Monday, 31 October 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E03 - 'Shogun'

At this point, I think that it's probably fair to say that the first two episodes of this season of Legends of Tomorrow have managed to get things off to a very impressive start. Those disappointing elements of the first season (weak and underutilised members of the main cast, an unconvincing romantic sub-plot, and a disappointingly underwhelming villain) have been brushed to the side – replaced by a strong sense of a series that is eager to start fresh. More importantly, though, that very genuine sense of fun which the first season was able to manage, when it was at its best, was also very evident, on those first episodes – as was the often very entertaining rapport that had developed between the series's wildly varied cast of characters.

With all that in mind, it's disappointing to have to admit that the third episode seems to represent something of a misstep – especially coming so early in the season. The basic premise of the episode is a lot of fun, of course – with a trip back to feudal Japan having quite a bit of potential. But, the execution of the episode just seemed to be a bit off, in a variety of ways.

But, let's start at the beginning, I suppose. With the sudden death of Rex Tyler in the previous episode's final moments, and with his final words being a mention of time travellers, it would make sense that some members of the Justice Society of America would assume that the 'Legends' were the culprits – so, it shouldn't come as any real surprise that this episode would choose to pick this particular plot-threat up, right away. So, as the episode opens, we have Amaya (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) infiltrating the 'Waverider', and working her way through the team, one by one, as she tracks down the one she has decided is responsible for Rex Tyler's murder – Mick Rory. Just as Amaya seems to be gaining the upper-hand over Mick Rory, though, Mick is saved by Nate Heywood – who, it seems, has inherited super-powers of his own, as a result of the modified Nazi super-serum that was injected into him.

It was certainly an exciting way to start the season's third episode – though, there were a couple of issues which, I have to admit, bothered me a little. For one thing, while having Amaya infiltrate the ship, and incapacitating the crew one-by-one, was an effective way of establishing her as a truly formidable new member of the team, the fact we never learn how she was even able to get onto the ship, in the first place, bothers me more than it probably should – after all, as far as I could tell, the 'Legends' had already left 1942 behind by the time of Rex's death, so pieces just don't seem to fit together, to me. For another, the CGI-work that went into turning Nate Heywood into 'Citizen Steel' just isn't very good. It looks a bit bland, and oddly unfinished in much the same way that the CGI 'Nazi Super-soldier' of the previous episode did.

From there, though, Amaya soon allows herself to be convinced that Mick probably wasn't the true culprit – and, Ray Palmer is given the task of teaching Nate to control his new powers. But, in attempting to do so, Ray and Nate takes things a bit too far, and the ship is damaged – and, Nate and Ray are sucked out into the time stream, eventually finding themselves dumped in 16th Century Japan. Ray is quickly captured by the soldiers of the cruel Shogun (Stephen Oyoung), who has a particular interest in Ray's suit of armour. Nate, meanwhile, is soon found by a young Japanese woman, Masako Yamashiro (Mei Melançon), who is soon due to be married off to that same Shogun – a man who, according to history, had a habit of murdering his wives.

So, with the rest of the team soon coming to the rescue of their lost team-mates, the 'Legends' find themselves drawn into the defence of this small village – since Nate, who quickly seems to have developed a romantic interest in Masako, is reluctant to abandon her to such a grim fate, while the rest of the team realise that they cannot possibly abandon Ray's suit of armour.

So, all of the pieces were there for a fun hour – but, unfortunately, it all just felt a little too slight, to me. For one thing, it seemed strange to me that, of the two plot-threads set in motion (Ray as a prisoner, and Nate as a rescued survivor), it was Nate's that would receive the most screen-time.

Sure, I can understand that Nate, as a new character who had only recently gained super-powers, would need some focus in order to establish himself – but, in this particular case, his plot-line seemed to be significantly less interesting than what was happening to Ray. The hints of quickly blossoming romance between Nate and Masako, seemingly based on little more than his willingness to pick a fight with the Shogun's men on her behalf, was also incredibly underwhelming – and, very unconvincing. By contrast, Ray having his armour taken, and used against the team, by the tyrannical Shogun seems like easily enough drama to carry an episode – with the idea of Ray having to destroy his armour in order to stop the Shogun serving as the catalyst for some genuinely interesting introspection, on his part. Unfortunately, though, this story wasn't actually about Ray Palmer, it was about Nate – and, the episode, as a whole, seemed to suffer, because of that.

The episode's final action sequence, which saw the 'Legends' working the defend the village from the Shogun's forces, was filled with moments that were clearly intended to be 'crowd-pleasing' – but, which just didn't quite work, for me. There was just an oddly 'forced' quality to so many of the great little moments which made up this final sequence – as though the creator's were labouring with the need to check boxes on a list. There was a few moments of great sword-play for Sara, an impressive display of power of Amaya's mystical talisman, a fun encounter between Mick and the ninjas he had spent the whole episode anticipating, a tense encounter between Ray and the man who had stolen his armour, and a chance for Nate to truly master his new abilities – but, the while sequence doesn't really come together as well as it should have. It also doesn't really help that, given the circumstances, the scale of it all feels so oddly small – with the Shogun's entire force seemingly amounting to only a handful of, easily dispatched, soldiers.

While all of this was going on, though, the episode also found time for another sub-plot concerning Jax and Professor Stein – who had been left behind to repaid the 'Waverider', but who soon found themselves distracted by an interesting discovery. Soon realising that there was a hidden compartment aboard the ship, the pair (mostly at Professor Stein's insistence, to be fair to Jax) come to the conclusion that uncovering Rip Hunter's secrets is a much better use of their time – and, their efforts soon lead to the discovery of a message left for Rip by Barry Allen. Not the regular 'Barry Allen' currently seen on The Flash, though – but, one from 40 years further into the future who has dire warnings for Rip.

It's an interesting development, sure. By the end, though, I was left feeling as though this particular sub-plot simply took up too much screen-time – especially considering that we never actually discover the details of Barry's message. So, the entire sub-plot ultimately amounts to little more than a frustrating distraction in an episode that was already struggling with a lack of focus.

It is certainly disappointing to come across an episode that seems so disappointing, so early on the season – but, it also wouldn't be fair to claim that the episode was entirely without merit. There were some great moments of character development, here – and, some genuinely entertaining moments of action and humour (I may not have cared much for the underwhelming hints of romance between Nate and Masako, but having them sincerely discuss the teachings of 'Master Yoda' was genuinely hilarious).

Although the season's third episode proved to be somewhat disappointing, it can at least be said that it does not quite match the weakest moments of the series, as a whole. If nothing else, the simple joy of an episode involving the 'Legends' battling samurai and ninja should be enough to hold the audience's attention. I can only hope that this is a small misstep, though – and, that things are able to get back on track, once we get to the 'Confederate Zombies' of the next episode.

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