Saturday, 20 February 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E05 - 'Fail-Safe'






Things took a surprisingly dark turn in this episode of Legends of Tomorrow - or, perhaps, it wasn't so surprising, given the location for so much of the action. With half of the team captured, and held in a notoriously harsh Soviet gulag at the height of the Cold War, the remaining 'Legends' are forced to mount a desperate rescue attempt before Professor Stein is force to reveal the secrets of creating a Soviet Firestorm.

The stakes are, naturally, very high in this episode - with another convenient future projection from Gideon (the AI that runs Rip Hunter's ship) showing the cost of failure. Much like with the previous future projection, these images of multiple Firestorms laying waste to a city were a very effective way of establishing the stakes - though, at the same time, I still find myself hoping that it doesn't become an overused gimmick. It would be too easy to imagine this becoming the formula that all episodes begin to follow - with some alteration, caused by the team's efforts to defeat Vandal Savage, resulting in a grim new future that needs to be undone before it becomes permanent. Honestly, the last thing a series like Legends of Tomorrow should be is formulaic - so, it would definitely be a shame if that does become the case in future episodes.

For now, though, that hasn't quite happened. Instead, we have an episode that features some fantastically tense moments, along with the usual mix of entertaining action. With Gideon's projection of the future acting as proof that, despite his best efforts, Professor Stein would eventually give in to Valentina Vostok's (Stephenie Corneliussen) demands, the situation seems especially desperate - to such an extent that Rip Hunter and Sara Lance are even willing to consider the possibility that they may need to kill Professor Stein if it should prove impossible to rescue him. This question of whether it might be necessary to kill Professor Stein quickly became a significant moral dilemma for Sara (as it should be, obviously) - and, as something that tried directly into her past with the League of Assassins as well as what she perceives to be her role on the team, it was much more interesting anything concerning her Lazarus Pit induced blood-lust.

Obviously, Professor Stein found himself in a particularly tough spot, in this episode, as he found himself the target of an increasingly cruel series of interrogation - first from Valentina Vostok, then from Vandal Savage, himself. And, as has often proved to be the case, Victor Garber proved to be more than capable of handling these tense dramatic moments - doing a fantastic job of portraying the character's increasing sense of fear and despair.

Of course, he wasn't left to carry the entire episode on his own, though. Ray Palmer and Mick Rory also had some great moments, together, as they found themselves forced to become cell-mates. While this episode did a good job of show-casing both characters, it was Mick Rory who arguably benefited most - with Dominic Purcell finally given the opportunity to be more than simple comic-relief as Mick found himself first irritated by, then slightly won over by, Ray's noble idealism. That whole sequence of events, in which Ray and Mick were being tortured while Professor Stein was forced to watch, was clearly the darkest moment in an already dark episode - but, it was also something of a defining moment for both characters.

Leornard Snart, meanwhile, was given the opportunity to display his own particular code of honour - both in terms of his questioning the harsh lengths that Rip and Sara were willing to go to, and effectively abandoning the mission to focus on his true goal of rescuing his partner, Mick.

Jax and Kendra were, initially, pushed to the side during the rescue mission - and, at first, it had begun to seem as though each would be wasted in the same way that Kendra and Sara were in the previous episode. Thankfully, though, they were also each given their small moments of victory when they took matters into their own hands (as a side-note, here, I was also thankful that there was no further mention of Kendra's struggles to control herself).

While the individual episodes of Legends of Tomorrow are still proving to be very entertaining, on their own, there are elements of the season-wide plot to stop Savage which are becoming increasingly problematic as the season progresses. For one thing, the mystical connection between Kendra and Savage has already become a source of frustration for me - with the highly convoluted rules regarding how Savage can be defeated, ultimately, feeling more like a way to pad out the season. Savage has already been defeated multiple times, to such an extent that he doesn't even seem like that great challenge for a team of time-travelling super-heroes, anymore (which is something else that the show really needs to work on, as a side-note) - but, the fact that he can only be killed by a certain person wielding a certain dagger just feels like a cheap way to elevate the threat he poses.

But, then, this episode goes out of its way to place Kendra and Savage in a scene together, only to ignore its own rules. At one point, Rip and Kendra managed to corner Savage, only for Rip to send Kendra so that Rip and Savage could have another confrontation, without even addressing the possibility that this might have been a good opportunity to make another attempt at finally defeating Savage. It become a frustrating little moment in an otherwise fairly great episode, for me - and, honestly, the fact that I can't actually remember who currently has the magic dagger that Kendra would need to use didn't really help, either. As it stands, the central plot-line that this whole season is built on just feels like a bit of a mess - but, I really hope that the season is able to come together in a satisfying, and coherent, way before the end.

That being said, though, the rivalry between Rip Hunter and Vandal Savage has, so far, been much more interesting than anything we have seen between Savage and Hawkgirl - so, anything that allows us to focus on that can't be all bad. There are personal stakes in this conflict which just don't seem to exist between Savage and Kendra (despite the centuries long connection that exists between them) - and, the idea that Rip's constant efforts to hunt down the man who murdered his family is, ultimately, also the reason why Savage murdered his family is a great use of the show's time travel premise.

Overall, despite the issues I am starting to have with the season, as a whole, the individual elements that make up Legends of Tomorrow are still very entertaining. The varied cast of characters featured on this show still manage to provide a great deal of entertainment - as do the increasingly outlandish situations that this cast finds themselves in. It's just disappointing that the conflict with Vandal Savage, which should be the show's most interesting element, is proving to be its weakest - though, hopefully that will change in the future.

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