Legends of Tomorrow 5×14: “Swan Thong” review
Well, here it is folks. End of the line. With this, the Season 5 finale of Legends of Tomorrow, the Arrowverse is officially done for the rest of 2020. New episodes of The Flash, Supergirl, Batwoman, and all the rest won’t be coming out till January of next year at the earliest.
It’s been a hell of a season. We got to see Batwoman make its debut and Arrow make its farewell. We got the largest crossover ever in Crisis on Infinite Earths. And we’ve seen all our shows introducing new villains, new heroes, and new paths for them all to go down. It’s disheartening to think we won’t get to see any of them in action again for another seven months. But, I suppose if that’s the biggest challenge in our lives right now, we should consider ourselves lucky!
Well, we may not want to see the end come, but there’s no sense beating around the bush. Let’s go ahead and jump into this, the last of the Arrowverse reviews in this, the year of Our Lord Beebo, 2020.
This episode was inevitably going to be a bit of a letdown. Last week’s “The One Where We’re Trapped on TV” was one of the best episodes Legends of Tomorrow has ever done, delivering hilarious gags, heartswelling drama, and loads of inventive visuals. Expecting the following episode to match that level of excellence? That’s not a fair burden to place on it. Still, there are a few factors that make “Swan Thong” fall short of what we’ve come to expect from Legends’s showstopping finales.
First is the sheer amount of plot this episode needs to grind through. Consider that the Loom of Fate is destroyed and “Loomworld” returned to normal about ten minutes in, and the episode then has to introduce a brand new Fate-controlled reality, and have the Legends come up with an all new plan to save the day. And that bit of world-saving has to be resolved in time to give both Zari 1.0 and Charlie fitting goodbyes as they leave the team. And in the middle of all that, they’ve gotta give some payoff to the Mick and Lita storyline, have both Astra and Charlie hash out their issues with Lachesis, and deliver the sort of huge, deeply silly spectacle that Legends finales have become known for.
The writers have stated that the initial cut of this episode ran about 17 minutes too long, with what we saw on our screens being a heavily cut down version. And watching the ep, you can tell. Partly its in little hiccups in transitions, like how Mona and Gary disappear during the third act without explanation. But it’s also evident in how some dramatic moments don’t get quite enough buildup or time to play out. Zari’s goodbye works wonderfully, but Lita saying how much she loves her dad would hit harder if we’d been given some idea of what they were doing during their missing four months. And we don’t see enough of Charlie and Astra interacting with Lachesis for their big confrontations to have all the emotional weight they demand.
Of course, that ties into the second problem. This finale is built around Lachesis as the master villain, one with deep, personal ties to two of our main characters. Trouble is, she hasn’t been much of a presence in the season till now. She appeared in six episodes prior to the finale, and in half of those she was only around for a single scene. For most of the Legends, the showdown in the Hall of Villains is the first time they’ve even met the season’s Big Bad. Hell, Charlie confronting and forgiving Lachesis is the finale’s climax, and they’ve only had one scene together before now … and that was the ending to “I Am Legends”, where each only got a single line of dialogue.
Now, this sort of minimal approach can work for a villain like Mallus, who’s meant to be a generic force of evil spurring others into action, and only appears in the flesh for the final battle. But for Lachesis, who we’re supposed to buy as a brilliant manipulator even when stripped of her Fate powers, and who this episode tries to give some sympathy and complexity? It doesn’t quite work. Once the Loom’s gone, there’s little sense of menace left to her. And her maternal relationship to Astra and sisterly relationship to Charlie have been so underdeveloped, her confrontations with them aren’t powerful enough to serve as the emotional climax of the season.
Which brings us to the third problem: “Swan Thong” isn’t the emotional climax of the season. It’s where the plot of the season is resolved, and there’s some emotion inherent in that. But everything this episode is trying to say about the Legends accepting free will, with all the pain and messiness it brings, and turning their backs on a Fate controlled “utopia”? All that was done last episode, to much greater effect.
“The One Where We’re Trapped on TV” was where the season’s themes and most of its character arcs reached their climax, with inspiring speeches, noble self-sacrifices, dramatic statements of purpose, and our heroes discovering profound truths about themselves. That ep did all of that masterfully … but it did it without saving the world, beating the bad guys, or progressing the plot more than a few notches. So it fell to “Swan Thong” to do the lion’s share of wrapping up a gaggle of plot threads, leaving it little time to carve out its own emotional and thematic highpoints, instead mostly just giving us a reprise of the previous ep’s big moments.
If you’ve read the last 750 words, you might conclude that I didn’t much care for “Swan Thong”, but that’s not the case. This is still a wildly fun episode of Legends of Tomorrow; the punk rock cover of “Welcome to My Cul-De-Sac, Friends” alone is enough to make this a must-see. Had this episode come at an earlier point in the season, I’d probably be raving about how it moved through plot at such a dizzying pace and threw so many great set pieces at us, with only a few niggling complaints here and there. It’s just, rightly or wrongly, being the season finale and the conclusion to the story arc puts expectations on this episode, to not simply be a fun way to spend an hour, but to be a rousing conclusion to storylines we’ve been immersed in since January.
Instead, it has a lot of its thunder stolen by the episode before it, and is tasked with building an enthralling climax out of the dozen-or-so plot threads and the underdeveloped villain it was handed. Under those conditions, it just can’t reach the same highs as “Hey, World” or “The Good, the Bad, and the Cuddly” (I’ll need to rewatch “Aruba” and “Legendary” before declaring how those stack up). But if the Season 5 DVD set includes the original, extended cut of this episode? You can bet I’ll be scooping that up.
- In some ways, how this season ended reminds me of what Buffy the Vampire Slayer did in its Fourth Season. Of the last two episodes, one is mostly plot and action, beating the Big Bad and bringing the season’s arc to a close, with only a little character stuff sprinkled in. The other episode is an experimental, format-breaking story focused on exploring our characters by trapping them in bizarre realities. It’s just, in Buffy, the plot heavy ep was the penultimate episode, getting the save-the-world stuff out of the way, so the finale could be a character focused epilogue, while with this season of Legends, that’s reversed.
- There’s a nice symmetry on how (if you don’t count Crisis) this season begins with the Legends being celebrated heroes and ends with them being reviled villains, and in both cases the Legends have to convince the public that they’re wrong.
- Also nice (though sad) symmetry is how the season begins and ends with Charlie making a spontaneous decision to leave the ship, though at least this time she gives everyone a group goodbye hug first (and even Astra joins in!) I hope that some future episode can get Maisie Richardson Sellers back for a guest spot, if only because I still want a scene where Charlie meets Amaya.
- It was great seeing Courtney Ford back as Marie Antoinette. During the big brawl, she manages to come off as both the most deranged yet also most pathetic of the Encores.
- Speaking of that fight, seeing Ava beat up Caligula with shakeweights while an animatronic sings “The Thong Song” is just *chef’s kiss*.
- The “Hall of Bad Ideas” really reminded me of the “Hall of Low-Grade Crappiness” from The Good Place. There are some great screencap-them-or-you’ll-miss-it descriptions beneath the items of display. The description of spring shoes reads: “Also known as ‘Bone Breakers’ or ‘Stupid on your Feet’, these strap-ons of death would send uncoordinated children rocketing towards personal injury at random and chaotic angles. Not surprisingly, the sadist who invented them never used them.”
- I wonder which happened first in-universe: Lachesis launching her plan to control humanity via a smart device, or Leviathan launching their own plan to control humanity via a smart device over on Supergirl. It’s amusing to think that, even if the heroes weren’t around, most villains with take-over-the-world ambitions would still fail, because they’re all competing with each other.
- So it looks like our hook for next season will be Sara getting abducted by aliens. Either that, or the giant sky beams finally got tired of superhero stories abusing them to hell and back, and this is their revenge.
MVP of the Week: Zari Tomaz
This may not be the last we see of her (she’s always just a drug-fueled totem quest away) but these last two episodes have done such a fantastic job reminding us why we loved her, it’s painful to see her leave us again. While I complained about how rushed the plot was, I have to commend the story choices that have allowed Zari to get the proper goodbye, and for her sacrifice to get the proper recognition that her sudden disappearance in Season 4 didn’t have time for. You’re among the best of all the Legends, Z … even if you do have that weird voice.
Question of the Week: Which show do you feel had the best season (or, in Arrow’s case, series) finale?