Wednesday, October 18, 2017

REVIEW: 'Legends of Tomorrow' - The Legends Make a Number of Stupid Mistakes at the Circus in 'Freakshow'

The CW's Legends of Tomorrow - Episode 3.02 "Freakshow"

The Legends find themselves in 1870 to fix the anachronism which happens to be at P.T. Barnum's fledgling circus. Nate and Ray accidentally free a saber toothed tiger, creating a bigger problem. P.T. is on the hunt to capture Nate and Ray to make his show even more exciting for the crowd.

Legends of Tomorrow survives or fails in its episodic adventures based on how wacky but believable its stories are. It's absolutely the most ridiculous show in the franchise. There are plenty of grounded moments to keep the storytelling fresh and emotional as well. The show has grown quite strong over the years. It's just fun to watch. But again, one's enjoyment of the show is entirely based on how willing you're able to go with all of the craziness. "Freakshow" is a perfectly fine and goofy episode of the show. It's nice to see a Titanic reunion between Victor Garber and Billy Zane even though the two don't really spend much time together. In fact, Zane is just so great to watch as P.T. Barnum. Sure, he's nothing more than a mustache-twirling villain in this story. But that's exactly the correct quality for this performance and story. And yet, this episode suffers because too much of the story happens because of how stupid the Legends can be. In the premiere, they adopted the motto that they make things worse before getting better. That's absolutely the case with this story. And yet, it seems like all of the members of this team are still new to their various positions when that couldn't possibly be the case. As such, certain plot moments happen out of convenience. The show wants to keep thing as dramatically intense and exciting as possible. Sometimes that just means needing the main characters to act irrationally. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever. But if the team grew and became more capable, then that would take so much of the fun out of this series. The show needs them to make things worse before time is restored. But there's a way to do that without making the team seem completely inept as well.

Of course, that's a huge focus for this season. The Time Bureau doesn't believe that the Legends should have the Waverider and be dealing with the anachronisms throughout time. They are the group that broke time in the first place by breaking the rules. And now, they aren't effective in the clean up at all even though they really want to be. They pick an easy adventure in the hopes that it will be a swift victory for them. The Time Bureau is this very efficient entity. And yet, the Legends are able to win back their ship because Rip believes they'll be useful in facing off with the villain yet to come. That's an ominous note. One that the team has a good laugh about near the end of the episode as soon as Sara learns that Rip and Sharpe are keeping information from them. Of course, it will ultimately be proven as an error for the team to disregard this threat. They are too cocky despite the various mistakes they make in this particular episode. The audience needs to believe that the Legends are skilled enough to be able to continue doing this job while inept enough to underestimate the villain they are facing. It's a tricky blend that gets a little annoying by the time this episode is over.

It's even more problematic once the audience analyzes the decisions made throughout this episode. It just makes no sense why most of these characters do what they do. It's all convenient for the plot to be as tense as possible. And so, Amaya leaves Nate without having an honest conversation with him about why she has to return to her normal time, Ray is allergic to the saber toothed tiger, Sara brings Amaya back on the ship without telling Nate first, and Nate gets drunk at the circus and shares too many details with P.T. None of this plotting is especially great. One would think Nate would have learned his lesson about making the anachronism worse by spending too much time interacting with the past. Julius Caesar changed history because of the book Nate left behind. And now, the severity of this new situation increases because Nate is blowing off steam about Amaya by getting a drink in town with Jax and Ray despite the Waverider having the capabilities to produce the same exact drink. It's a narrative decision that falls apart the more one picks at it. Of course, the Nate and Amaya romance needs to be at the forefront of this episode because they are the ones who bring the resolution to this story. It's just incredibly messy getting there.

And yet, Amaya's story is still quite effective. She proved to be a fantastic addition to the show last season. Yes, the romance with Nate was a forced dynamic to keep the show sexy. It felt a little tacked on in order to appeal to a certain type of viewer. But it now has dramatic weight to it. Nate feels upset about Amaya leaving him on his birthday without a single word. That's brutal and the show overly dramatizes it. But it's interesting to hear things from Amaya's perspective as well. The premiere ended on the tease of just how deadly she has become in 1942 protecting her African city. It showed her new powers. It didn't explain how she got them. It was just important to see the brutality on display. And now, Amaya is back on the team because Sara needs her help in wrangling the tiger. But Amaya is choosing not to use her totem. She feels trepidatious about using it and is keeping everyone at a distance. But she needs to use it in order to save the day after P.T. wants to manipulate the powers of the team for more success at his circus. And yet, the animal completely takes her over. She's no longer herself until Nate makes a desperate plea to her. That's a dangerous reveal that shows how important this romantic pairing is going to be moving forward. Amaya needs Nate in order to keep calm and figure out what's going on with her lately. She rejoins the team to figure this out because she doesn't want to put her village in any more danger.

P.T. Barnum is still a villain the Legends can handle pretty easily too. They just need to use their powers in a way that doesn't alert the community that anything could possibly be wrong. Of course, that's a bit of a stretch in this episode as well because Firestorm is still flying all over the place. P.T. is able to explain it as his grand performance. But it defies explanation for the time as well. And yet, it's still a neatly resolved story. P.T. got some success out of his manipulations. But time has been restored in this part of the timeline. Sharpe doesn't believe the team can handle this responsibility. Her fight with Sara proves that they are an equal match. It's entertaining to see how well choreographed that fight is. It works because of how taxing it becomes for both of them. As such, it's fun to see them take that break and also run for their lives once the tiger becomes its regular size once more. It's a connection that is important and amusing to see. But the show is still building to an ominous note with a more serious villain entering the narrative. That villain is Kuasa, who is recognizable to viewers of the Vixen animated series. But here, her introduction is appropriately tense and mysterious. She is brought back to life by a follower of Mallus. The show has provided no further explanation for who this new big bad is. That's a fascinating creative decision for this season because the show usually enjoys dealing with the broad villainy as soon as possible. Right now, Kuasa will take focus as a foe that may be complicated to deal with. But that will only be part of this story. That's exciting to think about.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Freakshow" was written by Keto Shimizu & Grainne Godfree and directed by Keith Tancharoen.
  • It's absolutely ridiculous that Nate, Ray and Jax are at the bar in the first place but for them to bring a phone with them and continue to use Upswipe is just too annoying and unbelievable. It makes it seem like this is all of their first adventure on a time machine. That's not true at all. But someone should have said something. Instead, they are all just encouraging it because they know Nate is going through a difficult time.
  • Rory is basically rendered useless throughout this entire episode because of his fear of clowns. Of course, he gets a moment of stupidity as well because he's the one who lets the tiger free on the Waverider. Him being there to help Stein once chaos erupts at the circus isn't enough to compensate for that fact though.
  • Amaya saw a news report about her granddaughter, Mari, fighting crime in Detroit. That motivated her to see Vixen in action. It was in doing so that she realized she needed to return to 1942. As Rip explains to her, she wasn't in 2017 long enough for time to set and Mari to be wiped from existence. Of course, that's very convenient as well.
  • Sharpe assigned an agent, Gary, to keep watch over the Legends. And yet, he is quickly spotted by Sara and held captive on the Waverider. All of the humor about him just being Gary, the average agent, is pretty amusing as well. He doesn't do well once he's captured. Plus, neither Sara nor Sharpe seem all that concerned about him either.
  • It's fascinating how the acolyte of Mallus has a hidden identity as well. That isn't all that necessary. Why should the person who resurrected Kuasa be a secret too? It's fine if the show wants to delay the big reveal with Mallus. But does everyone in that corner of the story need to be mysterious? It feels a little weird and a bit more serious than the majority of this episode.