DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – Season 6 Episode 5
“The Satanist’s Apprentice”
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow goes animated -among other things- to explore Astra’s difficulty adjusting to her new life.
Astra leaving Hell to live on Earth is something that hasn’t received any attention so far this season which made it an open question that demanded to be answered. She managed to become an engaging presence very quickly last season which meant that her absence has been keenly felt. An Astra centric episode was on the cards and this one certainly delivers with the typical lunacy that only DC’s Legends of Tomorrow can provide.
The episode opens with a montage of what Astra’s day to day looks like along with the challenges and worries she now has living a relatively mundane life on Earth. She has concerns over paying bills, dealing with difficult as well as racist neighbours, broken/non existent appliances, feeding herself, finding a job and, most importantly, finding a new sense of purpose. It’s a good montage that sets up what she has to work through over the course of the episode. On a high level it’s the story of someone adjusting to a radical change in her living situation and circumstances that she has no idea how to face and having little to no support in facing that particular challenge.
Her isolation is shown by highlighting how much time she spends alone. In the early part of the episode John appears and disappears rapidly signalling his activities with the clothes he was wearing in prior episodes of the season to provide context. It’s a quick and neat way of establishing that John is unwittingly ignoring Astra because he’s so focused on his activities with the Legends and his relationship with Zari. There’s no malice associated with his actions though there is certainly ignorance and a lack of consideration of what Astra is dealing with. She frequently approaches him asking for his help with various issues and he fobs her off because he has somewhere he considers more urgent to be. As viewers we’re aware of the context associated with John but Astra has no idea and feels as if she isn’t a priority for John which is completely understandable given his behaviour.
When looking for things she can sell around the house she stumbles across the painting containing Aleister Crowley (Matt Lucas); a power hungry magic user waiting for his opportunity to manipulate his way to freedom. In many ways Astra is an easy target because she is craving attention after feeling roundly dismissed by John so all he has to do is make it clear that he’s listening and offer solutions to her problems. He offers to teach her how to use magic so that she doesn’t have to rely on John’s infrequent appearances to have things fixed. It also means that Astra feels seen which is something that has been lacking since she moves to Earth.
It could be argued that Astra going along with Crowley’s plan presents her as gullible which is absolutely the case but it’s also consistent with her established character. For one thing Crowley is offering her power; something she has always been partial to and along with that power is the opportunity to reclaim some agency in her own life which is something that has always been important to her. She left Hell so that she could make her own choices and live a life that was hers but for now she feels trapped in a cycle she can’t control with the person who was supposed to help her pursuing other interests. Any chance to gain some power of her own and take control of her situation is going to seem appealing and her well established arrogance allows her to believe that Crowley won’t best her. She absolutely plays into his hands but the episode does a great job showing how that’s possible. It is best exemplified when she easily transfers him in an out of John’s body. At that point she wrongly believes that she is the one in control so doesn’t see any harm in learning a few spells from him.
She doesn’t quite become corrupted by the power she gains in a short period of time but it is definitely seductive. Performing spells that improve her life, fix problems and help her gain confidence about her own capabilities rapidly alters her mood and creates a desire to have more. Crowley is able to play on that and eventually convinces her that harvesting a Human soul in the pursuit of greater power is a good idea. Her connection to morality and valuing the lives of others has always been a shaky one so it isn’t too much of a stretch to convince her that the soul of a bigoted racist isn’t worth preserving. Ultimately she has to re-learn the lesson about the importance of life though the framing of learning it is slightly different as she is being faced with someone who is wholly objectionable.
As expected the rest of the Legends are on hand to appeal to her better nature and she does realise it before it’s too late though it doesn’t stop Crowley from stepping in and harvesting the soul. With this being an Astra centric episodes the rest of the team are very much a secondary presence but they end up taking on the role of her conscience and continue to encourage her to be the best version of herself. They all know from experience that she’s capable of compassion and doing what is right so they set out to remind her of that and even though there is a delayed reaction the words sink in.
It should be noted that this all happens after Astra has turned them into various objects that connect to their personalities. Ava turning into a binder and Zari turning into a Flip Phone are particular highlights though all of the transformations are hilarious in their own right. Some of the connections are difficult to understand such as Nate turning into cheese or Behrad into a candle but if you squint then you can see how it connects. There is endless joy to be mined from Astra being encouraged to be a better person by a candle with Behrad’s voice. It’s heartfelt and hilarious which could be a general tag line for this show.
The animated portion of the episode is disappointingly short but still excellent. It very much leans into the Disney influence which was evident from the talking household items the Legends are transformed into. The animation style is very reminiscent of Disney hand drawn animation and Astra becoming a singing princess speaks for itself in terms of wearing the influences on its sleeve. Being animated and a princess gives Astra a very important power in the form of the innate ability to read music and sing. This is important because her mother crafted a spell to rob John of his magic if he were ever to stray too far into dark territory as is always the risk. Earlier in the episode she couldn’t read the music which created an additional separation between her and the memory of her mother but gaining the ability to read it as an animated princess allows her to connect to her mother in a very real and powerful way while also facilitating the defeat of Crowley. The animated aspect of the episode is wonderfully ridiculous but the whimsy helps sell the swell of emotion Astra experiences when she achieves the extra level of understanding of an important part of her mother’s life. It’s incredibly moving and beautifully done.
John losing his powers as a consequence of Crowley’s defeat was a confusing addition though it does set up an interesting reversal where Astra is the one who has the power while John has to rely on other skills to be of use. It’s unclear if he can regain his power over time or if he will simply become a fountain of knowledge to help Astra master magic. If the latter then it connects them in a compelling way through a master/student relationship and possibly solves the issue of neglect that precipitated these events. John’s reaction to being rendered powerless made sense given his prior attitude to Astra. He recognises how his behaviour impacted Astra and understands how all of this happened so he feels that the loss of his powers was something he had coming. John’s time with the Legends has been a very humbling experience for him and a lot of that is shown through his relationship to Astra. He continues to make mistakes where she is concerned and is willing to shoulder the punishment when it eventually comes to him. That signifies major grown in John as a character and it’s consistent in the way it plays out.
The other plot involves Sara learning about Bishop and his plan. In short he has delusions of Godhood and has taken it upon himself to remake the Human race in what he considers to be the perfect configuration after witnessing the “imperfect” version rendering Earth uninhabitable in the timeline he’s from. Sara is desired because she is seen to be the best candidate to teach this new race how to be resilient and how to survive because she has demonstrated that she can’t be killed. Her role in Bishop’s version of the perfect world is to shape the inhabitants using her particular skills and unflinching desire to survive. It’s flimsy but it makes about as much sense as anything else Bishop says. So far he’s a character that is difficult to pin down with a lot of attention given to how over the top he can be with very little suggestion of depth to back it up. It’s early days for the character and there’s a lot of time to dig into what makes him tick but his behaviour really did start to grate as the episode progressed which made scenes featuring him increasingly difficult to watch. Granted Sara’s perspective was of someone who would rather be anywhere else but it doesn’t entirely translate as watchable or engaging content all of the time. As for Bishop’s plan, it’s simple enough and brings in concepts of perception, nature vs. eugenics, identity and a number of others. In the case of this episode most of them are implied but there’s a real effort to explore the concept of identity.
Identity as a concept is explored through the Ava clone that acts as Sara’s nurse. Bishop is the creator of the Ava clones and views them as tools that he created and nothing more. He doesn’t see them as people, doesn’t treat them with any respect and assigns no value to their lives. As such he fails to see the Ava that Sara is currently engaged to as anything more than the army of slaves/tools that he commands and outside of “her” Ava, none of them see themselves as anything more than a commodity to be used and discarded. Sara’s nurse describes herself as “disposable” with Jes Macallan delivering the line so flatly that it’s unsettling. Sara knows the potential the Ava clones have to live a life, create their own identity and forge their own paths as does the audience so it’s incredibly unsettling to see another Ava so bereft of agency or ambition to the point that she doesn’t care if Sara kills her because she will simply be replaced. A case is made for the potential this Ava has and she does offer to help Sara because the prospect of what is offered to her is so attractive upon reflection. It suggests the programming Bishop put in place is easy to break with free will and self determination easily winning out. I do look forward to seeing Sara developing a connection with a different Ava and teaching her how to gain her own identity.
A strong episode that is an excellent showcase for Astra, is full of whimsy and heart as well as being endlessly entertaining. The episode builds up Astra’s difficulties adjusting really well with a montage that highlights how isolated she feels and how John contributes to that through his priorities being in other directions. Astra being manipulated by Crowley does paint her as gullible but in a way that is consistent with her established character as he offers her both power and the opportunity to claim her own agency; two things that Astra has sought in the past. She also wrongly believes she is in control so proceeds on that incorrect arrogant assumption. The power she gains doesn’t corrupt her but it’s certainly seductive as shown by all the things she is able to achieve as she learns how to use magic. This leads to the key choice she has to make around whether to harvest the soul of an objectionable neighbour. Valuing life is something that has challenged her before but this time it’s framed through the life she has to value being associated with someone deeply unpleasant. The legends offer her support and appeal to her better nature which eventually sinks in and she makes the right choice which still counts regardless of Crowley harvesting the soul. The shift to animation is disappointingly brief but excellent and informs the resolution of Astra’s arc wonderfully. Being an animated princess gives her the innate ability to read music and sing which solves the distance issue created when she realised she couldn’t read the music her mother wrote. Being able to do that provides her with a deeper connection to her mother and enables Crowley’s defeat in a whimsical and heartfelt way. John losing his powers as a consequence works because his reaction to it feeds into his understanding of him bringing it on himself through his behaviour and reframes his connection to Astra as a master/student one with her being the one with the power.
Sara’s plot involves the proper introduction of Bishop and insight into his plan to create what he considers to be the perfect version of the Human race with Sara teaching them survival skills. Her role in it is flimsy but makes about as much sense as anything else that’s going on. Bishop is difficult to pin down with lots of attention given to how over the top he can be with little suggestion of depth. It’s early days and Sara is clearly irritated by him but the audience following her perspective doesn’t entirely translate to something watchable. The exploration of the concept of identity works brilliantly with the Ava clones being bereft of agency and Bishop seeing them as nothing more than exploitable tools. It’s chilling when Sara’s nurse flatly says that she’s expendable especially when considering what “our” Ava has achieved though that perspective does change and sets up an engaging dynamic between Sara and this different Ava that should be interesting to see play out.
- an excellent showcase for Astra
- building up her isolation and struggles adjusting
- her manipulating by Crowley tying into her well established desire for power and agency
- the choice she faces around valuing life with an objectionable example to tempt her to do the opposite
- the excellent animated section
- Astra’s solving the problem in a whimsical and heartfelt way
- strongly highlighting John’s mistakes where Astra is concerned and that culminating in his acceptance of the consequences
- the exploration of identity as a concept through the nurse Ava clone
- Bishop being too over the top and lacking in overall depth
- the reasoning for Sara being desired by Bishop being very flimsy
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