DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – Season 6 Episode 3

May 17, 2021 | Posted by in TV

“The Ex-Factor”

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow infiltrates a singing competition and forces two of the characters to confront feelings they have been wilfully denying.

We all know what this show does by now. It manufactures a situation that is well fixed for some hijinks and weaves strong character stories around it. Ava even practically dictates the early season formula of responding to every alien based problem they come across until they stumble onto a connection to Sara. There’s no doubt in her mind that it will eventually happen because it always happens. Is it meta or denial? You be the judge.


End with a flourish

At the tail end of the previous season and the start of this one attention has been given to the attraction that exists between John and Zari. They are the very definition of “opposites attract” but that’s what makes their connection so interesting. Up until this point both have seemed content with it being a purely physical relationship with no emotional weight attached to it. This is the CW so that can never be the case for long and that is very clearly foreshadowed by The Buzzcocks song “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” acting as the soundtrack to their early encounter. Zari picks up on the significance of the lyrics where John insists that music isn’t always about the words being sung. At this point Zari’s concern is that John sees something in what they have that she has told herself isn’t there and John is in denial about the nature of his feelings for her. It’s a classic scenario that plays out in about the way you’d expect but with the unique flare that only Legends can bring.

They are drawn to a mission when Zari’s ex DJ S’More Money is murdered live on TV by a hostile alien that has mistaken him for the King of Earth so they have to travel back to before it happened in order to prevent his death and stop a resulting alien invasion. This ends up being a very personal story for Zari as she finds herself confronted with the life that made her painfully unhappy. Her celebrity status meant a lack of privacy, a lack of control and a need to constantly present a false image of herself to the world. Her relationship with DJ S’More Money is a good representation of that as it was a complete sham based on boosting their particular brands rather than being based on feelings or anything else. In short, Zari’s life before joining the Legends was incredibly dehumanising so being forced to embrace that once again isn’t something she’s eager to do. She is also confronted with the uncomfortable truth that her brand is failing. Recent products aren’t selling as well as she would like them to and her absence has resulted in the public starting to forget about her. As far as Zari’s concerned the declining viability of her brand represents the failure of her life’s work and that sacrificing her own sense of identity was ultimately for nothing. It’s very weighty stuff and Tala Ashe’s performance as Zari considers all of this is excellent. She portrays the gravity of her image collapsing in her absence wonderfully along with the internal conflict that she is working through around how she perceives herself.

Legends is always great at placing characters in situations where their skills will come in handy. Ava directly points out that having a social media influencer on the team gives them an ideal resource to infiltrate a singing competition and it is something Zari acknowledges as being specifically connected to her established skillset. The problem she has is that this isn’t a comfortable situation for her because she has to go back to presenting the shallow image obsessed version of herself to the outside world when she knows she has grown beyond that and found other things to value in herself that she finds more fulfilling. Naturally the Earth is at stake so she has to push aside her doubts and get on with the mission. This is something she takes to very easily because she has a lifetime of practice. Presenting an image that the public will find appealing is something she knows how to do so she uses that to her advantage in order to manipulate the competition towards the necessary conclusion. Winning is all about gaining popularity and she does so by exploiting her talents as well as the well cultivated image to achieve that goal.


Stealing the show

The problems associated with that are around how she feels about having to do this. Her feelings for John are in the mix though further information is supplied by Zari’s assistant Les-lay (Melanie Rose Wilson) who talks about their being no story worth the public’s time if Zari is happy. She was part of a manufactured drama around DJ S-More Money cheating on Zari with her in order to keep people talking and ramp up that engagement. It’s a slight commentary on the obsession with celebrity culture and how people delight in seeing famous people rendered miserable by unfortunate circumstances. Zari very much represents the person behind the image and Tala Ashe’s performance continually shows that these celebrities are real people with feelings and that the drama being torn apart in the public eye is part of someone’s life. It isn’t entirely what the episode is about but it’s a big part of it.

John’s reaction to that realisation helps punctuate the understanding that there is a person beneath the image. He notices the change in her personality when she resumes the influencer persona and finds that off-putting. He also overhears her telling her mother that what they have is just a fling without seeing the look on her face betraying that she doesn’t actually believe it. This ends up prompting a less than mature reaction from John who lashes out at her in public therefore creating the drama that usually ends up boosting her popularity. For a brief time he fails to consider that he’s dealing with a person who has deep feelings, a lot of insecurity about her own identity and a lack of contentment with the life that she created for herself.

The reveal that DJ S’More Money set up Zari to fail forces them to confront their feelings for one another. Zari calls them both out on being unable to take the first step towards something more real than a casual fling. She also assumes that what they have is doomed to fail because every romantic connection she has ever made has failed and she expects the same to be true of this. John is no stranger to dysfunctional relationships crashing down around him so he understands where Zari is coming from. John admits that despite all evidence pointing to them being headed for emotional disaster he’s willing to try because he wants it to turn into something real. Zari reciprocates that desire through singing the song that was the soundtrack to their earlier encounter therefore reinforcing her belief that the words sung in lyrics are important and meaningful. John committing to the words he said by joining her on stage playing guitar and singing with her shows his willingness to take that step. It’s a beautiful and unconventional moment of Human connection that is fully earned.


Winners of the 2045 Social Distancing Awards

One weakness to this plot is the villain -such as it is-, Lord Knoxicrillian (Andrew Morgado). His design fits the cheesy B-Movie aesthetic the show has so far committed to and his voice is a perfect companion to that but he’s not overly threatening. I suppose that’s the point but the lack of threat value associated with him means that it’s difficult for the episode to maintain the necessary stakes. His willingness to accept that competition on Earth takes the form of things like singing contests and fully embrace having to participate in that is a bit of a stretch, even for this show. It’s entertaining, hilarious and weaves through the character stories nicely but the lack of urgency drags the episode down slightly.

Other character stories punctuate the episode. Mick receives some attention in regards to his handling of Sara’s departure. He would never admit it but he misses her and feels a strong connection to her since they are the last remaining original Legends. Mick reacts to the situation with hostility and lashes out at Ava as well as the rest of the team. He may not be able to say the words out loud but the way he behaves and the actions he takes in pursuit of finding Sara clearly show that affection in a way that is entirely personal to Mick. It ties into the difficulty expressing feelings in the John and Zari plot in  a really unconventional way.

The Sara/Gary plot is starting to gain traction in a lot of ways now that a character by the name of Bishop (Raffi Barsoumian) has been introduced. He commands an army of Ava clones and has been eagerly awaiting Sara’s arrival. The Ava clones clearly indicate a particular interest in Sara for reasons that are currently unknown. Bishop commanding an army of Ava clones isn’t just a plot detail as it’s used as an opportunity to reinforce the strength of Sara and Ava’s connection. Some of the episode is spent suggesting that in a delirious state she is fooled by the image on Ava that isn’t the one she knows but that suggestion is quickly pushed aside when Sara definitively states that she knows who her Ava is and can spot a fake instantly. It’s a very inspiring example of an unbreakable relationship and ends up being the emotional core of her scenes in this episode.


The words in the lyrics have meaning


A strong episode that digs deep into Zari’s perception of herself and her brand while offering meaningful exploration of her relationship with John, allows Mick to unconventionally express his feelings and highlights the strength of the Sara/Ava connection. Zari being forced to fall back into the life that made her unhappy and consider the personal impact of the devaluing of her brand when considering all she sacrificed in order to build it. Tala Ashe delivers an excellent performance as Zari works through those issues and the exploration of what goes unsaid between her and John weaves into this perfectly. Having it culminate in them jointly admitting they want something real with each other and are willing to take the risk to see if it’s possible for them to have it is earned especially with the use of music and the importance of what the lyrics are saying. It’s a beautiful and unconventional moment of Human connection. There is the undercurrent of celebrity culture and the public taking pleasure in the misery of the rich and famous that the episode doesn’t explore in detail but it all feeds into Zari’s lack of contentment with the life she left behind for something she does have control over in a way that has allowed her to define her own worth. Lord Knoxicrillian drags the episode down somewhat as the threat level is never large enough to raise the stakes as much as they need to be. The point is for him to be ridiculous and feed into the singing competition plot but the lack or urgency does become a problem.

Other character stories feed into the main one. Mick’s reaction to Sara’s absence prompts him to be hostile to everyone around him. This is out of an inability to admit he misses Sara due to feeling uniquely connected to her because they are the last remaining original Legends. He can’t say the words out loud but the way he behaves and the actions he takes in order to help find her clearly show that affection in a way that is unique to Mick. The Sara/Gary plot starts to pick up traction with the introduction of Bishop who commands an army of Ava clones and is very interested in Sara. His army of Ava clones is used to naturally highlight the strength of the Sara/Ava connection through Sara being able to recognise that the clone isn’t the real Ava even in a delirious state. It’s an inspiring example of an unbreakable relationship and forms the emotional core of Sara’s scenes in the episode.

  • 8.5/10
    The Ex-Factor - 8.5/10


Kneel Before…

  • a mission uniquely suited to Zari’s skillset
  • Zari being forced to embrace aspects of her life that made her unhappy
  • her reaction the decline of her brand making her question if the sacrifices made were worth it
  • Zari internalising her own self worth
  • a natural build-up to Zari and John confronting their feelings for one another
  • using music to bring them together in a way that feels earned
  • Mick showing his affection for Sara in a way that is unique to him
  • showcasing the strength of the Sara/Ava connection through Sara recognising a clone


Rise Against…

  • Lord Knoxicrillian making for a weak villain meaning there is little urgency and low stakes


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User Review
9/10 (2 votes)

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