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Due to The Flash’s preoccupation with setting up Legends of Tomorrow, I expected a lot more from the first half of The Flash/Arrow crossover event. After all, “The Fury of Firestorm” introduced viewers to Martin Stein’s new partner while still being a solid episode. And the show was clearly biding its time in the last episode before Thanksgiving (ostensibly to get to the good stuff this week). With “Legends of Today,” however, while we got some significant (if odd) improvements to characterization, some questionable actions, boring new characters, and a strange tone undercut what should have been a really impressive episode.
I’ve mentioned this before, but the underwhelming debut of two future cast members on Legends of Tomorrow makes it seem important to say again. The Flash needs to figure out how to make new characters feel right from the get-go. In some cases, introduced characters have suffered because there’s really not much to them to begin with (*cough* Jay). But in others, the writers needed time to figure out their place in the world. Luckily, Savage will probably belong to the latter camp, but he wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I wanted him to be in his first episode. With him appearing as a stowaway on a random boat heading to Central City, I thought the show was trying to enhance the mystery around him, making him more myth than man. As someone familiar with the character, I appreciated what I saw as a way to make his immortality mean something beyond “he has lived for a while,” in addition to a level of storytelling I didn’t think the show was capable of. However, it was not meant to be. There were definitely attempts to make him seem grand and imposing (through him escaping handcuffs, revealing he taught Houdini, and killing everyone at the dock), but they always felt a little obvious. Like, we get it, he’s old enough to know a famous historical figure. And not only that, he trained him (!). More than anything, I simply wasn’t convinced by Casper Crump’s performance. In the scene at the docks, he seemed like a pretty serviceable villain (of the week…), but when he faced Barry and Ollie with the Staff of Horus in hand, he sounded like he was approaching old geezer territory. On top of this, he didn’t seem like much of a threat until he acquired the Staff, which wasn’t helped by Barry considering Savage someone “mystical” or magical without being given any indication that he was either of those things. Dare I say it, I think Zoom is a better villain.
More so than Savage, Carter Hall was rather poorly characterized. And by that, I mean his characterization was almost non-existent. Some of this can of course be attributed to his lack of screen time and the story’s structure, but his first interaction with Kendra Saunders, the woman he supposedly loves, felt incredibly wooden and distant. This made his retelling of their origin story rather dull, which was exacerbated by the lack of an attempt to make it interesting to those who knew it already. Unlike Savage, he improved by the time the credits rolled, and it has to be said that the show can write characters well when that’s the point of episode. But why wouldn’t more effort be put into establishing why the audience should care about these potentially long-running characters? The Flash is also pretty guilty of underwriting its characters in the first half of an episode to add stakes to the second half, so one can only hope the same applies to the two-part crossover format.
The episode did manage to give characterization to someone who has been getting the short end of the stick on Arrow this season: Thea Queen. Though we still got an obligatory “almost killed someone” moment that didn’t even seem related to her blood lust, we actually got to see her as Ollie’s little sister. Not that her having a permanent case of teen angst isn’t little sister behavior, but when Flash comes and rescues Ollie, Thea, and Diggle, she gets just a bit star struck. “It’s the Flash,” she says, looking at Ollie. “Did I know we knew the Flash? We know the Flash, okay. I didn’t know we knew the Flash.” Perhaps it was a simple comedic beat in the writer’s head, but it’s reassuring to know that Thea can have a personality outside of her wanting to avoid her brother’s judgement.
Damien Darhk experienced a similar treatment, although his characterization wasn’t necessarily consistent with his previous appearances on Arrow. There just seemed to be more joy and humor to the way he conducted his evil enterprise – “They could’ve at least tried to hide this chemical bomb. Serves them right, it’s getting stolen and used against them” – which I thought was a lot more interesting to watch.
There were a number of moments in “Legends of Today” where characters were visibly hanging back so as not to interfere with whatever story beat had been scripted. The crew of the S.S. Tithonus let Vandal shove their Captain to the ground, indirectly get their shipmate shot, and put on his coat full of knives before they show any sign of wanting to move away. Similarly, instead of participating in the fight between Oliver and Vandal Savage, Barry looks off to the side and does nothing. Also, why would you first arm your friend with his bow and arrow instead of giving Vandal a super-speed punch to the face? An important question.
A little thing that bugged me about the episode was how quick everyone was to reveal their secret identities. To the episode’s credit, it was always acknowledged in passing or to comedic effect, and I like that it means everyone’s kind of on the same page. At the same time, it struck me as incredibly stupid, for three reasons. One, Barry’s secret is not Cisco’s to tell. Two, the winged man who fought both Flash and Green Arrow didn’t exactly prove his trustworthiness before they revealed their identities. And three, Patty still doesn’t know. In good-bad news, I predict she’ll learn Barry’s secret in the next episode, but her shooting Harry was such an unnecessary consequence of being kept out of the loop. I’m sure there’s not going to be a very good reason for them taking so long to let her in on Barry’s secret, and I’m sure the same could be said for Joe dismissing Patty like a douche. But the show could prove me wrong… So, next episode. Gauntlet thrown.
My final thought on the episode was that its tone felt slightly off the entire time, simultaneously sitcom-y and confused. Malcolm Merlyn and the League of Assassin’s appeared for the strange dual purpose of comic relief and exposition, which made me think of a creepy old man who occasionally comes down from the attic to remind everyone else he’s still alive. Additionally, quick scene changes to get to everything else the episode had in store prevented funny moments from completely landing, which contributed to a strange feeling of wrongness. Not necessarily bad, but not very good either.
“Legends of Today” really didn’t do much for me. Staging was obvious, new characters felt wrong, and already-tired storylines were further prolonged. Little bits of fresh characterization for Thea and Damien Darhk were the episode’s strong points, but that’s sad to say when this was not only a component of The Flash–Arrow’s big crossover event, but half of a storyline that directly sets up a huge spinoff team up series. With the tension of the episode fizzling out after their confrontation with Vandal Savage, and Oliver’s potential child making an appearance because his mother just loves Jitters, there wasn’t even the promise of Arrow‘s episode being much better than this one. In any case, my next last hope will be the appearance of Wally West in “Running to Stand Still.” Then again, he is a new character…
All images via ComicBook.com.