Kendra and Carter are integral to Legends of Tomorrow. And from what we’ve seen so far, that’s not a good thing.
These characters bring out the show’s worst elements, from the Ancient Egypt flashbacks and the lack of chemistry between Ciara Renée and Falk Hentschel, to the weird ways their story contradicts the show’s desire to prove free will can triumph over destiny. In the first two episodes, it wasn’t exactly clear why the show felt so charmless and messy. With Carter dead and Kendra out of action after a near-fatal wound, it seems obvious that they are show’s greatest flaw.
By sidelining their story line — or more aptly, by sidelining them — Legends of Tomorrow improves dramatically. Don’t get me wrong, the show still has a lot of issues. But “Blood Ties” marks the first time it begins living up to the fun zaniness of its premise.
Based on the opening, I wouldn’t have thought so. “Blood Ties” starts with another one of those damn Ancient Egypt flashbacks. It looks cheap and ridiculous, as usual. This time, at least, the flashback serves to moves the story forward — we see Rip Hunter’s attempt to kill Vandal Savage in his original life. It isn’t so surprising that he tried to kill Savage at this point in history, but it’s certainly surprising that he hesitates to do so, as he’ll later reveal to Sara.
“Blood Ties” deals with three important story lines: Sara and Hunter want to ruin Savage’s finances, which would delay his plans for world domination; Professor Stein and Ray try to find a way to save Kendra; and Leonard and Mick rope Jax into a plan to steal an emerald. Not all of these stories work, but they do feel like they belong on the same show. That’s a start, I guess.
The Professor Stein and Ray plot is the weakest. Ray never bugged me on Arrow, but he’s more obnoxious than charming on Legends of Tomorrow. The idea of him struggling with a lack of confidence seems interesting in theory, so why doesn’t it work onscreen?
Despite surviving Savage’s attack, Kendra’s condition is getting worse — small fragments of Savage’s blade are caught in her bloodstream, making their way to her heart. Ray decides to use the Atom suit to shrink down, inject himself into her bloodstream, and neutralize the fragments. At first, Professor Stein objects, and I agree. That kind of procedure shouldn’t be taken lightly, right? Though he’s initially confident, Ray becomes a mopey mess the moment things don’t go smoothly inside Kendra. Professor Stein builds him back up by saying he does remember him as a student — he had previously wanted to knock him down a peg, because Ray made him feel inferior (which turns out to be another lie) — and being caring as Ray discusses his dead fiancée. Together, they save Kendra.
Great. Fine. Whatever.
Here’s what bothers me about this: The dead fiancée/wife/girlfriend backstory is an overused shorthand to make audiences care for male heroes. It isn’t working for Hunter, and it definitely isn’t working for Ray. So, let’s maybe go another route to develop Ray’s charms? This B-plot doesn’t quite come together, even as everything else in the episode works really well.
After fixing the smaller ship — must be a detailed instruction manual! — Leonard and Mick convince Jax into taking them to Central City to steal an emerald. This brings up the best exchange of the night:
Jax: Is there anything you think about other than yourself?
Leonard: Yes. Money.
Leonard is undoubtedly one of the best characters Legends of Tomorrow has in its arsenal. Wentworth Miller chews the hell out of scenery and I love him for it. But for all his bravado, Leonard has more heart than he lets on. He wants to steal this emerald for personal reasons: His father will steal it two days later, and eventually be sentenced to prison for the crime. After serving his time, his father comes out a changed man … he’s harder and abusive.
“Blood Ties” gets touching with this story, especially as we see Leonard visit his childhood home and talk to his childhood self, who goes by Leo. “Don’t ever let anyone hurt you,” he tells Leo, pointing at his head and heart. It is the most truly heartfelt moment the show has created … until we hear the harsh click of a gun’s safety behind Leonard. The man holding the gun? His father.
Once Leo runs upstairs, Leonard’s mood shifts to a pointed anger. He gives his father the emerald in hopes that he won’t go to prison and this will save his family from future abuse. As I watched this, I was afraid Leonard would accidentally wipe himself out of existence. (Or his sister, who wasn’t yet born in 1975.) Instead, his father gets arrested for trying to sell the emerald to an undercover cop. The timeline remains unchanged. Despite his efforts, Leonard cannot save himself or his family from the abuse they will endure.
One thing that’s fascinated me about Legends of Tomorrow is how it accomplished what Arrow could not — I actually care about Sara Lance now. It’s compelling to watch as she struggles with her new life and the bloodlust that comes with it. She’s also proving herself to be an integral part of the group: She comes up with the plan to steal Savage’s fortune, and she’s the one to notice that the “workers” in the prestigious bank are actually trained killers. (Also, watching her kick ass in beautiful clothing is always nice.)
Although the original plan doesn’t quite work out, Hunter finds bank files that describe something in Savage’s possession known as “the Vessel.” They kidnap one of the faux-bankers, Mr. Blake, who reveals two things: Hunter has become legendary among Savage’s followers for trying to kill him, and the Vessel is actually Carter Hall’s dead body. But what does Savage want to do with Carter’s body?
We get an answer soon enough. Savage drains Carter’s blood, then lets his followers drink it to absorb some of his life force. They won’t become immortal, but they will develop much longer lifespans. Also: Savage’s cult apparently conducts their meetings in rooms bathed in red light, while wearing formal wear, because he is a walking cliché.
Sara and Hunter slip inside, but they’re caught before they can save Carter’s body. As they’re held captive, they’re forced to to listen to Savage’s speechifying — he says something about how Jack the Ripper taught him a neat bloodletting trick. How the hell are they getting out of this? Cut to Kendra. She’s still not fully conscious, but she somehow knows that Sara and Hunter are in trouble. When Professor Stein and Ray overhear her mumbling about them, they think she’s delusional, then quickly realize something is up. She was a priestess in a previous life, so maybe she has some psychic abilities?
Professor Stein notifies Jax, Mick, and Leonard, who come to the rescue. This time, Hunter doesn’t hesitate — he slits Savage’s throat when they fight. But he also makes a grave mistake; he tells Savage that he’s avenging his wife and son. Now the villain knows their names, and thanks to Hunter’s pocket watch, he even knows how they look. On the bright side, the gang gets Carter’s body back, then holds a funeral for him and Dr. Boardman.
Back to Kendra. I don’t buy her sudden realization that she’s in love with Carter. Honestly, I think she’s more interesting without him. I’m sure he’ll come back eventually, but I hope he stays dead for awhile. As “Blood Ties” ends, the team heads off to 1986 with a renewed sense of purpose. The show itself feels rejuvenated, too. The tone is clearer. The pacing is more on point. The characters finally feel like they belong together. Sure, Hunter is still a black hole of charisma. Sure, Ray is annoying. And sure, Savage doesn’t always work as a villain. But don’t miss the signs: Legends of Tomorrow is coming into its own.