LEGENDS OF TOMORROW Review 1.06 “Star City 2046”

ARROW’s hot-streak continues.

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While it isn’t quite the kind of crossover we’re familiar with, it would be impossible to talk about the latest DC’s Legends of Tomorrow without talking about its parent show, Arrow. In fact, this is probably the closest I’ll get to actually reviewing an episode. That would’ve been a headache not too long ago, what with a third season that was mostly unwatchable, but the Star City crew has been having quite the run during its fourth season, despite the occasional slip up. This week’s “Taken” was a wild ride, introducing the animated Vixen into live-action, and bringing Oliver’s lies back to haunt him in a big way. “Sins of the Father,” which aired two weeks ago, was one of their best episodes to date, minus a single choice that felt out of character, but even that decision was echoed this week on Legends, where Stephen Amell showed up missing an arm. It’s a brighter season overall, with both the show and its title character trying very, very hard to break free from the darkness that’s defined them for so long, which is probably why “Star City 2046” couldn’t have come at a better time. Or a worse one, if you’re The Green Arrow.

The neat thing about how the ‘Arrowverse’ treats time-travel (part Back To The Future II, part Star Trek ’09) is that while it’s wishy-washy, it allows for a whole bunch of plot contrivances to come to fruition in a way that’s technically justified, resulting in an exciting new premise each week. It’s a gaping hole in the middle of the show, and it’ll likely bother me towards the end of the season if it isn’t sorted out, but right now, I’m fine being along for the ride. The show certainly knows how to make the right fixes. Last week’s major issue took up half my review, and led to debates about who would or wouldn’t matter in the eventual timeline. And while that question still persists, owing to the contentions between Rip Hunter and his crew over what precautions to take, I’m starting to believe that Rip is flat-out wrong, and the show knows it. I don’t necessarily mean in terms of the series’ logistics (though that could eventually be the case), but rather dramaturgically. When Rip says this future they’ve inadvertently been trapped in is a potential one that might come to pass, that doesn’t make it any less real. In fact, Sara even talks about how their failure to return to 2016 would make it a reality. Regardless, it feels like a reality that would exist anyway in some pocket of the time stream, because it feels real to us. That’s also my understanding of how time works on The Flash, but the more pressing concern isn’t whether or not each and every detail falls neatly into place. How can it, in a show this complicated from the outset? The main concern this week is that after years of resilience, and a season where Team Arrow has finally learned to be hopeful, this city has finally failed itself. And the Legends, along with not one, but two Green Arrows, have a chance to give it one last shot at redemption.

If there’s a big issue with “Star City 2046” it’s that it feels distinctly unbalanced. Two of three groups spend their time roaming a post-apocalyptic wasteland run by gangs and supervillains, the worst-case scenario of any given Arrow finale. Those left on the ship however – Kendra, Palmer, Jax and Stein – end up involved in what can best be described as high school drama. In fact, I’m pretty sure Palmer even says as much! That isn’t to say it’s uninteresting, of course. Minus the already under-utilized Kendra existing solely as the object of two men’s affections (Oof), it’s a nice opportunity for some light character stuff, but it feels like it’s been dropped in the middle of the wrong episode. Jax’s crush on Kendra results in some jealousy over her and Palmer’s flirtatious camaraderie, but as always, it’s a neat opportunity to showcase Palmer putting a positive spin on things. He’s so much of a boy scout that he’s naïve to the situation at hand, but someone who doesn’t have a choice in being aware of it is the other half of Jax’s Firestorm, Martin Stein. He doles out teacherly/fatherly advice about confidence, and he even inquires about Palmer’s feelings on the matter, which ends up being a bit of a misstep.

I’m not going to pretend it’s an especially meaningful or propulsive subplot (they seriously need to give Kendra something to do), but there were a few things I appreciate about it. One, that both Jax and Palmer back off as soon as Kendra says her life is too complicated (low bar, I know), two, that Jax uses Stein’s lesson of confidence regardless, in the hopes of applying it elsewhere, and three, perhaps the most important one, Stein’s interference in Jax and Palmer’s affairs ends up being a microcosmic representation of the show’s very premise, or at least its inherent paradox with regards to stuff like the fate of Mad Max: Star City. Like Neo knocking over the Oracle’s vase in The Matrix, Palmer is only attuned to his spark with Kendra because Stein advises him to stay away. The question remains: would things have gone the same way had Stein not interfered? Similarly, is it knowledge of future events that might lead to them taking place, or is knowledge that prevents them from coming to pass? While these rules really ought to have been established (again, I’m going with The Flash’s implications, because ‘anything goes’ seems easier at this point), that question as to how time functions feels part and parcel of the debate between Hunter and Sara, who find themselves really, actually wandering through a ‘hypothetical’ future. The discrepancy between Hunter’s explanation of time and how we actually see it unfold is one I’m okay with so long as the broad strokes being confusing doesn’t muddy the individual dilemmas. It hasn’t so far, and it even seems like Hunter just wants to speed things along, because by his own logic (his plan is to save his family and everyone else Savage killed), saving someone else’s future isn’t an entirely pointless endeavor. Yikes, what a mess – but the reason I’m comfortable picking apart the show’s contradictions is because it’s a fun, engaging ride regardless.

Phew. Now on to the meat of it.

Crooks Mick and Snart set out to recover one part of what they need to repair the Waverider, while Sara and Hunter go on a quest for the other. The Legends’ encounter with the new Green Arrow has left them with questions, but the need to answer them is superseded by the presence of a Deathstroke army, a la Arrow season 2. Oliver Queen is presumed dead, and the new Deathstroke is the old Deathstroke’s son Grant, a Wilson who isn’t nearly as charismatic or intimidating. It’s a wonder he led the Star City uprising fifteen years earlier (when he was probably even less suave and scary), so things must’ve really fallen to piece after Sara and Palmer left. In any case, the Deathstrokes run the city, maintaining order by giving the local gangs a certain amount of freedom. One such gang creeps up on an armed Captain Cold and Heatwave, and since they haven’t watched any of the show they’re on, they don’t know what a terrible idea that is. Mick incinerates their leader and takes his fancy fur coat, which in future Star City means he’s the new gang leader, the kind of hierarchy that’s perfect for a guy who wants to watch the world burn.

Mick and Snart have been brothers in arms since we first met them on The Flash, but after last week’s difference in opinion over Palmer, the rift between them is slowly turning to a chasm. Mick decides he wants to be a leader in wasteland Star City, while Snart – having begun to align himself with the whole ‘hero’ thing – is warming up to the idea of having friends other than Mick, but he doesn’t want to sacrifice Mick either. Typical jewel thief, wants to have it all. He eventually knocks Mick out and drags him to the ship for his own good, but it seems like their friendship might be irreparably damaged. Mick on the other hand has Palmer to confide in. I like the fact that the dynamics are in flux, especially between my three favorite characters. What’s going to happen now that Snart has walled himself off from his best bud, the fiery anarchist who’s now getting chummy with a naïve goody two-shoes?

Now that I’ve talked about all the peripheral stuff (all great nonetheless, I wouldn’t dare call the Snart-Mick-Ray dynamic lesser), it’s time to finally discuss the main plot. I’ve saved the best for last, but not because it’s the most engaging or well plotted – it’s quite simply the most. It’s the most comic-booky and the most melodramatic, simultaneously the silliest and most sincere. It rides a fine line between eye rolls, and impromptu knee slaps followed by “Oh, you!” as long as you’ve watched any of Arrow. If you haven’t, well, then I’m afraid there’s not much else to it. The new Green Arrow goes by Connor Hawke, for no other reason than there’s a character named Connor Hawke in the comics. That Connor is the son of Oliver Queen, this one’s the son of John Diggle, and he’s taken up the mantle now that Oliver’s been dead for fifteen years… Only he isn’t dead, he’s just hiding out at the one place you’d expect him to, the Arrow cave! He’s also missing an arm, a la The Dark Knight Returns, and he has a long beard that he powders regularly. I ought to hate everything about this, but it’s played so straight and so sincerely that I’m leaning towards loving it. This wouldn’t have worked a season ago, when dark, defeatist Oliver Queen was the status quo. This time last year he was either dead, or Ra’s Al Ghul (don’t ask), and the more fun, more political Oliver on Arrow’s current season renders this version more of a throwback than an escalation. Rather than more of the same, it’s more of what he’s spent this season trying not to be, and that’s unfortunate! He even blames himself for everything that’s happened, which is as CW-Oliver as it gets (“Oh, you!”) only this time, it may actually be his fault. He really did fail this city!

While this episode’s high point is clearly the Snart-Mick fallout, I’d be remiss in failing to mention the big battle at the end. That’s one thing this show has been consistently on the mark with, and even when things don’t quite come together, the fight is guaranteed to be a good time. In fact, there was something special about the kick-off that tied in to why elderly Oliver worked despite being downright silly. As much as the setup is a mirror to The Dark Knight Returns, with a robot-armed Green Arrow patrolling the wasteland, that’s not who this Green Arrow is, and thank God for that. One of the benefits of leaning so heavily on Arrow, especially given the timing I talked about, is the ability to use familiar iconography. The show has been around four seasons and it’s made its mark in the world of live-action superheroes, so to see Oliver Queen’s return after fifteen years (even though we, the audience, had seen him in action just the previous night!) was a surprisingly big deal. Blake Neely’s theme began blaring while his new arm clicked into place, as he stood up in silhouette – which is how most of the fight looked thanks to the torches and burning debris. The idea that this future was but a shadow came full circle in the process as the show did one of the things it does best, even allowing for The Atom, Firestorm and Hawkgirl to swoop in and attack from above in a particularly exciting moment. In the end, the Green Arrow stood victorious once more, and he even got to pass down, or rather, share the mantle with the son of his late best friend.

The future Green Arrow saga ends with Connor and Oliver repairing their hideout, and as much as Rip Hunter insists this future won’t exist, I want to see the Legends return to Star City in 2046, or perhaps 2047. Maybe even 2048. The city is in absolute ruin, but weirdly enough, it’s a fun place to be because what else have they got to lose? Still, while the episode felt a bit scattered, each moment was fun and pleasant enough to keep the momentum, and the individual character development worked despite the whole feeling a tad disparate. And while this might sound like a ‘haters gonna hate’ type thing (I can assure you it’s not, I’ve been even more critical of the show these last two weeks), we’re now at a stage where we know what kind of series this is, at its best and at its worst. I can see people hopping off the Legends train at this station, and I wouldn’t necessarily blame them, but I’m also certain I’m not alone in enjoying this goofy, viscerally exciting extravaganza. I’m willing to put up with the fact that its logistics have essentially spiraled out of control and hopped out the window, because there’s a joyous sincerity beneath it all, and I’m beginning to love these characters even if the show hasn’t done justice to each and every one of them just yet. I’m certain it can, and I’m going to be around when it finally does. It’s too much fun and too good at its core to quit.