Synopsis of 1×5: The race is on to break Stein, Rory, and Ray out of a Russian gulag before the Soviets learn the secrets to making a Firestorm.
Rating: ★★★1/2 out of 5
How much are we supposed to care about collateral damage on Legends of Tomorrow?
Almost every week on Legends, there is a plot point where the team is shown a future ruined by their actions (or inactions). It spurs the team on. They can’t deal with the ramifications. But “Fail-Safe” ends with a prison riot. That they caused. That is interrupted by a nuclear woman exploding. That they also brought about.
And then they cut to the Legends listening to a Dr. Strangelove reference and joking about legal drinking ages. It’s completely skipped over. Collateral damage has become a bit of a sticking point for me (I wrote about it here and here). I don’t demand that my fun time travel shows devolve into dour territory or lengthy ethical quandaries. I just demand consistency.
Other than that, “Fail-Safe” is a step in the right direction for Legends. It’s the most cohesive episode so far. Plotlines that start at the beginning end at the end. There is a logical emotional throughline that extends throughout every story. It was emotional. It was funny.
At the heart of “Fail-Safe” is Firestorm, both the final being and his two individual parts. See, Russia, using a team lead by the deceptive Valentina, wants to learn how to make itself some Firestorms. Rip shows us that this would be a very bad thing.
The Soviets hold Stein in a special section of the Gulag where he is to live in semi-luxury between torture sessions and have the secret of Firestorm coerced out of him. A message from Jefferson helps Stein keep his composure. But Valetina is clever. She deduces, with no coercion, that there is a message on Stein’s arm and uses that Looper-style message on his arm to conclude that he is part of a Firestorm himself. Valentina forces Stein to merge with her and they become a short-lived Firestorm of their own.
They’re only stopped by Jefferson, who encourages Stein to fight back. It’s a scene that encouraged a surprising amount of emotion out of me. I guess I like these characters and want to see them get along. The seeds of discord have been sown between the two halves of Firestorm since Stein roofied Jax to get him on the Waverider. Finally, four episodes later, the two have reached an understanding of sorts.
And wouldn’t it be great if it stayed that way? If Stein and Jax became the second pair of characters on the Waverider to not be at each other’s’ throats all the time? If Firestorm works together for a while and grows into a great team, the writers then have a great card in their pocket to play. If Firestorm becomes a duo, then splitting them up would really raise the stakes.
Defining a dynamic means changing that dynamic kicks up the tension. In Serenity, when Jayne and River actually see eye-to-eye, that’s how you know when things have gotten serious. Don’t get what I’m talking about? Imagine a plotline that drives Captain Cold and Rory to each other’s throats. Doesn’t that rule?
Rory gets to be part of this week’s winning duo. The only tradeoff is that he’s trapped in a gulag. Legends really knows where its good plotlines are buttered and again pairs up Ray and Rory. There is something classic about a master thief having to work with the goodiest of two shoes. It’s a Neil Simon brand of gold delivery through character dynamics. And Ray, who Snart says would “take a beating for a complete stranger,” teaches Rory a little something about compassion. It probably won’t stick, but a worthy effort was made.
I could, however, do without so much torture. Your reviewer is not a squeamish man. I just don’t like it being thrown about so casually. I mean, they are being seriously thrashed here. Poor Ray in particular. It’s a side effect of adventure shows maybe, and the episode’s nuclear prison break ending is a clear indication of how much thought we were supposed to give this moment, but it’s a pet peeve of mine unfortunately on display here.
Legends of Tomorrow is slowly coming into its own. While its weaknesses are hardly improved, its good bits have gotten even better. Snart, Rory, Ray, and Sara are all gems (with Firestorm perhaps soon to join them) and the actions sequences are still a delight. Hopefully a crash landing in 2046 can push us even further in the right direction…
I made it through this whole review without referring to “Fail-Safe” as a Prison Break revival. I’m proud of me.