The second season of The Flash hasn't been building up to an epic resolution of the Zoom story line, but instead, it's built it to this crossover episode. That's right: The setup for Legends of Tomorrow is nearly over.
I'm mildly interested in Legends of Tomorrow because of its bonkers cast. Nevertheless, I wasn't looking forward to this crossover, which will conclude in tomorrow's episode of Arrow, despite the presence of one of my favorite DC villains. "Legends of Today" feels less like storytelling and more like corporate synergy. It's hard to be fully invested in anything that develops — like Cisco's fledgling relationship with Kendra — because I know that once Legends of Tomorrow debuts in January, these stories won't really affect The Flash anymore.
The bright side of the crossover? It's fun to watch these characters interact with each other. My Flash-obsessed inner child is simply gleeful about it. And even though the storytelling leaves much to be desired, the actors have great chemistry together.
The thrust of the episode concerns the emergence of Vandal Savage, a big-time villain in the comics who has made memorable appearances in several DC animated series. His story has been tweaked for his live-action debut, but the broad strokes are pretty much the same: immortal madman, extremely skilled, power hungry, no respect for human life.
We meet Savage after a police transfer goes bust in a very bloody way, which puts Joe, Patty, and Barry in his path. That have no idea who they're really dealing with, and Savage's true goal takes shape pretty quickly. He's hellbent on finding and killing Kendra. The first time he tries, he spoils what should have been a romantic date between her and Cisco. She had cooked a fine meal, which they're eating at the coffee shop after hours. (Does she not have an apartment?) Cisco sends a distress signal to Barry, and narrowly misses getting a blade in his chest from Savage. Before Barry can lay any sort of beatdown on Savage, though, the man pulls a Batman and disappears without anyone noticing. Barry isn't able to figure out much, aside from the fact that the blade is centuries old and Savage clearly isn't a metahuman.
And that's when he gets the idea to tap Team Arrow for help. They'll hide Kendra in Star City and figure out a plan. After all, Barry asks, how busy can they be? Very, apparently. They're still contending with Damien Darhk, who nearly kills Oliver before Barry saves him. There are a lot of moments like this one in the episode. Each near-death feels rather weightless because we know no one is going to die.
We learn the real root of Savage's connection with Kendra later in the episode, after Hawkman dashes her away. Here's the rundown: Hawkman had used the name Carter Hall in his most recent life, but he's really known as Khufu. Kendra's real name is Shayera, and she's a reincarnated Egyptian warrior priestess. They're soulmates, continuously drawn to each other over the course of 4,000 years. When Savage kills them, he gains power from each lifetime. Kendra flashbacks to her former life around Carter. I've got a couple of issues with this. First, Kendra and Carter have zero chemistry. And worse yet, are we really supposed to believe this white dude is Egyptian?
We also get more information on Savage from Malcolm Merlyn, the current head of the League of Shadows. Appropriately enough, Merlyn steps out of the shadows of the Arrow headquarters whenever he sees fit. (Barry, reading my mind: "Is that the only way this guy knows how to enter a room?") Malcolm reveals just how old Savage is, saying that he's stood by the sides of men like Genghis Khan and Julius Caesar. This is a bit different from the comics, which portray Savage as actually being those historical figures.
The episode turns into a mini–Indiana Jones adventure when the team realizes, thanks to Malcolm, that Savage is going after the Staff of Horus, a super-powerful magic staff with undefined abilities that manifest in blue energy balls. (It looks cooler than it sounds.) If he gets the staff, they're all basically screwed. Guess what? Savage gets the staff, then nearly kills both Barry and Oliver. It isn't as exciting as it should be.
The most important thing about Savage, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl coming to DC's television universe is that they signal the role of magic in a grand fashion, far beyond Constantine and the Lazarus Pits on Arrow. I have mixed feelings from what we've seen, though. Call me when Zatanna pops up, or they finally integrate Vixen.
My problem with "Legends of Today" is that it's just a lot of setup. I wanted to love it, but nothing felt all that significant. Part of this is because I'm just not feeling Savage. I knew he'd be an archly constructed villain, but he didn't seem menacing. The character doesn't work if he isn't menacing. He's spitting out lines like this in normal conversation:
Oliver: Don't move.
Savage: Then how will I kill you all?
And when he's about to test the Staff's full powers against Barry and Oliver, he snarkily says, "I used to enjoy slow deaths. Now I just find them boring." An actor needs panache and charisma to make those lines menacing rather than cringe-worthy. And I'm not sure Casper Crump made it work.
This reminds me of the issues I had with Arrow's portrayal of Ra's Al Ghul. The age and experience of the character just doesn't come across. I know these shows can pull off great villains, but for whatever reason, the villains that end up working best are the ones that I've expected the least from. Of course, Crump has an entire season of Legends of Tomorrow to improve, so I'll cut him some slack here.
Far more egregious, though, are the episode's fight scenes. If there was one thing I was excited to see in this crossover, it was the fight scenes. There's definitely plenty of them, from Barry and Oliver squaring off against Hawkman to Savage fighting against Team Arrow and Barry. There are even brief moments of awe, like when Barry throws lightning at Hawkman or simply when we watch Barry and Oliver's wildly different techniques against one another. But it's not enough.
I think the major issue in "Legends of Today" reflects what's been a problem throughout the season: tonal discordance, lack of focus, and not enough urgency. We know the heroes will survive Vandal Savage since he's the main antagonist on Legends of Tomorrow. It isn't surprising that Barry's "believe in yourself" speech finally gets Kendra to face her fears and gain her wings. It isn't surprising that Kendra and Cisco's relationship won't last, either. They had an expiration date the moment they got together.
Meanwhile, Caitlin and Harry — who I'm no longer calling Wells because it's too confusing to juggle the Earth-1 and Earth-2 versions — are working on a speed serum that would temporarily boost Barry's powers to take down Zoom. As if on cue, Jay appears at STAR Labs the moment they figure it out, but he refuses to be Harry's lab rat. He doesn't have a choice, though, after Patty notices Harry skulking around and understandably confuses him for his Earth-1 counterpart. Since STAR Labs has less security than my apartment, she's able to waltz inside, gun drawn, and shoot Harry before he has a chance to explain himself. In her defense, she thought he was holding a gun. He wasn't. (The fact that she didn't wait a second reflects badly on her ability as a detective, of course, but the writers love the character too much to actually criticize her.)
Caitlin does the only thing she can think of, barring a trip to hospital. She contacts Jay. He's dosed with the serum, then phases through Harry's chest to pull out the bullet, which saves his life. Joe doesn't tell Patty what's going on, but that tactic can't last long. Is this how she's going to discover that Barry is the Flash?
The episode ends at what apparently must be the only coffee shop in Central City, as Oliver waits in line with Barry, marveling at all of the Flash merchandise. The jovial tone disappears, though, when Oliver recognizes his ex, who is there with a boy that appears to be his child. (This story line will carry over to Arrow.) Comic-book fans will notice that the kid isn't Connor Hawke, whose mother is half-black and half-Korean. Make of that change what you will. I'm adding it to the long list of reasons why I don't care for Arrow.
I've been harsh on The Flash this season because I expect better. Sure, there are worthwhile moments in this episode. The cast has a lot of chemistry. Watching Barry and Oliver catch up is cute. Savage is a mixed bag, but he does bring an interesting flavor into this universe. Cisco continues to be one of my favorites because of his dope one-liners. (This is how he introduces Kendra to Team Arrow: "She's my new beautiful friend who kisses me occasionally.") However, that isn't enough to make "Heroes of Today" work as a whole.
At its best, The Flash marries Silver Age zaniness with a heartfelt exploration of what it means to be a superhero. This season has been too tonally confused and too unfocused to reach the heights of season one, let alone surpass them. With all of the Legends of Tomorrow buildup out of the way, The Flash can hopefully get back to its old ways.