Legends of Tomorrow: 201 “Out of Time” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Legends of Tomorrow debuted in January after a huge promotional campaign with a great deal of fanfare, but in its first season, it became something of an odd duck in the CW’s DC universe. Season one got a lot right, from the consistently great effects-laden fight scenes to a smart awareness of how to use its excellent cast to elevate the material, but it never quite overcame the innate flaws in its premise, such as inconsistent handling of time travel, a bloated cast with some extraneous characters and an overarching story that suffered heavily from the lame villain, Vandal Savage at its centre. Now firmly set as the fourth on a packed-out slate of superhero shows on the CW, Legends returned this week, unchained from that inhibiting original premise with promises of a refreshed focus and streamlined cast.
Out of Time is an odd season premiere. Not in a bad way, necessarily, because there’s a lot to love about it, and it sets up the overarching story of the season in tantalising fashion. Nonetheless, it’s not quite as focused as one might expect after season one cut almost every dangling plot thread from the pilot, and the sheer mass of material that Out of Time wants to power through leaves the episode feeling unwieldly and imbalanced. In many ways, this is a new kind of Legends, with a noticeable shift in tone and a reshuffled deck of characters, but in other ways, it’s absolutely what you would expect from this show: a whole load of silly fun wrapped in a story that stands up to no scrutiny whatsoever. I’m not sure this will have won over many fans, but by the end, there’s real signs that Legends is building itself up to huge things last year. And once we get to the real core of this season, I’m feeling that this will prove to be a really important episode in setting the tone and setting up a stable foundation for all the crazy things to come after.
The best compliment that one could give Out of Time is that it starts out season two with legitimate confidence in itself. Legends struggled to find its own tone last year, as the high-concept premise clashed with the heavy emotional back-story associated with Rip Hunter and Vandal Savage – but, to its credit, Out of Time uses the opportunity it’s given to really carve out Legends’ own niche. It does this by leaning into the inherent absurdity of the premise, which is just about the best thing that a show about a ragtag, vaguely incompetent crew of time-travelling superheroes could do. This new sense of self-awareness and playfulness is most clearly reflected in the flashback to the team’s adventure in France at the start, which speaks to just how much Legends has changed its priorities this season. For one, we have a much smaller team, which allows for each member to play a distinct role as part of a wider unit in a way last season’s packed-out ensemble struggled to do; Ray as the recon guy, Firestorm as the last-resort back-up, Mick as the heavy brawler etc. That’s a much smarter approach that allows Legends to deliver a handful of character beats for each personality within the set-piece – in Out of Time, the characters’ unique moments mostly just re-establish their unique traits, but it does speak to the benefits of a tighter ensemble with more distinctive personalities going forward. By embracing the silliness of it all, Legends feels looser, and more relaxed in telling its own stories – we get jokes that don’t feel stilted or forced, and things that were flaws last year, such as the characters’ ineptness at disguising their powers, become part of the offbeat charm that the show is trying to cultivate. The rest of Out of Time doesn’t quite keep up the same tightness of focus, but it’s still very encouraging that Legends can deliver set-pieces like this in the mould of the adventures throughout time that’ll make up most of this season’s episodes.
Having mentioned the trimmed-down ensemble, we do get a fresh face aboard the Waverider in Out of Time in the form of Nate Heywood, historian and grandfather of Commander Steel (but that’s a matter for next week). The flashback structure of the episode means that we don’t spend an awful lot of time with Nate here, but it’s a pretty encouraging introduction nonetheless. Nick Zano instantly clicks with the intentionally absurd atmosphere of the series, and his unabashed enthusiasm and wide-eyed wonder at it all instantly marks him out from all the heightened personalities who are used to superpowers and time travel that populate the series. It’s also refreshing to have a de-powered character on the Waverider for once, because it provides a slightly more grounded and human perspective on events. We’re reminded through Nate’s reactions that all of this is absolutely crazy, and that link to the more rational side of this universe is instantly a step-up from last year, where everybody came aboard the Waverider and got used to things all at once. In tandem with Nate, Stephen Amell makes a brief guest appearance as Oliver Queen to segue into the main mystery that fuels the episode. While it’s a pretty sparing role that abruptly cuts out with not a lot of explanation, the juxtaposition of the abrasive Oliver who lives in a world of drug dealers and criminals with the sci-fi bombast that he finds himself confronted with is another really effective way to establish this season’s new tone from the get go.
Out of Time is so stuffed with plot that it barely has room for substantial character arcs, but it does make time to introduce this year’s big conflict for Sara with a story that links directly to her trauma surrounding the death of her sister. I was uncertain last season about a character arc that’s so explicitly linked to the events of another show, undermining Legends’ attempts to uniquely define itself, but Out of Time makes Sara’s bloodthirsty quest for vengeance work a little better by placing her up against the subject of her rage, Damien Dahrk. Her grief is instantly more tangible and easier to empathise with when she has a direct objective, and her brief confrontation with Dahrk in the shipyard has a real emotional heft to it as the culmination of feelings that have evidently brewing since the end of last season. Once again, a lot of the power of her story rests with Caity Lotz, who manages to make Sara’s rage understandable and psychologically realistic, despite the fact that her arc is just a little bit contrived, railroading her towards a confrontation with Darhk with a set of increasingly ridiculous coincidences. Legends has always been great at covering up its storytelling deficiencies by leaning upon the cast to bring the emotional complexity that the script does not offer, and that’s absolutely the case in Out of Time, as Lotz does an excellent job in selling Sara’s character arc.
With that said, Out of Time is held back by some puzzling, and frustrating flaws – some as a natural consequence of the episode’s sprawling ambition, and some which are just easily-avoided blunders that the show should have learned to avoid by now. The main problem here isn’t necessarily the story being told, but the pace it’s being told at. Out of Time has a harder job than usual with the framing device and occasional non-sequiturs, and it doesn’t manage to make this grab-bag of elements really flow as a cohesive whole. Admittedly, the middle section of the episode covering the entirety of the atom bomb mission is fine in its pacing, telling a consistent story with a beginning, middle and an end, but it’s at either ends where the episode runs into problems.
In particular, the final section just after the end of Mick’s retelling feels incredibly rushed, especially considering how detailed the play-by-play of the 1942 mission is. The episode scrambles to establish the new status quo in about five minutes as Nate joins the team, every member is picked up from their respective time and Rip’s goodbye message is heard, and nothing is given the time it needs to really register. For the time scatter, it’s just a shame that this interesting concept that could easily have filled an engaging episode of television is burned off as fast as Legends can manage, because it deprives the show of the chance to explore the genuine consequences of the atom bomb’s explosion and prevents us from seeing just how the team members function alone for a protracted period of time.
Meanwhile, Rip’s disappearance is a plot twist that lands with a thud when it’s crammed so tightly with everything else. Arthur Darvill does his best to make the brief final message to the crew as genuine and heartfelt as possible, but it’s hard to really feel any emotion at Rip’s ‘sacrifice’ because it all happens so fast, and the emotional punches of the explosion and the message are instantly followed by other, unrelated big moments that need to be ticked off. These are good ideas in of themselves – the time scatter scenes are really fun for what they are, and Rip’s ambiguous fate is a smart decision that forces the team to rely on themselves while setting up an intriguing overarching mystery – but they don’t cohere with the episode as a whole. Even the opening, which is fun in of itself, introduces a focus on Nate that the episode doesn’t maintain – once we get aboard the Waverider, he’s just another member of the team, and his introduction is barely commented upon by the other Legends apart from a few brief remarks to indicate that he’s new. With that in mind, Out of Time can’t help but feel a little frustrating, because it has all the ingredients of a knockout premiere episode, but doesn’t quite manage to make them fit together, making for an episode that’s good, but far from what it could have been with stronger execution.
That being said, it’s hard not to be excited by the final two scenes which really set the stall out for this season’s deep dive into some of the most exciting parts of the DC universe. It’s pretty awesome in of itself to see the Reverse Flash pop up on this show, given how Thawne has been established as one of the most formidable and compelling villains of this universe across the three seasons of The Flash, but it’s even more exciting to see him alongside Damien Darhk in the first building block of this year’s key villainous team-up. I’m really intrigued by the Legion of Doom and just how this greatest hits collection of foes will fit together, let alone what their overall plan will be, and Out of Time makes for a thrilling start to the eventual completion of that line-up.
It’s equally great to see the other side of their coin in the final scene of the episode, with the first appearance of the Justice Society of America suited-up. While Out of Time mostly puts last year’s tantalising JSA cliffhanger on the back-burner, their cameo is a really great way to segue into their story once the groundwork for this season has been laid. It’s an instantly iconic visual to see this crew of superheroes assembled for the first time in live-action, and their costumes are surprisingly colourful and faithful to the comics, which makes for a cliffhanger that’s hard to beat in terms of promise for next episode could hold. As I said last season, there’s a huge amount that Legends could explore with the JSA and their myriad backstories and powers, and it’s pretty awesome to see the show dive in at the deep end quickly instead of going for a slower build-up of the team.
As Legends kicks off a season that was billed as a fresh start and a clear revamp of what didn’t work, Out of Time feels like it’s taking one big step forward into a show that’s more sure of itself in both its sprawling ambition and more intimate focus on a smaller set of characters. At the same time, it’s got one foot in the past, as it struggles with some very familiar problems, namely failing to really join together all the entertaining disparate elements into a genuinely cohesive whole, just as season one never managed to find a singular focus with the Vandal Savage story. Legends still isn’t quite the show it wants to be, and every attempt to strike out in a new direction seems to be held back by yet another recurring flaw, speaking to this show’s concerning difficulty to fully learn from its mistakes and move forward. Nonetheless, Out of Time ends with its head held high thanks to a one-two cliffhanger punch of the Legion of Doom and the JSA, and it’s hard not to be excited for what this immediately expansive season will bring to the table now that it has all these elements at its disposal. Season two didn’t quite race out of the blocks as it was intended, but there’s genuine reasons to be encouraged by an opener that is, despite all its flaws, a lot of fun with real promise for the future.