DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – Season 5 Episode 9
“Zari, Not Zari”
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow continues the quest for the pieces of the Loom of Fate as Zari gets in touch with her former self.
I’ve missed a couple of reviews of this show. Eventually I did have the time to catch up but the relevance was gone so I didn’t feel it would be worthwhile to contribute to the conversation at such a late stag. Of course the major recent development is that Ray and Nora made their exit from the Waverider and the series. It was handled well enough in universe but I can’t help but feel it was tainted by the real world fact that Brandon Routh didn’t want to leave the show. It feels like an odd decision that I suspect will end up hurting the show in the long run. This is already starting to show as his loss is felt significantly in this episode with a group dynamic that feels frustratingly incomplete.
It’s notable that the dysfunctional family that is the Legends feels like it’s missing something in an episode that is all about absences within family. This theme is explored through many of the characters in different ways with Zari not knowing the former version of herself, Charlie dealing with her sister and Mick struggling to forge a connection with his daughter. As with any episode some explorations of the theme are better than others but as has become the norm the episode commits to its theme and deploys the characters well within that.
Mick learning that he has a 16 year old daughter that -from his perspective- came into existence a short time ago has many of the beats you might expect from such a plot. At first he tries to shrug off any responsibility he might have but reluctantly comes around to the idea that he has to do right by her. The Mick Rory that appeared periodically on The Flash and was underdeveloped in the first season of this show would be entirely believable as an absent father who has no desire to be any part of his daughter’s life but the Mick Rory that has gained depth and texture through several seasons on this show is someone who reflects on his life as well as his place in the universe so can’t get away with simply dismissing the fact that he is a father. This means that he reluctantly takes steps to be a part of her life and accepts that he does have some measure of responsibility for her.
Lita (Mina Sundwall) rejects Mick because she feels abandoned by him which creates an uphill battle for Mick when it comes to being a part of his life. His early attempts are fairly shallow such as offering her pointless gifts like teddy bears which results in her amusingly ripping its head off as a way of showing that they aren’t as unlike one another as she appears to want. Mick’s frustration leads him to accept Ava’s help who suggests that they visit her at key points in her life so that he’s a part of them and avoids the abandonment issues because Mick would then no longer be an absent father. The montage of Mick being there at these key points is equal parts amusing and endearing before resulting in a scenario whereby Lita still feels abandoned because her perception of Mick is that he’s someone who would be there for a short time before disappearing. In effect Mick has become selectively absent to the point where it looks like he has decided to be a part of her life but only on his own terms and only as much as he feels he needs to. This causes a different but equally severe problem and taints Mick’s attempt to feeling like a half measure and the minimum of effort even though that wasn’t his intention.
Ultimately this situation is created through bad advice from Ava who has a very specific experience of growing up. She never had a childhood but has implanted memories of one which are bereft of much in the way of texture. Those implanted memories take the place of experience that crafts her into the person she is. It has taken a lot for her to find herself in the midst of this and it remains an ongoing journey so it makes sense that she would assume things would work out for the best if a similar approach was used with Lita. Of course it doesn’t because Lita doesn’t just want a handful of memories of her father being in her life at defined points; she wants him in her life outwith those times as well so she still feels robbed of the entirety of that connection with him. The fact that he doesn’t seem to realise that is a big part of why she’s upset and she sees his attempts to fix that as the superficial reactionary things that they are. Ava eventually suggests that he should stop trying to change what has happened and accept that he has done wrong so that they can move forward. It remains to be seen how that will play out but it’s acknowledged as something that should have been done from the beginning.
The absences within family theme plays out in the continuation of the current main plot detailing Charlie’s quest to find the pieces of the Loom of Fate before her sisters do. Charlie is estranged from her sisters because they want to go back to Humanity lacking in free will with them making all of the decisions because they feel that Humanity has wasted having free will by using it to produce so many negative things. It’s a pessimistic viewpoint but the brief list of questionable acts committed by Humanity over the years are undeniably bad and it makes sense that higher beings might consider free will as being wasted on Humans. Charlie has a more optimistic outlook and focuses on the great things created by Humans since they had control over their own fates. She cites Punk Rock among other things showing she has an affection for those she set free from her influence and takes the good with the bad.
There’s a much larger debate to be had here about whether Humanity deserves free will or not and whether we have made good use of it or wasted such an important gift. Such a debate would have to touch on who has the right to judge whether the gift has been squandered and if knowing that it was something we were given rather than had an innate right to would have altered the way it was used. This episode isn’t really interested in having this debate and lands firmly on the side of Charlie who sees free will as something that Humanity deserves. It makes sense to proceed on this basis and characterising her sisters as beings who sadistically enjoyed manipulating the fates of people. Of course the show is going to champion the idea that free will is something that Humanity deserve even if mistakes are made but I’d be interested to see that debate play out as there are a few perspectives that are rife for exploring.
Charlie’s sister, Atropos (Joanna Vanderham) very much represents the other side of the debate and clearly shows her casual contempt for Humanity as she callously attacks anyone she comes into contact with. She’s a fairly shallow villain with a very specific purpose but she works well enough for the purposes of this episode. Seeing how afraid of Atropos Charlie is helps establish her threat level and beginning the episode with a massacre adds to this. In the midst of the terror is a brief attempt to say something profound about family and identity when Sara tells Charlie that she has no control over the family she comes from but does have control over the sort of person she becomes. This pays off when Charlie rejects Atropos by saving Sara and helping to push her out of the Waverider’s airlock. In that moment Charlie chooses to embrace her found family and stand with them in defiance of her origin. It should be a more powerful moment than it is but doesn’t receive enough attention to gain the necessary significance. It was a good sentiment that ultimately felt like something of an afterthought.
The pacing of this plot was great with constant urgency created by the relentless chase. None of the characters stop for long enough for anything to slow down which has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages include the aforementioned rapid pace and constant sense of danger but the disadvantages include a lack of time to focus on meaningful characterisation which shows in Sara very quickly advising Charlie that her family don’t have to influence the person that she chooses to be. There’s also a brief pointless attempt to increase the tension further by having Atropos pose as John which only raises questions such as why she left him alive when she could have easily killed him. These are minor niggles because the tension carries the situation very well.
Ultimately this plot amounts to little more than the hunt for a plot device which tends to be what every season of this show amounts to but the beauty is in how the act of hunting down whatever relic the team will need to resolve a given problem impacts the characters. In this episode we get Charlie making a definitive choice about where he allegiance lies and reveals that Sara is unaffected by Atropos for an as yet unknown reason. My guess is that it either has something to do with her death and resurrection or is connected to her role as the Paragon of Fate during “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. On a symbolic level it means that Sara isn’t bound by fate and is able to defy it which comes as no surprise.
These scenes are notable because they take place in Vancouver on the set of the long running CW show Supernatural. Many of the actors have discussed their desire for a crossover between Supernatural and the Arrowverse in some form so this is it finally coming to pass. Speaking as a fan of Supernatural it’s a less than satisfying nod to that show as it amounts to nothing more than a handful of references and the visual of the Impala. More could have been done especially since one of the characters in that show was modelled after John Constantine in terms of his wardrobe choice so at the very least there were plenty of opportunities to more directly reference Supernatural as a show. Maybe this is me as a fan of that show wanting more from this than was realistically possible within the context of this episode but it feels pointless to use this setting without making proper use of it.
The final plot involves Zari getting to meet the previous version of herself after she sleepwalks into Nate’s quarters and sleeps next to him. This encourages her to want to know more about the other version of her so she takes some drugs and goes into the totem to commune with her ancestors. Instead of her ancestors she gets the other Zari and is able to confront her anxieties around this unknown life that she could have had. The episode does a great job outlining those anxieties through her conversations with Behrad. She expresses concern that the other Zari is better than she is because she was actively a hero who helped save the world and is worried that Behrad will end up preferring this other version. She’s basically comparing herself to something she knows nothing about and assuming that she’s somehow inferior which says a lot about her own perception of her self worth. This has been in the background of her character over the course of the season and has been exacerbated by learning about the other Zari. Her popularity contrasted with how alone she constantly feels has made for fascinating complexity to her character and this feels like a natural progression of that.
Being faced with the version of herself that she feels inferior to works brilliantly as it allows her to see that she is worthwhile. Original Zari doesn’t regret the choice she made that changed the timeline because it meant that her parents and Behrad get to live while she continues to exist within the totem. She loses her life with the Legends and the relationships she forged but the people she cares about are safe which makes it a worthwhile sacrifice. Original Zari sees the new version of herself and feels that she’s worthwhile which gives new Zari the validation that she has been looking for. The lesson here is that different doesn’t mean better or worse and the new Zari can move forward from this with the understanding that she does have the right to exist and can contribute in her own unique way.
Tala Ashe deserves all of the recognition for bringing to life two distinct versions of Zari within the same episode. Everything from the demeanour to the voice to the body language is completely different while still being enough common ground to make it clear that it’s the same person. It’s a really well written conversation which helps sell the situation but a lot is owed to Tala Ashe’ performance. She certainly doesn’t miss a beat bringing the old version of Zari back to life.
The apparent death of Behrad awakens a fierce determination within her after she spends a very long time grieving. It’s an appropriately devastating moment and seeing her channel her anger in the direction of affirmative action makes for a really powerful ending that sets up a great double act in Zari and John. It also ends the episode on the note of family and absence in a very literal sense as Zari has just lost her brother and will stop at nothing to get him back.
A strong episode that provides a brilliant showcase for Tala Ashe’ acting ability and finds character specific ways to explore the theme of absences within family. Mick recently learning that he has a daughter frames him as an absent father who has to decide whether he takes steps to fix that. Ava suggests using time travel to make him a part of the significant moments in her life which allows for an amusing montage followed by the realisation that this only shifts him to being the father that disappeared after being a small part of her life. There’s no texture to their relationship because Mick only appears briefly and is forced to realise that he has to take responsibility for the fact that he wasn’t a part of her life in the way that she would have wanted and find a way to move forward from there. This amounts to bad advice from Ava who only has implanted memories to work with so has a similar lack of texture to the milestone memories she has. It makes perfect sense from her point of view and makes for an interesting dilemma for Mick to work through. Charlie’s quest to find the pieces of the Loom of Fate put her in the crosshairs of her sister, Atropos who holds Humanity in contempt for wasting the gift of free will. There’s a larger debate to be had over whether Humanity are entitled to free will and if they used it well but the episode doesn’t really cover that. Charlie is very much on the side of Humanity being deserving of free will because of what has been created where her sisters sadistically enjoyed making all of the decisions. Atropos is lacking in depth but works well for the purposes of this episode. Her relentless pursuit of Charlie, Sara and John makes for an impressively paced plot with an appropriately high threat level. The drawback to this is there is a minimum of meaningful characterisation which makes Charlie choosing to fully side with the Legends as her found family less impactful than it otherwise could have been.
Special attention should be given to Tala Ashe who is excellent in this episode as two distinct versions of Zari. The new Zari becomes more curious about the previous version of herself because she can’t help but compare herself and feel inferior. Getting the chance to meet her shows her that she is worthwhile because she has plenty to contribute. The original Zari doesn’t regret the decision that led to becoming her because it means that her family are safe so the loss of her role within the Legends and the relationships she forged is acceptable to her. The conversation between the two Zaris is really well written and carried brilliantly by Tala Ashe’ performance. The fierce determination that awakens within Zari after she spends a long time mourning the apparent death of Behrad is a clear representation of the main theme and makes for an excellent ending that promises a strong Zari/John double act in the episodes to come.
- Mick’s slow burn realisation of what his daughter actually wants from him
- Ava’s unconventional life experience leading her to give Mick bad advice
- strong pacing in the hunt for the piece of the loom plot
- a believable threat level represented through Atropos
- Tala Ashe’ excellent performance playing two distinct versions of Zari
- the original Zari helping the new Zari realise her worth and value
- the promise of a John/Zari double act
- strong exploration of the absences within family theme
- the half baked reference to Supernatural
- the accelerated pace in the hunt for the loom plot leaving little time for meaningful characterisation
- Charlie deciding to fully embrace her found family not having the level of impact it could have
- a lack of depth to Atropos
- not having the debate over whether Humanity deserves free will
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