The Flash: 208 “Legends of Today” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Throughout the first parts of their respective seasons, The Flash and Arrow have laid an unprecedented amount of groundwork for spin-off Legends of Tomorrow, putting almost every character set to appear in Legends in a convenient spot for them to be whisked off to travel about in time. Despite the set-up for returning characters, there were still a handful of new faces to introduce before Flash and Arrow finally complete the legwork for the spin-off…
It’s crossover time again, and this year’s crossover is taking the form of a two-part Hawkgirl origin story, complete with bonus Hawkman and Vandal Savage intros. Last year’s extravaganza set a high bar, but the different, more serialised approach really appeared to be paying off here, with the extended format allowing for a denser and more complex story to be told. Despite the larger scope and complexity compared to last year, Legends of Today still managed to pack in all the enjoyable little bits of fanservice that make the annual crossover worth looking forward to. Part of the fun of a crossover is seeing everyone’s reactions at the craziness unfolding – and that very much continued here, with the utterly bonkers nature of the story allowing for a handful of instantly quotable lines. Legends of Today also gets a great amount of mileage out of unexpected character combinations – moments like seeing Barry’s incredulous reaction to Malcolm Merlyn’s habit of shadowy entrances, or Cisco mocking Thea’s codename are a natural evolution of the similar moments we saw last year, and really elevate the entertainment factor of this episode.
Legends of Today works, generally, because it feels bolder than last year’s understandably tentative offering, which felt like a regular Flash episode with a few special guest stars. This crossover, with the confidence that comes in a second season, spent more time in Star City than Central City, allowing for a genuine blending of the show’s tones that felt surprisingly seamless – it speaks volumes about the cohesiveness of this universe that a jump to the new Arrow lair feels completely natural. This really did feel like a crossover with more confidence in itself, utilising dark settings usually confined to Arrow to create an episode that has the refreshing difference and freshness that every crossover should have – it’s not a tonal leap that violates credulity, but it’s a risk that’s had a solid return. It helps that Arrow has become wackier and somewhat lighter this year, meaning that the gap in tone has slightly narrowed since last year, helping for a more seamless shift than we would have seen if they had tried a two-part crossover last year.
The big villain here was Vandal Savage, given something of a trial run before he assumes Big Bad status in Legends of Tomorrow. Given we’re going to see a great deal of Savage in the spin-off, a lot was resting on this introduction – and it’s an encouraging first appearance for the villain, with Casper Crump delivering a relatively menacing performance that combines a little requisite scenery chewing with a level of slight restraint that ensures that Savage doesn’t feel too over the top. Importantly, he does feel like a genuine threat, with a notable level of brutality that’s similar to the introductions of Reverse Flash and Damien Dahrk, both of whom developed (or are developing) into compelling and engaging long-term foes. Legends of Today takes pains to show Savage’s swatting away of just about everything that’s thrown at him, establishing Savage, quite rightly, as one of the most powerful foes in this universe, and a viable threat to a whole group of powerful people who will face him in Legends. There’s a huge amount of potential with Savage for the spin-off to explore over its sixteen episodes, and Legends of Today marks a solid introduction to this important comics villain.
As mentioned above, Legends of Today also saw the first half of Hawkgirl’s origin story, with Kendra finally discovering her heritage and gaining powers by the end. There’s a huge amount going on in this episode, so placing Kendra and her struggle as the emotional crux of the episode lends focus to an admittedly messy instalment, with just about everything in the A-plot looping back to Kendra and Hawkman. Ciara Renee is decent enough here, with a likeable and grounded performance that sells Kendra’s bafflement at her situation. It was a pretty tough task for someone hired as a supporting character in an ensemble to take such a pivotal role, but Renee generally rises to the challenge. The decision to intertwine her story with Cisco’s also works, with her story providing a very natural and effective counterpart to Cisco’s own struggle with his powers, which gives Carlos Valdes a chance to dig into some more substantial material than he’s usually given.
Hawkman also makes a good entrance here, with a hugely enjoyable fight scene between the bird-themed hero and Barry/Oliver instantly establishing how fun he could be as a character. There’s not a great deal to say about Hawkman, considering how there’s clearly going to be more of him in part two, but his introduction is just as solid as Hawkgirl’s, providing a clear indicator that the writers have a handle on these tricky and complicated characters. The necessary infodump about reincarnation is a bit of a slog, but the Hawks’ back-story is a really thought-provoking one that’s both surprisingly disturbing and downright nuts (who’d have thought we’d jump from Rainbow Raider to ancient Egyptian heroes in a year?). There’s a danger that part two could get bogged down in the logistics of the whole reincarnation process, but in of itself Legends of Today gets the ball rolling on the Hawks’ unique back-story effectively, simply conveying the necessary exposition in the digestible, accessible way The Flash has also introduced crazy ideas like Earth-2 and time travel.
To remind everyone that this is still The Flash, Legends of Today did include a minor subplot back in Central City. The Velocity-6 plotline feels like a bit of a distraction from the considerably more entertaining Vandal Savage shenanigans, and there’s some developments that don’t really hold up to close scrutiny (Patty doesn’t exactly come out of this smelling of roses after shooting an unarmed person), but it’s clearly set-up for future developments rather than anything that’s meant to reach a conclusion this episode. It also manages to finally bring Jay Garrick back into the equation, but this just highlights The Flash’s difficulty with this character – it doesn’t really seem to know exactly what to do long-term with Jay, and the current situation of Jay entering every now and then to criticise a plan and then storm off is a really lame one that’s under-delivering on the massive amount of hype that surrounded the character before the season. In a stellar episode, Jay Garrick unfortunately proves to be the dullest element – let’s just hope that The Flash writers will figure out what to do with him soon enough.
In many respects, Legends of Today feels like the Age of Ultron of crossovers. It tells a more expansive, richer story with more confidence than the first one, but perhaps loses the focus of part one by throwing a huge amount of characters and plotlines into the mix. What this crossover has, however, is a constant sense of joy and fun that overrides the storytelling hiccups – sure, it’s overstuffed, but the enjoyment of seeing the Flash and Arrow battle Hawkman and Vandal Savage while their respective teams trade quips back at base carries this episode to the point where the flaws feel pretty minor. With DC’s movie department aiming for gritty, dour superheroes, it’s great to see the TV department prioritise pure fun and thrills every now and then, leading to an episode that’s purely entertaining to watch.
This episode leaves us with one last twist, which is kind of a sequel to a very similar scene from last year’s crossover. I’m still not convinced by the re-emergence of Oliver’s secret child, partially because it’s been gestating for so long that it feels like it’s been dug up to artificially create drama and partially because it’s a melodramatic and soapy plotline that I’d be hard-pressed to see actually playing into Arrow as a long-term thing, but it’s essentially Arrow’s problem to solve now. For The Flash, this is simply an intriguing cliffhanger to lead us into part two, with the knowledge that The Flash will have moved onto other things by the time we return to Barry’s solo adventures next week. And speaking of next week – it’s nearly Christmas, which means it’s time for the mid-season finale, which involves a villainous team up of… undesirables? Criminals? There’s a word for them somewhere… But before that of course, there’s the second half of the crossover to go – see you over on Arrow!
It’s messily plotted, but Legends of Today is a confident, breathlessly fun instalment that’s a delight to watch from start to finish.