“Who brings a tommy gun to an ion blaster fight?” which sums up the midseason finale of Legends of Tomorrow very well. As is the usual trend with the various Arrow-verse shows, this episode was all about pitting our heroes against against Season 2’s main antagonists in their first major battle, in the process setting the stage for what’s to come in 2017. But even though things got pretty dark by the end, this episode never lost the sense of fun and swashbuckling adventure that’s propelled the show along this season.
“The Chicago Way” discovered a new time aberration, traveled to an iconic period in American history, and fought to prevent history from being forever altered by opportunistic villains. Its setting is easily one of the more memorable the show has visited. Between the fashion, the speakeasies and the sight of tommy gun-wielding gangsters battling colorful metahumans, everyone involved was clearly having a lot of fun with the setting. It also allowed the show to pay homage to another popular film, this time Brian de Palma’s The Untouchables. Seeing both Al Capone (Gracepoint’s Isaac Keoughan) and Elliot Ness (iZombie’s Cole Vigue) dragged into the fray was a nice touch.
Simply, this being the midseason finale recycles the usual formula wouldn’t have been enough to cap off 2016 on the right note. Fortunately, the Chicago setting was little more than window dressing that paved the way for the Legends to have their first real battle with the Legion of Doom (who as of yet haven’t actually referred to themselves as such). If it wasn’t clear already that Reverse-Flash and his partners are a credible threat to the Legends, it sure is now.
This dynamic among Eobard Thawne, Damien Darhk and Malcolm Merlyn is proving very entertaining so far. I’ve mentioned this before, but it really is impressive how much Matt Metscher has been able to make the Reverse-Flash role his own over the past few months. Tom Cavanagh left some pretty big boots to fill. But Letscher is playing an Eobard Thawne who’s not afraid to flaunt his villainous side, and that allows him to deliver a much more vicious and evil speedster villain. That pairs nicely with Neal McDonough’s Darhk, who remains every bit as charming and magnetic now as he was when he debuted in 2015. These are two villains who enjoy being evil, and their early banter as they confronted Capone and his goons was very amusing.
We’ve gotten a taste of the Thawne/Darhk dynamic before. The big change this week was the addition of Malcolm Merlyn to the mix. It’s still not entirely clear why Thawne needs Merlyn as part of his larger plan, or what Merlyn can bring to the table that Darhk can’t already offer, but he does bring a different breed of villainy to the mix. We saw this in the way Merlyn played good cop to Darhk’s bad cop. He may be a thoroughly self-interested person, but he’s not looking to cause harm for the sheer sake of it. He’s involved because he’s enticed by Thawne’s promises about rewriting the past and restoring his family. That sort of motivation makes it easy to empathize with Merlyn. It also shows how subservient Maerlyn and Darhk are to Thawne, and you have to wonder how long they’re going to be able to put up with playing second fiddle to a time-traveling speedster. As with most supervillain teams, these characters are already shaping up to be their own worst enemies.
The extended clash between the legends and the Legion aboard the Waverider was easily the highlight of the evening. First, there was a great period of tension as our heroes slowly came to terms with the fact that Professor Stein wasn’t who he appeared to be. Sara’s encounter with Thawne in the library offered a terrific dose of tension, not just because her life was in danger, but because she was in danger of spilling a crucial secret to a villain perfectly poised to exploit it. And once Thawne revealed himself, that paved the way for a great extended action sequence. Whether it was Jax blasting Thawne, Ray pulling the size-changing suck punch or Mick and Amaya teaming up, there were plenty of strong moments in the big climax.
On the subject of Mick and Amaya, this episode did a great job of bringing the two characters closer together and building a fun bond. Amaya has suffered a bit this season because she’s been so aloof and distant from the rest of the team. Her growing friendship/romantic connection to Mick is rectifying that problem. And it’s boosting Mick as much as it is her. Mick is clearly at a low point in his superhero career, retreating into the bottle and pining for the good old days more than ever. While there were plenty of opportunities for Dominic Purcell to play the gruff bad-ass this week, he also got the chance to explore Mick’s vulnerable side for a change.
Much of that revolved around a series of what are presumably hallucinations of the late Leonard Snart. It’s always great seeing Wentworth Miller back in the Arrow-verse, even if once again it was via hallucination rather than the real deal. Though you do have to wonder if there was more to those Snart appearances than simple mind tricks. We know Snart is eventually supposed to return in the flesh to fill out the Legion of Doom ranks. And this wasn’t the only Arrow-verse episode this week to involve a character being tormented by visions of a lost loved one. Is that coincidence, or can Reverse-Flash somehow hound his enemies with visions in the same way Savitar can?
I also want to give a shout-out to the Ray/Nate dynamic this week. It’s a lot of fun watching Brandon Routh and Nick Zano play their bubbly personalities off each other in a big brother/little brother fashion. Their dynamic helped balance out some of the darker elements of the episode. Even though this conflict ended in a pretty resounding defeat for the Legends, the overall tone was much more lighthearted than either The Flash or Arrow’s midseason finales.
“The Chicago Way” wrapped up with two pretty significant revelations. The first is that the Legion of Doom’s ultimate goal is to track down the mythical Spear of Destiny, an artifact that will grant them total mastery over time. Basically, it’s a MacGuffin that both teams will surely be hunting in the early months of 2017, but it is exciting to think that the spear might open up all sorts of new supernatural angles for the series. Hopefully we’ll get a glimpse of Hitler wielding the spear against the JSA in World War II.
The other revelation involved the long-awaited reveal of just where Rip absconded to and what he’s been doing all season long. Rip has apparently built a new career pretending to be an American film director making lousy sci-fi movies based on his own life. How oddly appropriate. I stopped actually noticing Rip’s absence after a couple episodes, but it’ll still be nice to have him back in the mix.