Legends of Tomorrow: 213 “Land of the Lost” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Captain Rip Hunter has been gone for a while now. After his disappearance in an exploding Waverider in the 40s back in the season premiere, he’s popped up twice in two very different incarnations: innocent, confused film student Phil coerced by the Legion of Doom into following along with their quest, and a version of Rip that’s at once more familiar with his recognisable haircut and accent, and alien, given that he’s been nothing but homicidal in his interactions with the Legends. It’s about time, then, that we got him back.
This week’s episode, Land of the Lost, sought to do just that as Sara and Jax took a deep dive into Rip’s sub-conscious to retrieve the real version of the Waverider’s captain. After the convoluted heavy-lifting that last episode had to carry out with its dual settings and return of the Justice Society of America, it’s nice to have an episode that strips it all back and opts for a character-driven approach. A lot of this minimalism, clearly, is borne out of budgetary necessity – aside from some flashy dinosaur CGI, Land of the Lost has a pretty low-fi concept – and inhibits the episode from scaling any ambitious heights. With some solid character development and fun action, however, it’s still a solid breather episode before the shenanigans of the Spear of Destiny and Legion of Doom resume next week.
The central story here was the journey into Rip’s mind, and it’s an enjoyable adventure despite the lack of visual imagination. The conceit of Sara and Jax fighting Rip’s brainwashed perceptions of them is a fun one, and it leads to some genuinely creative action scenes with Sara’s battle against herself presented as a dead heat between two evenly matched figures who fight from exactly the same playbook. Jax’s opposite number is somewhat less convincing – the Microsoft Paint 2006 effects for evil Firestorm won’t go down as a great visual achievement to say the least – but it’s a nice way to bring out his resourcefulness as his most important attribute, overriding the brute force power that his counterpart embodies.
One of the big curveballs here is the appearance of the Waverider’s AI, Gideon, in the flesh. It’s one of Land of the Lost’s trump cards, forging ahead with ideas that could only be accomplished in this setting and using the lack of budget to its advantage (after all, Amy Pemberton is already a series regular in her vocal capacity). Amy Pemberton’s performance is fine rather than spectacular, but she achieves the task of bringing out the emotionality within the typically placid AI while keeping it recognisably grounded within the entity we already know. That familiarity allows for this episode’s biggest risk to work, which is Rip’s romantic moment with her. Fortunately, the potentially silly idea works a lot better in execution than in concept thanks to the committed performances of both Pemberton and Arthur Darvill, and it’s actually quite a convincing idea when scrutinised given how well Rip’s bond with the AI, and lack of romantic tension with any members of the Legends, have been established. It’s a nice way, of all things, to give Gideon some individuality and humanity beyond her role as the loyal servant of the Legends, illustrating Legends’ knack for taking heightened comic-book ideas and bringing a little depth and realism, within this show’s elastic world, to them.
Rip’s actual journey is more functional than emotional, aside from Gideon who acts as his emotional anchor even more so than his colleagues. Arthur Darvill, whose chameleonic skills in crafting new personas have been put to good use in the last few episodes, shifts into his familiar performance very convincingly, slowly turning Rip’s demeanour from that of a diminished man dominated by fear to the confident authority figure that we remember, yet with a touch more humility that acknowledges the crimes that were committed in his name. His return to the team, backed by sweeping orchestral music, is a triumphant moment, but it’ll be interesting to see whether any cracks will start to creep in given just how tumultuous his re-entry into the fray has been. There’s definite potential, at the very least, in the unresolved conflict of who deserves the captain’s mantle given Sara has more than proven her mettle in the interim. Certainly, Rip’s return won’t be a clean and breezy experience, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he ends the season in an entirely different place to where he first began.
Meanwhile, in the B-plot, it’s a journey into the Cretaceous (aka: the trusty British Columbia woodland area) to track down a ‘temporal delineator’. The padding can really be seen here with a plotline that’s incredibly simple but takes the entire run-time to play out, but Land of the Lost finds a smart way to fill in the gaps by taking the loose thread of Nate and Amaya’s uncertain relationship from two episodes back and exploring it in depth. Nate’s conflict, revolving around themes of destiny versus choice, is nothing new for Legends – it’s similar thematic territory to Ray’s agonising nightmare romance with Kendra last year. Thankfully, Land of the Lost sidesteps the myriad mistakes of that story by portraying Nate and Amaya’s relationship in a refreshingly mature light. Both act like functioning adults who think their decisions through and whose attraction is devoid of any operatic significance. That might seem like a back-handed compliment given how low a bar that is to clear, but it’s certainly a step above some of the relationships portrayed on the other DC CW shows, which does count for something. Legends might not have the thematic depth or nuance of some of its counterparts, but it’s greatly improved its characterisation in season two, as shown by how Nate and Amaya, as opposed to being forced together out of fate, have simply drifted together because they’re a convincing pair whose attraction makes sense.
Unfortunately, Amaya has a destiny as a mother and grandmother in her village, complicating Nate’s desire for a serious relationship. Amaya’s link to the Vixen we’ve already seen had barely been mentionedv before, so this was a smart way to define Amaya in relation to her role as someone who must pass down a legacy. Again, though, this conflict was executed understatedly, as Nate realises the problem as calmly informed by Ray and makes a decision. It’s complicated a bit by his final choice to turn back and ‘start tomorrow’ – a bit of messiness that smudges the clarity of his decision a little – but for the most part this was an impressive exercise in actively avoiding mistakes that Legends has made in the past. As long as Nate’s frustrations don’t turn into brooding and angst as their storyline progresses, his storyline is certainly on the right track.
Aside from all the personal drama, there’s still an attempt to keep Legends’ typical zaniness front and centre. Free of any personal angst, Ray is free to be the embodiment of that gleefully silly spirit with his enthusiastic return to his ‘old neighbourhood’ that allows him to exercise his many survival skills including iguana soup and collecting dinosaur urine, and it’s with him that Land of the Lost keeps a lightness of touch that’s missing in Rip’s plotline. The episode also treats us to the neat spectacle of Amaya using her powers to communicate with a T-Rex and dissuade its attacks. Given how often her abilities translate into super-strength for fight scenes, it’s nice to see Legends embrace the more empathetic side of her skills as she sends the T-Rex packing with no bloodshed. Plus, the sight of a superhero caressing the snout of a dinosaur is a great movie poster image that only Legends, with its unusual blend of sci-fi and fantasy tropes, could sensibly pull off, proving that Land of the Lost isn’t entirely lacking in this show’s typical ambitious spirit.
Land of the Lost ends with the united Legends now on course for the final piece of the Spear, which lies in 1970 during the Apollo 13 mission… where Eobard Thawne has already pitched up, evidently plotting away with the Legion’s agenda in mind. There’s only four episodes left of this season now, and so Land of the Lost’s function as a stopgap to let the season catch its breath and re-orient itself after the mad dash through the myth arc that we’ve seen since the winter premiere becomes clear, and arguably even necessary. It’s a demonstration that Legends doesn’t have to be visually spectacular to succeed anymore, as it can rely on the less flashy, but more substantial virtues of good, solid characterisation and the ability to make the ridiculous seem realistic as with Gideon. Even the episode suffers from a comparative lack of plot as it’s forced to elongate its stories past their basic conceits, it never feels inessential, laying some important emotional groundwork that should be vital as the Legends come into serious peril in their battle against the Legion once more.