by Thom Yee
1×02: “Pilot (2)”
After the disastrous (but probably fated to happen) events of the previous episode in which our heroes travelled back to the ‘70s, get two of their own teammate’s’ grownup child killed, and then find out they’re less legends but losers, we now find ourselves with a group that’s somewhat more disillusioned with their series’ initial premise and now very distrustful of Rip Hunter, the time master/mastermind that brought them together. Following clues left behind in the wake of their misadventures, the group sets off on the trail of Vandal Savage without Rip’s supervision, but when the Atom accidentally leaves a piece of his supersuit behind in the hands of terrorists, they end up ruining their own present and have to undo their latest mistake before leaving 1975.
Though that premise represents the aboutness of the episode, most of this episode, the second part of the pilot, is spent developing the relationships between three groups: the Hawks, Carter and Kendra; the thieves, Captain Cold and Heatwave along with Ray Palmer, the Atom (because those first two can’t be trusted); and the Firestorms, Dr. Stein and Jax, with Sara, the White Canary, in tow (because let’s keep getting weird in the ‘70s). The relationship between Carter and Kendra is an interesting one — star-crossed lovers destined to keep finding each other through reincarnation — and with Kendra thus far unable to access her memories of their past lives together, it’s really kind of a tragic love story à la Tristan and Isolde or… I don’t know, The Notebook or something. It’s easy to see Kendra’s side in being a bit creeped out over the whole thing, but it’s equally easy to see how heartbreaking it is for Carter, particularly when the two share a nice moment when Carter tells her that even if they don’t fall in love in this life, he’ll always wait for her. It’s too bad that we’re so early in their relationship, though, particularly if the writers wanted us to care that deeply when Carter dies later in the episode. It’s a striking moment for the series that a major character would die so early (though his nature as a character who returns from death somewhat undercuts the impact), and at this point, more than having ramifications for Kendra who’s left behind to mourn, it’s more indiciative of how dangerous things are for such an inexperienced character. It’s something I first thought of towards the episode’s opening action scene when Carter swats away one of Savage’s throwing knives, which seemed like a casual thing for him but something Kendra probably can’t do without access to her lifetimes of experience. She’s not the experienced adventurer of the group, she doesn’t have that much training, and her only power is flight, which actually makes her a pretty big target given her overall inexperience. I bet she’s a character that gets built up into a badass pretty quickly though, especially now that she doesn’t have to be the back half of “Hawkman and _____________.”
Of all the characters in the show, the two with the most obvious chemistry are Captain Cold and Heatwave, so it’s nice to see the two broken up a bit when Ray tags along and screws up their entire operation in stealing the dagger that can kill Vandal Savage. We get some real character development for Cold, who’s arguably the strongest character in the series if you’re into the sneering, over-the-top villain types, and what becomes obvious about the character (if it wasn’t already for those of you who watch The Flash) is that his faux-mustache-twirling theatrics are probably hiding some deep emotional scars. As for Dr. Stein, Jax, and the Canary, their whole thing is pretty much all comedy relief until they realize that their attempts to find the alpha-particle tracker the doctor, in his younger days, had been building may have inadvertently prevented the ‘70s-era Stein from meeting his wife, and it’s a nice wrinkle to what’s otherwise just a story about them getting stoned with a younger version of himself. Sara stands out in the episode as the one character who’s actually having fun throughout while the older Dr. Stein and Jax get a nice heart-to-heart moment that fits the overall narrative… but kind of ignores the fact that the doctor drugged Jax in order to get along. Once again, there’s a deeply unsettling vibe to that set up that would be impossible to ignore if Jax, the physical half of the Firestorm matrix, were a women instead of a man, but okay, fine, whatever, no one really cares.
As the second piece of the series’ two-part pilot, we pick up this week’s installment of Legends of Tomorrow still very much in the middle of the action, and as much as that makes sense, to be honest, I kind of hope future episodes spend a little bit more time setting things up before diving straight in. Given the size of the cast, I’m still pretty surprised with how good the character work is on this show, but unfortunately the episode falls a little flat when it comes to what’s actually going on. I know that it was all explained in the episode, I know that if I think about it, what was happening does make enough sense, but I would need to think about if I was going to try to put together what was leading our characters from point to point in the story. I mean, they’re at an arms deal? And then they’re investigating a dagger? And then they’re at a college meeting younger selves? And then they’re stealing something? And how did we get here? With this second half of the pilot, the show feels more like it’s progressing through plot-based improvisations rather than natural, logical storytelling, and so far it’s been more of a show to sit back and watch because of cool powers (and some unexpectedly heartfelt moments) rather than one you lean in to and actively follow. That’s not a bad thing so much as it prevents the show from being truly great.
Thom’s Legends of Tomorrow — “Pilot (2)” final score
Items of Note
- Hawkgirl: “Can’t we just go back and save Aldus?” Rip: “Look, I’m sorry, we can’t go back and change events in which we participated, time would fold in on itself, creating a hugely exploitable plot hole where there would basically be no drama in our stories.”
- I feel like they missed a huge opportunity for our characters to all walk out of the clothes-making machine in unison in funky ‘70s gear.
- Is it not standard protocol to confiscate weapons at an arms deal?
- Really nice Atom reveal when the arms deal goes wrong. Even though I’m very aware of everyone’s powers, it’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised by seeing these characters making the most of their powers.
- Could Firestorm look any more awesome?
- Sara: “Wow… a whole million. Is that a lot?“
- Why would you ever devise a mission that involves intentionally splitting up Dr. Stein and Jax? That’s just asking for trouble.
- I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard a superhero say that it might be a bad time for superheroics because they’re all stoned. And it was on network TV!
- “We should’ve picked up some donuts on the way back.” Oohhh… because of the munchies. I get it.
- For a series-level villain, it’s really too bad I still don’t feel much about Vandal Savage himself even after he kills one of our main characters.