Monday, April 9, 2018

REVIEW: 'Legends of Tomorrow' - The Legends Call on Several Allies to Help Defeat Mallus in 'The Good, the Bad and the Cuddly'

The CW's Legends of Tomorrow - Episode 3.18 "The Good, the Bad and the Cuddly"

The Legends plan to vanquish Mallus by using the totems doesn't go as planned, forcing Rip to improvise. The team finds itself regrouping in the Wild West where they run into their old pal Jonah Hex. Sara leaves Ray in charge of watching Damien Darhk, while she comes up with a new plan. Amaya is determined to find a way to use the totems to destroy Mallus.

It still feels so insane to refer to Legends of Tomorrow as one of the best superhero shows currently on television. And yet, that's exactly what it is. It's only awkward because of how awful and dumb that first season was. The show has spent the last two seasons growing. It has become more confident with its vision of a light-hearted superhero show where the characters have fun while traveling through time. It's a premise that demands humor and self-aware moments. This season really pushed things to the extreme in terms of the humor. And yet, most of those risks ultimately paid off. There were so many wonderful recurring bits throughout this season. It was the show recognizing that it can still have dramatic weight in the season-long story while also giving all of its characters a sense of humor that allow them to acknowledge the conventions they are playing into in this particular genre. "The Good, the Bad and the Cuddly" is a very cinematic finale with a final battle that weighs almost exclusively on CGI creatures fighting each other. That's a formula for disaster in so many ways. That approach has ruined a number of climatic moments over on DC's film slate. But here, it's a final sequence that leaves the audience absolutely delighted by the actual events and how well executed the season long teases were in building to that moment. Yes, it can be crazy to see a giant Beebo facing off with Mallus in his full winged-demon form. But that's the big outcome of this season. It's climatic in such a rewarding way that also plays things exactly to the heart of the series. In a word, it was absolutely perfect.

Of course, there are still some awkward bits in building to that final battle. This finale features two significant deaths: Rip and Damien Darhk. Both of them feel a little rushed and ham-fisted in order to move the plot along for the final moments. In the beginning, the Legends are unable to defeat Mallus despite using all six totems against him. They simply don't know how to use their powers to kill the demon. And so, they need to make a getaway in the Waverider. Rip affords them that time by taking the time drive and causing an explosion in time that can weaken Mallus. It's a moment of great sacrifice. He's doing it because he's resolved to see his family again. He is confident in the Legends' ability to defeat this foe. He is more than willing to play his part in it. Of course, the audience just has to assume that he dies from this blast. Gideon mentions that the odds of success are low. But there is still a chance that Rip could return in some form or another in the future. He's no longer a necessary character. But he's still a recurring face who can pop up from time to time. Meanwhile, Damien decides to replace Nora as the human vessel that Mallus breaks free out of. He does that through Ray taking him back in time to the moment where Nora went through that transformation. It's again the show risking the entire timeline by going back to events where the characters already existed in their current form. But there are no complications from that this time around. That was the major twist of the second season finale that couldn't be repeated here - even though it features Damien once more. Instead, it's just a moment that finds some redemption in the villain because he's willing to make this sacrifice knowing that he's already a monster. He has accepted that he no longer wants the same fate for Nora. That's tragic while still seeming like a plot point the finale needs to hit as well.

And so, the Waverider decides to hide out from Mallus in Salvation, North Dakota. Sara believes Mallus won't be able to find them in this temporal blindspot. It also gives the Legends the opportunity to reunite with Jonah Hex. Before this season, he was the only character from a specific period of time who was always welcome to return for more adventures with the Legends. He was basically the only Season 1 creation that was actually entertaining. And here, it's a lot of fun to see him and Zari flirting. They come from such wildly different times. She's from the future and he lives in the past as the sheriff of this town in the wild, wild west. And yet, there is an immediate spark between the two. Nothing ultimately happens between them. But it is a dynamic that should definitely be explored in the future at some point. His inclusion here also makes this finale feel like a strong culmination to the story of the season and all of the adventures that the Legends went on while fixing anachronisms. This episode brings back so many familiar faces. Mallus is weakened but is able to call together an army of villains to serve him - including Julius Caesar, Blackbeard and Leif Erikson's sister. They have assembled an army of Romans, pirates and vikings to attack the Legends. In turn, the Legends are able to call upon their own allies. In addition to Jonah Hex, it includes Helen of Troy (who has trained with the warriors from Themyscira), Kuasa (who comes from a new future where she and Mari share the spirit totem and an identity as Vixen), Ava (who needs confirmation from Sara that the love they have is real and genuine despite the seriousness of pending battle) and Jax (who comes from five years in the future where he has a wife and baby).

It's so much fun seeing these various characters interact with one another in this specific setting. Jonah continues to be impressed by all of these powerful and skilled women around him. Blackbeard is still a coward when it comes to facing any actual consequences. The vikings are still in love with the idea of Beebo being the one true god. All of these are various threads that were introduced over the course of the season and pay off well here. But the actual story focuses on the Legends needing to feel worthy of carrying the totems and using them to defeat Mallus. Sara thinks it would just be easy to go throughout history to collect the people who know how to wield the totems and were already chosen for this responsibility. But instead, Amaya is able to give a rousing speech about the Legends actually deserving this power and using it for good to defeat the ultimate evil. They need to use the six totems in sync to create a being that can kill Mallus. Their first attempt at this doesn't go according to plan. Instead, they create a despicable creature who couldn't possibly do anything in battle. But it's through remaining focused on the mission and understanding that this really is their responsibility that they are ultimately able to succeed. Of course, it's also hilarious that just because Nate happens to be thinking about Beebo that that is what the six Legends become in this fight against Mallus. It's an absolutely ridiculous and insane twist. But that's the precise nature of this show. It's perfectly fine having a big, blue and furry creature burst out of a tavern in the Wild West to do battle with a vicious demon.

It's also so apparent that the show saved a lot of its CGI budget for this big climatic battle between Beebo and Mallus. It's a fight that drags out for a little while too. It's not a sequence that is defined by a lot of smash cuts that show just how fast moving and vicious the two fighters actually are. Instead, it's frequently a wide shot where the camera shows the two opponents readying their attacks and then carrying them out in grand fashion. There are even moments of slow motion to really make it clear that the kicks and body slams are special and deserve to be savored for all of the crazy ridiculousness. And of course, the Legends ultimately emerge victorious in this battle. They defeat Mallus simply by grabbing ahold of him and slamming him into the ground after a free fall from thousands of feet up in the air. It's such an impressive ending to this battle and the season-long story. Now, the audience will still have to debate on whether Mallus was an effective villain for the third season overall. He was aided greatly by a terrific vocal performance by John Noble. But the CGI nature of his true form limited the amount of screentime he could actually be on the screen. As such, it was mostly him speaking through other characters. That quality still extends through the battle leading into the final face off between Mallus and Beebo. Mallus uses the vikings, pirates and Romans to fight the Legends for him. He is able to control these villains so easily. It's mostly just convenient so the show can save money. Meanwhile, Mallus' grand motivation as a villain was vague world domination with the sole explanation being that he is a demon. That wasn't great. But in the end, who really cares? It's just so easy to laugh along with the story the moment Beebo comes crashing out of that tavern.

In the aftermath of this battle, the totems are collected up and handed over to Kuasa who will serve as their new protector. That's probably for the best. It's more important for the characters to hold onto their signature powers instead of being forever changed by these totems. They each get their moments to shine as themselves during the battle with the army of soldiers. They only use the totems collectively in the end. This is also followed by Amaya choosing to return to her time to fulfill her destiny. She will always cherish her time with the Legends. She will always view them as her family. It's also important that she chooses to keep these memories for now. She doesn't want her mind wiped. She has a destiny she still needs to fulfill. She has to say goodbye to Nate. But it's a moment both have found peace and acceptance with as well. Meanwhile, the rest of the Legends are able to finally relax after saving the world in Aruba just like Mick has always wanted. He didn't want to be surrounded by this team. But it's a victory that they deserve to celebrate and relax as well. It's then that the show teases what the story for next season will be. They are surprised first by Gary and then by Constantine. They arrive to point out that by freeing Mallus from his prison they also allowed other demons to enter this world. As such, the Legends will become demon hunters across time next season. That's very promising. I can't wait to see how everyone will react to that grand story.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Good, the Bad and the Cuddly" was written by Marc Guggenheim & Phil Klemmer and directed by Dermott Downs.
  • There's a really fun running story about Mallus complaining about how everyone has been mispronouncing his name for the entire season. That's just a joyous story because it leads to a number of fun arguments amongst the team. They can agree that the threat from Mallus is very severe and dangerous. But they also recognize the levity of the situation by never knowing exactly how to address their new foe.
  • Nora is arrested by the Time Bureau for her role in freeing Mallus from his prison. This comes after she fought alongside the Legends to defeat Mallus' forces. She did so as a way to honor her father and the sacrifice he made. But more importantly, Ray gives her the time stone so that she can make her escape from this prison. As such, she is bound to bump into the Legends at some point in the future once more.
  • Sara also notes that the Legends didn't complete their mission this season of fixing all of the anachronisms that were a result of them breaking time. In fact, freeing Mallus only created more problems for the Time Bureau. But she's also completely fine with allowing Ava to handle that as part of her job while the Legends relax following this climatic battle with the demon that threatened them all.
  • In the hours since the finale aired, it's already being reported that Maisie Richardson-Sellers will continue to appear as a series regular in the fourth season. That's certainly interesting news while it also being notable that the creative team isn't talking about Arthur Darvill's potential return. This basically confirms that even though Amaya has return to Zambezi she will call upon the Legends once again very soon.
  • The fourth season will also see Jes Macallan and Matt Ryan promoted to series regulars as Agent Ava Sharpe and John Constantine, respectively. Those are some welcomed promotions. Both were very memorable this season. The new premise of demons in this world already gives so much importance to Constantine. Meanwhile, Sara affirming her love for Ava will keep that relationship at the forefront of the story.