Friday, 11 March 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E08 - 'Night of the Hawk'

Following the new lead uncovered at the end of the previous episode, Rip Hunter set a course for the 1950s as the latest episode of Legends of Tomorrow began. It was, of course, just another in a series of increasingly impressive shifts in both location and tone. Following up episodes devoted to exploring the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the future dystopia of a city overrun by crime, and a ship stranded in deep-space with something as seemingly mundane as small-town America seems to suggest that the creator's of this series are becoming increasingly comfortable with its outlandish premise - and, it is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for when Legends of Tomorrow was first announced.

Things got off to a fascinating start, too. They may have been able to track Vandal Savage down to a particular time and place - but, with no clear idea of what he is actually doing, they are still at a very obvious disadvantage. With only a series of violent murders to offer any indication that anything is amiss in this small town, the team are forced to split up as they set out in search of more information. Professor Stein and Sara Lance take up positions as a new doctor and nurse, respectively, at a local asylum, where they hope to uncover information about potentially dangerous patients. Rip Hunter and Leonard Snart pose as FBI agents investigating the series of murders, in order to get access to the police files. Jax works to get close to the girlfriend of a young man who recently went missing, in order to uncover any possible connection. And, Ray Palmer and Kendra Saunders pose as a recently married couple looking to buy a house... for some reason.

I'm not sure if I just missed a line of dialogue, here, but I honestly have no idea what it was that Ray and Kendra were intended to achieve with their part in this plan - not that it mattered, though, since Vandal Savage managed to, quite literally, show up on their door-step shortly after they settled in. Savage, it seems, is currently posing as another doctor at the same asylum where Stein and Sara have set themselves up. He has managed to get himself into such a respected position that he has an entire wing of the asylum to himself - where the most dangerous patients are sent for private treatment. Also, as part of his assumed identity, he just so happens to be Kendra and Ray's neighbour.

Savage instantly recognised Kendra, of course - but, also seems to have assumed that Kendra's memories of her past lives haven't begun to surface, yet. This gives her, and the rest of the team, their most obvious advantage as they begin to work on a plan to finally stop their foe. But, of course, there's still the matter of what Vandal Savage was doing in this small town, in the first place - a plan which, naturally, sees him conducted horrific experiments on the inmates under his care. Using a recovered meteor of the same material which gave him his immortality (and, Kendra and Curtis their own powers), Savage seems set on making himself an army - yet, the results of his efforts are much more monstrous, and much more difficult to control, than he had hoped.

As interesting as the basic premise of this episode was, to start with, it's not too long until things begin to feel a little strained - as some of the recurring issues I have had with Legends of Tomorrow begin to surface, once more. While bringing Vandal Savage back into focus does, finally, allow Kendra Saunders to be brought back into the spot-light, it also high-lights some of the problems that I have had with them throughout the series. For one thing, the fact that, as has already been well established, Vandal Savage can only be truly killed by a certain dagger wielded by a certain person is a plot-point that has bothered me since the beginning of the season - and, I don't think that's going to change. It just feels more like something out of a older video-game, to me.

Another, somewhat related, source of frustration for me is the way in which the battle against Vandal Savage has been portrayed, in general - and, this episode provides another example of that. Every time the team of 'Legends' have come face-to-face with Savage they have, essentially won - yet, every time Savage has been able to slip away. Rip Hunter has even managed to 'kill' Vandal Savage on two separate occasions - yet, both times, he has managed to return, in the end, because they didn't have that dagger. Even his first appearance, in last years Arrow/The Flash cross-over, ended with Savage being defeated. What all of this adds up to is that Savage has begun to seem more lucky, than truly dangerous. Increasingly, he just doesn't seem like a big enough threat to require this entire team of 'super-heroes'. And, it's a shame because, while he still might not have the same natural charisma as some of the other long-term villains we have seen, I do enjoy what Casper Crump has brought to the role of Vandal Savage (and, this episode's scenes between Savage and Kendra were suitably tense).

Those issues, while still relevant, are season-wide ones, though - and, they are somewhat beyond the scope of this single episode. So, let's try to shift focus back in that direction.

While the idea of Savage working in secret to build himself an super-powered army is compelling, in itself, I do have to admit that the creatures he was creating, here, just didn't work for me. It might have been the over sized teeth that all of the actors were required to wear? Or, the squawking? Or, the performer's somewhat unconvincing efforts to make bird-like mannerisms look genuinely threatening? Whatever the reason (and, honestly, it was probably a combination of all of them), those half-bird monstrosities just came across as a little goofy, rather than threatening. You could say that this fits with the overall tone of the series, sure - and, you might even be right. But, that doesn't change the fact that I had to suppress a cringe whenever they were on screen.

Where this episode truly succeeds, though, is once again in those moments of interaction between its varied cast - and, there was a fair bit to enjoy about seeing the different ways that they responded to the 1950s. While Professor Stein seemed to have a sentimental review of this particular time-period (which seems perfectly natural, given that this would have been the period of his own childhood), it is fairly obvious that he was the only one.

If anything, this episode seemed to go out of its way to remind the audience that, actually, the 1950s most definitely wasn't some idyllic point in modern history - and, that it had its fair share of problems. We had Kendra and Ray raising eyebrows, and drawing unwanted comments, as an 'interracial' couple in the 1950s - while, Jax had his own, somewhat more violent, issues with race. Meanwhile, Sara Lance, in her role posing as an asylum nurse, has a direct encounter with the casual sexism of the time - both directed toward herself, and another nurse. Then, we have even have issues of sexuality cropping up when Sara (who, it should be remembered, actually has been previously established as bi-sexual - so, it's not coming entirely out of nowhere) finds herself drawn into a momentary relationship with that same nurse - who, it turns out, has tried to repress her own homosexuality.

Honestly, at a certain point, all of this has to start to feel a little contrived. After all, in the end we have an episode that managed to touch on racism, sexism, and homophobia despite not actually being about any of those issues. But, while it might border on feeling a bit heavy-handed, the episode's insistence of delving in to these issues is also a source of some great character moments. For Sara, in particular, this became a very important moment - as, beyond simply touching on issues of homophobia and sexual repression, she was forced to realise that the idea of letting herself get genuinely close to another person, for the first time after her resurrection, genuinely terrified her. Kendra and Ray, meanwhile, also managed to find some moments where their blossoming romantic relationship actually felt genuine - which comes as something of a relief, after the awkwardness of the previous episode.

These sort of character moments are always going to be important, especially on a show with a cast of character as large and as varied as this one - so, I'm glad that Legends of Tomorrow is still able to find the time for them. I'm also glad that we have finally turned our attention back toward Vandal Savage, after a couple of episodes devoted to exploring unrelated side-plots. But, that being said, I do have to admit that I am growing increasingly concerned about how this central plot-line is playing out. Once again, we had an episode where Savage simply wasn't able to come across as the large-scale threat he needs to be in order to justify the existence of this show - and, I think that the responsibility for that rests more with the writers, then with Casper Crump. More often than not, his appearances have lead to him being placed in situations where he simply seems out-classed by the heroes intent on stopping him - and, where his escapes depend more on dumb luck than skill. Each episode has begun by telling us how dangerous Vandal Savage is - but, hopefully, we will be allowed to actually see it for ourselves, before the season ends.

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