Synopsis of 1×4: After a brief Pentagon robbery, the Legends land in Cold War-era Russia for another frigid heist.
What is the ideal balance between cohesiveness and energy? A proper marriage of craft and fun? Does there exist a perfect balance in genre television, where the two can meet in equal measure without the other being sacrificed?
Thus far, Legends of Tomorrow has had an incredible amount of the latter. Each of the first four episodes has been a breeze, zipping by in some of the fastest forty-two minutes around. Watching Snart, Rory, and Ray bounce off of each other is a constant delight, and Arthur Darville & Caity Lotz bring an enjoyable lack of fun to Rip and Sara, if such a concept makes any sense.
But as pieces of television, meant to entertain and touch, where characters must learn lessons and come to personal realizations, each episode of Legends of Tomorrow has been an absolute mess. Character flaws seem to be assigned at random each week. Characters discuss their emotional movements while on missions that have nothing to do with them. The timeline can be destroyed with the simplest action but raiding the Pentagon during the freakin’ Cold War has no negative effects.
Legends of Tomorrow is all over the place. But at least it’s doing it with style.
Reliably, Snart and Ray are the bright, shining stars of “White Knights.” Legends found this golden dynamic back in the second half of the pilot and wisely brings it around again for some more fun. Again placed together on a heist, Captain Cold and the Atom have no mighty villain to face or secure fortress to hack*. Their assigned task is the seduction of a single Russian scientist.
*Again, they broke through the Pentagon in seconds.
Ray, of course, hardly knows what to do with Valentina when he meets her. He comes on very strong. Snart lets him know that chicks don’t dig that, bro. He plays it cool and laid back and Valentina is Russian putty in his hands. She asks him to walk her home and even leaves him with a steamy good night kiss. It’s all in service of nabbing her credentials mid-swoon (something Snart is apparently an expert at), and he does it with style.
The discussion of Valentina continues on throughout the episode. During the elaborate and confusing climax of “White Knights,” Valentina nearly enters the fray and gets herself nuked by something Stein is doing. Not wanting to see her blown up, Ray asks Snart to go distract her long enough for their heist to complete. Snart doesn’t care much about the ultimate fate of “some Commie broad.”
This decision to save Valentina ultimately ends up getting a lot of people thrown in a gulag, including Ray. With Snart held at gunpoint by a Russian scientist who ain’t nobody’s fool, Ray is forced to back down, and gets himself captured.
A similar fate befalls Rory, who spent much of the episode hanging out with Rip. Having realized a healthy application of Rogue will always do a storyline a favor, the writers hand over Rory as a sidekick to Rip Hunter: Time Master this week as he deals with the world’s quickest assassination plotline.
The beginning of “White Knights” finds the Waverider pursued by Chronos, the mask-y fella from the pilot assigned to hunt down Rip. Some quick maneuvering sends Chronos crashing to Earth, but the plotline doesn’t stop there*. Time Master Druce pays Rip a visit, telling him that if he surrenders now he’ll be forgiven of his crimes against time (his “time crimes” if you will) and his team returned to their timeline of origin. It all sounds too good to be true. And it is.
*Although it almost does.
Mick rightfully asserts that Druce plans to kill Rip and his team when he surrenders. Rip plans an ambush and takes down his attackers with lots of fire before Druce escapes through time. And just like that it’s over. The planned assassination plot is dropped and forgotten for the rest of the episode. While I’m glad that not every event on Legends of Tomorrow needs to be a crux of the whole hour, it’s a frankly bizarre structure for a show to have, like two episodes were hastily slammed together.
The ambush kicks off the Firestorm plotline that dominates the rest of the episode. Stein is very controlling. Jackson is tired of being told what to do. Firestorm is torn apart, almost like an old white man and a young black man might not be completely sympatico.
What works about the Firestorm argument is that both sides make sense. Jackson was taken from his home and his mother against his will. He was drugged and stolen from home. It’s understandable to be pissed after such a happenstance. But Stein had his reasons. The world itself hangs in the balance, and aren’t the needs of humanity above the needs of but a simple few? Stein left behind his wife to save the world. Shouldn’t Jackson have to make similar sacrifices?
Both sides have their compelling evidence, but I pray for a time it’s not conveyed in a yelling scene on the bridge. Maybe the second half of this two-parter will make the shape of things more clear? These be the perils of reviewing a show episodically.
By far the most incomprehensible part of “White Knights” is Sara and Kendra’s sparring matches. Turns out, both of the women on the Waverider have unquenchable bloodlusts they didn’t ask for. Both of them.
During the brief raid on the Pentagon, Kendra goes buckwild on some security guys, like the writer accidentally wrote the wrong name in the script and didn’t catch it until they had already filmed the scene. Sara offers to train Kendra to control her bloodlust, which is like sending a coke addict to counseling sessions with an active drug addict.
Giving both of the show’s precious few female presences the same downfall is lazy. Making the tired and horribly out-of-date trope of the woman who can’t control her emotions is downright insulting. I strangely expect more out of a show where Captain Cold tells the ship board computer, “Bone me.”