Friday, 13 May 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E15 - 'Destiny'

One of the most disappointing trends of this first season of Legends of Tomorrow is the fact that, more often than not, the season's central plot-line has often been its weakest element. The season has had more than its fair share of genuinely great moments over the past fifteen episodes, of course – but, whenever attention is turned directly to efforts to stop Vandal Savage's rise to power, there has been a very noticeable, and very unfortunate, dip on quality. It has been a very frustrating aspect of this first season – and, it has given much of the season a somewhat inconsistent, and unfocused, quality.

The previous episode managed to do a fairly impressive job of correcting that lingering issues, though. There, we had a Vandal Savage who, for perhaps the first time, actually seemed like a genuine threat – a villain who actually seemed to justify the efforts of a team of time-travelling super-heroes. More than that, though, we also had a very entertaining performance from Casper Crump – and actor who just hasn't been given much quality material to work with in his time on the show.

Along with that, we also had the episode coming to a close on a genuinely dramatic note, with the revelation that the Time Masters have actually been supporting Vandal Savage all along – and that, through them, Savage has also had the ability to travel through time. So, now, with most of Rip Hunter's team of 'Legends' imprisoned by the Time Masters, and Vandal Savage about to be sent back to the year 2166 to complete his rise to power, the season's penultimate episode is in a good position to get off to a very exciting start.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this episode is the extent to which it is able to build on the tension and drama that we had last week. While the previous episode's revelation that the Time Masters had been supporting Vandal Savage's efforts would already seem like enough of a plot-twist, in itself, this episode manages to build on that in a very interesting way.

Here, we learn that the true reason the Time Masters would be willing to lend their support to an immortal madman is the small matter of a full-blown alien invasion. The fact that the Time Masters have determined that Vandal Savage is the only one capable of leading a defence against the Thanagarian invasion set to take place less than 10 years after his rise to power is a developing that adds a very interesting layer of moral ambiguity to the whole conflict. It's not enough to have the audience thinking that Rip, and his team, are wrong to be opposing Savage, of course – but, it definitely adds an interesting new element to what had been a fairly straight-forward struggle, up until this point. Also, Thanagar would have to seem like an interesting choice for fans of DC's comics, what with the planet also serving as an alternate origin for Hawkman and Hawkgirl (it, also, seems likely that this little detail is set to become much more important in the already confirmed second season).

Beyond that, though, we also learn that the High Council of the Time Masters, apparently, possess the ability to observe and manipulate any moment in time – and, that they have been using this ability to subtly nudge Rip Hunter in the direction that they have wanted him to go throughout the entire season. Much like with the reveal that the time-travelling bounty hunter, Chronos, had actually been Mick Rory the whole time, this new development significantly altered the context of everything we had seen in a very interesting way. While, over the course of the season, it had sometimes seemed as though Rip Hunter's efforts to stop Savage had been somewhat unfocused, and mostly ineffectual, now it seems as though this was all a result of the Time Master's intervention.

Instead of hindering Vandal Savage's, and the Time Master's, plans, Rip and his team of 'Legends' have actually been playing a key part in them. This new piece of knowledge is, quite understandable, enough to leave Rip's confidence severely shaken. It doesn't necessarily make up for any of the frustration I have felt while watching the season up until this point, of course – but, it still made for an interesting attempt at a minor retcon.

So, now, the team find themselves at a complete loss. Separated from Jax, Professor Stein is slowly dying. Kendra has been taken back to 2166 by Vandal Savage. Mick Rory has been taken by the Time Masters, to be put through the mental conditioning that will turn him into Chronos once more. And, Rip is very close to giving up entirely. But, Leonard Snart and Sara Lance are still free, though – so, the team are not entirely defeated. And, if they can manage to escape, they might be able to find some way to fight back.

While all of this is taking place, Jax, having been sent back to 2016 by Professor Stein in the previous episode, has an interesting development of his own when he is able to reach out to a slightly younger Professor Stein, on the night of their original meeting with Rip Hunter, for help in reprogramming the Waverider's shuttle so that he can travel back to the Vanishing Point. This could have, quite easily, proved to be a very unnecessary distraction from the action taking place in the distant future – though, thankfully, it actually fit quite well with the episode's primary plot-line. Here, we also had the opportunity to see exactly how much Jax's experiences have changed him over the course of the season – as he interacts with a version of Professor Stein who has not, yet, experienced that same growth.

Not only did this sub-plot provide some great moments for both Victor Garber and Franz Drameh – but, it also managed to retroactively alter the context of one of the more troubling moment from early in the season. That moment, back in the pilot, in which Professor Stein decided to drug his young partner, in order to get him onto the Waverider, had seemed very out of character, at the time – though, now, with the reveal that it was actually Jax who gave him the idea in the first place, it's been re-branded as an amusing example of a 'bootstrap paradox' (since, after all, we now have a situation where it seems as though Past-Stein only drugged Past-Jax because Future-Jax had, basically, given him permission to do so). There is, of course, the issue of why Jax decided to go to Professor Stein for help, when tracking down the Past-Rip would have made more sense – but, considering how entertaining their scenes together were, I'm willing to let that slide.

While the fact that the primary focus of this episode was on the team's confrontation with the Time Master's might create the impression that this is just another example of the series being at its best when the focus is off of Vandal Savage, though just wouldn't be entirely fair. Savage may have been on his way back to 2166, but he still shared a couple of great scenes with Kendra in this episode. The murder of Rip Hunter's family was, of course, what had kick-started the entire series – but, seeing it played out once more, here (with Kendra desperately trying to convince Savage not to go through with it) lent the act an extra layer of inevitable tragedy. This sub-plot may have only amounted to a couple of brief scenes – but, they proved to be very effective ones.

With the team focused on crippling the Time Masters, before turning their attention back to Vandal Savage, this was clearly always going to be an action-heavy episode – and, with the team free to throw every ability at their disposal at the Time Master's forces, this episode was set to feature some especially impressive moments of action. Of course, it wasn't just the action, itself, that made these moments so effective – but, rather, it was the very genuine sense of drama and desperation we had with the team forced to go up against seemingly overwhelming odds.

All of this added up to a truly fantastic episode – one that is, quite possibly, the best of the season. It, also, all led us to some very tense and dramatic final moments which, assuming that the series doesn't stumble at the last moment, promises to bring the season to a close in a spectacular manner next week.

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