Legends of Tomorrow Series Premiere Recap: Back to the Future

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Arthur Darvill as Rip Hunter, Brandon Routh as The Atom. Photo: Jeff Weddell/CW
Legends of Tomorrow
Episode Title
Pilot, Part One
Season
1
Episode
1
Editor’s Rating
2/5

Whenever I see a new superhero show, I ask myself, "What does this really bring to the table?" I'm not sure the minds behind Legends of Tomorrow have an answer to that question.

The show opens on a war-torn London in the year 2166. Rip Hunter, a new character in the CW's DC Universe, provides a voiceover while Vandal Savage, the season's big bad, surveys the wreckage. Hunter explains that Savage has achieved what no other villain ever has: "He's conquered the entire planet." As if mass destruction wasn't bad enough, Savage kills an unarmed woman and her young son. The focus on their deaths may seem a bit unnecessary, especially because the carnage around them is ample reason to know Savage is evil. Also, viewers of Arrow or The Flash are already familiar with his villainy, thanks to recent crossover episodes.

Toward the end of the episode, we learn why these people matter so much — they were Hunter's wife and son. He works with a group known as the Time Masters, who use time travel to protect history, and he's on a rogue quest guided by revenge. As he begins collecting a disjointed crew, Hunter vacillates between rogue charmer and exasperated boss. Unfortunately, his tragic backstory is one of many unnecessary character points we see in this pilot. Isn't an immortal madman reason enough for Hunter to go rogue, steal a time ship, and try to save humanity? Why the male angst? We already have enough of that in comic adaptations — particularly the kind that involves dead women and children.

The rest of the episode largely focuses on Hunter's attempts to assemble a crew. He needs to take down Savage, and he needs the right people to help him do it. Anybody who joins him will have to leave behind their lives — and risk death — while traveling through time. (In other words, we get a lot of exposition about time travel.) As Hunter's recruits wake up together on a roof, he makes his pitch: By 2166, they won't just be considered heroes. They'll be legends. The members of Hunter's prospective crew — Firestorm, the Atom, White Canary, Heat Wave, Captain Cold, Hawkgirl, and Hawkman — each have their own reasons for joining up: glory, excitement, a chance to escape their lives, or even just the opportunity to steal riches.

Kendra, the newly minted Hawkgirl, and Carter Hall/Hawkman, have very personal reasons for taking on Savage. However, Kendra initially doesn't want to join the time travelers. Savage has killed countless reincarnations of Kendra and Carter over thousands of years, which seems like a good reason to avoid him. They decide to solve their argument with a battle; whoever wins gets to make the decision. We don't see the fight play out, but it's a foregone conclusion that Carter will win. Kendra is far less experienced and still doesn't fully remember her past lives. When she does remember something, it usually involves romantic moments between her and Carter in Ancient Egypt. (Sidenote: Who knew Ancient Egypt looked so tacky?)

The two halves of Firestorm also don't agree on what to do. Professor Martin Stein thinks it's an amazing opportunity, but Jefferson "Jax" Jackson doesn't see the allure. I understand his hesitation — traveling back in time as a black person isn't really the best idea. We'll see how far back the show decides to go, though. Unfortunately, Jax doesn't get much of a choice; Professor Stein drugs his drink, so they're in. Wait, is Jax even old enough to drink?

After getting some advice from Oliver Queen, we see that Ray Palmer has incredibly strong reasons to join Hunter's group. The Atom already seems forgotten in his own time. Why not become a legend instead?

Leonard Snart, a.k.a. Captain Cold, and Mick Rory, a.k.a. Heat Wave, are Hunter's oddest recruits. They both lack powers and top-notch fighting skills. They're criminals, and they're only interested in their own selfish desires. Nonetheless, Wenthworth Miller's Leonard is the show's most captivating performance. The way he chews scenery is always fun to watch. He and Mick decide to join simply because they'll have more chances to steal, which made something clear to me: Legends of Tomorrow needs more self-awareness.

I've never been a fan of how Arrow adapted the Black Canary character, so I was surprised by how much I liked Sara Lance in this episode. There's a brief, lovely scene between the two Black Canaries — Sara and her sister Laurel — in which they spar while discussing Hunter's offer. Laurel is the one who gives Sara her new name, White Canary, as well as an outfit designed by The Flash's Cisco Ramon. I really loved this sisterly interaction and how it humanizes Sara. Laurel makes a good point, too: A new adventure will give Sara the chance to redefine her life after being raised from the dead by the Lazarus Pit.

Once the gang is in agreement — well, except for Jax — they take off with Hunter. It quickly becomes clear that they haven't been told everything, though. The first sign of mystery comes in the form of Cronus, a silly-looking, time-traveling bounty hunter who murders two dopey kids in broad daylight for … reasons. It's unclear why he kills them, despite his claims that they aren't "important to the timeline."

The gang's first stop is a very clichéd vision of 1975, where they visit Dr. Aldus Boardman, a history professor who has intel on Savage. Boardman has been tracking Savage with a handy notebook, which will soon be very essential, since he's destined to die shortly after he meets them. Things quickly get weird: Dr. Boardman reveals that Kendra and Carter are his parents from a past life. I have a couple of questions about this:

  1. Will Legends of Tomorrow always be this heavy-handed?
  2. If Kendra and Carter are destined to be together, why do they have such bad chemistry?

While Kendra, Carter, Hunter, Professor Stein, and Ray deal with this surprise family reunion, Sara, Mick, and Leonard decide they need some action. They head to a bar, and quickly find themselves in a large bar fight. Meanwhile, Jax is left alone on the ship, still furious at being kidnapped. Why didn't Stein honor his wishes to not join the group? Poor Jax. He's one of the least-developed characters on the show and one of the least-familiar characters in the CW's DC universe. Which raises the question: How will Legends of Tomorrow develop such a large cast of characters? Each one seems to belong on a different show.

As the first group heads back to the ship, Kendra decides to bring Dr. Boardman with them. The moment she makes this decision, it's clear that he won't last long. Cronus shows up as they make their way to the ship, and during the fight, Dr. Boardman is critically injured. He dies on the ship, just as the timeline predicted. His death at this point in history is inevitable. As we learn, timelines can be altered, but some events are unavoidable. This raises some intriguing ideas about fate and destiny, but so far, Legends of Tomorrow feels too muddled to develop any coherent themes based on those ideas.

With a knockoff Boba Fett chasing them, Hunter's lies begin to unravel. Here's the full truth: Hunter's mission isn't sanctioned, and Cronus was hired by the Time Masters to stop him. Worse yet, the group learns they aren't legends in the future. They're footnotes. They were all chosen because their presence won't dramatically affect the timeline. This is an especially hard blow for Ray, but Sara looks at it differently. If they're skilled enough to stop Savage without wrecking the timeline, why can't they make their own destiny?

The team stays together for now, with faint hope of satisfying their dreams. Sure, they don't get along too well — although they're handling all of this way better than you'd expect — but they still seem game for an adventure.

The episode ends with Savage speechifying over a bomb, since he damn sure isn't subtle. Savage seems to represent the kind of show we're getting here: All broad strokes, little finesse, and not much beyond the surface. I don't expect the CW's take on the DC universe to suddenly take itself seriously, but The Flash and Arrow are very aware of what they're trying to be. Legends of Tomorrow is more bombastic and openly funny than either of those shows, but it lacks a clear tone, style, or purpose. Plus, Legends of Tomorrow is telling a story we've seen before: The ragtag group of offbeat heroes, anti-heroes, and criminals must overcome their clashing personalities to complete an impossible task. Some members of Hunter's gang are interesting as individuals, but I'm not sure they work as a group. The problem isn't that the show has too much going on, though. It simply doesn't feel cohesive.

A show like this one will live or die by its characters. They need to have chemistry, and they need to be smoothly integrated together. Legends of Tomorrow hasn't mastered this, at least not yet.