Legends of Tomorrow: 212 “Camelot/3000” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
It’s difficult to draw the line between history and legend. After all, history is written by the winners and often interpreted to suit a particular agenda, which isn’t so different from the mythologizing of real events around a campfire. One person’s ‘historically inaccurate’ is another person’s dream fantasy, and since we can’t travel back and find a definitive answer, we’ll never know for sure.
Unless, of course, you can time travel. But as this week’s episode of Legends of Tomorrow showed with its trip to Camelot, sometimes it’s just impossible to distinguish the two. Camelot/3000, slyly nodding to a 1980s run of DC comics that seemed to be the spirit cousin of this show (a futuristic Camelot is the most Legends idea conceivable) feels like the spiritual successor to last year’s Magnificent Eight. Like that episode, it takes a familiar piece of mythologised history – the Wild West then, Camelot here, throws in a character who adores the setting and proceeds to tick off every single trope associated with the setting. Rest assured, we get a storybook Camelot, complete with King Arthur, a round table, Guinevere, Merlin and a battle in the mud. Suffice to say, it’s fun nonsense.
As the title indicates, though, there’s a first stop before Camelot, and that’s where some of the jumbled storytelling that pervades this episode creeps in. The 3000 setting, way further into the future than this show has ever gone, is a huge can of worms to open for Legends’ mythology, but it’s passed over entirely aside from a quick prologue that shows off a generic sci-fi metropolis that’s not far from our own. There’s also the strange way that Camelot/3000 chooses to re-introduce the Justice Society. Given how formidably they were presented in their first appearance, and how much potential they packed, they’ve been a missed opportunity in a season that’s got so much right. Instead of alleviating this issue, however, Camelot/3000 doubles down by unceremoniously killing off one of its members, Dr Mid-Nite, before the titles have even rolled. We hadn’t seen him in ten episodes, and he was scarcely fleshed out in that episode anyway, so it’s a confusing bit of whiplash to bring him back and kill him so fast. Most of all, though, it’s an annoying waste of potential for a character who had more in him, compounded by the way in which his death is awkwardly trampled through as a tacked-on, unnecessary introduction (the only purpose he serves is to give up a mind control MacGuffin that didn’t even need a place of origin anyway).
Things smooth out, however, when the episode beds down in Camelot to tell the main strand of its story. The central premise of the episode isn’t wholly original, but it’s galvanised by the enthusiasm that Legends takes in presenting a classical, storybook version of Camelot with a typical sci-fi twist. It’s a fun re-introduction for Stargirl to have her presented as Merlin, even if her character proves to be a frustratingly opaque one who serves mainly as a reflective mirror for Amaya to consider her place briefly as someone who switched out her home, and as a gatekeeper of the Spear. Camelot/3000’s version of Guinevere is a bit more substantial, and it’s a nice re-interpretation of the character to have her as a military commander who plays a much more active role in reshaping events – the episode doesn’t play into the tired damsels in distress trope and instead actively chooses to foreground its female characters which is refreshing. Her brief romance with Sara is extremely shallow and barely foreshadowed, however, and it’s part of a slightly problematic trend of this show to play up Sara’s sexuality for insubstantial things like this in a way that feels titillating instead of meaningful.
The main character arc of the episode falls to Ray, the resident nerd of the team, who gets his chance to tick off all of his childhood fantasies as a knight in shining armour. I’m sure there’s been criticisms that he seems unrealistically dumb here to fuel the plot, and that’s not without merit. But while Legends has relied on contrived behaviour in the past, Ray’s impulsiveness is much more widely acknowledged, and acts as intentional commentary on just how intoxicating and damaging these wish fulfilment scenarios can be. Ray’s character works best when he’s put into a position where he can show off his defining geeky enthusiasm, as that’s a side of the character that Brandon Routh can capture so well (it’s almost as if he’s accustomed to playing good-hearted heroes). It’s such a silly story arc that it requires a hell of a lot of charisma to make it hang together, and Routh is up to the task, ensuring that Ray can act as the big, dumb heart of an episode that finds the joy in stories and legends over the nitpicking of historical accuracy embodied by Nate. It would, however, have been more rewarding to tackle just how destructive Ray’s actions can be as well as how joyful. It’s a step forward to acknowledge, but Camelot/3000 shies away from consequence all too many times, especially when Ray’s actions get him shot by Dahrk, only for the cheap save of the ATOM suit as body armour to be revealed. This isn’t an episode that aspires to complexity, but as it’s relatively pared down in terms of character arcs, it had the room for a slightly more substantial and two-sided exploration of Ray that it didn’t quite pull off.
Camelot/3000’s approach is a double-edged sword (no pun intended…). Instead of the more tightly-wound approach of the last couple of episodes, which have navigated some intricate mythology and character relationships and have therefore been a lot more precise, Camelot/3000 more or less cuts loose and throws everything it can at the wall. A lot of this time, this leads to an engagingly manic pace with a sense of freewheeling inventiveness that’s improvisational in the best of ways. There’s a genuinely impressive pitched battle scene that makes crafty usage of camera angles and the backdrop of smoke to create a far greater sense of scale than the small crowd of extras seen before would actually hint, and which contains just enough grime and light gore to have some sub-Game of Thrones bite. The conceit of Mick using his brutish mind to overload the Legion’s device and bring Arthur’s army back is both a great gag in showing how much more powerful Mick’s mind is than the ‘genius’ brain of Dr Stein, and an intriguing hint of the strength of feeling that he holds deep down that suggests a deeper exploration of his character to come. And the visual of the Spear fragment nestled in the stone, pulled out by Amaya is the kind of self-consciously silly homage that this kind of episode is perfectly placed to do. Legends is strong at this kind of freeform creativity, and the looser feel of Camelot/3000 allows it to indulge its instincts in a way the recent Legion of Doom arc hasn’t quite allowed for.
The flipside is that the episode doesn’t hang together as well as recent instalments. Legends has never been the most thematically sturdy of the DC shows, but it’s found greater room for explorations of social issues and emotional arcs as it’s become more coherent in season two. Conversely, Camelot/3000 struggles to find that singularity of intent. It plays with a lot of themes – the history/legend dichotomy is its best stab at a defining topic in how it defines Ray’s story and his brief conflict with Nate, but there’s also attempts to bring in an exploration of where home truly is with Stargirl and Amaya finding happiness outside the JSA, and a development of last episode’s tensions between the team and tactics as Sara chooses to go back and saving Ray. There’s also the additional wrinkle of the continuing involvement of the Legion of Doom as Damien Dahrk acts as the central villain alongside simmering tensions over Rip’s continuing status as a traitor, and the revelation of the Justice Society’s final mission to save the Spear of Destiny. All of these stories are, at least, competently done, but it’s just a lot of story, and not all of it links that clearly together. The result is that the episode is somewhat diffuse, working on different levels all at once and not always coming to the same conclusion. Legends has learned to be more restrained lately, and Camelot/3000 could have taken those recent lessons to heart.
Camelot/3000 ends with the team’s first win in quite some time, having rescued a fragment of the Spear and captured the evil Rip Hunter. The problem, of course, is that the Waverider’s cell is incredibly easy to escape. No-one stays in there for long – just remember Vandal Savage. And, sure enough, by the end of the episode we have Rip exploiting his influence over Gideon. It’s a predictable cliffhanger, perhaps, but one that sets up an intriguing premise for next time around as the entire team are pitted against their former friend, as well as promising that Rip’s stint as an evil drone of the Legion is set to end very soon indeed. Thankfully, because the CW have heard that we enjoy waiting for this like this, it’ll be another two weeks before we find out exactly what Rip has planned. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest he does not want to help.
Camelot/3000 is classic Legends: a well-intentioned, fun, creative, overstuffed, over-ambitious pile of ideas that’s undoubtedly likeable despite just how messily it’s done. It’s not necessarily a step back for the show, as it demonstrates the benefits of allowing the setting of the week to act as an endless sandbox, but it doesn’t hang together thematically or narratively quite as well as the recent hot streak of episodes in season two has done.