25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: LEGENDS OF TOMORROW – TURNCOAT

DC's_Legends_of_Tomorrow_title_card

MAIN CAST

Victor Garber (Alias)
Brandon Routh (Chuck)
Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who)
Caity Lotz (The Pact)
Franz Drameh (Edge of Tomorrow)
Matt Letscher (Her)
Maisie Richardson-Sellers (The Originals)
Nick Zano (2 Broke Girls)
Dominic Purcell (A Fighting Man)
Amy Louise Pemberton (Suspence)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Randall Batinkoff (As Good As It Gets)

Legends of Tomorrow delivered a Christmas-themed episode in feburary 2017 , making it only about a month-and-a-half late to the party. But when time travel is involved, you can always argue that’s Christmas somewhere (or some-when). “Turncoat” allowed Legends to keep delivering the fun, frantic action it’s been doing so well in season 2, while also going to some pretty dark and dramatic places along the way.Granted, I had my concerns going into this episode. Legends has been particularly strong since returning from its midseason hiatus, and it didn’t seem like reverting to the familiar formula of “The Legends go back in time and protect a famous historical dead dude” didn’t see like the best way of keeping the hot streak alive. And if this episode had focused mainly on the fight to protect George Washington (played by Randall Batinkoff), it probably would have floundered. The show’s portrayal of Washington was about as bland and straightforward as its Ulysses S. Grant from earlier this season. With his penchant for flowery speeches and obsession with military decorum, it’s like he walked straight out of an elementary school history textbook.Fortunately, Washington himself was more or less an afterthought here. The real focus was on the painful reunion between the Legends and their old captain, now rebooted as a nihilistic villain who’d rather trample over history than safeguard it. As fun as it was watching Arthur Darvill play Rip as a cowardly American hippie in recent episodes, it’s even more entertaining watching this new version. Perhaps in part because he doesn’t just come across as a brainwashed tool of the Legion of Doom. There was a real weight to Rip’s words as he reflected on his past self’s willingness to be manipulated by others and his failure to save his own family. While the new Rip may be a product of brainwashing, there’s little denying that he already existed somewhere in the old Rip’s mind. Once again, it’s great to see the writers pushing the character in such new and dramatic directions rather than simply roll him back into the cast as if nothing had changed.Evil Rip helped keep the conflict grounded throughout the episode. There was certainly plenty of the familiar Legends charm to go around. Mick’s narration in the opening credits alone took care of that, to say nothing of Ray’s mad dash through the Waverider’s air ducts or Professor Stein’s hilarious Dr. McCoy homage. But despite the healthy dose of humor, “Turncoat” actually proved to be one of the darker episodes of the season. Sara very nearly died at Rip’s hand. Jax was forced to take over as captain and found himself on the brink of shooting Rip. Professor Stein nearly had a panic attack while trying to save Sara. And while everything generally worked out in the end, there’s no getting around the fact that once again, the Legends allowed another priceless artifact to fall into the Legion’s clutches. This is a team that loses even when they win, and that’s a major source of their appeal.That dark turn definitely worked in Jax’s favor. He’s a character who tends to be used for comic relief or as a foil to Stein, so it was nice to see Jax front-and-center and really dealing with some complicated emotional baggage as he confronted Rip. His game of cat-and-mouse with Rip was nothing if not suspenseful, and his struggle to stop himself from killing his old captain felt very genuine. By the end it was hard not to root for Jax to gun down Rip given the emotional gauntlet he had just been through. Luckily, the writers seemed to know when to ease off the gas and let the darkness recede in favor of some good, old-fashioned Christmas charm. That impromptu celebration helped balance out the otherwise glum conclusion to this week’s conflict, while also reminding us what a tight-knit group the Legend shave become since first banding together to hunt Vandal Savage.It really seems like Legends of Tomorrow can do no wrong lately. Even in an episode that ran the risk of retreating into simpler, more formulaic time travel fare, the show managed to deliver a wildly entertaining adventure that balanced dark character drama, sexual tension and wacky superheroics. The debut of dark Rip Hunter is just one more inspired addition to a show that already has so much working in its favor.

HALLOWEEN OF HORROR REVIEW: LEGENDS OF TOMORROW – PHONE HOME

Legends of Tomorrow (2016)

 

Starring

Victor Garber (Alias)
Brandon Routh (Chuck)
Caity Lotz (The Pact)
Franz Drameh (Edge of Tomorrow)
Maisie Richardson-Sellers (The Originals)
Amy Louise Pemberton (Storage 24)
Tala Ashe (American Odyssey)
Nick Zano (Mom)
Dominic Purcell (Straw Dogs)

Brandon Routh and Jack Fisher in Legends of Tomorrow (2016)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Jack Fisher (The Last Ship)
Susie Abromeit (Sex Drive)
Christina Brucato (The Intern)

Tala Ashe and Jack Fisher in Legends of Tomorrow (2016)Sometimes I wonder if Legends of Tomorrow will ever become too cute and lighthearted for its own good. The trailer for “Phone Home” made it seem as though this episode might go over the top, with its depiction of the team joining forces with young Ray Palmer for a saccharine-sweet spoof of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. But as always, the series manages to temper its goofy, earnest sense of humor with a touch of serious drama and a strong, if very dysfunctional team dynamic. “Phone Home” captures Legends at its most charming and lovable. This episode makes no bones about the fact that it’s lampooning E.T. Sure, there are plenty of other amusing references and callbacks to other films (including a great Aliens reference courtesy of Amaya), but this isn’t a Stranger Things-style mashup of all things ’80s. That said, the E.T. formula lent itself very well to this episode. The whole point was to explore the root of Ray’s inflappably cheerful and optimistic personality. Who else would befriend a hungry alien he met in a sewer pipe?This isn’t the first time an episode has revolved around the team meeting a younger version of one of their own, but it’s a trope that paid off just as well this week as it did way back in “Pilot Part 2” when Stein met his younger self and set a whole chain of events in motion. This time, it was Ray meeting himself circa 1988 (played by Jack Fisher) and realizing that maybe his childhood wasn’t as wonderful and idyllic as he remembers. That dynamic made for a great examination of the character. It quickly became clear that Ray’s cheerful positivity is less an innate quality than something he honed over years of trying to cope with a world where he never quite fit in. Fisher’s charmingly precocious take on young Ray contrasted nicely with Brandon Routh’s take on the character.Tala Ashe in Legends of Tomorrow (2016)For the most part, this episode did little to tie into the larger conflicts building this season. It did, however, build on the events of last year’s Invasion crossover by framing the conflict around a lost baby Dominator and the search for his “Mom-inator.” It’s fun to see these aliens cast in a different, less villainous light, one that fueled a predictable but charming story about a boy finding a friend at long last and adults learning not to judge others based on appearances. Definitely a low-stakes conflict, but a very entertaining one. And the Back to the Future-style struggle to prevent adult Ray from being erased from the timeline did add at least some tension to the mix.Jack Fisher in Legends of Tomorrow (2016)Mostly, though, this episode was about capturing that Spielberg-ian adventure quality and celebrating the power of movies in general. I found myself openly grinning at multiple points watching this episode. How can you not be won over by the shot of a baby Dominator nodding along to Singin’ in the Rain and kicking its feet, or Mick admitting he’s a big fan of Fiddler on the Roof or Zari using her powers to recreate the iconic climax of E.T.? But even those moments paled to the scene where the Dominator defeated the evil government stooges by forcing them to break out into song and dance. I really don’t think it’s a coincidence that two of the greatest, most spontaneous moments of brilliance on this show involve characters unexpectedly launching into song. I’m still holding out hope for a dedicated musical episode at some point.Zari’s arc is the only piece of the puzzle that left me feeling a bit underwhelmed this week. Other than exploring Ray’s background, the main goal with this episode seemed to be to strengthening the new team dynamic and making Zari feel more like a legitimate member of the group. It’s a nice sentiment, especially with Zari’s talk about people eventually finding their families, but it didn’t quite feel earned. It doesn’t seem like we know Zari well enough for her to be making that leap yet. Nor doe sit feel like the writers have quite figured out what role they want her to fill. Sometimes she’s played as the team’s wide-eyed newbie, and others more like the jaded, futuristic cynic. Either way, Tala Ashe doesn’t quite have the energy level necessary to stand alongside her co-stars Did it strike anyone else as a little weird that Zari has never heard of the Dominators before? Doing the math, the events of “Invasion!” happened 24 years before she was plucked from the future. Even if you assume that the authoritarian government in her time suppresses most media, you’d think humanity would remember its first alien invasion. Heck, it’s very possible Zari herself was alive when the invasion happened. On a sadder note, this episode began the process of writing Professor Stein out of the picture as Victor Garber gears up for a new Broadway role. It’ll be a shame to see him go, but if it has to be done, at least his exit is being handled gracefully. You can’t really fault Stein for wanting to be there for young Ronnie (a welcome nod to the late Ronnie Raymond) when he completely missed Lily’s entire childhood. And it gave us a wonderful little moment involving Stein, Jax and Mick at the hospital.Zari,_young_Ray,_and_Atom_fly_away (1)Phone Home captures so much of what makes Legends of Tomorrow the most entertaining branch of the Arrowverse. This episode delivers a lighthearted, entertaining and sweetly innocent look at a young Ray Palmer and his bond with a most unlikely new friend. The show really wears its influences on its sleeve here, but in a way that pays loving tribute to some truly classic films. With a few more episodes like this, Season 3 may soon come to rival Season 2 in overall quality.