire for the series, fuelled by character stupidity and relying on thin and underdeveloped stories for any kind of emotional investment, so it’s great to see the show get firmly back on track with its penultimate episode. Destiny represents Legends at its most confident, packed to the gills with enjoyably preposterous sci-fi action while finally striking on a thematically interesting way to utilise the central premise of time travel, alongside a ballsy final twist that represents an impressive commitment to completely subverting viewer expectations of which characters are safe.
The central theme of Destiny was predestination, as the team struggled with the revelation that the Time Masters had been shaping their travels throughout time all along, giving us a belated reason as to why the team have been so incompetent at actually killing Savage. This is a big, high-concept twist to chuck in, and, to be cynical, it barely makes sense on a purely logical level and requires a shedload of convenient exceptions and clauses to even make sense internally with what this episode is trying to do with it. However, nonsensical time travel has become so commonplace on Legends to the point where it’s not worth looking at how logical the time travel is, but instead what it adds to the characters’ development and the themes that Legends is exploring – after all, if you’re looking for logical time travel, you’ve probably tuned out by now. And in that respect, the introduction of the Oculus is a smart and thought-provoking new idea because it fits snugly within the stories Legends has been telling this season. The theme of predestination is well-handled here, and it informs almost every aspect of this instalment from Rip’s first-act despair to Snart’s third-act defiant sacrifice, but what makes it more than just a shallow theme that Legends skims over as mere window-dressing (and it’s done this in the past, so for the show to slow down and contemplate itself is commendable by its own standards) is that it plays really effectively into pushing each of the characters’ ongoing seasonal arcs into a place where they can be wrapped up next week.
Destiny adds clarity to this contemplation of the journeys each of the team members have experienced by flashing back to the scene in the pilot where Rip recruited each of the eight. It’s choice that greatly enhances the developments in Destiny by illustrating how far these characters have come and how much they’ve changed over the past 16 episodes, which adds context and impact to each of the big moments of Destiny by making it abundantly clear that the choices made by Jax, Snart and co are simply not the decisions they would even have contemplated back before their journey irrevocably changed their lives. Each of Destiny’s big moments feels like a point on a smooth character trajectory that can be traced from start to finish; a culmination of something that the show been building to with each character from the start as opposed to inconsistent developments quickly cooked up simply to easily resolve a plot point. Most importantly, it brings that central theme of changing fate and destiny that was crucial to Rip’s initial mission statement back into sharp focus, heightening the sting of the revelation their lives had merely been shaped and scripted by the Time Masters by showing that most members’ central motivation for taking on Savage has been entirely in vain. Therefore, this provides a considerable existential conflict for the team throughout the episode that gives real impetus to their final battle at the Oculus as a means by which they can not only finally reassert some semblance of control over their lives, but also justify the sacrifices they’ve made aboard the Waverider.
Quite a few of the main characters deal very differently with the revelation in Destiny, and it’s those reactions that greatly increase our understanding of what exactly these characters prize, and how they see themselves. For Rip, it’s despair at the fact that he has essentially lost the battle against inevitability that he’s been fighting as long as he’s been attempting to save his wife and son from death by Savage; only, to rub salt in the wounds, it’s revealed here that Rip never stood a chance. Considering how significant Rip’s family’s death was to the very impetus for the team’s formation, Destiny doesn’t quite have the focus upon this crucial event that it perhaps should have done, and ends up relegating a decisive moment that’s been in balance all season to a mere subplot. A lot of this is down to poor editing, specifically the way Savage’s final killing of Rip’s family and entrenchment of this moment within time is intercut with the assault on the Oculus. I can see what Destiny was trying to get across here by contrasting the team’s rejection of fate with the fateful moment that it turns out Rip could never avoid, but the contrast is ill-defined and fitfully explored, meaning that the whole thing becomes subsumed by the more immediately engaging and unpredictable matter of who gets the Oculus sacrifice. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to appreciate with how Destiny brings Rip’s season one story to an uncompromisingly bittersweet end with the pyrrhic victory of the Oculus’ destruction at the expense of the final loss of his family, because it pains a considerably more complex picture of this show’s version of fate, compellingly showing that there are some things that all the willpower in the world can’t change. Truth be told, Legends seemed to be heading in the direction of Rip having to deal with losing out on part of his initial mission relatively early on, but the moment when it comes is nonetheless an impactful and thematically satisfying way to add a touch of bleak yet fitting complexity to the team’s rejection of the Time Masters’ influence.
I’ve been a little disappointed with how Legends has generally swept Mick’s time as Chronos and burning grudge for the team under the rug after one episode of lip service, but Destiny did a lot to alleviate those concerns by showing exactly why it was so easy for Mick to reassert his own identity in the face of the Time Masters’ brainwashing. Despite that disappointment, I’ve really enjoyed Mick as a character and have found his character journey towards genuinely caring for others a rewarding slow-burner, something which Destiny compounds by expanding upon those brief hints that Mick was beginning to form a respect for Ray earlier this season. Crucially, Destiny reveals that Mick has developed a sense of sentimentality and attachment to the team in a way that feels consistent to the character. He’s entirely nonplussed about the manipulation of his life, because it’s simply never occurred to him that he can’t do his own thing, concentrating on the smaller, snappier motivations of a promise made or a desire for revenge in order to casually, almost unwittingly reject the Time Masters’ pervading influence and manipulation. With the groundwork laid for the idea that Mick keeps very basic mission statements in mind and wholeheartedly commits to them while ignoring all other factors, it’s a natural next step to reveal that one of those motivational mission statements that fuel Mick is to protect the team. So, when the moment comes for Mick to knock Ray out to become the one to sacrifice himself, it’s a natural culmination of a clear journey from insane pyromaniac to team player as his desire to look after the people he’s come to care about has become all-consuming enough for him to give his life.
Ray’s story plays out more quietly in the margins, yet it’s still greatly informative and considerably more compelling than last week’s mess of an arc for him. Ray’s mission statement was always to reassert his legacy and move from an insignificant relic of the past to someone of cosmic importance, so it’s natural that the Time Masters revelation would be pretty bruising. Destiny certainly explores that idea, but it goes a little deeper than simply copying and pasting Ray’s conflict from episode one by having Ray finally take some kind of comfort and importance in his own predestined importance in saving the team. Ray hasn’t changed quite as much as other team members because his arc has been linked mostly with the cul-de-sac of his romance with Kendra for some time, but Destiny plays into that by exploring Ray’s unfettered heroism and desire to do the right thing even in the face of crushing circumstances – it feels true to the character that he’s hopeful instead of despairing at the inevitability of his death, finally taking the chance to be remembered as the hero he always wanted to be. The episode very deliberately plays up to his death as the logical end-point only to feint as the team finally reassert their independence, but it’s notable that Ray specifically is chosen as the one originally to die, considering how he’s the only character in an episode full of surprising decisions made by drastically changed people who makes the same decision that his pilot self would have made. Ray’s immoveable heroism makes him the natural candidate to be the predestined sacrificial lion, cleverly illustrating how the team’s initial roles and labels now have shifted and no longer hold the weight they held. Fittingly, Ray goes from hero to passive bystander…
… and Snart goes from unrepentant thief, recalcitrant to help anyone but himself and his partner, to the hero who eventually makes the sacrifice at the end. Snart’s death is undoubtedly a blow for the show as a whole, taking perhaps its most consistently entertaining character off the board, and he’ll certainly be missed as a reliably ambiguous presence with a reliable supply of pithy one liners. Nonetheless, his death is hugely satisfying as a visceral moment of triumph, complete with impressive one-liner, and as an excellent conclusion of his character arc. Unlike many, Snart’s character arc has been sharply defined and consistent from the get-go, partially because it revolves around the snappy and simple premise of turning him from villain to hero, something with which Legends has satisfyingly imbued the moral complexity and unpredictably volatile that characterises Snart. It hasn’t been a straight line from bad to good, and Destiny remains true to that intentionally uncertain character journey with Snart’s tense stand-off with Sara at the start of the episode over the decision about saving the team. A lot of traits that defined earlier versions of Snart such as his unmistakeable instinct for self-preservation remain integral parts of his chaarcter to the end – indeed, he dies still disliking the ‘hero’ moniker. His sacrifice is a ‘villain to hero’ journey to the letter, encapsulating the way Snart has enjoyably defied categorisation as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ by quite pointedly not turning Snart miraculously into an all-round great person. Yet he still becomes a hero, because his sacrifice more or less is a definitively selfless act with only the interests of others at mind; satisfyingly, his final action (at least for the time being) is the exact opposite for what Snart once stood for, underlining how drastic his transformation as a person has been. I very much doubt this death will stick, but this was a really great and fitting way to bring Legends best-written character arc to an end that does justice to all the solid work it’s done with Snart across the season.
If Destiny really struggles with anything, it’s setting up next week’s season finale. Just like Leviathan felt like a finale until that screeching left turn with Carter’s return, this would have felt like a finale that wrapped up the Time Masters’ threat, brought several character arcs as well as the team’s character arc to a close and featured an explosive sacrifice if Savage’s scenes had been excised. The problem is that his sparing, intermittently arranged scenes feel like a way to crowbar Savage in – there’s the necessity of killing Rip’s family, which is done well, but everything before and after feels dragged out and inessential, purely there to remind us that there’s still the threat of Savage ticking away to deal with next week. Despite the ominous portents at the end of the episode, it’s unclear exactly why it’s a significant and exciting cliffhanger because it barely seems to point anywhere for what Savage will do for his final plan – it’s an ending that seems to rely on swelling music and vague statements to elicit excitement for the season finale rather than anything concretely exciting.
Nonetheless, this was an impressive course correction from Legends – character-focused yet still retaining a sense of excitement and propulsion with fight scenes that enjoyably lean into the futuristic sci-fi trappings for a great deal of Star Wars-lite fun. It’s put the show in much better stead for the season finale, which features the final showdown against Vandal Savage and, we’ve been promised, the mysterious introduction of a new superhero to launch us into season 2…
Destiny is a confident return to form, with a host of satisfying character arcs and excellent pay-offs that culminate in Snart’s bittersweet yet hugely memorable sacrifice. Its central premise strains credulity and it has trouble reminding us of the significantly less interesting threat of Savage, but this was still a great instalment.