Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E12 - 'Camelot/3000'





Legends of Tomorrow is a series that has never been shy about fully embracing the sort of genuine absurdity you tend to find in comic-book stories. Honestly, that has been a large part of its charm. But, there has also always been some danger that an episode could simply take things too far – creating a story which is a little too outlandish, or treating things a little too lightly. The series fell into that trap earlier in the season, with the team's second Wild West adventure – and, also, with their trip to feudal Japan. Unfortunately, it seems that the series has fallen into the same trap again, here.

On paper, of course, there is nothing in particular wrong with the episode – and, it actually sounds like it should have turned out to be a lot of fun. Beginning with a trip to the year 3000, where they learn that Rip Hunter has managed to beat them to yet another piece of the Spear of Destiny, the Legends soon find themselves travelling to the distant past – where, against everything that Nate understands about actual history, they soon find themselves drawn into the very real adventures of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. While Nate is understandably baffled, Ray is thrilled – realising that his time travel adventures have, once more, provided him with the opportunity to live out a childhood fantasy.

Of course, it turns out that there is actually a very good reason why something that shouldn't exist suddenly does. With the former members of the Justice Society of America having been previously recruited by Rip Hunter to serve as the guardians of the pieces of Spear of Destiny, and with each of them spread throughout time, it seems that Stargirl (Sarah Grey) has taken in upon herself to create Camelot in the distant past – taking on the role of the wizard, Merlin, and acting as the adviser to King Arthur. How, exactly, she was able to build an entire kingdom, especially one populated by figures drawn out of myth and folklore, is never really addressed, of course – although, I suppose, the writer's probably didn't want to get bogged down with those sorts of details. It is a bit of a shame, though – since, there is a very interesting example of the 'bootstrap paradox' to be found in the idea of someone, clearly inspired by stories of Camelot, travelling back in time to become to person who creates Camelot.

Unfortunately, the episode decides not to address that potentially interesting point – instead, giving us what feels like a much more conventional tale, as the Legends find themselves caught in the middle of a conflict between King Arthur and his knights and the Black Knight, Damian Darhk. Even here, though, the episode still had the potential to provide some more of the absurd fun that the series has, typically, done so well – but, instead, I was just left feeling as though there was something a bit off with the execution of the episode.

It could be the fact that everything in Camelot felt a little too clean, perhaps. Or, it could be the fact that the performances given by those cast to play Arthur and Guinevere, and the rest of the knights, felt a little too be a little too theatrical. Or, it could even have been the conspicuously small scale of the 'epic battle' that the episode was building toward. Whatever the reason, there was something about the whole setting, and the story told within it, that struck me as incredibly unconvincing. In the end, it began to feel as though the Legends had stumbled upon a group of cosplayers, or LARPers, playing in the woods, rather than actual knights engaged in an actual battle. Now, obviously, I fully understand that the series simply doesn't have the time, or the budget, to create something on the same level as a series like Game of Thrones – but, I still couldn't shake the feeling that it all felt oddly underdeveloped.

It also didn't help that the supporting cast simply didn't seem up to the task of adequately portraying the roles they had been given. Sarah Grey hadn't been given very much to do, in her previous appearances – but, based on this episode, that is probably for the best. The performance she gave, here, just felt stiff and unnatural – as though she was struggling with dialogue, and a character, that she wasn't entirely committed to. Nils Hognestad, taking on the role of King Arthur, seemed to have exactly the opposite problem – giving the sort of exaggerated 'theatrical' performance that probably would have made a better impression on a stage, rather than on television. Elyse Levesque, as Guinevere, did a better job with her own role, at least – with her portrayal of a Queen who was also a fearsome warrior, capable of leading an army into battle, proving to be one of the episode's most entertaining elements.

There were, admittedly, other elements of the episode that I also enjoyed. The way that the far future setting, which opened the episode, bled into the distant past was a genuinely great touch – with technology stolen by both Rip and Professor Stein proving to be very important to the conflict, at hand. Also, Ray Palmer's goofy enthusiasm for the idea of becoming an actual knight was very entertaining – as was the increasing seriousness with which he took the role, when the true stakes were revealed. This is hardly the first time that Ray Palmer has allowed his 'inner child' make his decisions for him, and it probably wont be the last – but, it has always been entertaining. I was also definitely a fan of the way in which the focus of the episode's final conflict was suddenly, and surprisingly, shifted onto Mick Rory, of all people – with his stubborn single-mindedness proving to be a much more effective means of accessing, and sabotaging, the stolen mind-control technology that Rip had made use of than Professor Stein's intellect.

In the end, though, it seems that, at least for me, there is a very fine line between the sort of entertaining absurdity that this series is known for and vaguely cringe-inducing silliness – and, unfortunately, this episode seemed to fall largely on the wrong side of that line. The premise on which the episode was based had obvious potential – but, in practise, it all just felt a bit off, to me. This isn't the first time that an episode of Legends of Tomorrow has left me feeling this way, of course – and, unfortunately, there is no guarantee that it will be the last. The best I can really hope for, I suppose, is that it doesn't happen too often – and, that Legends of Tomorrow can remain the wonderfully absurd, and genuinely entertaining, series that I know it can be when it is at its best.

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