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by Thom Yee

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Legends of Tomorrow images courtesy of Warner Bros. Television Distribution

1×05: “Fail-Safe”

I so called that Prison Break joke.

With this week’s “Fail-Safe” we continue with the second part of our heroes’ trip to ‘80s-era Soviet Russia, but unlike last week, we start off with a slightly clearer goal than usual: break our friends out of prison. With all of Professor Stein, Ray, and Heatwave caught behind the iron curtain, it’s up to Cold and Sara to bust them out before the Ruskies can break Stein and force him to reveal the secrets that will lead to an army of Soviet Firestorms. But Sara has a secret mission of her own, charged by Rip to kill Stein should his retrieval prove untenable. That all sounds exciting, but… it kind of wasn’t.

When you actually examine the details of the episode, a lot of important things did happen, particularly with regard to the relationships that continue to develop between the disparate members of our motley crew. With Ray and Heatwave unwilling bunkmates in the Soviet gulag, Ray gets his ass beat for being almost monumentally naïve about the situation and Heatwave proves to be little help when his attention is diverted by a lit zippo lighter (because he’s a pyro), but when Ray takes Heatwave’s place and saves him from torture, he gains Heatwave’s respect. Meanwhile, Cold and Sara infiltrate the prison, and it’s interesting to see Cold act as the voice of reason when he keeps her from pulling the trigger on Stein when it looks like they may have lost the professor. It’s a turn for Cold that seems a bit strange at first, but it’s also very much in line with the character who’s always held himself to a code of conduct despite being a criminal.

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Why didn’t Lady Firestorm get a cute atomic-logo jacket?

In terms of an emotional crux, “Fail-Safe”’s story primarily revolves around Professor Stein and Jax as the two halves of the Firestorm matrix, particularly with the way the two left things last episode. I really liked the balls the Professor showed this episode as he resisted his captors, and Jax’s actions in the episode at least showed his determination, but I still have trouble believing in the divergent nature at the heart of the Firestorm character, and more than that, I’m also starting not to care about it. Let’s hope this episode represents real progress for the two, because I really don’t want them return to that well again, at least not for an entire episode.

For the most part it’s all fine work if a little muddled, and it’s quickly becoming clear that character work is the show’s strong suit, especially given how many characters the show has to juggle (minus Kendra, who still sucks), but my biggest problem with “Fail-Safe” is that I didn’t care about what was happening. There was dramatic tension in what our heroes went through in the episode and there were stakes in the vision of a ruined future should our heroes not stop the Soviet Firestorm program, but it felt like everything cool happened in last week’s “White Knights” and this week all that was left was to figure out how to stretch the rest of the story to cover an entire episode without spending too much money on effects. Even seeing Kendra and Rip confront Savage, who had remained largely absent in the first part, felt workmanlike, like everyone involved was just going through the motions even though both Kendra and Rip had incredibly personal scores to settle with Savage. Honestly, this was the first time it felt like our heroes aren’t really that serious about their mission. They had Savage dead to rights at gunpoint, and instead of putting in a sincere effort to finish the immortal villain off or instead of Savage displaying just why he’s so dangerous by overcoming Rip and Kendra despite their advantage, everyone just kind of walks away from each other, knowing they’re all still very far from their final confrontation because overarching story structure.

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Rip: “Gideon, tell me why we didn’t just let Savage go instead of finishing right then and there.”

Where I liked the plot of the first part of this story from last week, this week things felt lifeless, with most of the episode simply going through the beats it needed to arrive at its foregone conclusion rather than having any fun. At this point in the series, I’m starting to wonder what the ceiling is on Legends of Tomorrow. Almost every show has a ceiling, like on The Walking Dead a lot of really cool sh*t happens and the better episodes make you think about the nature of mankind but they don’t know how to stretch their stories over their entire 16-episode season runs so there’s always a lot of crap, or on The Flash the character work and emotionality of the show is so on point (which is actually the hard part) but they don’t pay that much attention to the actual details of their stories and a lot of things don’t hang together or make sense. There are times when it’s legitimately astounding that we get to see a show like Legends of Tomorrow, particularly with what looks like Connor Hawke at the end of the episode, but there’s also an increasing sense that no matter how right they get the characters, those characters might not get to do things that we want to see.

Thom’s Legends of Tomorrow — “Fail-Safe” final score

3


Items of Note

  • Was the state of hallucinogenic drugs in the ‘80s such that it was possible to program specific simulations meant to trick their victims into revealing very specific information?   Do we have those drugs now?
  • How did that Russian crime boss know Rip and Cold didn’t have any tattoos? It’s not like he looked them all over, they had towels and robes on.
  • If Heatwave’s so obsessed with fire, shouldn’t he be distracted, maybe even jealous of Firestorm? The guy runs around with a glorified flamethrower, meanwhile here’s an entire person who’s on fire, flies, and generates their own heat blasts.
  • Jax: “Get a knife, you need to cut me.” Kendra: “Finally, you’re so annoying, I’m glad you see how much happier everyone will be when you’re gone.”
  • Wouldn’t it have made more sense for their captors to separate Ray and Heatwave at the prison? Imprisoning co-conspirator’s together is just asking for trouble.
  • Valentina: “Have you ever merged with a woman before, Professor?” Stein: “Have I ever what with a woman before?”
  • So Kendra didn’t get much to do this episode. That might have been a good thing.

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