Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Legends Of Tomorrow Reunite For "Aruba-Con."

The Good: Moments of character, Decent performances, Special effects
The Bad: Basic plot, Over-choreographed fight scenes, Very crowded field of characters
The Basics: Legends Of Tomorrow returns with "Aruba-Con," which quickly resolves the issues from the prior episode and sets the characters on their new, and very familiar, path.

Sometimes, a perfectly good season finale climaxes with a scene - intended to drive the audience back for the next season - that makes an absolute mess out of things. Such was the case with the second season finale of Legends Of Tomorrow, "Aruba" (reviewed here!). As the erratic season of Legends Of Tomorrow reached its first logical conclusion - destroying the mystic relic known as the Spear Of Destiny - "Aruba" seemed like it was headed in the sensible direction, which would have involved the Waverider crew undoing the plethora of parodoxes they had created. Instead, the final scene of "Aruba" found the Waverider in 2017 in a world that contained dinosaurs and future technology and while the assertion that the team may have "broken time" was funny-enough, it was yet another red flag to viewers that they were investing their time and attention in a show that was going to require a substantial amount of the season - if not the entire series - to be undone.

Enter the third season premiere, "Aruba-Con." "Aruba-Con" is saddled with an obvious burden. Legends Of Tomorrow exists in a shared television universe that was made utterly unrecognizable in the final scene of "Aruba," so the season premiere has to take the time to right the ship, so to speak. Doing that, making it make sense, and having it be entertaining is a Herculean task. And Legends Of Tomorrow takes the fast approach to reconciling the problems it created in "Aruba" before making a new load of problems and refocusing on the critical characters of the series.

Opening in Los Angeles, 2017, the Waverider crew finds itself in the midst of a number of anachronisms - Big Ben and dinosaurs - in the streets. Rip Hunter suddenly appears via a portal to set things right. Hunter is now the head of the Time Bureau, which is heading off temporal problems before they happen. Six months later, Sara Lance is working at a department store, Ray Palmer is stuck working on a dating app, Steel is being upstaged in Central City and Mick Rory is hanging out in Aruba. Rory is approached by Julius Caesar, so he calls Sara Lance for help. Deeply unhappy, Heywood, Lance, and Palmer visit the Time Bureau in Star City where they are menaced by the temporal security force led by Ava Sharpe.

Lance pitches to Hunter that they be given back the Waverider, but the Waverider is quickly revealed to have been retasked as a simulator for new agents. When the Time Bureau agents attempt to apprehend Julius Caesar in Aruba, they botch the mission. Sara Lance encourages the others to steal the Waverider with them and recover Caesar. Reuniting the Legends, Lance captures Caesar. When Lance takes the Waverider back to 49 B.C., Heywood uses a Roman History book to check that they have rectified their problems. In the process, Caesar steals the book and radically alters history.

"Aruba-Con" is funny and manages to focus on the characters in a way that makes the viewer believe they were right to emotionally invest in Legends Of Tomorrow. While there are moments that are deeply satirical - Ray Palmer distracts a beach full of moronic frat boys using a dating app - there are moments where Legends Of Tomorrow treads into the territory it is mocking. Ray Palmer and Nate Heywood have "bro moments" that are frustratingly stupid to an adult audience. Heywood's obsession with taking a selfie with Caesar introduces an annoying Back To The Future conceit to Legends Of Tomorrow. The juvenile relationship between Palmer and Heywood oscillates between being distracting and uncharacteristically young.

Redefining Rip Hunter as something of an antagonist to Sara Lance and her crew is an interesting twist on the character and the dynamic for Legends Of Tomorrow. There are moments when "Aruba-Con" starts to feel like a half-assed episode of Doctor Who, but the ensemble nature of the show helps to keep those moments to a minimum. The idea of the Time Bureau is instantly undermined by the fact that they do not appear to be as competent as they initially appear. Unless it later comes out that Hunter actually introduced the temporal anomaly of Julius Caesar into Mick Rory's Aruba vacation, the slip up there is deeply troubling for creating the concept of the Time Bureau (which seems a lot like Doctor Who's U.N.I.T.).

One of the issues with leaping back into Legends Of Tomorrow is that the show is, usually, an ensemble piece. "Aruba-Con" is no exception to that trend, but it makes it hard to develop any of the characters in a single season premiere like this one. Sara Lance is the consistent protagonist and leader in Legends Of Tomorrow and "Aruba-Con" treats her as just another member of the ensemble. Lance comes together with Heywood and Palmer in a way that does not make her a very compelling or firm leader. Instead, "Aruba-Con" winds the characters back together mostly because the team members seem to be bored and unsatisfied in their new, post-Waverider lives.

Among the most problematic aspects of the usage of the full ensemble in "Aruba-Con" is bringing Dr. Stein and Jax back to the Waverider. While Stein's ultimate conclusion about his life on the Waverider is compelling and a smart use of empathy for his other half, "Aruba-Con" frustratingly glosses over one of the biggest problems persisting from the prior season of the show. Dr. Stein suddenly had a daughter as a result of his temporal meddling and "Aruba-Con" shows him very happy with his now-pregnant daughter. The thing is, Stein's meddling that resulted in his daughter appearing was the result of him telling his younger self to prioritize his wife more. "Aruba-Con" pays lip service to Stein's wife, which is distracting and irksome. Stein is consumed with his instantaneous daughter and whether his wife is even alive or dead in the new timeline remains completely unclear.

Heywood is given a brief chance to express his sense of loss over Amaya Jiwe having left him to return to her village in the past to save it from its historic attack. How Heywood expresses his loss is disappointing and it seems like if Jiwe wanted to go back to save her village, Heywood would have leapt at the chance to go with her. Jiwe's village being destroyed is a somewhat historical necessity for making sure Jiwe's granddaughter ends up in our time in the proper place and time; Heywood seems like he would actually understand the value of surgical precision in temporal manipulations. As a result, how he does not simply let Jiwe go back and extract her from the military assault that threatens her village right before her death is not satisfactorily explored in "Aruba-Con." Instead, Heywood has loss, but then the episode goes for high five moments with him and Palmer.

In a similar fashion, by the time the fights in "Aruba-Con" break out, they are familiar, choreographed and feel forced . . . like "this is the obligatory way for this show to resolve conflicts" as opposed to an organic development in the plot.

Ultimately, "Aruba-Con" seeds the idea that there is a threat coming that the Time Bureau knows about that might require the unorthodox methods of the Legends, but is an otherwise average return to Legends Of Tomorrow.

For other DC Television Universe season premieres, please visit my reviews of:
"Out Of Time" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"The Flash Reborn" - The Flash
"Girl Of Steel" - Supergirl


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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