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One of the trickier conundrums offered by time-travel narratives is the famous Hitler question. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow might not seem like the ideal venue for that dilemma, since there’s never any doubt about what the team’s answer would be (a resounding ‘no’ in case you were wondering), but the pieces in play prove to be interesting nonetheless.
The venue is 2147. It’s the future for our Star and Central City heroes, but fifteen years in Rip Hunter’s past. The show reaches deep into the DC vault, introducing Golden Age villain Per Degaton as the show’s soon-to-be genocidal fascist, but as a scary little child. He’s almost a kid you’d want to kill! The future is ruled by corporations instead of Governments. Most of society lives in squalor and is on the verge of uprising, and according to Gideon’s time files, Vandal Savage would eventually have Degaton eradicate most of them with a deadly virus. Save billions of lives, or spare one kid? Even Leonard Snart calling for kid Degaton’s murder feels like posturing, given the only person he tried to kill recently is incarcerated aboard their ship. The Legends’ new plan? Kidnap Degaton, thus removing him from the timeline entirely. However, given the nature of time on DC shows (make it up as you go!), that doesn’t seem to do a damn thing.
Back when the pilot first aired, Hunter’s revelation that the “legends” were chosen because of their long-term insignificance seemed to hit Ray Palmer the hardest. He’s the shows boy scout character, but the internal workings of his sincerity are pretty damn fascinating. This episode brings him face to face with his personal legacy as seen by future generations, one where he not only isn’t remembered as a legend, but apparently contributed to the end of the world. His Atom suit was used as the basis for robots that would become Savage’s personal Schutzstaffel, and museum halls seem to commemorate him as the creator of 2147’s rather aggressive autonomous police bots. What’s more, he runs into a Palmer descendant, as it dawns on him that he not only might be a father, but an absent one, and his immediate concern is the well being of a child who may or may not even exist back in 2016. Would a lack of affection turn this junior Palmer into a child as heartless as Per Degaton?
Palmer usually turns to Kendra during moments like this, but he’s too ashamed to let her in, and she’s having too many flashbacks of her past lives to do the same. She’s remembering more and more of Carter, specifically their lives in the 1920s, when they were raising their son Aldus, who would go on to study them. It’s a nice peek into the complications of domestic life when you’re a re-incarnated Hawk God on the run from an immortal tyrant, but for better or worse, it also validates Carter’s departure from the show, as well as the whole Kendra/Palmer angle. Her relationship with Carter seems to consist solely of kissing, which is fine in and of itself since they’re both played by beautiful people, but as far as actual chemistry goes, Kendra seems to have more of a connection with her terrible 1920s wig. Sorry, Hawkman!
Kendra and Palmer’s relationship is developing into something interesting, even if it doesn’t quite match up to most of the other dynamics. Maybe in time we’ll get to enjoy minor Kendra/Palmer interactions the way we enjoy Jax having to explain ‘ghosting’ to Stein (the only time they really spoke this episode), but until then, another way to show Palmer being Kendra’s answer to four thousand years of Carter conditioning will suffice. As for the show’s most interesting relationships, Sara mediates between former best friends Mick and Leonard, the former of whom is now behind bars, so to speak, until Leonard finally decides to confront him. There’s no possible diplomatic outcome to his betrayal of Mick, and Mick’s subsequent desire for revenge, so Leonard presents them with the best solution she can: a fist-fight among best friends that is sure to end with one of them knocked unconscious, or worse! It doesn’t last very long, but it’s the kind of fight you’d expect to see at the end of Civil War, only rather than ideology, these two best friends are fighting because they’re emotionally stunted and it’s the only way out of their emotional gridlock. And if that isn’t some heavy stuff, I don’t know what is.
Their fight ends in kind of a stalemate, because even if Mick escapes, the Time Masters are going to send some Super Chronoses to hunt him down for failing to kill his team, which might just be the in they all need to help Mick readjust to being one of the good guys. It’s certainly a better alternative than killing him, which is the exact position Hunter finds himself in when he has to figure out what to do with young Per Degaton. He takes him out to a remote location and he even draws his gun, but even with his own son’s life at stake, he can’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It isn’t hard to predict, but what works about it is the payoff, wherein rather than killing the kid or manipulating him, he hopes against hope that the recognition of his own humanity leads Degaton to finding his own, instead of being manipulated by Savage. Sadly, the opposite ends up happening. Degaton, now fearful of the Legends, plans to wipe out humanity even sooner than before.
Forget saving him from dying, after this Hunter’s son may never be born. The Legends haven’t just lost, they’ve screwed up big time. Palmer may not have been responsible for the robotic S.S. like he thought (in a silly twist, it turns out his brother was the one who created him, though I suppose that gels with his supposed cosmic insignificance), but his team's failure has now led to genocide. I can only hope we see this weigh on them as they try desperately to fix it, because far as dark moments for superheroes go, this might actually be one of the darkest! The fact that it doesn’t quite feel that way is partially because we haven’t seen the fallout yet, but it’s also because of the show’s bright characters. It’s the kind of hanging thread that I do hope is addressed, because there’s a well of potentially great storytelling there, although if it isn’t, I trust the show enough to find some other way around it by this point.
I couldn’t help but feel a tad deflated and dissatisfied at the end, despite what was a fairly decent episode, but I’m almost certain next week’s will make up for it. I won’t spoil which big DC character is showing up (or who might show up in the finale!), but if you’ve found even a little bit to enjoy thus far, I’d recommend keeping up.