Friday, May 13, 2016

DC's Legends of Tomorrow "Destiny" Review: Time Is on Our Side

So I was all set to dig into what was a very good episode of Legends of Tomorrow (and I still will!), but as I sat down to write the review, Deadline broke the news that Wentworth Miller, who plays Leonard Snart/Captain Cold, is indeed no longer a series regular on the show (given his sacrifice in this episode) and will instead be like a recurring regular on all the Greg Berlanti-produced DC Comics series, with his time spent mostly on Legends and The Flash for the first little bit.
As the Deadline article outlines, this deal was always in the cards as Miller wanted a short-term contract when he signed on for Legends (not a huge surprise to me), and Warner Bros. TV and Berlanti came back to him with this arrangement where he'd recur on multiple shows while still having flexibility to do other projects. As Berlanti explained to Deadline, this sort of contract is a first for them, and they hope to replicate it if it proves successful with other members of their casts (and probably Legends of Tomorrow's cast specifically since the producers are envisioning the show as a sort of anthology series).
I'm going to say a couple of things about this, and then I'll dive into the episode proper, so if you don't care, like I said above, just scroll to the image of Ray and Rip and that's where my thoughts on "Destiny" will begin.
So, the first thing is that this is pretty wild from a contract and TV perspective, but it makes a huge amount of sense, and it's clearly drawing inspiration from the the contract deals Marvel worked out with its actors. Those actors are normally contracted for a certain number of films, and then Marvel decides where to slot them in, with tweaks made as necessary. It's a good system for Marvel given the desire for a connected narrative universe they've built out for themselves. I'm not really sure this has happened before on TV (maybe the Netflix Marvel shows, but I think they all just got contracted for their shows and The Defenders.), but I half-expect NBC and Dick Wolf to steal the idea for the Chicago franchise instead of negotiating something like X-number of guest spots on one of the other shows, if they're even doing that. In any case, contracting actors in this way makes a huge amount of sense as the Arrowverse expands, and it allows for more interconnected narratives without having to worry about conflicting production schedules for a series regular on the show having to split his or her time between two shows in one week.
In a lot of ways, both this deal and Marvel's contracts reminds me of the old Hollywood studio system where actors were under contract to a studio for a number of years and more or less did the films they were told to. Here, Miller's deal isn't with any individual show but with Warner Bros. TV and its Berlanti-produced DC properties, and so he'll appear on Flash or Legends as needed, after the writers figure out how Leonard Snart survived dying at a point beyond time.
The second point is that this contract pretty much confirms what I said about Legendsfrom the get-go: The show was basically created to lock down actors (and characters) that the producers liked and wanted to keep on board for the franchise somehow so they could appear on the other shows without too many headaches. The time-travel aspect made that difficult this year, obviously, but if this contract works out well for all parties, it could easily be applied to others so that Firestorm can appear on Flash and Sara can pop back on Arrow more often. If it doesn't, then it's not a huge loss either way, and it was a good trial balloon for Warner Bros. TV and DC to try to fill out their TV properties. (That this was announced on the same day that Marvel's TV properties on ABC all took a massive blow with Agent Carter cancelled and Most Wanted passed on (again!) probably stung Jeph Loeb who heads up Marvel's TV side.)
Alright, actual review time instead of industry news and analysis (even though it was very relevant to the show given Cold's "death" and the overall franchise). Like I said at the top, "Destiny" was a very good episode for Legends and right when they needed it, too. I mentioned this in my Arrow review for this week, but the Arrowverse shows do really find their momentum as they hit the finale because there's more time to stall and move narrative pieces around the board.
To that end, "Destiny" revealed that the entire season had actually been nothing but the Time Masters maneuvering Rip and the crew to make sure history went the way they wanted it to so that Earth was ready for the impending Thanagarian (!!!) invasion with Vandal Savage as the world's savior. It was a rather nifty turn of events, even if it did also serve as a way for the show to give some extra weight to the Vandal-centric episodes, by far the worst parts in the season (something else "Destiny" proved since even though Vandal's got Kendra, no one really seemed to care until the very end of the episode). I admit that I'm also a sucker for these kinds of reveals because I like convoluted plans concocted by really powerful characters.
The main reason I liked it, however, was that it fed into the show's undercurrent of a battle against destiny, free will, and so on that had been running through the show from the start. It began with the basic premise of Rip struggling to kill Vandal on his own to prevent the death of Miranda and Jonas and continued with Rip's reveal that the people he recruited from 2016 had no significant impact on the timeline. That news only spurred them to actually change history by stopping Vandal so they'd become legends and change their own fates. It even complemented the Kendra/Ray romance in terms of what was and was not possible between them due to fate (and reincarnated lover bonds).
I'm not suggesting that it retroactively improved certain aspects of the show—goodness knows it did nothing to actually solve the Kendra/Ray tedium—but I do think that it improved the show's overall thematic arc as it demonstrated that Phil Klemmer and the rest of his team knew they needed some sort of a button on this idea beyond killing Vandal. So having the crew's actions from Rip all the way down manipulated and then to have them fight against that in this episode really meant more than if they had actually managed to stop Vandal from killing the Hunters since it affected all of them.
Beyond the more thematic elements, "Destiny" was also just a fun episode. Klemmer and Chris Fedak wrote it, and their respective sensibilities from Chuck and Klemmer's work on Veronica Mars were really on display here. Patter between all the characters was really on point this week instead of just relying on Miller and Caity Lotz having tons of chemistry to make it all work. Ray and Mick's scene in the cafeteria with the cupcakes? Meaningful, but also very funny. Even stuff we've seen before, like folks debating Ray's optimism, somehow felt a little fresher, maybe given the circumstances but also given that this was the first time in a while that it felt like the crew (and the cast) was really in sync with one another. The dual "Uh-oh" from Mick and Rip as Ray futzed with the Oculus doodad was a nice example of this.
Also helping matters was director Olatunde Osunsanmi, a first-timer for the franchise and hopefully not the last time, either, because he had a very solid visual approach. I loved all the long shots of hallways that he used in the Vanishing Point headquarters, pulling out and pushing in on focal points, like the walk to the cells or Mick in the induction chair. It granted these spaces a sizable amount of scope, even if they're cast in shadows to avoid extra set decorating. The Berlanti franchise has come to rely on a stable of directors (and for good reason), but as those of you who read my Arrowor Flash reviews know, I like when a little extra flair is given to an episode, and Osunsanmi's shot selection really resonated this week.
All in all, "Destiny" was probably the series's best episode, and even more than the other times I declared it so, I felt like Legends had finally figured itself out in terms of tone, writing, and style. It's a good sign for the finale and their second season. I do wish it hadn't taken them this long to smooth out its many, many wrinkles (and it still has some, poor Jax), but "Destiny" was fun without overplaying its hand (i.e., kaiju Ray). It likewise gave Cold a satisfying, if overly-explained (this show does love talking about itself), arc from villain to hero.
However, I will say that it didn't leave me all that interested in the finale so much as it had me anticipating what the show will be like once it's free of the Vandal Savage plot. I keep envisioning a looser, jauntier show that is like "Destiny" most of the season instead of just once or twice in a while, or just within a few scenes. Hopefully this trend continues into the fall or winter or whenever the CW is squeezing it into the schedule given the fact that they have a very full roster of shows now.

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