Friday, 8 April 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E10 - 'Progeny'

The first season of Legends of Tomorrow has struggled with one fairly significant problem since it began earlier this year. While individual episodes have, more often than not, proved to be very entertaining, the overarching plot-line that is supposed to be driving the season forward has, just as often, proved to be one of its weaker elements. Rip Hunter's efforts to stop Vandal Savage's rise to power in the future was, initially, legitimately compelling – but, in time, the team's efforts to stop this immortal future tyrant have become increasingly messy and unfocused. Even worse, though, is the fact that, despite frequent appearances, Vandal Savage still hasn't been allowed to appear as the legitimately dangerous threat that he is supposed to be.

Unfortunately, this episode ultimately proved to be the perfect example of this lingering issue. It is an episode which, when taken on its own, offered up some very entertaining moments, all built around a genuinely compelling central dilemma. Whenever I tried to take a step back to consider how this episode fit into the season-long plot, though, it all began to feel a little messy.

But, let's start at the beginning.

With Rip's latest plan to weaken Vandal Savage involving a trip to the 22nd Century, the team find themselves caught up in a fairly classic 'time travel' dilemma when they realise that they have a chance to eliminate one of the key figures in Savage's rise – someone who will, one day, earn a reputation to rival that of Adolf Hitler but who is, currently, only a 14 year old boy. As the son of the current leader of the Kasnia Conglomerate (the height of human civilisation, according to Rip), Per Degaton (Cory Gruter-Andrew) is the one believed to be responsible for releasing a deadly virus in preparation for Savage's attack. In Rip's time, Per Degaton is a widely hated historical figure (once again, very similar to Adolf Hitler) – so, now, finding him at a time before he has been able to do any harm, the temptation to remove him from the equation is naturally fairly strong.

The parallel between this situation and the classic 'time travel' thought experiment of whether it would be justified to kill Hitler as a child is blatantly obvious – but, that doesn't make it any less interesting. With the life of a, still very innocent, fourteen year old boy at stake, the question of exactly how far the team should be willing to go to achieve their goals is brought into the spot-light in a way that it has never been before – and, the issue led to some very interesting disagreements, and moments of character drama. Rip, in particular, had some great moments in this episode – with his much more personal stake in stopping Savage having the potential to drive him to the most extreme action.

Beyond the question of whether it was justified to kill Per before he could do any harm was the equally fascinating, though sadly not as well explored, issue of whether he could be influenced, instead – and, whether it might be possible to turn him against Vandal Savage. As interesting as the question of whether it would be justified to kill the boy was, it would probably be fair to say that it was never likely that any of the team would prove to be willing to actually go through with it. Legends of Tomorrow simply isn't that sort of series. So, ultimately, while the team's internal debates were interesting, there was also the strong sense that they weren't really going anywhere.

Per Degaton, himself, proved to be a surprisingly fascinating figure, though – still innocent of any of his future crimes but, at the same time, clearly being groomed by Vandal Savage. With Cory Gruter-Andrew given such a genuinely compelling performance in the role of this clearly conflicted boy, it feels especially disappointing that he didn't receive more screen-time – because, as disappointing as it is to have to admit this, he actually proved to be more interesting a figure in his brief time on screen than Vandal Savage, himself.

And, here, we get back to the season's lingering issue – that being that, after all of this build-up, Vandal Savage still hasn't managed to come across as significant enough threat to justify the full attention of a team of time-travelling super-heroes. Throughout the season, every time Savage has appeared he has seemed to be at a significant disadvantage – relying on luck to make his escape as the team repeatedly seem to fumble in their efforts to stop him. And, that remains the case here, as the episode ultimately resolves itself in a somewhat disappointing climax.

Of course, there was more going on in this episode than the issue of what to do with this future tyrant. Ray Palmer is disturbed to learn that the Kasnia Conglomerate is harshly policed by autonomous robots that are, clearly, based on the technology of his own ATOM suit – and that, by implication, his technology serves as the basis for Savage's power when the Conglomerate falls into his hands. The possibility that Ray's technology could be what truly allows Savage to rise to power is an interesting one – and, Ray's feelings of guilt regarding the use of his life's work allows for some interesting character development. Ultimately, though, this sub-plot doesn't really lead to anything interesting – instead being derailed by the possibility that Ray may have had a child that he had never met, only to learn that it was actually the brother we had never heard of who had misused his technology.

Kendra, meanwhile, found herself caught up in memories of her past lives with Curtis – reliving memories that stir up emotions that threaten to derail her relationship with Ray. This is a relationship which had only managed to become convincing in the previous episode, so having new romantic troubles emerge so soon feels like a bit of a waste. Admittedly, though, the flash-back scenes, themselves, were interesting – allowing Falk Hentschel to momentarily reprise his role as we are shown a time when the two were very much in love.

More interesting, though, is the lingering issue of Mick Rory's status, now that he has been revealed as the one beneath Chronos's mask. Rip Hunter and Sara Lance both have great scenes with Rory throughout the episode – though, of course, the true high-light occurs when Leonard Snart is finally able to bring himself to confront his former partner. Dominic Purcell has been great throughout the season – but, he is especially impressive, here. With the comic-relief that Mick Rory provided earlier in the season entirely absent, now, this new Mick Rory (emerging from whatever training the Time Master's had put him through) comes across as dangerous in a much more focused way.

One particularly depressing thought that has occurred to me over the course of the season is that, maybe, the creators of Legends of Tomorrow don't really know how to handle the season-long plot-line they have set for themselves – and that, maybe, they have reached a little too high with the show's first season. There is really no other explanation I can think of for why the season's central plot should so often prove to be the show's weakest element. As we move closer to the end of the season, I can only hope that the show's creators are able to prove me wrong.

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