Legends of Tomorrow is breaking my heart in a way that hasn’t happened since Terra Nova.
Terra Nova, for those out of the loop, was the show about people living among dinosaurs that I wanted to see since I was five years old. And while it had it’s moments, it was, at its heart, half soap opera, half police procedural with a little bit of politics thrown in at the end. It was more cyberpunk than Jurassic, But really more after-school special than anything else.
Dinosaurs though will never get old – at least not for me. Alas, the dinosaurs were just background noise – and that defeats the whole point of bothering with dinosaurs. The dinosaurs needed to be central to the plot – not just an occasional complication. Disgraced former cop trying to redeem his career and reconnect with his family has been done better, and then done to death.
Instead of saying stupid crap like “you need to learn to forgive yourself first” and thereby ensuring cancellation, the series could have been saved if someone would have said, “I think the raptors are getting smarter…”
Sorry. I’ve been wanting to write that paragraph for five years. Deep sigh.
Legends of Tomorrow is also a time travel show with an absurd premise that would only appeal to deep nerds such as myself, and inexplicably struggles to become appealing.
Now, it’s a spin-off of The Flash, which is a spin-off of the Arrow, and come with all of those liabilities. So yes, I factored out the usual problems with any CW / DC series.
I know the acting will be all over the spectrum, but mostly at the lower end. I know that educated adult characters will behave like witless junior high kids and somehow manage to bungle the most straightforward of social interactions. I know that the plot will require a certain amount of tactical incompetence on the part of the heroes. I know it’s written for a far younger demographic. I know.
Even with that – LoT is breaking my heart. And there’s no one specific thing. Yes Hawkwoman consists of an inadequate actress (Ciara Renee) portraying a terribly written character. Yes, educated adults (two of the characters literally have doctorates) behave like dangerous and wildly immature idiots. Yes, the “leader”, Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) has no effective plan, and is just bouncing around wherever the writers thought would be cool in pursuit of the immortal Vandal Savage. And Yes, I could go several paragraphs.
If I could stay awake.
And that’s the big crush of it all – I have fallen asleep during every episode I have tried to watch. They have managed to make time travelling super-heroes dull.
In fairness, I have stayed awake all the way through Episode 7 and beyond. Partly because I watched them in the afternoon with strong coffee, but mostly because they are finally moving the plot and to some extent the characters forward at a measurable rate. If I fell asleep, I might actually miss something. I fell asleep during parts of E1-6, woke up, and nothing surprising had happened.
Throughout the DC universe, written or filmed, time can be fixed or fluid depending upon the needs of the plot – er – the particular circumstances. In LoT, Rip Hunter claims that once you change history, you still have a while to change it back, or again, before time “hardens”. This is as consistent with the DC cosmology as anything else within the DC cosmology.
Most DC time travel begins or ends with the Flash (or more accurately, one of the Flashes). The Flash character was the first headliner to actively time travel, and remains the biggest offender. The weird, distracting tie-travel gag in Supe v Batman? Flash, of course – and doing it wrong as usual.
This makes sense in their metaphysics, as DC time travel can be done through sheer speed. And by the standards of time-travel physics, this is not clear and immediate poppycock either. Space and time are the same damn thing within Relativity. If you have sufficient speed to deform space, you could also deform time.
Flash’s power is not actually running really fast. Cannon has him being able to run thousands of miles/hour over land, But before you get far into the hundreds, our ability to maneuver goes as your velocity exceeds your reflexes. Then your joints and tendons fly apart. Then you catch on fire. Not to mention the calorie requirements. And that’s the start of a long list.
But Flash possesses the speed force – which is a misnomer. It is in truth an energy field that allows him to bend space and time at the molecular level to do all manner of godlike things, including travel in time. The TV show, set early in Barry Allen’s career, has him barely in control of this, and misadventures follow.
Legends of Tomorrow is no exception, as it is a direct spin-off of the Flash. (Some of the characters actually debuted on Arrow – but the core of the group are Flash extras) True to form, there was a season-ending Arrow/Flash crossover where Vandal Savage kicked both of their asses, and Flash fixed it through time travel.
And because he is the Flash, he saved the world from Savage – for that moment, but made a host of other personal issues worse. Ah, well, we have all of next season to work through those issues, don’t we?
Worth noting: that crossover was also the backdoor pilot for Legends of Tomorrow.
Rip Hunter’s (stolen) time machine has good control of its journey through space and time, when not damaged – as it often is – so you would think that stopping Savage would be easier. But it’s not of course, because the the CW Tactical Incompetence mandate, and because Savage (Casper Crump) , in contrast to Hunter, actually knows what he’s doing. And we have 13 episodes to fill. So history is disrupted, property is destroyed, and lives are kinda/sorta lost to no good effect. This is most of the series.
And I was about ready to give up on it all, but at during the last four episodes, the gang start actually moving the ball against Savage, and legitimate plot and character progress – the kind that makes Agents of Shield great – actually happen. Adults learn and grow, and the series as a whole starts to actually realize that central gag is time travel without real consequence – and they start to USE IT.
The turning point was Last Refuge, about having to protect their former selves from their future enemies coming back and killing them as children – with a tactical twist at the end that was so well executed it saved the episode from some otherwise contrived melodrama sprinkled with miserable acting.
And then it kept getting better, because they realized the strength of the show is not the junior high personal drama of the main characters, or even the goofy super-powered fist fights that occur once an act like a studio mandate. No, the strength of the show is the freedom to explore the worst-case scenarios of careening through time without lasting consequences. By the end of the series bat-shit crazy temporal hijinks drive the plot rather than decorate it, and now I’m staying awake. I’m still shouting at the screen about middle-aged adults making decisions that would shame an icarly regular, but I am now awake to do so.
Steven Spielberg gave Terra Nova cgi dinosaurs, and they squandered it into cancellation. Legends of Tomorrow nearly suffered the same fate. The multitude of DC Silver Age writers gifted them with a floating what-if plot-hole, and they nearly squandered that until, like their characters, they have a sudden realization at the last minute about the true nature of that mission. Borderline competence follows, and the world is barely saved.
Legends of Tomorrow has been renewed for a second season.