Thursday, October 27, 2016

REVIEW: 'Legends of Tomorrow' - Nate Learns How to Use His Newfound Powers in 'Shogun'

The CW's Legends of Tomorrow - Episode 2.03 "Shogun"

Nate is shocked to learn that he has powers but then accidentally lands himself and Ray in Feudal Japan. After Sara convinces Amaya that Mick isn't a murderer, they all agree to find Nate and help him master his powers in order to defend the Japanese village from the Shogun and his army of samurai warriors. Jax and Stein stay back to help fix the ship and find a secret compartment but decide not to tell the rest of the team what they learn.

At the end of last week's episode, it was clear this season of Legends of Tomorrow was going to be a superhero origin story for Nate Heywood. He was the reason why the team was able to come together again following their disastrous trip to 1942 New York. As a historian, he noticed discrepancies in the timeline that made no sense. And yet, there needed to be a bigger reason for him to stay on the team. Yes, it's important for someone on the ship to have a deep understanding and respect of history. With Rip missing in action, Nate does step up to that role effectively. But it wouldn't be a fun adventure if every week the team had to worry about Nate potentially dying due to his medical condition. That was introduced and resolved in last week's episode. And now, he has powers thanks to the enhancements Ray made to the special serum Eobard Thawne gave to the Nazis. It's a completely crazy story. But one that still works on a superhero show like Legends of Tomorrow. "Shogun" is primarily focused on Nate learning how to use his powers. But more importantly, it's just a fun and simple episode. Too often, this show is interested in being as big and complicated as possible. That hasn't produced great results so far. Dialing things back in "Shogun" really works. It's looking at things on a micro level while leaving the big plot developments for later in the season. That's a strategy that really helps this hour.

So, Nate's body can become steel now which makes him an effective shield and weapon. It's a cool visual. It's a startling sight. His powers are introduced by him needing to be the one to save the team from Amaya. She has snuck onto the ship to get vengeance for Rex's death. Rex wasn't an important character in last week's Justice Society of America episode. He was simply the leader of a cohesive and effective team. Amaya was an important part of that. And now, it's clear she'll remain important throughout the season by joining the rest of the legends to search for Rex's killer. Of course, the audience already knows that Eobard is reasonable. It's not a mystery to us. The episode doesn't linger too long on Amaya not trusting the team because they are time travelers. All it takes is a knock to the head by Nate and a conversation with Sara for her to see the error of her ways. It's ultimately just a small story in the episode. It's more important that Nate has these new abilities and doesn't quite know what to do with them. It's cool to him and the rest of the team. But it also opens a hole on the ship which sends him and Ray spiraling into the time stream.

Nate and Ray land in Feudal Japan. It's a location Nate is able to recognize right away. He is welcomed by a beautiful woman willing to heal his wounds and give him shelter. Meanwhile, Ray lands and is surrounded by a dozen samurai who are fascinated by his suit. Their stories hit some very predictable and formulaic beats. Nate is out of place in time and has a romantic spark with this woman he has just met whose life is danger because of an infamous shogun. Elsewhere, Ray's suit is stolen from him and used by the shogun to conquer the land which leaves Ray feeling more inadequate than ever before. These are some very familiar storytelling decisions. In Ray's case, it seems to be the only thing the show is interested in with his character arc. He feels like he isn't a hero when he's not in his suit. The Atom suit is what makes him special. He is crippled with self-doubt and then gets the motivation to rise up and use his other skills to save the day. It's a good story. But it has happened one too many times on this show to still be effective now. This better be the last time it's done - though that seems doubtful. Meanwhile, Nate's story is fresh largely because it's a new experience for him. He's a new character still being defined on the show. A superhero not knowing how to use his abilities isn't new to this particular genre. But it does give the hour a bit more of a focus that helps during the climatic beats of the overall plot.

It also makes it such a rousing moment when Nate is able to become Citizen Steel once more during the final battle with the shogun. It's an expected plot beat. It's not surprising whatsoever. But it's still an earned moment that shows that Nate is capable of being the hero in his own story. The shogun is powered by the suit. The only way out of the situation is to destroy it. It's interesting that the story focuses on what the suit's destruction means for Ray and not about killing the man actually in the suit. According to Nate, this is a famous shogun. Nate is motivated to stop him before he can marry his new woman friend because he has a history of killing his wives. She gets a moment where she stands up to the shogun as well. That's what fuels Nate's transformation into steel. But again, it's still all building to the destruction of the suit and the killing of the shogun. Will his death not alter the timeline in any specific way? The show really doesn't want the audience to question that. It just wants this to be a fun and simple action adventure story. It succeeds at being that. Ray learns that the man inside the suit is more important than the stability and power of the suit. That's a valuable lesson. And now, he'll have to build a new version. One that could possibly have a few new tricks available for use. But ultimately, this hour is about Nate officially becoming a member of the team and being a hero. He saves the village and the girl from destruction from the evil shogun. It's a broad story but still very effective.

Elsewhere, there just seems to be a nice level of fun going on throughout this episode. "Shogun" largely sets aside the overarching plot for the week. Neither Eobard Thawne nor Damien Darhk show up to give someone in the past technology that would dramatically alter the future. The shogun only gets his hands on the Atom suit because of Ray's mistakes. He designed it so anyone could use it. A flaw that he'll probably rectify with the new version. But also, it's just fun watching the legends stand united against a common enemy. They don't stand around discussing the moral implications of messing with the timeline like this. They need to get the Atom suit back. It's a mission they all understand and know why it's important. Sure, Nate has bigger motivations about saving this village from destruction. But this felt like an episode where the team worked together as a team. They complemented each other well in the field while still providing some nice and easy banter. Amaya fits in seamlessly while providing a history lesson of her powers. She and Sara prove to be an effective pairing. They can equally handle themselves with swords while still having a few tricks up their sleeves. Plus, it's great that Sara gets caught up in a battle with one of the shogun's men. The action sequences of this episode are different than previous iterations. Familiarity can get boring after awhile. So, it was great seeing Sara and Amaya fight with swords. It was amusing to watch Mick battle ninjas with his heat gun. And Nate's powers provide a new visual that should be fun to see incorporated in the battles moving forward.

Of course, this episode is clearly setting up some potential problems for the future. The teases of what's to come next for the legends really aren't that exciting or tense. Stein and Jax are largely sidelined for the hour. They are left behind on the ship to repair the damage caused by Nate's powers. They discover a secret room Rip didn't tell them about. In it, there is a message from Barry Allen in the future with a secret the rest of the team can't know about. It's annoying that Stein and Jax listen to the message but the audience doesn't hear it in full and that it will be kept from the rest of the team. It's just a lame way to tell a story. Keeping secrets is an important device. It just doesn't really work well on shows like Legends of Tomorrow. Meanwhile, "Shogun" ends with the Waverider jumping back into the time stream to find the next time aberration. It does so with the mission statement of finding Rex's killer and figuring out what happened to Rip. And yet, the audience already knows that Eobard killed Rex. So we are operating with information the characters don't have yet. If that is kept from them for too long, it could become really problematic. And lastly, Rip hasn't been missed all that much in the episodes since his disappearance. It's great that no one is around to lecture the legends about how reckless there are as a team and in preserving the timeline. His outrage defined the character and became really annoying. With him gone, Sara has stepped up as a leader. She has filled his void nicely. It's gotten to the point where the show no longer needs Rip. And yet, it still thinks it's a mystery worth devoting precious time into investigating and getting the audience to want answers.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Shogun" was written by Phil Klemmer & Grainne Godfree and directed by Kevin Tancharoen.
  • Amaya works well on the team. However, she's also just filling in the same role that Kendra had last season. A week ago she had playful banter with sexual undertones with Ray. This week she's a trained soldier fighting alongside Sara. Plus, she has powers that are connected to the animal kingdom. There's just too many similarities. Maisie Richardson-Sellers works better than Ciara Renée did. But she should be able to do her own thing as well.
  • That being said, Amaya and Mick's bickering dynamic throughout the hour was a lot of fun to watch. It became great once it involved ninjas and Mick's insistance on them being real. He encountered them but no one else did. But Amaya had the throwing star to prove it as well.
  • The use of subtitles was weirdly used this week. The show has established why everyone is speaking English. There's future technology that translates everything. But it again became an issue with Ray needing to swallow the chip once more while Nate was seemingly speaking it fluently the whole time.
  • Stein and Jax aren't really known for being great liars. Of course, that's largely been when they've tried keeping secrets from the other. They have that mental connection. So perhaps, they may be able to keep this one a bit longer. It's still not a good idea at all though.
  • Any guesses as to what Barry said in his message from the future? Also, it seems clear that he still hasn't learned his lesson about the perils of keeping secrets from the team.