DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – Season 7 Episode 2
“The Need For Speed”
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow has Nate task himself with preserving the timeline after the accidental murder of J. Edgar Hoover.
Nate centric episodes are few and far between, largely because his role on the show has been massively scaled back over the seasons. Losing girlfriends became what he was known for eventually and there’s only so much mileage associated with that sort of story. Being stuck in 1925 provides the perfect opportunity to capitalise on the fact that Nate is a history professor as he is the one with knowledge of the time period.
Readers of this site will know that Nate isn’t a character I tend to engage with very often but when the writers find a good use for him then he comes across really well. His guilt over accidentally killing Hoover in the previous episode informs the choices he makes in this one. Hoover is a very important historical figure so his death will change the timeline significantly. Nate feels responsible for this so tasks himself with putting it right in some ways. Curiously it is never suggested that he becomes Hoover and lives out the rest of his life in that role to make sure history plays out as it should but he does commit to the short term solution of impersonating him on a trip to New York since that’s where he was supposed to be at that point. Fortunately that’s also where the Legends need to be so the objectives line up.
Hoover’s historical importance is used as a way for the show to interrogate the complex notion of historical importance. Sara points out that “great men aren’t usually good guys”; a really succinct way of summarising that notable historical figures gained their reputation by doing horrible things. Nate talks about the “Palmer Raids“; an initiative spearheaded by Hoover to round up immigrants or anyone who might be leaning in the direction of Communism. The historical details aren’t massively important for what the episode is trying to do but it does set the scene and introduce the moral line that Nate will have to toe if he is to impersonate Hoover.
Naturally it’s done with the typical comedic flair. A potion allows Nate to look and sound like Hoover -at least to everyone who isn’t the audience, Gary or Behrad- but acting like Hoover is a challenge for him because he has to at least appear to do things he isn’t comfortable with. The hope is to have a quiet journey locked in a private cabin but the reality is very much the opposite of what they would prefer as many people on the train demand Hoover’s attention. It seems innocuous enough for a while with the case of a missing purse that turns out to have been stolen by a hungry dog but it quickly escalates when FBI agents show up with news of a kidnapping plot necessitating Hoover’s removal from the train for his own safety.
Nate decides to solve the case instead of leaving the train which puts him in a difficult position after questioning the passengers. The views of those questioned vary depending on their social standing. First Class passengers are very supportive of Hoover where anyone else is more in favour of socialism as they are lower on the societal pecking order. It’s a brief yet effective commentary on attitudes of the period and how those less fortunate are hopeful for a better future through worker’s rights being enhanced. From an investigation point of view it means that anyone outside of First Class has motive to want to do away with Hoover as he is actively campaigning against fair conditions for them. This faces Nate with a historical reality beyond anything he has read which is an interesting experience for a historian as when studying it he has a defined distance from it but now he’s living it. This is something the show has touched on here and there but it has fallen far by the wayside so it’s good to see this picked up and given so much attention.
An engineer named Igor Lewandoski (Vladimir Raiman) is the prime suspect. He is singled out for no other reason than he’s Russian. There’s immense pressure for Nate/Hoover to get information out of him by any means necessary and he receives violent treatment from the agents that board the train. Nate excuses everyone and puts on a great audio performance by smashing things and yelling key phrases to fool those outside the room into thinking he’s conducting the expected interrogation. It’s so convincing that Behrad and Gary believe that he’s crossing a moral line.
The moral dilemma Nate faces in this episode is handled well. There are a few points where he wonders how far he’ll have to go to be convincing. A particularly effective moment is when he looks in the mirror at Hoover’s face and contemplates if he has it in him to be the Hoover that history needs. Nate’s need to preserve history doubles as a battle for his soul and it’s very well executed because a lot of time is taken for Nate to consider his overall value. The fake interrogation is a great scene because it showcases Nate finding another way to deal with the expectations placed on him by impersonating Hoover without hurting Igor. Added to that is a moving personal account of how Hoover persecuted Igor’s family for no other reason than them being Russian. Those actions provided a motive for hiding rather than taking revenge so a decent range of perspectives are shown through this. It’s also another example of Nate being exposed to the reality of history rather than maintaining the distance that studying it allows.
His guilt culminates in his encounter with Al Capone’s men looking to kidnap Hoover. He confesses to being the one who murdered Hoover showing that he has resigned himself to letting the truth pollute the timeline because living the lie was only delaying what he sees to be the inevitable. The mobsters try to perpetuate the lie by offering to see if his body will be accepted as Hoover’s but Nate encourages a more honest approach because lies can’t be avoided forever and all it leads to is hurting the people you care about. It’s a melodramatic line of thought but completely earned by the emotional journey Nate takes throughout the episode. Notably the guilt isn’t resolved by the end so it’s likely to be an ongoing struggle for him.
The arrival of a Terminator style Hoover creates a mystery to play with over the coming episodes as well as a potential solution to the dead Hoover problem if he can be replaced with a robot duplicate to take his place in history. An overly neat solution? We’ll have to see how it plays out but for now it’s intriguing and provides a fun action sequence.
As this is going on, Zari is sinking into her despair and attempting to cope by getting high on Behrad’s sweets while contemplating what her next move should be. Taking the time to process the end of her relationship with John makes sense considering the intensity of those feelings and sinking into an unhealthy pattern of behaviour is perfectly relatable. Ava trying to help her escape her melancholy by pointing out that she and Behrad are different people so likely don’t cope in the same way is another strong example of Ava getting to know how the team works on a personal level. Even though she is initially focused on enjoying her honeymoon with Sara she takes the time to help Zari after recognising that she needs support to take the next step.
Ultimately what ends up working for Zari is focusing on a goal that she can achieve so she ends up trying to figure out who destroyed the Waverider by creating a long list of suspects using infinitely generating Whiskey bottles to stick post-its too. Some of the suspects are pretty out there such as Lex Luthor but solving the mystery at this time isn’t the point; the point is for Zari to throw herself into a task and stop obsessing over what she has lost. She has always been goal driven and at her best when active so this is the perfect way for her to heal. It’s also immensely entertaining to watch with some great comedy around Ava and Sara’s intimate activities.
Astra, Spooner and Gloria deal with the appearance of a flesh and blood Gideon as per the ending of the previous episode. This development is a point of confusion for all as Astra can’t understand how a spell intended to rebuild the Waverider could turn out this way. Understanding how it happened is very much besides the point -even if that takes Astra a while to realise that- with the actual point being figuring out how to communicate with this new version of Gideon.
She starts off being mute and needing to impart information urgently without a way to express it. Astra isn’t helpful as she’s frustrated with herself for her magic not working out the way she wanted it to. It takes Gloria to help her see another perspective and it’s a really compelling one. Astra dismisses Gideon as a machine so doesn’t see the need to pay much attention to her but Gloria points out that she has a heartbeat which means that she’s alive. Since she’s alive because of Astra then that makes her Gideon’s mother. It was something that Astra hadn’t even considered but hearing it said causes her to perform a double take. The frustration remains from that point on but it changes into her being frustrated about not being able to understand Gideon rather than seeing her as the manifestation of a mistake she made.
The episode doesn’t go too much into it but there’s a subtext around dealing with someone who has a disability. Gideon’s inability to communicate is something that Spooner, Astra and Gloria need to be sensitive about as they find a way to break down that barrier. Spooner is far more understanding than Astra and acts as the voice of reason to help Astra come around to the idea of being more patient. As with the previous episode they make for an engaging pairing. It does take too long for Spooner to remember her alien ability but once she does Gideon can finally be heard. It also coincides with her learning how to speak which feels a bit quick but there may be other challenges to overcome as the season progresses. So far it’s certainly an interesting addition and allows the involved characters to be presented in really fascinating ways.
A strong episode that provides an excellent showcase for Nate as he processes his guilt as well as getting back to the basics of his role, offers a great emotional arc for Zari and develops the arrival of flesh and blood Gideon in compelling ways. Nate’s guilt over accidentally killing Hoover is something he has to work through and links up nicely with his reasons for becoming a Legend in the first place. Watching history play out before his eyes has always been a fascination of his and the preservation of these events is a strong motivation. Having him faced with the prospect of a massive disruption to history being his fault plays out nicely with him having to toe a difficult moral line when it comes to impersonating Hoover. He works to ensure that things play out as they once did without crossing a line which proves difficult when a plot to kidnap Hoover becomes known. He manages to find a way around it while the episode provides some commentary on the persecution of immigrants and minorities in the name of defeating communism. It isn’t deep commentary but it does deliver the message that important historical figures are often not notable for being good people. Nate’s guilt is unresolved at the end of the episode but he ends willing to accept the consequences of what happened as he says to Al Capone’s mobsters. The arrival of the Hoover Terminator type android was a surprising development that possibly offers a solution to Hoover’s removal from history while providing a fun mystery.
Zari sinking into despair as she works to get over the end of her relationship with John plays out well. She gets high and obsesses which is an unhealthy coping mechanism for her. Ava helps her deal with it by pointing out that her preferred method of coping is likely very different from Behrad’s so she needs to find something that works for her. Eventually they both realise that Zari being focused on a task is best suited to help her heal. She has always been goal driven so having something to work towards really helps. The point isn’t solving who destroyed the Waverider as it’s more about making sure Zari has purpose. It’s a great use of the Zari/Ava dynamic that is entertaining and humourous especially with the references to her honeymoon antics with Sara. Astra, Spooner and Gloria dealing with the flesh and blood Gideon makes for more excellent character work. Astra is initially focused on a spell going wrong and sees Gideon as a manifestation of a mistake until Gloria points out that she’s alive and that Astra is technically her mother. This reframes Astra’s thinking and alters the frustration to the inability to understand Gideon. It plays out well with Spooner acting as the voice of reason. Having her remember what her power is late on in the episode was somewhat clumsy and Gideon immediately learning to speak afterwards felt a bit quick but this aspect of the episode used the involved characters wonderfully.
- Nate having an emotional and moral arc to follow
- going back to Nate’s reasons for being a Legend in the first place
- the portrayal of his guilt
- the difficulties associated with him toeing a moral line
- his conclusion that he needs to accept the consequences of his actions
- commentary on important historical figures often not being good people
- a compelling mystery around the arrival of the Hoover robot
- Zari descending into despair and Ava helping her find a healthier outlet for her feelings
- Gloria helping to reframe Astra’s frustrations around Gideon
- making great use of the Spooner/Astra dynamic
- some dodgy plotting
- Spooner remembering her power at a key moment
- Gideon regaining her voice a bit too quickly
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