Legends of Tomorrow: 116 “Legendary” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
After fifteen episodes, it’s time for Legends to wrap up its freshman season here with the final showdown against Vandal Savage. Last week’s penultimate episode was a series highlight, defying the usual proclivity of penultimate episodes for set-up and teasing to function as a thoroughly entertaining and thematically satisfying instalment that gave one of the show’s best characters, Captain Cold, a truly memorable send-off. That episode put Legends in a solid place for its season finale, but did it follow through and stick the landing?
Given how The Flash and Arrow’s season finales have either been all-out terrific or massively disappointing (hi, Arrow season three!), it’s surprising to see Legendary land in a comfortable place between those two extremes. It’s a solid, reasonably satisfying season finale that does a good job of tying up loose ends, clearing the decks for season two before a barnstormer of a teasing cliffhanger. There’s no big swelling moments of hugely satisfying resolution coming from a place no-one expected, nor are there baffling, disappointing creative choices that dull the impact of what came before. Vandal Savage is killed, a couple of team members leave, emotional arcs reach a close and season two is mysteriously yet tantalisingly teased. It is, in short, exactly what you’d expect from Legends’ season finale, but, to its credit, it accomplishes those expected goals with finesse, finding room for genuine stylistic innovation and unexpected catharsis within those parameters, even if it’s stifled on occasion by the heavy lifting needed to justify a conclusion as crazy as it is.
The emotional bedrock of Legendary lies in Sara’s discovery of her sister’s death and her subsequent grieving process – and while I have no idea how this would play out for a viewer who doesn’t regularly watch Arrow, this was a very effective and compact emotional arc for Sara to play through. In fact, it’s perhaps more resonant than Arrow’s ambling, misaimed tribute to Laurel post-death because it eschews lofty and unfounded ideas of legacies and simply concentrates upon the emotional core of Sara’s reaction and what Laurel’s death specifically means to her. This allows the storyline to lean heavily upon the performance of Caity Lotz, and she completely aces the task here. Lotz nails the basic emotion of Sara’s immediate grief, sensitively yet viscerally conveying Sara’s utter shock at the news after her cheerful greeting with her father, but it’s the way in which she manages to cycle through the myriad emotional states that Sara experiences throughout the episode in relatively little screen-time, convincingly and resonantly portraying an entire coping process and subsequent acceptance despite how quickly the episode requires her to change moods. Sara’s storyline is briskly handled and relatively quickly parked in order to get to the final fight with Savage, yet thanks to Lotz’s performance the arc still feels satisfyingly paced and complete by the end, an important reminder that Legends can always rely on its eminently capable bench of performers to bring emotion to arcs that are thin on paper.
It’s just as well that Sara’s powerful story is mostly concentrated in the episode’s opening act, because it’s in this section where Legendary becomes dragged down with the need for a shedload of exposition on Savage’s final plan. It’s not the fact that the whole idea of a ‘timequake’ resetting Earth back to Ancient Egypt is complete and utter nonsense that weighs the episode down – sure, it’s completely ridiculous, but that’s par for the course at this point – it’s simply the amount of technobabble and pseudo-science that Legendary has to wade through before it can get to the meaty stuff. Legendary puts forward one hell of an idea for the final showdown, but it’s one that the episode has to bend over backwards to justify, ensuring that the pacing occasionally feels a little off, with momentum slowing every now and then for another infodump to push the Legends into the positions they need to be in for the showdown to work. It prevents the episode from being the lean, propulsive road to the final battle that it wants to be from the moment the crew get back on the Waverider ten minutes in, and instead mires it in convoluted and rather dry mythology when the episode should be stampeding to the finish line.
Fortunately, all that set-up does lead into one hell of a final fight with Savage. Legends has actually worked a bit better when it’s thrown caution to the wind with time travel rules and simply used it to accomplish a particular purpose; last week, it was the exploration of fate and predestination. This week, Legends enjoyably twists its premise to provide a genuinely unique three-pronged final fight in three different time periods – and while it doesn’t make an ounce of sense, it’s an inventive enough concept for those issues to become irrelevant; and, on a basic level, it’s just really fun to watch, allowing for three distinctive and exciting battles to be fought that all show off a different style of action and power-set while contributing to the same end goal. Every character gets a chance to shine, from the Hawks’s double-takedown of Savage to Firestorm’s acquisition of his famous transmutation power from the comics, and it’s all topped off with the memorably absurd catharsis of seeing Savage killed off brutally three times (to recap: neck snap, set on fire, stabbed and thrown into a rooftop power generator – ouch). These strengths are compounded and heightened by excellent editing that allows the three different fights to feel like a cohesive whole, with the battle flowing from start to finish as the balance of power in each fight shifts in tandem with one another. It’s the kind of fun, distinctive editing that recalls the iconic dual showdown between Oliver and Slade in the Arrow season two finale, yet on a larger and more ambitious scale, and it makes for a Savage send-off that’s far more entertaining and well-crafted that any singular final fight would have been. Savage may never have clicked as a villain, but Legendary made sure he had a departure befitting of that fearsome reputation that never really cohered with the actual reality.
Legendary still has a lot to accomplish post-Savage, but it’s Rip’s big sacrifice that’s most pertinent here. Rip’s character arc has floundered at points this season because it’s started from the hopelessly clichéd base idea of a dead family, seen through the familiar perspective of Rip’s angst, and has gone through some unusual speed bumps as Rip’s mission has put him in a distinctly selfish and dislikeable light as it’s become clear how much Rip values that mission over the crew. Legendary doesn’t fix these issues, nor does it provide a hugely detailed conclusion to the story, but the end-point it settles at is satisfying and fitting nonetheless. After that aforementioned streak of selfishness and marginalisation of the team’s interest, Rip’s attempt to take the hit for his team and fly the meteor into the sun felt like the right place to illustrate how far he’s come from his initial quest of vengeance, finally prioritizing the team’s interests above his own in a way that was a natural extension of the thread of Rip’s forging of personal bonds with the crew that carried through to his handling of the Sara situation here. Looping back to the idea that Legendary is predictable yet effective, that’s probably the most accurate way to describe the way Rip’s arc ends. His brief hallucinatory reunion with his family is hardly a tear-jerker since it’s a tactic of emotional manipulation pulled from the same book as the dead family cliché, but there’s something warmly affecting in his brief, tender reunion with his family, with Arthur Darvill selling the extent of Rip’s joy at seeing the people who were brutally yanked away from him with consummate skill. Thus, his moment of acceptance of his family’s death and subsequent escape was genuinely cathartic and satisfying to see, a casting off of an emotional weight that, in that particular moment, was tangible and real enough to invest in as a significant barrier for Rip.
It’s also worth noting the quietly great conclusion to Mick’s arc that Legendary delivers. Truth be told, I found Mick a waste of space in his initial Flash appearances – a cartoon character devoid of any depth or realism – but he’s really come into his own on Legends to the point where he’s become one of the most complex characters on the team, which is something Legendary very effectively taps into. There’s plenty of comedic moments for Mick in the finale that are as amusing as ever, but it’s his reunion with Snart that’s a testament to how Mick’s development has finally paralleled his partner. Their brief chat is so affecting because it takes two characters who routinely present the very surface of a psyche that’s incredibly layered and deep and instantly creates a sense of resonance by presenting a much rawer and more vulnerable Mick who’s quite clearly let his guard down, giving this particular interaction a clear significance that, intriguingly, Snart’s not quite able to put his finger on. Legendary dispenses with last week’s themes of predestination for the most part, but it gets one last bit of mileage out of the idea by having Mick set Snart on the course of heroism that so obviously leads to his sacrifice – an unexpectedly inspired idea that greatly deepens our understanding of the ways these mysterious, evasive partners have a psychological grip on each other, even from beyond the grave.
Amidst satisfying character arc wrap-ups, the Hawks more or less just flap off with barely a moment of fanfare. It’s strange, because it’s easy to react to their departure with relief – the Hawks’ storylines were easily the weakest of the season and neither actor really assumed the same level of confidence or gravitas as their Arrowverse veteran peers, so their departure is possibly the best removal the show could have made from the line-up; a long overdue clearing out of the deadwood to move forwards with the characters who really do work. It may be a relief to see the back of the Hawks, but they still played a vital role in this season, so it’s surprising to see them ignominiously dispensed with an abrupt and vague desire to ‘live their lives’, which makes the idea of ‘removing the deadwood’ seem more like an authorial intention than simply this writer’s opinion. Perhaps they’ll be back in the future, but for now their exit was presented as quickly as it could possibly be, which somewhat undermines their importance to the show and gives the sense that the writers just lost the thread with the Hawks.
The Hawks’ exit did, however, segue efficiently into our set-up for season two… and wow, it’s one hell of a set-up. We knew from incessant teasing that a mystery caped hero would be popping up in the finale’s final moments, yet Legendary pulls out all the stops to make the moment surprising, starting with the intriguingly portentous out-of-context hints at a futuristic version of the Legends saving their past selves from a threat they don’t understand yet. The name Rex Tyler, aka the superhero Hourman, may not be a familiar one to most viewers, but he’s certainly a well-loved enough superhero for that reveal to be exciting in of itself as an expansion of the Arrowverse’s already considerable roster of heroes, but it’s the subsequent namedrop that I’d imagine really got people’s ears to prick up. The reveal that Hourman is a member of the Justice Society of America, a precursor/Earth-2 version of the Justice League, is a genuinely massive reveal, greatly expanding out the show’s lore and breadth of exploration of the DC universe to a genuinely surprising extent. The JSA reveal is a major statement of intent for this CW-verse as a whole, opening up the universe to introductions of a maelstrom of heroes from all over time and possibly all over dimensions, illustrating how enormous the sandbox has just become for Legends to play in next season; the possibilities are near-endless, and I can’t wait to see how the show takes advantage of them. Suffice to say, this is a fantastic way to set up season two that instantly shows a growth in ambition for a show that didn’t exactly start out small. Now, what kind of threat would necessitate the involvement of the JSA and the Legends? For that, it looks like we’ll have to wait. See you in the fall…
Legendary is a very good season finale, with a really fun final battle against Savage with inventive editing and usage of its team members, satisfying conclusions to emotional arcs and a terrific tease for Season 2 at the very end. It’s not the best effort this season, thanks to reams of turgid exposition and a distinctly mechanical send-off for the Hawks, but this leaves Legends in a good place for the second season to pick up.