Saturday, 7 May 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E14 - 'River of Time'

After a season-long trend of Vandal Savage managing to slip from the team's grasp every time they come close to defeating him, the previous episode ended with with Savage pushed into a corner – only for Kendra Saunders to take it upon herself to make the decision not to kill him, after all.

She had her reasons, of course. Realising that the current incarnation of Carter Hall, the man she is destined to love, has been captured and brainwashed by Vandal Savage is enough to cause a moment of hesitation – and, the Savage's claim that he is the only one that can restore Carter is, ultimately, enough to stay her hand. So, with Kendra now refusing to perform the only job she really had, as a part of the team, Rip is left with no other option but to take Vandal Savage prisoner.

And, so, this is where things pick up with the fourteenth episode. Vandal Savage is held as a prisoner on the Waverider, as is the brainwashed Carter Hall – and, the rest of the team is left struggling to come up with a new plan of action. Leonard Snart and Mick Rory argue that keeping Savage alive is clearly a mistake – and, Sara Lance seems to agree. Rip Hunter would, clearly, still like to see the man who slaughtered his family dead, also. But, of course, it is all a moot issue while Kendra remains reluctant to do the deed – since, thanks to the vaguely defined mystical connection between them, she is still the only one who can.

It's a somewhat frustrating situation for both the audience, and the rest of the cast. Kendra has, after all, not been the most useful member of the team over the course of the season – so, having her transition from not really contributing anything to actually hindering the team's mission isn't exactly a positive development. There is another interesting development, though. While studying the technology that went into creating Vandal Savage's Leviathan robot, Ray Palmer and Dr Stein realise that it is constructed from technology well beyond what is possible even in the 22nd Century.

Rip now has clear evidence that Vandal Savage, too, seems to have discovered the secret of time travel – and, that he has been manipulating the time stream in his efforts to conquer the world. So, believing that he now has the information that he needs to finally convince the Time Masters that Vandal Savage needs to be dealt with, Rip comes to the conclusion that taking Savage directly to his former associates will provide a means of circumventing Kendra's sudden reticence.

The only problem, though, is that the Waverider is still damaged, making the journey to the 'Vanishing Point' risky. Then, of course, there's Vandal Savage, himself, who proves to be quite skilled at manipulation. Or, at least, that is what the writer's of this episode clearly intended to suggest – though, in truth, Vandal Savage's efforts at manipulation in this episode came across as so painfully obvious that any character who fell for it (such as Ray) just ended up looking foolish.

While the basis premise of this episode would seem to point toward tense character-driven drama, things don't quite work out that way, in practise. Unfortunately, 'messy' is the only word that really comes to mind, here. This is an episode which features many moments that were clearly intended to be tense and dramatic, yet very few of them actually work as well as they need to.

Jax, for example, is involved in an accident while trying to repair the Waverider's engine – one that sees him exposed to 'temporal radiation', with the consequence that he is now ageing at a rapidly enhanced rate. It's a bizarre enough affliction that it feels like it could have easily been the basis of an entire episode – but, here, it is treated more as a minor sub-plot. More than that, though, it was a sub-plot that was glossed over so rapidly that efforts to milk a genuinely dramatic scene out of Jax's plight felt unearned.

Rip does have a somewhat interesting arc over the episode, admittedly – where he is forced to come to terms with the possibility that he might, ultimately, be willing to sacrifice the crew he has gathered for the sake of the family he has lost. It is a fascinating dilemma, certainly – but, it is treated in such a vague and perfunctory manner that any character drama it should have provided is lost. Rip has his doubts at the beginning, then seems able to put them aside by the end – and, there is nothing in between.

Meanwhile, with Carter Hall reappearing, Kendra and Ray's romantic troubles are brought into the spot-light in a much more pronounced way than ever before. This romantic sub-plot had been somewhat troubling from the beginning, when it just seemed to come out of nowhere. Since then, though, there has been some effort to justify its inclusion (with the two years that Ray and Kendra spent together, off-camera, a few episodes ago, for example) – but, through it all, the lack of any convincing on-screen chemistry between Brandon Routh and Ciara Renee has made it difficult to feel any sort of emotional investment.

All of this comes to a head here, of course, as Carter's reappearance instantly forces them into an awkward 'love triangle' situation. Kendra seems almost hilariously in denial about the situation, and Ray is instantly jealous – while the brainwashed Carter, meanwhile, just wants to get free so that he can kill them both. Especially amusing, though, is the fact that Kendra seems to display more genuine concern and affection for this brainwashed murderer, in these few scenes, than she ever has for Ray – honestly, it's enough to make my wonder if the oddly forced quality of Ciara Renee's performance in her scenes with Ray was actually intentional.

Either way, though, this romantic drama has felt like a miss-step from the start – and, nothing happens here to change that fact. Though, I will say that, based on his performance in this episode, I do wish we could have seen more of this brainwashed version of Carter Hall over the season. Falk Hentschel hadn't been all that impressive in his more heroic role, earlier in the season – but, he proves to be an effective villain, here.

On a more positive note, though, this episode does also manage to provide Casper Crump with some of the best material he has had, so far, in his portrayal of Vandal Savage. Savage's efforts at manipulation might have comes across as painfully obvious, but Casper Crump still managed to play it well. It's strange to consider the fact that Vandal Savage only truly began to feel like a genuine threat at a point when the team seems to have him at their mercy – but, that's exactly where we find ourselves, here.

Also, Leonard Snart and Mick Rory remain the entertaining presence they have always been, throughout the season. Here, though, they seem to have found themselves cast as the team's only true voice of reason, with each being entirely convinced that taking Vandal Savage prisoner is bound to end badly. Also, Snart has what would have to be the best line of the episode (and, maybe, the series, so far) when he responds to Savage's boasting by declaring himself to be "Leonard Snart, robber of ATMs".

Despite its issues, though, this episode still manages to turn things around somewhat by the end – bringing the episode to a close with a very entertaining (if not entirely unexpected) last minute twist. It may not have been quite enough to salvage the episode, on its own, but it does, at least, offer up the possibility of significant improvements as we approach the end of the season.

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