A Crisis of Confidence: Legends of Tomorrow, “Blood Ties”

What do you want to do tonight, Legends?

The same thing we do every night, team: try to kill Vandal Savage and be VERY BAD AT TIME TRAVEL.

Spoilers follow!

This week, before we settle in to 1975, an opening sequence reveals that at some point, Rip Hunter tried the obvious thing: traveling back to Vandal Savage’s original time to kill him long before he could begin to wreak global havoc. Clearly, it didn’t work out quite as he hoped. Clearly, this is meaningful.

Legends of Tomorrow Blood Ties

After a quick team meeting/rehash of the pilot, Gideon-the-computer mentions that the Waveriders‘s smaller jumpship is damaged, and Rip asks Jax to look at it. Mechanics are mechanics, whether timeships or cars, apparently. After Rip stalks off, sulking about his failures, Sara sneaks up on him, using her creeper skills as an opening to remind us that she was in the League of Assassins, and she learned more than just how to hide a dozen knives on her person. Like that there’s more than one way to destroy an enemy. Before long, they’re plotting to relieve Savage of his fortune, because money is power. Rip insists he has to go alone because all the bad things are his fault; Sara basically rolls her eyes, having heard Oliver Queen sing this song oh, lo, far too many times, and tells him she’s coming along, which is good, because her assassin-trained powers of observation are very useful. As are her knives.

Meanwhile, Kendra is unconscious, and her relative absence highlights the fact that there are a lot of gentlemen on this team. Last week, Vandal stabbed her with his magical dagger, and fragments of it are now working their way toward her heart (tragically, this does not mean she’s going to become Iron Hawkgirl). Ray realizes that he can shrink down to atom-size and vaporize them with a miniature weapon, but Professor Stein is wary of this plan and wants to test it, scientifically.

While they’re ostensibly focused on saving Kendra, the two men are really having it out over their own confidence and smarts: they’re both brilliant, but the older man is certain of his intelligence, while Ray is (still) struggling with his self-esteem. The the way this plays out—Stein playing on Ray’s need for validation; Ray being smart enough to eventually figure out what Stein’s done—suits the characters to a tee, but also feels a little redundant. Can we learn important things about Jax and Rory soon?

Legends of Tomorrow Blood Ties

Speaking of Jax, Snart was paying attention to that bit about the jumpship (which is like the shuttles on Firefly, but for time travel), and he is nothing if not opportunistic. He and Rory badger Jax into flying them off to Central City to steal a massive emerald, but it’s not for them; it’s for Snart’s deadbeat dad, who was going to try to steal it himself in a few days. Papa Snart would then wind up busted and sent to Iron Heights, thus sending Snart’s childhood down the drain. Everything about this sequence might’ve gone over to the sentimental side without Wentworth Miller’s performance; he’s excellent with Snart’s careful balance of wariness and gentleness, and his deeply ingrained instinct for self-preservation. When he runs into his smaller self and gives little Snart a pep talk about taking care of himself, you can see plan B at work: even if something goes wrong with the emerald scheme, he might still grow up a little differently.

Over in Rip and Sara’s plot, Sara goes ballistic on some stock villains, prompting an angsty conversation between her and Rip where she confesses that she’s a monster because she came out of the Lazarus Pit with a bloodlust. Rip isn’t that worried, and has a confession of his own: he tells Sara how he tried to kill Savage in the past, but hesitated at the moment of truth.

There is plenty of guilt to go around, friends, but none of it is going to get Savage out of the way. If the Savage part of this episode is an unsatisfying mess, at least Rip and Sara’s bonding is on point. When they get dressed up to infiltrate Savage’s latest weird event and rescue Carter’s remains, you know there’s going to be a dance moment, and lo, there is: a chance for Sara to get a look ‘round the room while Rip explains to her that there is too a cure for her bloodlust. “It’s called being better,” he says. Keep living, keep trying, keep on keepin’ on. And maybe don’t stab people more times than necessary.

Legends of Tomorrow Blood Ties

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Rip and Sara get caught trying to liberate Carter’s body from Savage’s evilly red-lit shindig (points to Rory for the Eyes Wide Shut reference), and Savage cannot resist some villainous monologuing about how Carter’s blood helps his many cult members/followers stay alive extra long. Back on the ship, Kendra starts shrieking dramatically in her sleep about what’s happening, and everyone else rushes off to help Rip and Sara.

And here we discover, again, that Rip is a really, really bad time traveler. One does not go into one’s enemy’s past and start yelling at him about people he is going to kill in the future; one will, undoubtedly, give said enemy ideas. By the time the final fight sequence is over—one that, as usual, is at its best when focusing on Sara—Savage not only knows that Rip had a wife and child, but he even knows their names. Whoopsy!

“Blood Ties” ends with a funeral and a eulogy from Rip that is really about teambuilding: “One person, acting alone, can’t save the world.” (Take that, Batman and Superman, whose deaths are unsubtly referenced earlier in this episode.) I am not sure why Kendra isn’t the one talking, since it’s her entire family they’re burying, but Rip needs to lead, so it’s his moment. The team all back together, Rip apologizes for not having told them about his earlier failure and they head off to the next timestop. Goodbye, bellbottoms and Sara’s lush furry jackets; hello, neon and parachute pants: they’re headed to 1986.

Legends still has promise (and not just because I remember how long it took Arrow to find its footing). It still has Sara and Snart; it’s still doing a solid job of establishing its characters through secondary plotlines. But it’s also already repeating itself. Each week, Rip asks his ship where to look for Savage. Part of the team fails at catching or killing him, generally while suffering a not-always-logical setback (this week, why didn’t they pick up his special dagger after temporarily killing him?), while another part of the team has a side quest that sees them trying to mess with the timeline. Everyone learns a lesson about how time can or can’t be changed; Savage learns something about our heroes; the stage is set for the next week.

Legends of Tomorrow Blood Ties

The biggest single problem with this is that Savage, despite his immortality/cruelty/evil hair, isn’t compelling enough as a villain to sustain an entire season’s worth of plot-by-numbers. The team needs another compelling purpose, which may be hard to come by: they’re isolated by their timejumping, without the potential for developing outside relationships or battling minor villains that a stable setting allows (think Barry’s attempt to date Patty, or Oliver’s mayoral campaign, or the villain-of-the-week episodes of both Flash and Arrow). The best way to shake up the structure? Get rid of Savage. What if he were just a dramatic misdirect—one our heroes took too seriously because he’s so involved with their personal loss and pain—and the real threat to the future was something bigger? If they destroyed Savage and found the timeline unchanged, that would give the team something to really sink their teeth into. Right now the show’s like a mystery that’s already been solved; we’re just tagging along as the cops hunt down the killer.

Molly Templeton has not forgotten that first season of Arrow, and therefore still believes that this too can improve.

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