DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – Season 3 Episode 17
“Guest Starring John Noble”
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow raises the stakes as Mallus is closer than ever to achieving freedom from his magical prison.
Last week‘s episode resulted in a loss of momentum for the season by delivering an episode so divorced from the main plot that it felt like filler. With only one episode left after this one there was a lot of ground to make up and it really shows in an outing that is far too busy for its own good.
Not that any of the elements were poorly executed as such but more that there was so much going on that there was barely any time to process it. Gorilla Grodd attacking a college age Barack Obama (Lovell Adams-Grey) could have been enough to sustain the A-Plot of its own episode but it has to give way to everything else the episode needs to do in order to set things up for the season finale next week.
Lovell Adams-Grey makes for a good young Obama. As brief as his appearance was he really made an impression even if the writers tried to shoehorn in as many cheesy nods to things Obama was famous for saying as they could. Lines like “Make America Grodd again” were cheesy even by the standards of this show though I did love Sara announcing the mission by saying “we’re on Obamacare”.
It makes sense that Grodd’s attempt to kill Obama resulted in a brief action sequence as Grodd is a very expensive villain to have around on a TV budget so can only be used sparingly. Episodes devoted to Grodd find ways around showing him until absolutely necessary so the brevity of his appearance during the Obama portion of the episode is easy to accept.
Using Obama as a sounding board for Sara when she needs impartial advice when she struggled to arrive at a decision was a nice touch. He is shown to be fair minded, rational and incredibly insightful possibly showing a definite political bias in the DC’s Legends of Tomorrow writers room. I don’t really have an issue with portraying Obama in this way as it makes sense in the context of the story and doesn’t feel like a shallow attempt to preach political opinions on a prime time network TV show. It’s natural and consistent with Obama’s public persona.
Sara’s difficult decision is to do with Damien Darhk who wants to ally himself with the team in order to save Nora before she completely succumbs to Mallus. Arguably she already has and Damien has no hope of saving her but the important thing is that he isn’t prepared to believe that and wants to do everything he can to save her. Neil McDonough delivers an incredible performance in this episode starting with the scene he shares with Nora when it really hits him that he is about to lose his daughter. There is clearly strong regret on his face as he considers all of the decisions he has made without fully considering the implications of them. Now that success is imminent he is starting to realise the true cost of victory and that’s not something he’s prepared to live with.
Since disrupting the timeline is what allows Mallus to be freed, Damien decides that he will ally himself with the Legends so that they can help him Save Nora. This is especially difficult for Sara who has to stop herself killing Damien Darhk for the greater good once again. This is handled really well and I liked seeing them find common ground based on their similarities. Both of them were assassins and they both came back from the dead so there is a level of understanding between them that is undeniable. Neil McDonough’s performance adds a tangible sense of vulnerability to Damien as he practically begs Sara for her help.
It’s not an easy decision for Sara but she does recognise that it might be their best chance to defeat Mallus so agrees to Damien’s proposal as long as she is allowed to kill him once Nora is saved. This is something he appears to agree to and seems sincere enough when doing so though it’s important to remember how charismatic and manipulative Damien routinely is.
The episode does a really good job making it believable that Damien is entirely sincere in his desire to save Nora by showing him as a regretful man who questions his life choices. He talks about the events of Arrow season 4 in the context of his desire for world domination being a mistake because it resulted in his death and left Nora without a father. He sees that as a major turning point as it directly led to the current situation and he wants to make things right for Nora as best he can.
Of course it is always expected that Damien will betray the Legends though this episode manages to subvert that by having his betrayal be focused around preserving the timeline. He doesn’t trust Sara’s plan to free Mallus in order to provide them with an opportunity to stop him because freeing Mallus will result in the death of Nora so he takes it upon himself to stop them from freeing him because it’s the only chance Nora has. His argument for doing that makes a lot of sense and is difficult to disagree with given that everything he does is with the goal of saving Nora.
Before any of that happens Mallus has to be captured and the method of doing this is ingenious. Thanks to Mick’s current obsession with watching all three Lord of the Rings films it is noticed that Mallus and John Noble sound very similar to one another so Ray is sent to record the necessary lines to play in Nora’s ear and lure her to the Waverider. This sort of plot point is something few shows can get away with and it is definitely played for laughs. It was a fun cameo that happened to move the plot forward and took full advantage of this show’s tendency to specialise in the ridiculous. I wonder if we’ll reach the point of the characters realising that they look like the actors playing them and I find myself intrigued to see Sara Lance meet Caity Lotz or Ray Palmer meet Brandon Routh though that may just push things a little too far.
The episode picks up Amaya’s plan to stop the destruction of Zambesi by sending Wally and Nate to talk her out of it as Zari looks for a loophole that lets Amaya save her village while preserving the timeline. Naturally there isn’t so a choice has to be made between preserving the timeline and letting Amaya get what she wants.
There are lots of problems with this in terms of how the show approaches the time travel premise. Most episodes have timeline changes in some form with little to no noticeable impact on the timeline as a whole. This makes sense since DC’s Legends of Tomorrow doesn’t exist in isolation but the fact that history is routinely changed with seemingly no consequences makes it difficult to accept that the destruction of Zambesi has to play out as history recorded it. Earlier in this season Zari managed to get away with sending Helen of Troi to Themyscira without history unravelling and Zari’s entire motivation is to alter the dark timeline she comes from into something more positive.
The pattern I’m noticing here is that most of the characters in this show come from our present day which means that they see anything that happened in their past to be events that should be preserved whereas the future is fair game. This gets Zari off the hook because as far as Sara and the rest of the Legends are concerned her future hasn’t happened yet so can be freely altered. There’s also the point I made about that being a really terrible way for this universe to end up to consider.
Essentially the Legends believe that the destruction of Zambesi has to happen because it’s necessary for history as they know it to play out. It has a lot of ripple effects such as creating the current iteration of Vixen in the form of Amaya’s granddaughter; a hero to many celebrated in her own right. Amaya sees the cost of her granddaughter becoming that hero to be too great and she definitely has a point but the unpredictable nature of changing an event that had so many rippling consequences also makes for an interesting ethical debate. It’s not a debate the episode has but it will need to be addressed at some point.
Ultimately Amaya thinks only about saving her people and making sure that the horrible destruction never comes to pass which is definitely very selfish of her but also easy to understand considering how long she has had to consider the implications of this. Changing her own destiny is something she has become used to because she has fallen in love with Nate and has gotten to the point of imagining a life with him. If she pursues that then the timeline changes because she isn’t able to have the children that history records.
Amaya definitely isn’t thinking clearly as saving Zambesi is an act of defiance against her own destiny as is her relationship with Nate. Both of her objectives aren’t compatible as building a life with Nate will mean that her daughter is never born which also means that her grandchildren will never be born. She doesn’t seem to realise the true impact of her choices and that’s what makes this interesting. Amaya is acting impulsively and abusing time travel for personal gain showing that she either doesn’t fully understand how it works or is willing to ignore what she knows.
There was at least a possibility that Nate would turn out to be the father of her child but this episode confirms that not to be the case. Old Amaya doesn’t remember him meaning she chose to erase her memory so that she wouldn’t be haunted by knowledge of what she could have had. The older Amaya is a very tragic figure who gave up a team she belonged to and the man she loved so she could fulfil her place in history. She has no idea what she sacrificed which makes it all the more tragic
One thing this episode does really well is makes the concept of changing the past a more personal one. It’s easy to imagine what should happen when the people involved are removed from the thought process. This is part of why the older Amaya will have chosen to erase her memory upon returning to her own time. Doing so means that she is ignorant of the possibilities and simply lives her life as she normally would. The younger Amaya is burdened with the knowledge of what “should” happen and is unwilling to accept this as a fact because she knows that it can be changed even if she has no idea what the consequences will be.
Similarly Nate follows her with the intention of stopping her from doing something that will fundamentally alter the timeline in ways that can’t be predicted but once he’s there and sees exactly what will be destroyed he changes his mind. He realises that people will be killed and by doing nothing he’s at least partly responsible for their deaths. His inaction dooms the woman he loves to death so he decides that changing the past is something he can live with because he’s invested in letting that happen. Whether he’s right or wrong to think this the reasoning behind this conclusion is sound and very human.
On the other side of the argument is Wally who has first hand experience of the consequences of fundamental changes for selfish reasons. He’s painfully aware of the consequences of Barry Allen doing the same thing and creating Flashpoint which definitely didn’t work out well so he’s very much against Nate’s decision. He isn’t all that forceful about trying to stop him but at least firmly believes that it’s the wrong thing to do even if he sees the human cost of the alternative. It’s something he chooses to ignore even if it’s difficult because he feels that changing the timeline is more damaging.
Ultimately Sara decides to change the timeline partially out of loyalty to Amara but also to let Mallus free so that the Totems can be used to finish him off once and for all. The episode ends with him breaking free and destroying Nora in the process revealing his true form to be a winged Demon of some kind. It’s slightly disappointing that we have waited all season to see a CGI Demon rather than something more familiar but the image is cool and I’m interested to see how the problem will be dealt with now that Mallus is free especially now that Damien Darhk has lost his daughter in the process.
Ava recently learning about her own origins is dealt with in this episode in a really shallow and uninteresting way with a half baked conversation between her and Rip. We do learn that the current Ava is the twelfth that Rip has brought into the Time Bureau which really destroys any hope Ava had of feeling unique. She now sees herself as completely expendable and therefore unimportant. I wonder if we as the audience have been following the same Ava all season or if different episodes feature different versions of her. A debate to be had another time certainly but Ava’s origins aren’t something that Sara cares about as she admits that she’s in love with Ava. In her current emotional state she is not equipped to process those feelings much less return them so the relationship is currently plagued by frustrating angst. I’m not sure where there is to go with this plot other than Ava having some sort of existential revelation which strikes me as wholly predictable. It’s not a great idea to begin with as the show doesn’t seem willing to explore this in any meaningful way.
An uneven episode that bites off more than it can chew in terms of everything it tries to do. Grodd attacking Obama was a plot that deserved more attention as the young Obama was an engaging character for the brief time that he appeared especially when offering choice advice to Sara. Damien Darhk’s change of heart when he realises that Nora will be lost to him forever is handled really well thanks to ample justification for thinking that way and an excellent performance from Neil McDonough who projects genuine fatherly affection at all times. Even his inevitable betrayal makes sense in the context of his loyalty to Nora.
Amaya’s plan to prevent the destruction of Zambesi is interesting in terms of how the show approaches time travel. It is seen as an event that has to happen though the characters routinely change the timeline with no significant consequences so it’s unclear why this in particular has to take place. The episode doesn’t really have that debate but the characters certainly have opinions such as Amaya’s selfish desire to save her family, Nate realising that it isn’t as simple as events playing out because people are involved or Wally fearing another Flashpoint type situation. The freeing of Mallus provides a striking CGI Demon though is slightly disappointing to see after waiting an entire season for the true form to be revealed. Ava’s origins continue to be a fairly bad idea considering the show isn’t really interested in exploring them in any meaningful way along with the wider implications.
We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up.
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well.