Synopsis of 2×6: The Legends crash land in a desolate future where Star City is run by Deathstroke, the cast of Arrow is dead, and Heatwave can take control.
Now that’s what I’m talking about.
Thus far, Legends of Tomorrow has struggled to find its feet. No episode has been out-and-out bad, but the show would lose energy when certain characters weren’t on screen. Somewhere just downright not worth visiting. Even superior efforts like last week’s “Fail-Safe” flitted back and forth between the very watchable and the very clumsy.
“Star City 2046” is the first time it feels like Legends is firing on all cylinders. It’s enrapturing the whole way through. Not quite great television, but some of the greatest genre television in a time where that is plentiful. And it accomplishes this through a series of great choices:
It Sends Its Best Characters into Star City
Through many of the Legends have struggled to find their place, its more wicked characters have been nailing it right from the start. Sara, Snart, and Rory are a constant joy. They take action. The actors are giving fun performances. By God, they can be funny. And they’re the perfect crew to be set loose in an Apocalyptic future. Heatwave becomes a crime kingpin after all of about thirty seconds. Cold is there for snide commentary and to remind everyone what’s at stake.
Sara is an emotional wreck. This is her home, where her friends and family used to live. And it has been destroyed by something. This future is not set in stone, but if it turns out to be Star City’s ultimate fate she has to do something to see it become a better place. It’s compelling TV.
It Uses Its Established Dynamics
By this point in the Arrowverse, the bond between Leonard Snart and Mick Rory isn’t in question. These two, despite sharing affection for almost no one else, would risk anything for the other. They’ve broken into prison for each other.
So to see them come at odds here in Star City, it’s wounding. There’s legitimate emotional tension here. You love the Rogues and you want to see them stay together. But Snart’s ever-growing good guy stint is putting a strain on their bond. And what would we do without our Rogues?
At the end of the episode, Mick confides in Ray that he’s not sure who he trusts anymore. The two bonded as cellmates in last week’s “Fail-Safe” and Legends has enough memory and smarts to keep that bond around. Mick even sits next to Ray when the Waverider takes off at episode’s end, leaving Captain Cold in the solo seat.
Things are a little confused in the sense of character arcs since it seems both Snart and Rory are learning to be better people, Snart though his natural inklings and his bond with the Flash, Rory through his growing friendship with Ray, but here they get in a fight because Rory has no desire to do good. It’s a minor complaint for an effective piece of television that I’m sure will become more in clear in the coming weeks.
“Star City 2046” also sees a more chummy version of Firestorm. Jax and Stein reached a real point of understanding in last week’s episode, and here they’re good friends chatting about a girl. It’s good to see, both because it means Legends is keeping track of these sorts of things and because the ever-fighting Firestorm was a constant source of frustration.
Now that we’re past that, Legends can settle in to the easy character groove it needs to become appointment viewing. It needs a Community-style rapport of unlikely friends. And it’s getting there, faster than I might have anticipated.
It Keeps Things Fun
Even at its most uneven, Legends has always been able to conjure a sense of life. Heists and Soviets and 70s fashion have been good, but a superhero love triangle subplot? Now that’s great. Watching all these folks bounce off of each other, playing off of each other and keeping things light with some rom com tropes is a joy.
As great as the events in Star City are, they are also a little dour. A lithe romance subplot keeps things breezy and breaks up the crushing reality that is Star City past, present, and future.
It Chooses the Right Setting
An apocalyptic future is a playground. You can destroy anything. Anyone can be dead. Anybody can be somebody’s son. You can include roaming Star City Biker Gangs if that suits your fancy. The Star City of 2046 is a place for invention in the same way that the 70s or a fight bank sadly weren’t. You can do whatever you want.
I am no great fan of Arrow. I’ve never finished a season despite having started three of them. Its dourness and frankly expendable supporting cast has always rubbed me the wrong way. But that didn’t stop me from finding Sara’s struggles in her fallen home compelling.
Caity Lotz has never been better. I’ve always written her off as being very charming without being a particularly good actor. But I was wrong. So wrong. Lotz is great in “2046.” Really interesting and compelling, intense without needing to raise her voice. I could watch her give performances like this all day.
There is No Vandal Savage
And no Hawk reincarnation. And no centuries-long battle between Rip and Savage.
Legends is fun, but its main plot needs work. Like, a serious overhaul. Savage isn’t working. Rip functions fine as a Hogwarts teacher “You can’t do that, Harry” kind of buzzkill but needs a lot more to become compelling character.
Before “2046,” Kendra was a total waste of space, devoid of charisma or being a character. Now that she’s not the center of a plot that isn’t working, we can see that Ciara Renée can be quite the charismatic audience surrogate if we let her be so. It’s no accident that Legends’ best episode has nothing to do with Egyptian Hawk gods.
“Star City 2046” gives me hope for Legends of Tomorrow (and the Legends of Tomorrow). I don’t expect it to be winners from here on out, but I’m holding it to a higher level of accountability now. I know it’s capable of episodes like this. Now let’s see if they can do it when Savage is around…