DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is a show designed to falter. Regardless of intent, a superhero team-up extravaganza comprising eight key members and a complicated premise is a risky balancing act, and 42-minute episodes have little time to regain their balance once they’ve begun to slip. That being said, the fact that “Blood Ties” manages to sprint to the finish regardless is a feat in itself, and credit simply must be given to its prioritization of character above all else.
We’re still in 1975, and the team is hurting after the loss of Carter. Kendra’s life hangs in the balance as bits of Savage’s blade course through her bloodstream, and the dynamic begins to fracture even further. Hunter pairs off with Sara in order to cut off Savage’s funding, but they’re also confronted with the return of Sara’s bloodlust. Stein is stuck with an increasingly self-doubting Ray Palmer, tasked with figuring out how to save Kendra. And Captain Cold, well, he’s off being Captain Cold, stealing a priceless jewel with Jax and Heatwave in tow, but there’s a bit more to his scheme than meets the eye.
All three groups are given equal weight this time around. Sara functions as Hunter’s bodyguard, her knowledge of global mercenary organizations keeping him alive as much as her fighting skills. They make a formidable duo (and quite a fashionable one at that), dispensing with half a dozen or so killer bankers with panache, but despite her soul having been restored by John Constantine on Arrow, Sara’s insatiable desire to kill begins to creep up once more. The real problem in the equation isn’t just her blood-thirst, however. It’s the self-doubt that comes with it. As they embark on the second leg of their journey, a mission to rescue the body of Carter Hall, Sara doubts her very humanity, while Hunter doubts his commitment to the mission. This isn’t his first go at Savage, as it turns out. He first tried to kill him four thousand years ago, before he ever recruited the Legends, but even his fiery hatred for the man who killed his family couldn’t stop him from hesitating. As fun as these two are to watch, they’re stuck at extremes when it comes to methodology. Hunter’s too good a man to kill, even for revenge, while Sara finds it hard to hold back.
Back on the ship, Palmer shrinks down to destroy the debris in Kendra’s bloodstream, but his own bout of self-doubt prevents him from going the distance. It’s here that things begin to slip just a tad, because there’s no real obstacle between Palmer and his mission beyond what’s stated. Doubt holds him back in theory, but its exact function in context isn’t clear. That isn’t to say saving Kendra isn’t an important objective (losing one Hawk-person was enough!), but it feels somewhat disconnected from the particulars of Palmer’s journey. Where Sara’s and Hunter’s doubts were direct hurdles to their mission, Palmer’s felt narratively tangential. His conversations with Stein are ultimately important for his development, but they may as well have been staged at a dining table - and yet, it’s the decision to rope the Kendra subplot into it that allows the show its momentum. Perhaps Palmer’s story would’ve been more effective in a longer episode, one where we were allowed to take that journey alongside him, feeling his hesitance and overcoming it alongside him instead of having it explained to us, but it serves the purpose of helping us understand him at the very least. This isn’t a show that can fly out the gate fully formed, and I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for now.
A part of it that is fully formed however is Wentworth Miller’s Leonard Snart. In a world of DC fans still allowing in their hatred of Batman & Robin, Captain Cold showed up on The Flash wielding a freeze gun and making temperature puns! It was a bold move that paid off delightfully, because Miller not only has a ball of a time playing the character, alongside the equally cheesy and operatic Heatwave (played by his Prison Break co-star), but he’s also able to hide the real Snart under all those cartoonishly sinister layers. Case in point, Snart’s latest jewel heist, during which he goes back on his own ‘why would you just steal one thing’ mantra. We’ve already peeked into his back-story, specifically his father who was either absent or abusive, even more so towards his sister. This week is a literal journey into his past, where he steals his latest treasure on behalf of big daddy Snart, a man destined to go to jail over it in two days time. While dropping off what he hopes is a better life for his family, he runs into his five-year-old self. Little Leo, whose hairstyle matches Leonard’s, but whose innocence is something he’ll never get back. Professor Stein inadvertently learned a lesson from his younger self, but Leonard uses the opportunity to impart a lesson of his own. He gives Leo the kind of message many wish our future selves could’ve given us: “Don’t ever let anyone hurt you.”
Sadly, Snart Sr. ends up in jail regardless, and Leonard is helpless against the enemy that is time itself, at least when he’s working alone. Splitting everyone up served a bigger purpose this week, showing us how helpless they are apart, though when they do come together, it’s fireworks a-plenty. If you’ve ever wanted to see what it would look like if superheroes crashed the orgy from Eyes Wide Shut, then your dreams came true this week, and you’ve got a really weird imagination. Mick makes the design reference gratingly explicit when he shows up, like a bad Family Guy joke, but I don’t quite mind if it’s in reference to something the show incorporates into its text. The ritualistic ingestion of Carter’s blood is almost arousing to Savage and his Minions, and it makes the desecration of his remains feel that much more vile. When Hunter does get around to stabbing Savage, knowing full well it won’t stop him for good, he accidentally reveals the name of his wife and son, potentially sealing their fate. Like Snart’s father, like Kendra and Carter’s son, and like Kendra and Carter themselves, Hunter’s destiny may very well be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can’t help but wonder if the Legends’ entire plan is for naught since every adventure they’ve had so far has ended in a loop, like they can’t change time no matter how hard they try. Then again, it was only this week they came to the all-important realization that they need each other to succeed.
Legends is the kind of on-the-nose show where someone will state the obvious, like Mick’s Kubrick reference or Kendra mentioning Carter’s absence, but not unless there’s something more cinematic to support it, like a shot of Kendra next to an empty chair. Palmer’s subplot aside, as much as the show relies on exposition and stating the literal, it usually manages to back it up with something visual, and thus, something emotional. If it’s going to evolve in the coming weeks, knowing the groundwork is already firmly laid makes me wonder what it’ll become. And, since it’s already the kind of show where Sara avoids her mystic blood-thirst by simply deciding to be a better person, I have a feeling I’ll like where it ends up.