“Well, I’ve Died Before.” Legends of Tomorrow, “Left Behind”

We’re in the past! No, the future! No, we’re suffering time drift! After a two-week break, Legends of Tomorrow returns with an episode that’s delightfully Savage-free, but also suffers from the same trouble the show usually has: it’s better at having ideas than it is at pulling them off satisfactorily

Spoilers and spaceships!

Previously on Legends of Tomorrow: Chronos attacked the Waverider, causing Sara, Kendra, and Ray to get stranded in 1958. This is an inevitable and usually enjoyable plot device in a time travel show, and it’s well done here for the most part: Ray settles in, because he is adaptable and personable and he’s a white man in 1958, so why wouldn’t it be fine for him? But he’s also the only one who openly holds out hope that the rest of the team will come back for them. Sara, who’s convinced everyone else is dead, gets twitchy and tired of playing The Game of Life with Kendra. She splits, while Kendra … does the best she can with limited options.

And two years pass. Two years! Ray and Kendra become a couple; Ray has a terrible, flat joke involving a Mr. Gates; they live in a little brownish apartment in a little brownish world until the Waverider, inevitably, shows up again. Naturally, it’s just as Ray is about to propose, a gesture which stands in for all the ways he’d be happy to stay in 1960.

Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW

While Ray and Kendra were shacking up, Rip, Martin, Jax, and Snart were dealing with Chronos—who kidnapped Snart and left the rest of them hurtling through time on a reprogrammed ship. Why Snart? Well, take a guess. A good portion of the internet had already figured out Chronos’ secret, and the minute I saw that theory, I knew it would be true: Chronos is Mick Rory, rescued and trained by the Time Masters to hunt down his erstwhile pals.

“Left Behind” has a double meaning, see, because Mick was left behind and became their nemesis, but when the 1958 trio was left behind, they reacted differently. While Ray got comfortable, Sara went back to the League of Assassins, which mostly just raises a billion questions in my head about how Ra’s al Ghul feels when she shows up on his doorstep again several decades later, and the time logic of Sara telling him to make sure Nyssa is there to save her off the coast of Lian Yu.

To no one’s surprise, Mick didn’t take well to being dropped in the middle of nowhere. He captures and villain-logues at Snart for a while, and while it’s always a pleasure to get more Snart, Mick’s only character development seems to be that he talks more, and more slowly. Legends sets this episode up so that several characters advance years into their lives, but no one’s changed very much. Mick Rory is pissed. Ray is easygoing and a pushover. Sara’s change is the most drastic, but it also shows how she’s going in circles, from emotionally remote assassin to team player and back again. (I like this part; breaking Sara out of this cycle could be a great part of this show’s narrative.)

Kendra does change a little bit, and while I wish Ciara Renee displayed more than one concerned expression, it’s good to see Kendra establish herself a person with her own desires. The fact that those desires are generally in line with Ray’s is a little tiresome, because their two years in the past didn’t improve their chemistry. She has more chemistry with Sara, whom she faces in a graceful, vibrant fight scene that is about their friendship as much as it’s about the fighting skills they have honed with each other.

Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW

Plotwise, it’s a sturdy episode, and the absence of Savage is always a plus. But what I’ve been discovering with this show, oddly, is that I enjoy it more when I’m writing or talking about it than when I’m watching it. The plots are getting more delightfully bonkers—Snart froze off his hand, not knowing he’d get it back back, in order to stop Mick and the team from killing each other; they stranded people in the past for years!—but the execution isn’t on the same level.

A large part of this is the show’s redundancy in action and dialogue. Action is character, especially on a show like this, where Kendra fights Sara in order to bring them both back to themselves. But Legends continues to use too much dialogue to spell out things that were already demonstrated through plot and performance. Take Jax, who spends a lot of this hour making obnoxiously cutting remarks about Kendra and Ray. We know he’s hurting, that he has a crush on her, and that only days or weeks have passed for him. But every one of those comments doubles down on the expression on his face: he’s sneering, or rolling his eyes, and his disdain is obvious. Jax isn’t a villain, or a mean guy, but the script makes him reiterate what’s already clear until he seems like… well, kind of a dick. It’s as if the writers don’t trust the actors to give us the needed emotional information—but the actors are doing just fine, for the most part.

This happens repeatedly with Ray and Kendra. Routh especially is good at presenting Ray’s quiet pain; he’s red-eyed and a little disheveled this entire episode, wounded by the way Kendra keeps walking away from him. But rather than relying on what’s visible in the characters’ choices and actions, the script spells everything out, which makes their scenes drag when they should snap. This hour, for example, could given us more time watching Sara sink back into her League mindset, and less time telling us, again and again, how Kendra and Ray feel.

Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW

That’s not to say Legends isn’t an enjoyable watch—but that it’s a frustrating one. Wentworth Miller was a heartbreaker this week, and giving him and Dominic Purcell a good reason to angst at each other is one of the smartest thing the writers have done. Mick Rory threatening to kill Snart’s sister in front of him over and over again was the best possible evidence that Mick is in a deeply dark place. And Miller sold Snart’s terror: his sister is the only other person he really cares about. On a show where most problems are solved in one episode, Mick will hopefully be the exception. How long does it take to rehabilitate a person from lifetimes of programming?

Legends also benefits from splitting up its team, as when it doesn’t, you get situations like Martin Stein mostly standing around, occasionally observing things. And Rip remains more of an enigma than he should be. His casual, offhand reveal about graduate level stud of the League of Assassins was the closest we got to character development for him this week. What kind of guy does that? Perhaps we’ll find out more next week, when there’ll be a huge argument about killing a kid who grows up to be extra evil.

LEGENDARY BITS AND BOBS

  • Talia al Ghul! That was either a bit of foreshadowing or just a fun throwaway, but either way, Ra’s and his tiny daughter was a great image.
  • The Sara/Kendra fight was an absolute highlight, but the whole team in action against Chronos—and Ra’s tired, wordless admittance that he needed them—was also really well done. I want to see more of Kendra’s spin move.
  • “I’ve died before.” Whether intentional or not, I’m here for Sara making Buffy references.

Molly Templeton votes for more reasons for the gang to go to Nanda Parbat.

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