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Picking up where it left off before its brief hiatus, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow switches up its dynamic by forcing Rip Hunter to leave three valuable team members stranded in 1958. As he, Jax, Stein and Snart fend off an upgraded and seemingly resurrected Chronos, lollygaggers Palmer, Sara and Kendra are forced to look on in horror as the Waverider, their only escape from the past, ascends through time without them. Chronos has overridden the Waverider’s protocols, kidnapping Captain Cold on a jump-ship while sending the others tumbling through space-time. The other three are stuck in the ‘50s, left to come to terms with their abandonment. They do, each at their own speed, but by the time the team reassembles to rescue them, some changes have set in more permanently.
While the episode feels like a step down for the Legends, lacking the kind of cohesive propulsion that made the last few so damn delightful, it exists in this weird in-between space where characters are sped forward (after all, it involves two years of life off-screen for some of them) but the story still feels like it’s in stasis. That’s not to say it lacks intricacy, in fact it goes a step forward before doubling back with intention, but some of the beats and situations feel like emotional retreads. There is however an escalation at each stage, allowing “Left Behind” to embody both the best and worst aspects of long-form comicbook storytelling.
Ten minutes after their abandonment, Sara, Palmer and Kendra decide to slip out of sight. While Palmer’s literal boy scout training makes him want to stay put in case the Waverider returns to that very moment (the seemingly obvious solution), Sara’s stealthy assassin-hood trumps his idea since Savage is still on their tails. They lay low, rooming together for ten months as Palmer builds a device to communicate with the Waverider just in case, but Sara’s pessimism seems to be drawing Kendra in as well. It’s the episode’s most interesting dynamic, having the perpetually uncertain Kendra caught between a die-hard optimist and a dour pessimist, until the latter not only wins her over, but breaks Palmer’s spirit as well. Feeling stuck out of time, Sara returns to the only place she’s ever belonged (The League of Assassins) while Kendra and Ray build a life together.
As with the other DC shows this week, “Left Behind” feels a tad bit smushed. The characters are really what keep folks coming back to these shows, but Legends misses out on an opportunity to spend time with three of them as roommates, and two of them as a couple. I don’t necessarily begrudge them skipping over Ray and Kendra’s relationship – the broad strokes are clear, Ray gives up hope of returning to the ship and settles down with Kendra instead and their chemistry is cute enough to sell it – but Sara’s major struggle thus far has involved her pesky bloodlust, which affects her to her very core. When we next meet her, she seems to have suppressed it, but has also lost herself in the process. Caity Lotz is one of the show’s big hitters (she even pulls off the blink-and-miss subtleties of what an American might sound like after two years of speaking Arabic) but purely from a plot perspective, it makes sense to skip over Sara and Kendra’s gradual loss of self, since it’s explained away by time-travel mumbo jumbo. I don’t usually mind that; the extremely flexible rules of time-travel on DC shows tend to work since they’re in service of good drama, but by skipping over seemingly important elements of their development, the dynamic catches itself in a bit of a loop. Their eventual duel at Nanda Parbat harkens back to their training together, where Sara helps Kendra bring out her inner warrior while Kendra reminds Sara of her humanity, and the beat is familiar enough that it doesn’t need elaboration, but having it be the result of spending too much time in the past doesn’t feel compelling enough when the same has been internally motivated in weeks past. It’s explained away in words with Kendra mentioning having not ‘Hawked out’ in a while, and both her and Sara’s return to their respective status quos isn’t triggered by anything in particular other than the fight itself. That’s how it went down last time, but at that point, these two were already on journeys of self-discovery. Here, it’s an abrupt plot convenience.
All this is doubly unfortunate considering Kendra really does get a good chunk of character scenes this time around. While boy scout Palmer falls in love with a literal goddess against an idyllic 1950s backdrop, settling in to the kind of romance you’d expect him to have obsessed over in his youth, Kendra has no choice but to put on a façade. While her love for Palmer is real (anything else would be far too cruel of the writers!), being stranded in the past comes at a time when she’s just begun to discover her true self, and now thanks to [insert sci-fi reasons here], she’s started to forget all that, though this isn’t something that comes up until it’s time to be undone. The real Hawk-drama comes from her relationship with Palmer, for whom giving up hope in one aspect means transcribing that hope elsewhere. In this case it’s marrying Kendra, who may have even said yes were it not for the Waverider’s untimely reemergence, allowing her to drop the façade of a quaint librarian, or so we’re told, and become a soul-searching, adventurous barista once more. This no doubt spells complications for her now long-term relationship, where both she and Palmer were finally approaching contentment, but as much as her desire to explore the vastness of her very existence drives her away from him, the fact that she’s able to choose her own destiny in this lifetime draws her right back.
The highlight, obviously, is the show doubling down on the already comicbooky Mick Roary. You can see his return coming the moment Chronos 2.0 kidnaps Leonard Snart and leaves everyone else behind, which is how most great comicbook twists tend to play out, and the only element of it that’s really missed is actually seeing (and feeling) Mick go through lifetimes worth of brainwashing. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of having to tell an ensemble story in forty minutes, but it doesn’t stop Dominic Purcell from being utterly captivating, channeling Mick’s signature gruffness into venomous snarls aimed at his former best friend. Equally enticing is Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold trying to retain his composure while still putting on his sarcastic drawl, as his sins come back to haunt him. You could write entire novels about Miller and Purcell’s performances as Cold and Heatwave and all the layers they bring to these ridiculous characters, so a shift in their dynamic, to such a degree, is interesting no matter what.
While “Left Behind” feels like a step back in terms of narrative, the action clearly has more of a shine to it, even in the darkness of Nanda Parbat. Jax and Stein finally flame-on aboard the Waverider (I was waiting for this to happen!) and Mick takes on the Legends and the League all on his own. We also get our first look at Talia Al Ghul, which hopefully pays off on a show that isn’t Arrow, although with big daddy Ra’s being made aware of the time travelers, I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of him either. For the time being however, the Legends are going to try and win back Mick’s trust and un-scramble his brain. If they can re-grow limbs, they can do pretty much anything on that ship, though it’d make for terrific character-driven television if they went about it non-invasively. Do they have the time for something like that? I hope so, but as of next week, they’re going to try and take out Savage closer to Rip’s time, which ought to be fun at the very least.
After a string of such stellar episodes, I no longer begrudge Legends of Tomorrow the odd one where it falters. Like I said before, I’m all-in. Cue any one of Blake Neely’s rousing DC scores.