Legends of Tomorrow: 215 “Fellowship of the Spear” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
As it turns out, we have the Legends to thank for a lot of our pop culture. They’ve helped inspire George Lucas to make new movies and participated in the creation of Arthurian mythology already, and in this week’s instalment, they can add JRR Tolkien to the list as they recruited him into a quest to destroy a seductively powerful artefact that could be used for evil. Thanks, Legends!
The Tolkien homages, in reality, were just a small bit of seasoning on an episode that took some big emotional swings to prepare for the climax of the season. Fellowship of the Spear undoubtedly has its fun with its winks and nods to Lord of the Rings, but it’s an atypically dark instalment that doesn’t have the same time for fanservice. Many of these big emotional moments land with a surprising weight, such as Mick’s own compelling conflict as he’s pulled between his old and new lives, though the episode is often marred by the sheer amount of plot it needs to churn through that leads to some ungainly storytelling shortcuts.
Legends season two was initially ordered for 13 episodes and extended late in the game, after the season had begun airing, to the unusual final number of 17. The season has done well to ride over some of the pacing problems this has undoubtedly created, but every now and then there’s been moments of overly compressed storytelling that stick out. One example was the quick dispatch of Dr Mid-Nite in the Camelot episode, and Fellowship makes a similar blunder with its opening act and the theft of the final piece of the Spear. After all the effort taken to get the three pieces in their possession, and the obfuscating of the Legion’s true location for so long, the swift and painless heist at the Vanishing Point feels curiously abrupt. Understandably, Fellowship needed to get on with the story of the destruction of the Spear, but the way in which it’s done feels like we’re watching an episode’s worth of material squeezed down into ten minutes of screen-time at the top of an episode with other concerns. It’s not the last moment of rushed storytelling in the episode, but it’s the most frustrating.
Fellowship finds thematic focus and storytelling momentum once the Spear is joined and the Lord of the Rings-style quest can begin. The Spear confers to a famous archetype in genre fiction of an artefact whose power corrupts with whispers of how it could be used for selfish purposes (like a… ring of sorts, maybe?), and while Fellowship is keen to explore this process of temptation, it’s more restrained than you might expect. Only Amaya and Mick, the two characters who are currently suffering the most in the Legends, feel the allure of the Spear, and that allure is more of a psychological effect in which the Spear latches onto the temptations already bubbling under the surface and gives them voice. That leads to a more tightly-focused episode than you might expect that’s able to draw out two developed character arcs that have a nuance and texture to them that’s atypical for an ensemble show that’s accustomed to cramming in several character stories in every episode.
The central focus here was Mick, who reached something of a breaking point here. He’s a misfit in a team comprised of misfits, and Legends has been keen to underline at every turn this season that, despite his efforts to integrate, he’s never quite been able to empathise with the altruistic nature of the Legends’ travels through time. His journey in Fellowship sees every single anxiety and uncertainty about his place in the team hammered by both the temptations of the Spear and the return (in the flesh) of his old partner to remind Mick of the transaction-based relationship in which he feels most comfortable. It’s an all-encompassing examination of what this seemingly-reformed version of Mick fears most as those fears come true one by one, which makes his final decision to join up with the Legion make sense; the combination of a chance to reclaim his old life and iron out the flaws of his past, and only that combination, pushes him over the edge.
Dominic Purcell is often boxed in as the comic relief, but he rises to the occasion every time Legends seeks to utilise his broader dramatic talents, conveying a tangible sense of emotional turmoil and then weary regret as his decision is set in stone by outside factors. It’s a quietly sad character regression, but a believable one that summarises the deeply complicated nature of someone caught halfway in between heroism and villainy, but who is motivated most powerfully by the wholehearted acceptance of others for who he really is. What’s also interesting here is how far Fellowship commits to Mick’s critical perspective of the Legends. Instead of refuting his notion that they’re somewhat snobbish and dismissive of him, Fellowship actively strengthens it with Jax and Stein’s knee-jerk fury at behaviour that, within the convoluted logic of Mick’s psyche, is kind of justifiable. Whether that antagonism is entirely true to the characters is a questionable matter, but it’s still pleasing to see Legends expose the flaws and petty cruelties lurking beneath the protagonists’ altruistic surfaces. The result is that the Legends manage to bring about what they spent the episode trying to avoid with their callous actions, and if the final scene is any indication, Legends is very conscious of that hypocrisy. It’s a sign of a well-developed superhero show that’s able to challenge its heroes to such a substantial degree and explain the allure of the villains in emotionally realistic terms.
Amaya’s own character arc is less substantial, although it’s compelling in its own right, following a surprising path in many places. As a former member of the JSA, she’s always been established as one of the Legends’ morally upright members with a rigid code of ethics, so it’s not surprising that she’s able to resist the call of the Spear to rewrite the messy and upsetting future that awaits her. Her argument for using the Spear as a shortcut to the substance they need to destroy it, is a more interesting prospect that raises a stimulating moral argument about the value of unchecked power within altruistic hands, and which speaks volumes about the emotional state of her character that she’s willing to make a decision with potentially catastrophic consequences. Furthermore, in another sign of Fellowship’s morally queasy depiction of the Legends, she never backs down from her viewpoint and is ultimately proven right in her hunch that it would be necessary. It’s a story that zigs where you would expect it to zag, opening up intriguing conflict where easy solutions seem the more likely path. I mentioned last week that, strangely for a show that’s fuelled by a childlike sense of wonder, Legends is perhaps the strongest of the DC shows currently at writing characters like mature adults. Amaya’s story is another informative example of that strength, as it portrays a principled character who’s willing to accept the majority vote but isn’t willing to forfeit her own beliefs – who advocates an extremist solution not because it’s easy, but it just makes more sense. For all of Fellowship’s shortcuts, it often reaches a rare level of thoughtfulness in the moments where it slows down, offering scenarios like Amaya’s where the Legends seem sanctimonious and ill-advised in their decision-making.
Fellowship’s other big development, teased incessantly since the announcement of the Legion of Doom back at last year’s Comic Con, was the return of Captain Cold as part of the Legion. The way in which he’s introduced, almost nonchalantly, is surprising given the totemic significance he’s been granted on this show posthumously, but it allows for a genuinely well-executed switcheroo that plays into the previous fake-out of Snart as a hallucination only to flip the script when it’s revealed that he’s real. It’s a nice way into Mick’s shattered, self-doubting thought processes at seeing a friend who’s become a constant ghost at his side, and it establishes the classical characterisation of this pre-Legends version of Snart as the fiercely individualistic outlaw that Mick idolises. Wentworth Miller is always a welcome presence on either Legends or The Flash, and he slots perfectly into a crew of gleefully overacting middle-aged white male villains (say what you will about casting on the DC shows, but it’s excellent at finding a type and ruthlessly committing to it). Snart’s return plays a substantial character-driven performance as a ghost of Mick’s old life that proves too tempting to resist when given a concrete form, but there’s plenty more story to be mined from the return of a character with so much influence. Hopefully the following episodes will dig into this version of Snart’s own psyche, as someone who’s been established as capable of moral change, in the same way this instalment explored Mick’s.
Fellowship, much like the mid-season premiere, makes time in amidst the melee for a celebrity historical story with JRR Tolkien, a British soldier in the trenches with dreams of something outside the hell of war. It’s fun to see the parallels drawn to Lord of the Rings, such as the church sequence that evokes the mines of Moria while the wartorn No Man’s Land becomes an analogue for Mordor (one does not simply walk into a warzone), with a great deal of the episode propelled along by the same sincere and joyful reverence for the material being referenced that was present in the George Lucas story. Tolkien himself isn’t quite as interesting, however, playing a functional role as a lover of stories who tags along on the quest without really embarking on any personal journey of his own, while his exit from the story is annoyingly cursory. It’s a small complaint in an episode that easily manages to justify its premise as an homage, but Legends has crafted better arcs for its guest characters before – just last episode, it managed to pull off a moving story for Commander Steel who we barely knew beforehand.
Fellowship of the Spear ends on a pretty big cliffhanger, as it’s difficult to imagine endings getting more significant than the warping of reality itself. It’s a cool, albeit very silly, sight to see the united Legion finally accomplishing their goals, and the premise of a completely altered reality in which the villains are able to live their own ideal existences is a pretty tantalising one. Season two has a lot of character development left to wrap up as it leaves Mick out in the cold and the Legends fractured, both emotionally and now physically by the Legion’s warping of reality, but the briskness of the storytelling in the past couple of episodes indicates that it’s well up to the task. Just two episodes, left then, and the next stop is Doomworld…
Fellowship of the Spear is another very strong episode in a stellar run of them, blending a fun homage with a couple of thoughtful character stories that scathingly challenge the moral authority of our heroes and make some emotional changes that will be very difficult to undo in a flash. The episode needs to cut some corners to get there, unfortunately, such as the clunky accelerated storytelling of the first act and the questionable characterisation of Jax and Stein in turning their backs so quickly on Mick. Yet in a week where Flash and Arrow are the best they’ve been in weeks, the once-inferior Legends is now able to stand shoulder to shoulder with them as a consistently rewarding superhero show.