Legends of Tomorrow – Witch Hunt

“I hope you’re feeling morally superior!”

I’m not doing episodic reviews of Legends, but how this show went from the Hawk-driven disasterpiece that was Season 1 to being the best show in the Arrowverse fascinates me. 

The opening Ray exposition [RaySposition, TM] scene appears to be a result of writers competing for “most ridiculous contraption / explanation combination for those bones.” I’d bet many episode plots come out of friendly competitions to bring something as absurd, comic-book-y, and “high concept maximum bang for production’s buck, please involve lots of forrest and easy costumes like puritanical dresses.” This writing room approach could explain everything from last season’s Beebo-love finale to the scene in this episode with all the actors reacting to “MYTHsteries.”

Legends is in the overlapping segment of the Venn diagram of “best” and “most outlandish” shows on television, all with heavy comedic overtones. What other show can utter a line like “Do you remember when a demonic gorilla nearly killed Barak Obama”? Doctor Who. The Good Place. That’s it. Meanwhile, only Legends and The Good Place could pull off the fantastic “A unicorn ate my nipple.” All three are also tackling history better than most US schools, then pivoting to dish out philosophy and life advice head-on, from dealing with grief (Doctor Who) to free will versus determinism (The Good Place) to the reassuring advice from oh captain our captain Sara Lance: “I don’t think that anger ever goes away. That’s ok. You just can’t hold it in all the time.”

That’s not even the darkest bit of this episode by a long shot. Zari must acknowledge to a young woman that in the experience of her natural lifespan, her knowledge of history, and her traveling to the future, humanity has and will not fundamentally change its evil ways. Racism, hatred, killing someone for their sexuality, fearing those who are different, rampant abuse: those are constants. Saying that out loud is one of the darkest things the show has done, but couching it with a character who has experienced some of the worst and still fights others and her own instincts to do good is one of the most hopeful. Zari’s speech is up with the best Doctor Who ‘morals of the story,’ and the fact it comes in an episode with immigrant-persecution parallels, human piglets, two Bible quotes, and a soft porn parody makes it that much more fantastic.

Ah, yes. Because (thankfully) this show doesn’t believe in subtlety, we are gifted naked Ray clutching a steely Nate, relevant bits hidden tastefully. This episode’s B plot [well, really D plot] ‘Nate has daddy issues and Rich Boy problems’ is not as disinteresting as it has every right to be. After two seasons of Nate being mostly just there, have they actually found not just one but MULTIPLE ways of using him effectively!? It seems yes. As much as it will make his repartee with Ray take a back seat, his family drama and the delightful bromance with Ava are both interesting. Plus, giving him Time Bureau work means we’ll see more of him not just looking fly in frame with Agent Sharpe, but also doing things in ‘modern’ times. The latter is a good fit for his earnest bro-ish-ness while relieving some of the strain on a production trying to keep up with a time-traveling, SFX-heavy TV show. This episode – and looks like this season in general – pairs different characters off and lets them bounce off each other; again, is good for scheduling and production costs while also being effective storytelling. This week it’s Ava and Nate exchanging hair tips and Mick and Constantine as The Odd Couple, next it may be Sara and Ray autopsying an alien while discussing the heavy price they’ve paid to be Legends. Anything goes, and almost all of it works.

Along the veins of tightrope walking which works, acknowledging the Salem witches were actually witches is a bold step, and makes it harder to pull off this story with nuance in 42 minutes. It almost entirely delivers. The promo promised us Caity Lotz in The Witch of Blackbird Pond-plus-flying-backflips, and the episode grounds the whole thing in a moral conundrum, making a case for both sides with Sara and Zari. The two effectively argue, neither wholly in the right, though our captain is closest. While some Legends episodes set up clear moral stakes and asks “how the heck can our heroes achieve their goals and triumph over evil?” more and more are introducing moral and/or historical conundrums, and letting the characters each have their unique points of view, informed by their individual backgrounds, experiences, and even wildly different time periods.

When we arrive at our hero village, the raven in the foreground of a moving shot is a nice dirty foreground, but also sets up both the idea of a familiar, and the “The Birds” setpiece later. The pop culture references are many, from The Beatles to Deadpool-in-X-Men-Origins:-Wolverine, but most are throwaways, except the Fairy Godmother.

“What in the Disney hell” is the most perfect description for her scenes, including Ray calling out the background music. The show leans in and calls itself out in equal measure, which is a huge part of what makes it work. That wide shot of all of them “shuddering” at once as their “magical tree root restraints” disappear is a classic. The Fairy Godmother annoyed at the ridiculous requests of Disney princesses is delightful, and a sign someone in the writer’s room has had to watch Cinderella 100 too many times.

Not all the influences are as explicit. Dark Zari has a very Buffy feel to her, and like that and many other zombie/vampire/time-travel etc shows, Legends showcases plenty of supernatural / vamping / unicorn baddies, but generally follows the age-old ‘humans are the real monsters’ formula, to great effect.

As if all that isn’t enough, we have: Ray Pigmer! Nate, of course, recognises his One True Love even in pig form. The intercutting between Nate urging Ray-the-pig to transform, and a young girl deciding whether to burn a man alive is . . . a choice. It almost works for sheer nerve alone, and gods know I love me some good intercutting and it can often save a scene, or drive home the themes with juxtaposition, but the comedy of the former really just ends up making the latter seem too melodramatic, instead of weighty or properly campy.

High risk, high reward. Legends is a show which has shed its origins and gone completely all-in on its own unique style and the stories it wants to tell, from ridiculous concepts to historical warnings to tales centering marginalised folk. If it doesn’t always nail everything, just wait a moment, because the next scene will pull off something no other show on TV could even attempt, and that’s well worth watching.

Stray Observations

In case it wasn’t clear: I am a complete and total 100% sucker for The Witch of Blackbird PondA Swiftly Tilting Planet also did something really great with the subgenre, and with Charmed and Sabrina both tapping that same vein, it’s clearly making a comeback. In fact, it’s interesting this episode comes out close to the release of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, since both focus on the non-bleeding of a witch’s mark, not as often one of the big touchstones used in pop fiction (offhand, I’d say the top three are trial by drowning, a familiar, and crops/babies dying.)

How Did They Get Away With That One Moment of the Week: “tired, hungover, and in need of a stiff one” is of course a double entendre, but Constantine immediately follows up by clarifying that yes he means morning wood.

How Did They Get Away With That One Moment of the Week Honourable Mention: Gary’s arm stuck in the poster tube gag is knowing, but Gary tops it off with a throwaway “ham and eggs” a moment later. I mean.

Tertiary actors’s acting is tertiary.

Your salary is the . . . friendships you make along the way.”

Constantine wheels and deals and threatens the godmother/genie/demon, hinting further at the Evil To Come. Though Constantine’s running subplot / Season’s Big Bad is my least favourite part of the season so far, his individual scenes are generally fun enough.

Love love love that “Time Bureau softball. We do things.” sweatshirt on Ray. High five to the wardrobe department for that one. Now please, please make it and sell it to me!

One Response to “Legends of Tomorrow – Witch Hunt”
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  1. […] and people of colour are discriminated against in most timelines, without sensationalising it. It believes the best in people while acknowledging monsters, historic and contemporary. It exemplifies how to deal with anger, depression, and despair, acknowledging how our […]

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