Legends of Tomorrow 3×10: “Daddy Darhkest”, and Black Lightning 1×05: “And Then the Devil Brought the Plague: The Book of Green Light”
It’s a shorter than usual week in the Arrowverse, as The Flash, Supergirl, and Arrow are all on a brief hiatus. But we still have Black Lightning to talk about, as well as the return of Legends of Tomorrow, with our very special guest, Mr. John Constantine!
I’ll admit, I’ve only read a few Hellblazer comics, and only seen about three episodes of the NBC Constantine series. While I like the character well enough, I wasn’t hyped up for his guest appearance on Legends the way some people were.
Luckily, Legends delivered a rock solid mid-season premiere that integrated Constantine so smoothly into the ensemble, after a while I almost forgot he wasn’t a long time member of the team. Compare it to his guest spot on Arrow a couple seasons back, where his appearance was mostly just a bit of fanservice and a way for Team Arrow to magic their way into undoing a character’s death. That appearance also only came about as Season 4 of Arrow was trying to retool the show into dealing with more mystical adversaries, bringing it closer in line with Constantine’s own genre trappings.
By contrast, while Legends has never dealt with demons or Constantine’s particular brand of magic before, he can be given a major role in this episode without it ever feeling like his presence is warping the show into something it’s not. That’s one of the great strengths of Legends, that it’s such a mish-mash of disparate characters and genres, without a central lead that everything must revolve around, that a self-proclaimed warlock and exorcist can show up on the futuristic timeship, looking for help fighting a demon, and not only does it feel like a natural extension of the story, but it never feels like Constantine is more or less important than anyone else on the team.
And it was a good spotlight for characters all around, both regulars and guest stars, as the Legends get split up into different teams, each dealing with one of the season’s recurring villains. Well, except for Mick, who opts to sit out the episode and watch football instead, yet somehow still steals the show every moment he’s onscreen.
The plot kicks off with the revelation that the demon Constantine is trying to exorcise is our latest Big Bad, Mallus, followed by the revelation that the girl he’s possessing is the teenaged version of Nora Darhk, last seen as an adult helping her father, Damien, commit general time villainy on Mallus’s behalf. While the rest of the Legends are busy with other shenanigans, Zari and Ray decide to reach out to Nora in friendship. They see that, whatever she might become in the future, right now she’s a scared and traumatized girl who doesn’t want to let Mallus control her.
It’s an interesting pair of characters to do this story with. On the surface, Ray and Zari are opposites, one a sincere and upbeat goody-goody, the other a snarky and cynical rebel, yet this empathic approach makes perfect sense coming from both of them. Ray, the eternal optimist, would of course have faith in Nora’s ability to fight off the dark force controlling her. And Zari has shown herself to be more attuned to helping the people she meets here-and-now rather than fulfilling a broader mission, as seen when she helped Helen of Troy escape her fate. While she does bring up that befriending Nora now could possibly prevent her from becoming an enemy in the future, it seems more like she just saw a frightened girl who needed some comfort, and all the stuff about stopping Mallus’s agenda went on a backburner for her.
Also in play is that Nora is being held in an a asylum that’s only a couple steps shy of Arkham level creepiness, and Zari mentions having had her own bad experience being institutionalized. She doesn’t go into detail about it, but it’s an intriguing touch added to Zari’s dystopian-future backstory, and it allows her a chance to start bonding with Nora. But while Zari takes that first step, she’s self-aware enough to realize that Ray is probably better suited than her for getting someone in a positive state of mind, saying, “We need somewhere sunny and boring. Oh, that’s your jam, right?” And Ray, also in a moment of self-awareness, realizes, “That is my jam.”
Them taking Nora out for coffee is genuinely sweet, which makes her possession by Mallus (using every The Exorcist inspired trick in the book) all the more disturbing, and the moment when she fights Mallus off, only to have good ol’ daddy Damien appear to lure her away again, all the more heartbreaking. They really worked hard to build up sympathy for Nora this episode, and hopefully that will continue when her adult incarnation returns.
Another villain also got some added sympathy this episode. After Nate and Amaya capture Kuasa, we got a good old hero-and-villain-exchange-words-through-a-glass-cell scene. If you’ve watched the Vixen animated series, you know the tragic background that motivates Kuasa. If you haven’t, then she’s been a pretty flat antagonist on Legends up till now, but that gets rectified here in a big way.
Kuasa’s motives are pretty standard for this sort of time travel show: she wants to change the past and avert the greatest disaster in her life. In her case, that greatest disaster is everyone in her village being murdered, including her grandmother, Amaya. Tracy Ifeachor makes some amazing acting choices as Kuasa, switching between grief, resentment, determination, and lingering affection, with every bit of it feeling natural. When she blames Amaya for not using the power of the timeship to save their village from destruction, it’s hard not admit she has a point, and judging by Amaya’s reaction, she feels so, too. It feels earned when Amaya decides to let her go, promising the two of them can work something out going forward.
This makes the second major villain that this episode suggests the heroes may be able to reach and turn against their dark agenda. Vandal Savage and the Legion of Doom were all pretty committed and uncomplicated about their villainy. Other than with Mick, trying to redeem the bad guys instead of defeating them is a new approach for Legends, and has great potential to make this season’s supervillain teamup quite different from last year’s. Even Damien Darhk, for all his moustache twirling ways, could get some layers added to him if the show decides to explore how he feels about essentially sacrificing his daughter up to Mallus’s control.
Meanwhile, in the past: Sara, Constantine, and Earth-X Leo Snart get stranded in the year 1969 and have to deal with Mallus a little more directly, and he is not the sort of villain you redeem and build sympathy for. Turns out Sara’s little trip to Mallus’s weirdo-dimension in “Beebo the God of War” wasn’t just foreshadowing. A piece of Mallus is now inside Sara’s soul, so while they search for a way back to the present, she starts feeling his presence in the form of horror movie imagery and flashbacks to her own death. This is a great way to take what has, until now, been a generic big-scary-evil-guy-behind-all-the-other-scary-evil-guys and give him a more concrete sense of menace. The notion that Sara, even after the episode’s conclusion, is still vulnerable to Mallus’s possession, and her friends may have to turn their weapons on her, is a suitably disturbing turn of events.
This turn of events also serves as a pretext for some bonding between Sara and Constantine, as they discuss their respective dark pasts, their attempts to atone for it, and the strength to resist both their figurative and literal demons. And as a result of this bonding, they shag. Because that’s just how they roll. It’s a nice bit of comedy to break up an otherwise dark (by Legends standards, anyway) storyline.
Also delivering plenty of comedy is our boy Leo. He doesn’t actually do much this episode, which is weird since this was his final appearance on the show. The feeling seems to be that Snart (Earth-1 version) got such a great sendoff in Season 1, they don’t want to try and top it, hence why all Snart appearances since then have been careful to not actually undo his death. Instead, Snart’s Earth-X doppelganger is here mainly just to deliver funny lines and moments the way only Wentworth Miller can, the equivalent of a highlight reel reminding us why we loved this guy so much before he’s gone for good.
I suppose I should find something negative to point out about this episode, but I just can’t. Legends of Tomorrow is far from a perfect show, but right now, all I can feel is gosh-darn glad to have it back!
Meanwhile, this week’s Black Lightning makes it hard for me to find anything to say at all. Most of what I had to say about last week’s episode can also be applied to this one: copy, paste, done.
It’s amazing, looking back at the first couple episodes, how I was talking about what great work the writers and Cress Williams were doing with the character of Jefferson Pierce, how his daughters mostly just seemed there to give him something to worry about, and how I hoped they’d move past the should-I-be-Black-Lightning-or-shouldn’t-I? question quickly. But now I find that, with Jefferson’s doubts about Black Lightning resolved, his character is starting to feel a little generic, while it’s his daughter, Anissa, who’s really grabbing my attention.
This week Jefferson continues his investigation into the source of Green Light, and once again it’s a lot of beating people up for information without coming to an actual resolution or even a particularly big action scene. They try to inject some more drama by having Jefferson’s newly modified suit cause some sort of feedback that gives him headaches, makes him extra aggressive, and even causes him to collapse at one point. But how Jefferson’s powers interact with the suit Gambi built for him is so poorly defined at this point, I was left more confused than concerned. Of all the ways superheroing can be hazardous to Jefferson’s health, this seems an awfully inelegant route to go with it.
They’re most likely doing a slow burn here, both with Jefferson’s health problems and with the Green Light plot, but it’s a burn so slow, the fire’s in danger of going out. We do get a couple new developments, with Black Lightning (re-)establishing a Batman/Commissioner Gordon relationship with Detective Henderson, and him starting to suspect that Tobias Whale is back in town, reigniting the old thirst for vengeance, but it’s still not much. The show is built around Jefferson Pierce, but all the interesting stuff this episode comes from scenes he’s not in.
Anissa slowly developing into a superhero continues to be a highlight. Doing some online research to try to discover where her powers came from, she comes across a story about nine children in Freeland who displayed superhuman abilities than suddenly disappeared. It turns out her grandfather was about to publish a story about them shortly before his death, and a visit to an old colleague of his gives her all his old research for that article, while also warning her that the people who killed her grandfather are likely still watching and will come after her. Despite that, she follows her grandfather’s research to an old storage facility with a mysterious vial locked in a safe.
It may not sound like much, but given that it’s a B-plot, it’s amazing how much more progress Anissa makes advancing this storyline than Jefferson does with his. And she even finds time for some superhero costume hilarity, too! Giving her dramatic suiting-up music as she gets ready to go heroing, only to be foiled as her black hoody from last episode has been taken by Jennifer, and foiled again when her skintight Catwoman costume rips on her, is a thing of beauty. Really, everything Anissa does in trying to become a superhero is such a great mix of enthusiasm with realistic stumbling blocks (she can break open a safe with her bare hands, but still gets frightened by dead rats) . . . I kinda want her to be the star now, honestly.
The other Pierce daughter doesn’t fare so well, unfortunately. Jennifer has, yet again, the most boring plot of the episode, and one that doesn’t even seem like it’s building to something. It’s starting to feel like the writers don’t have any real plans for Jennifer, or at least none they’re willing to pull the trigger on right now. So, to justify her place in the show, each episode they choose a different thing teenagers get in trouble with their parents about, and have her do that. They’ve already done going to a nightclub, drinking, and having sex, so this episode they went with . . . *spins the wheel* . . . getting into a fight!
Seriously, writers, do something more interesting with Jennifer, or at least a little different, please.
There’s also a little C-plot where Tobias takes a break from his crime boss duties to track down and kill his abusive . . . father? Step-father? Their exact relationship isn’t clear (Tobias just calls him “Eldridge”), but at any rate it’s the guy who raised him and his sister, and never wasted an opportunity to hurt them emotionally or physically, coming down especially hard on Tobias for his albinism.
This plot is kind of in the middle. On the one hand, it’s clichéd as all hell. Villains with abusive parents are a dime a dozen, and said villains getting revenge on those parents now that they’re big and bad is almost as common. And Tobias Whale’s abusive parent is painted in the broadest possible strokes, getting across the fact of what he is as quickly as possible without bothering with much depth or nuance.
Still, there are little touches to this plot that work quite well. Tobias’s flashback to his abusive childhood is shown from his point-of-view, with us never seeing Tobias the boy, only Tobias the man reliving these events. And the way Tobias dispatches Eldridge, feigning forgiveness, luring him into a hug, only to break his back and leave him on the floor to die, slowly, is sort of wonderfully cruel. I don’t know if we really needed this mini-story, but it definitely had its moments.
Sadly, for these last couple episodes of Black Lightning, “it had its moments” is about all the praise I can give. Hopefully this is just a small slump, and as we approach the halfway point of the season, things will start picking up. Most shows take a bit to find their footing, but the first couple episodes of Black Lightning were strong enough I thought we might be able to skip these sorts of growing pains.
- Given that Mallus is voiced by John Noble of Fringe fame, when he taunted Constantine about Astra, I wanted someone to say, “Dammit, Walter, for the millionth time, her name is Astrid.”
- This episode of Legends implies that Constantine and Mari McCabe have met each other. I don’t know if that’s something that’ll come up in the CW Seed Constantine series, but it’s a little detail that makes this shared universe feel a little more lived in.
- Despite Sara becoming shag-buddies with Constantine this episode, we also get a couple scenes making the attraction between her and Agent Sharpe (“Or should I call her Ava?”) explicit. Leo has a great moment analyzing the “courtship signals” Ava was sending, and I always love when Gideon displays some personality, so her taking multiple opportunities to tease Sara over this was a delight.
- Mick may have spent most of his screentime watching TV, but he did get one moment where he actually assumed command of the Legends in Sara’s absence. That moment also gave us an absolute barrage of “Micknames”. “Haircut, take the New Girl, find Blondie, Fake Snart, and Trench Coat. Amaya, the med bay. Pretty, the library. Water Bitch, stays in the freezer.”
- I also love that Mick can’t tell John Constantine and Rip Hunter apart. “Skinny Brit in a trench coat, same thing.”
- I’ve complained about the lack of big action scenes lately in Black Lightning, but Jefferson learning how to use his lightning to fly was pretty darn cool.
- Another interesting scene was when Tobias went to Gambi for information on Black Lightning. We knew Gambi was hiding the truth about Tobias from Jefferson, but seeing that these two know each other, and that Gambi is part of something called ASA that Tobias has reason to fear, takes the intrigue up a whole ‘nother notch. It’s clear now there’s more to Gambi than just a ridiculously overqualified tailor.
- That scene also slips in a mention that Tobias has been given some sort of serum that keeps him from aging, which is a hell of a thing to casually mention in a series that, outside of the Pierce family, has barely touched on the existence of other paranormal stuff.
- I praised Anissa’s storyline a lot, but the fact that she can type “ASF” into a search engine, with no other qualifiers, and the first result that pops up is also the exact one she needs: that is some super-lazy convenience. You wouldn’t need much more time, just a little creative editing to make it seem like her search was a little more thorough than the cyber equivalent of putting names on a dart board.
- I do kinda love Anissa’s costume. It doesn’t look great, but it looks very much like what a real person trying to put together a superhero outfit would come up with.
- I don’t normally discuss trailers here, but the promo for next week’s Legends of Tomorrow has me pumped! The disco duds alone would be enough of a reason to get excited.
MVP of the Week: John Constantine.
If this was a test run for how well Constantine would work as a regular part of the Legends ensemble, consider that test passed with flying colors.
Question of the Week: In honor of Legends of Tomorrow‘s return, what places and time periods are you dying to see the Legends visit?