Let’s be honest: arguably the most exciting part of this week’s episode was the last scene, which teased all sorts of intriguing things. That said, our heroes worked pretty well as a team, took a lot of punches, and only did two really stupid things. Hurrah?
Since “Fail Safe” was part two of a two-parter, the setup was over and done with, and the episode could get down to brass tacks. Or brass knuckles, given the number of hits Ray took this episode. At the end of last week, Ray, Professor Stein, and Mick Rory were being held in a cozy gulag—Stein to help Valentina Vostok create a Soviet Firestorm; Mick and Ray to provide “incentive” for Stein.
So how is it that we open in Star Labs? A chipper Stein is talking to Cisco about a formula necessary for Firestorm, but is taken aback when Cisco calls him “sir.” (Carlos Valdes is really good; his posture, his delivery, even the tip of his head immediately cue us that something is off.) “What cocktail of hallucinogens have you given me?” Stein asks Valentina, when the illusion cracks. I would like to know the answer to this, but Savage interrupts with a brag session about how he knows so much about torture. Woe.
Back on the ship, Jax has a meaningful stress reaction to Stein’s anxiousness. Kendra reassures him it’ll be all right, which is slightly ridiculous given how everything has been very not all right for her, but it is in character.
The rest of the team is planning: Gideon tells them that no one has ever escaped the “Nightmare Gulag,” and Sara, ever a font of interesting yet questionable knowledge, suggests talking to someone who’s been in and out of a lot of Soviet prisons. When she mentions the Bratva, Snart all but purrs: ooh, the Russian mob!
We immediately cut to Rip (shirtless!) and Snart (bathrobed!), lounging in a sauna, trying to get information from a very large man who is not particularly interested in helping them. While Sara neatly dispatches half a dozen of the very large man’s buddies, Rip takes a turn as a punching bag. But eventually they get what they want—mostly by appealing to the criminal’s disinterest in having Savage in his country. Nobody likes Savage.
Information in hand, Rip lays out his plan: he, Sara, and Snart will break in while Kendra and Jax stay behind, much to their chagrin. “I am not going to giftwrap the two people in the world that Savage wants the most!” Rip insists, relatively wisely. Snart knows the point is Stein but is naturally very interested in getting Mick out (and Ray, if he must), but Sara has a secondary mission. Rip takes her aside to show her what happens to Star City in 2016 if they don’t get Stein out—or take him out. Sara agrees to be the fail-safe, because the future is more important than one man. She doesn’t ask what I really want to know: Why would it take 30 years for the Soviet Firestorm to make it to Star City? And why’s it always about Star City, anyway?
Still, the point is made: for the moment, Stein is poised to do as much damage to the timeline as Savage, and this mission might get ugly. Snart is no idiot; it’s not long before he figures out Rip’s secondary plan. “It’s the obvious play,” he says. “It’s also heartless.” Captain Cold appealing to Sara’s warmer side? I like it. He want her to question Rip, but Rip played right into her personal interests. Clever boy.
Ray, ever the Boy Scout, is not very good at being in prison, and gets his ass handed to him in the yard. (The guards betting on whether he’ll live or not is a delightfully macabre touch.) Mick has no patience for Ray’s naiveté because he has no patience, full stop, but what he does have is a grudging respect for anyone who can take a solid hit. Someone should tell really him about Rip’s time in the sauna.
This episode constantly raises the stakes, moving from character to character: Valentina reveals she has another thermocore, and only needs to know how to stabilize it. Jax, with his connection to Stein, tells Kendra that Stein is more likely to crack because he thinks they’ve abandoned them—so he figures out how to send a message. Valentina and her evil goons wheel out Mick and Ray for a torture show, because Stein is willing to sacrifice himself, but not his friends. Especially not Ray, who talks his way into taking a vicious beating for Mick. Watching Ray change his fast-talking ways into smart-assery is horrible—you know exactly what’s coming—but Brandon Routh smartly underplays the moment. Explaining himself to Mick later, Ray says that principles are more important than survival. I’m not sure the show fully wants us to believe this (are we not fighting for the survival of a better version of the world?) except possibly as a hint that Ray might sacrifice himself for the greater good at some point.
Last week’s preview showed a Firestorming Valentina, so it’s not exactly a surprise how things play out, but the show still pulls all its threads together more neatly than it’s previously done. Everyone character takes a step forward: Mick, with his begrudging new respect for Ray, takes a risk for someone other than Snart. Kendra, who mostly stands around looking concerned, at least gets to move past her fear of Savage and her grief over Carter. Sara does the opposite of what her assassin training taught her; her human side is in control. Rip learns to listen, Jax (still underdeveloped, but improving) insists on his place in the team and uses his connection to Stein to save the day, and Ray tries a tactic that’s nothing to do with his niceness or his intelligence. And Rip gets his watch back, which isn’t exactly character development but is a nice touch.
Everyone’s enjoying a nice cold shot of vodka when Boba Kronos shows up, his weapons sending the Waverider into a tailspin in time and space. Is it too convenient that they land in Star City? Absolutely. But who cares, when we get Future Arrow-who-is-not-Oliver-because-Oliver-is-(maybe)-dead! Deathstroke! The Smoak building! And who knows who else! (Though hopefully not any Arrow stars in bad aged-up makeup.) The Star City kids will see local, personal results of Savage’s plans for the world; we get new versions of characters we already know (something I’m hoping The Flash will do as well; don’t you want to see Earth-2’s Oliver Queen?), and maybe it’s not about Savage again. I’ll drink to that.
- As ever, Sara’s fight sequence outside the sauna is a highlight. It seems like they’re making a point of showing us how many stunts Caity Lotz does herself; you can almost always see her face.
- “This isn’t my first prison break.” Thank you, Wentworth Miller. Snart gets the gold star this week; his suggestion that Sara kill Stein with her hands, if she has to do it, is appropriately cold—but also demonstrates how strongly he feels about doing the right thing, under the right circumstances.
- Stein’s speech to Valentina about being on the wrong side of history was a really nice moment for Victor Garber, dialing it down, giving Stein a sense of hope and hopelessness at once.
- “Barry Allen who?”
- “Hey, Mick, this is a strange kind of hug.”
- The Stupidest Moment Award is a tie: when Sara misses getting Stein before Valentina gets him into the lab, why doesn’t she hit Valentina with one of her shiny throwing stars? And why don’t Rip and Kendra shoot and stab Savage and get it over with? The argument here is probably that Stein was more relevant at this particular moment but, as ever, everything to do with killing Savage doesn’t entirely make sense. At least they blew him up real nice for now.
- “In 1986, the drinking age in Russian was 12.” Of course Sara knows this.