Legends of Tomorrow: 5.14 The One Where We're Trapped on TV
Here we go… its (almost) finale time. Full disclosure, I loved this episode. This is the kind of stuff that keeps me tuning in every week!
The world is different, a totalitarian, Orwellian landscape of grey people in grey buildings in a grey land eating grey mush; a land constructed by the Fates to eliminate free will. We see Mona, who works in a drab ministry department removing subversive ideas from official historical documents. In a very short sequence the show does a brilliant job of establishing this new world order and Mona’s part in it, including watching one of her colleagues brutally having his thread cut. I was so resistant to Mona when she first joined this show. She felt like an extension of Gary, then just an excess character, but she left just as I really felt she’d found her place and I’m actually really glad she’s here in the finale; it works very well narratively speaking, as well, to have her now part of this warped world.
During her trudge home, she bumps into Gary who in this new world is a mad subversive with a the world is wrong style sandwich board. At home, Mona starts watching TV – TV in this world seems to quite literally be the opium of the masses; its also where we go Full Legends of Tomorrow.
Team Legs are trapped in TV! First off we see Zari, Nate and Behrad in a perfect Friends spoof Ultimate Buds, complete with awkwardly unfunny jokes and canned laughter. When Zari's totem kicks into life, Old Zari re-inhabits New Zari’s body and takes over the reigns. She manages to break the spell that is over her, but not the boys. Using a door in the fourth wall they'd never noticed before, they mange to travel into another TV show, Highcastle Abbey, a Downton Abbey-type show set at Constantine’s home, with Constantine as the butler to Astra and her resurrected mother.
While sitcom and sci-fi (still to come) settings are great fun, the costume drama is perhaps the most interesting one to spend time. Constantine and Astra’s relationship have been the core catalyst for this season and so it's satisfying to see some sense of closure starting to form. It's also fun to see Matt Ryan and Olivia Swann playing different ‘roles’. Matt Ryan’s (solid but watered down) Scouse accent has become so synonymous with his on-screen character, it's really fun to see him play so differently. It's also interesting to see Swann do something closer to her actual accent. While the main team believe themselves to be their TV personas, they do all agree, more or less, to join Zari and her mission to find out what’s happening. So Constantine and Astra join them in travelling to the next TV show… Star Trip, a pitch perfect Star Trek: TOS spoof featuring Sara and Ava as badass space captains!
All this show hopping is being observed by Mona, who gets Gary in on the act. Using Mona this way really works well for the episode, as we learn more about why and how the Legends have been trapped in TV. It really makes sense that Mona, who left the team early this season, would end up as one of the peons of this grey, ordered world but it’s a big boon to the Legends to have an ally on the ground.
After shifting from Highcastle Abby to Star Trip, Zari manages to convince Sara and Ava that they’re all trapped in a parallel dimension, a variation on the truth. Because they are part of a sci fi show they are more open to the idea. Star Trip is a great homage to Star Trek, with Sara and Ava playing duel captains in charge of a sexy but all robot, hot-pants wearing crew. Caity Lotz's Shatner impression is spot on and Jes Macallan is well observed and surprisingly un-spoofy Vulcan. The final show they get warped to is Mr Parker’s Cul De sac. This is where you feel a bit of a hiccup, because this really, really should have been Ray. I know Brandon Routh is out of the show now, but it would have been nice to bring him back for these finale episodes. While in the Cul De Sac, Zari manages to get everyone to finally remember who they are so they can figure out how to escape. But Charlie then rumbles what is going on after Mona and Gary managed to sneak into the TV facility to help manipulate the Legends into remembering who they are.
The production design for the TV station and the devices used to control the programming is really good. In fact the entire production design this week is outstanding, it really has a 1984, Brazil vibe to it and the world does feel significantly different to before.
Maisie Richardson-Sellers is also giving one of her best performances this week; she’s better here than she’s been in a long time and her frantic, angry Fate, trying to keep her friends safe buy keeping them trapped, is really convincing. After wooing them back into their respective TV shows with a song about repressing your feelings – who doesn’t love it when this show drops a musical number – the Legends start to settle a little bit but soon break the spell again. Rory turns up in Star Trip as a Khan parody which is so well realised I wish J.J Abrams had given Dominic Purcell a call before Benedict Cumberbatch. Its also actually nice to see Rory play a role, as he normally is the only Legend who doesn’t embrace the disguise of the week.
Things culminates in a great, rousing speech to the audience at home to not blindly follow what you see on TV. The moment when the Legends all break out back into the real world is genuinely cool and triumphant. Charlie begs them to reconsider, to keep them safe, even splitting Zari into her two versions as a kind of bargaining chip/bribe. But Team Legs just stroll off to get the bad guys and save the day.
This episode is fantastic fun, the actors get to flex their muscles and enjoy themselves and it's kind of nice to see Ava and Sara take a slight back seat. It's not that they aren’t a big part of the adventure (they do get their trademark Big Dip Kiss on an exploding spacecraft) but the real emotional heart is left to Astra and Constantine, as Astra manages to let go of the fantasy of having her mother in order to break out of the TV world. There is a lot of care and attention in this episode too, the set for Ultimate Buds is the best spoof Friends set I’ve seen and the Waverider is transformed to look Star Treky perfectly. Highcastle Abby has less impact, as it's Constantine’s home set and likewise the Cul De Sac is a guest set from a previous episode, so has less impact but over all the show looks amazing this week and really sells is premise.
The Arrowverse shows can be great but all look a little cheap at times, with their standing sets. Superheroes with a procedural production style. Legends of Tomorrow is a little different, being a time and space show, they visit different locations each week and this helps keep the production design, as well as storytelling, feel fresh. Legends of Tomorrow sometimes has the feel of being the nearest the US has to Doctor Who and this week's episode has a distinctly Doctor Who vibe to it.
A lot happens over the course of this 42 minutes and its hands down one of the best episodes the show has done. Sure, the Fates’ plan doesn’t quite hold up under too much scrutiny but its all very Legendsy which is how I like this show. Having two Zari’s is great and, while I imagine it would be prohibitive long term, I quite like the idea of having both Zari’s on the ship. Funny and exciting, this may be a hard act to follow but however things turn out, I’m really look forward to the season finale!