DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Episodes 1 and 2: “Pilot”

The two-part pilot for Legends of Tomorrow suffers from being overstuffed. Pilots are never the best episode of a television series. If they are, it means that the show never achieved its potential. Pilots are rarely fantastic television, because they’re written and produced before they’re bought. Once a network buys a pilot, they use it to create buzz so that advertisers buy airtime. This seems completely bizarre to me, because that process doesn’t happen for Australian television. Anyway, my point is that Pilots have a burden to bear in that they have to introduce the characters and premise of a show, which becomes more complicated if there’s an ensemble of 9 regular cast members (possibly 10, I’m not sure about Vandal Savage). There are a lot of problems with the Legends of Tomorrow pilot, but they can all be traced back to the fact that it’s just trying to do too much. Spoilers and all that are abound. This is your only warning.

When the pre-air reviews for Legends of Tomorrow were first published, I was pretty worried about the show. I’m behind on both The Flash and Arrow, but I knew that the current seasons of those shows have suffered, partly because they had to set up the Legends of Tomorrow pilot. At the same time, Legends of Tomorrow needs to stand on its own, which necessitates a certain amount of exposition. The pilot was in two parts, but it feels like some of the characters have gone on the emotional journey of an entire season (more on that later). I like a lot of the actors on this show, but given that there are so many characters, it just feels like the writers are burning through plot, and there’s no emotional connection to the characters, unless you’ve seen them on one of the other shows. I know a bit about Stein, Sara, Snart and his partner as well as a bit about Ray from the expanded DC Universe, but setting up the plot was more important.

Maybe this will work in the long run, but I have reservations about the plot (I’ve loved time travel ever since I read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in 1999). The stakes are pretty significant, in that the Legends are trying to save the world in 150 years from now, but I have no connection to them. Arthur Darvill saw his family murdered, but that’s literally all that we know about him, other than the fact that he went rogue and left the League of Time Masters. Over at The A.V. Club, Oliver Sava writes that Part 2 improves the pilot, but I found myself enjoying the first part more. Was it predictable that the professor guy would be the son of Hawkman and Hawkgirl? Sure, I guessed it before he said it, but it was interesting to see these two characters try and save their son, even though they didn’t remember him. It’s also more interesting that Arthur Darvill went rogue than if he had the sanction of his fellow Time Masters.

I described the second half of the pilot as “chaotic” on Twitter, as I was watching the fight at the illegal nuclear weapons auction, which was the first thing that happened in Part 2. Here is a list of some of the things that happened:

  • The Legends break into a black market nuclear weapons auction. The seller is Vandal Savage.
  • Vandal Savage doesn’t know who they are, Professor Stein gets cocky and their cover is blown.
  • A firefight ensues in the vicinity of a nuclear weapon (this was when I started live-tweeting because it seemed so ridiculous.)
  • Savage activates the bomb, Atom tries and fails to disarm it, so Firestorm takes it to a remote location to absorb its energy. I’d completely forgotten about the nuclear power of Firestorm, so that would be a lot to take in for people who hadn’t seen The Flash.

It was a lot, guys. Then of course they fucked up because a part of Ray’s suit got in the hands of Savage. Also there’s something about the dagger that can be used to kill Savage, and the Hawks have a lead on where it is. So Ray, Snart and Dominic Purcell go to steal the dagger while Sara, Stein and his new other half go to meet Stein’s younger self because he’s invented a device that detects alpha particles. There’s a subplot about the possibility of Stein never meeting his wife because they disrupted the timeline, but the stakes don’t feel real. When we first met Firestorm in The Flash, Martin Stein was stuck inside Robbie Amell’s body and couldn’t get out. All he wants is to return to his wife. In Legends of Tomorrow, Martin Stein leaves his wife (his one regret when he was stuck in another body on The Flash is that he didn’t spend more time with his wife) without seeming to discuss it with her. There’s no character consistency in this story because there’s no time for it. Victor Garber sells it because he’s a great actor, but the stakes don’t feel real the way they did in The Flash. The other thing about Stein that doesn’t quite work is that he seems to have forgotten everything he knew about time travel a year ago when he talked about it with Team Flash. Barry asked him if time travel is possible, Stein says yes, and then Barry went back in time. Stein’s a smart guy, and I know that the show is using him to explain the complexities of time travel, but it doesn’t quite work because that’s something he should already know.

There are character inconsistencies because this show is trying to do too much. The cast is big, and this show isn’t really about Martin or Sara or any of the legends other than the Hawks. Their battle with Savage has lasted four millennia, and it’s not going to end any time soon. It seems that I made an assumption that the Hawks were a couple in the first part of the pilot, but they’re not in their current incarnations, so the show didn’t do a very good job of setting up that relationship. Then, Hawkman tried to kill Savage with Hawkgirl’s dagger, but he won’t die unless she’s the one to weild it, so Hawkman dies. Finally Hawkgirl remembers how she felt about him 4000 years ago, and she needs to avenge her lover’s death. The only problem is that I don’t believe it. Arthur Darvill gives everyone the option to back out because of the death, but everyone agrees to do it in his memory. They’ve only known each other for a couple of days at most. There’s no reason that these people should feel compelled to avenge his death, but they do. It doesn’t help that just about every other character is more interesting than immortal beings and lovers who keep getting reincarnated throughout time, but I think that’s what the show cares about. I’ll watch a few more episodes to see if it improves. The Flash and Arrow weren’t perfect in the very beginning, so I’ll give it a chance.

Other thoughts:

  • For a split second in the opening I thought Vandal Savage was Tom Mison, so I’m intrigued by the possibility of a Legends of Tomorrow/Sleepy Hollow crossover that won’t happen outside the realms of fanfiction.
  • I’m not going to do weekly reviews. Oliver Sava is covering it over at The A.V. Club, and I know he loves comics, so it should be pretty good.
  • Even before I saw the first episode I was annoyed that Fox8 decided to fast-track this over The 100, which I’ll finally get to watch tomorrow (but more likely I’ll see it on the weekend).
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