DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow has always embraced the Doctor Who in its DNA. You don’t cast Arthur Darvill as a former “Time Master” and put him in that trench coat accidentally. But in “The Final Frame,” an assured episode credited to writers James Eagan & Ray Utarnachitt, that connection has never been more clear. It’s not just because we got the traditional wow-the-door-to-the-TARDIS-opens-into-the-vast-nothingness-of-space moment, though that’s a classic. It’s the coupling of an absosutely absurd premise with world/universe-saving stakes. Some come on, gang, let’s bowl for the fate of planet Earth—and some other planets, too! Why not?
“The Final Frame” is a Legends “buddy system” episode, and it’s a pretty great one. It’s easy to imagine what things might have looked like if it weren’t made in a Covid season: More bowling teams, perhaps? For sure more chaos in Zari and Nate’s camping adventure. And, uh, maybe this wouldn’t be Nic Bishop’s third role this season? But even with a cast of thousands, the episode wouldn’t change much, because the four (four!) storylines are so thoughtfully woven together, tied to both the arc of the season overall and the absurd premise.
Eagan and Utarnachitt (and the rest of the show’s writers) obviously deserve much of the credit for the success of “The Final Frame,” but they’re not alone in that. It’s also due in no small part to the work of debut director Jes Macallan, whose lively direction enhances the chaos of the premise while reinforcing the structure on which it’s built.
Let’s look at the four (again, four!) storylines in this episode and how they’re tied together. It’s impressive stuff. So our A story is, of course, pod-related, since Pods Scattered Across Timeline are the new Magical Creatures Scattered Across The Timeline (which are the new Historical Figures/Aberrations Scattered Across The Timeline, etc.) Right away, things get extra Doctor Who-y, as this week’s Legends field team — Sara, Spooner, Mick, and Astra — make a rookie mistake and decide to monkey around with a mysteriously ornate silver cube. Turns out that’s not a great idea, and they find themselves zapped to an intergalactic bowling alley where a team of alien meanies/world-eaters (including one played by Nic Bishop) have turned a bowling alley into a “bullying alley,” as Buddy (Alvin Sanders) puts it.
While our bowling team prepares to save the universe, the Legends left on board have to do some serious problem-solving. Since the gang has been abducted by aliens (“again”), the first concern is obviously getting them back, but devoted ‘shipper Gary also feels compelled to try to keep Ava from getting re-traumatized. So what can those two do together that will successfully distract Ava? Wedding dress shopping, that’s what. And what does wedding dress shopping look like on board the Waverider? Gary going nuts with the fabricator, that’s what. Ava’s absurd confection of a wedding dress is a marvelous sight gag, and Macallan and Adam Tsekhman pitch their scenes perfectly, adding just enough gravity to a screwball premise to keep things rooted in the emotional reality of the season and that relationship. 10s across the board (and some top-notch work from costume designer Vicky Mulholland.)
So what is Gary distracting Ava from? That would be from the increasingly troubling behavior of one John Constantine, who, with the help of a mostly oblivious/stoned Behrad, uses his new scary blood-vial-powered magic to yoink the Waverider across time and space to the approximate orbit of the bullying alley. The wedding dress subplot is pitched perfectly, but this one is somewhat less successful. It’s all a little familiar, a continuation of what we saw in “Bad Blood” that moves the story forward only in that it all seems worse, to the extent that even poor stoned Behrad is picking up on the wrongness of it all. Matt Ryan is doing really terrific work; it’s honestly pretty disturbing. But addiction stories should always be about more than the addiction and resulting “addict behavior,” and so far, Legends hasn’t managed to find that depth.*
So where’s the rest of the team? Taking advantage of out-of-totem time. The Nate/Flannel!Zari story (thanks for “Flannel!Zari,” Behrad!) shows “The Final Frame” at its cleverest, but it’s also the most tangled of the episode’s four threads. That it succeeds at all is a testament to the actors, including Gavin Langelo and Jenna Romanin as Jeff and Jamie, who fully commit to the absurdity and horror of the end-of-the-world shit. But Tala Ashe and Nick Zano do yeoman’s work, the former especially, taking a reasonable premise (Zari has a lot of insecurities about long-distance totem dating) that’s not fully fleshed out and adding some much-needed emotional specificity.
But any shortcoming there is easy enough to forgive when the ideas are so deliciously clever and weird. Earth = bowling ball, great. So where are the holes in the bowling ball, and what if Zari and Nate are camping right at the edge of one such hole? That’s inspired. It’s very Doctor Who, but brings to mind things like the Hitchhiker’s Guide and the first Men In Black film. And it’s a choice that instantly ramps up the stakes in all the other storylines, our primary one in particular.
And what a fun one it is. Macallan’s playful approach to the episode calls to mind not just irreverent time-and-space stories like those listed above, but also the work of the Coen Brothers (a not-infrequent source of inspiration for this show.) And Eagan and Utarnachitt lace the whole thing through with some classic sports movie tropes, to great effect. The real bowling victory was the friends we made along the way! A win seized from the jaws of defeat by virtue of a granny roll! Never change, Legends. Just keep rolling.
* — I am not worried that it won’t. Legends is more likely to do a thoughtful addiction storyline than any number of Very Serious Dramas, because it’s a show that nearly always asks the extra question and takes the extra step. This show is many things, but lazy is not one of them.
- The Zari/Nate kiss was appropriately epic and while the show has often given us literal Ava/Sara fireworks, it hasn’t often allowed those two to truly demolish each other. Let the queer ladies make out, show!
- Mike the Strike, get it?
- Does Nate use his extremely helpful superpower in this episode? Nope.
- Episode MVP: Jes Macallan, come on down! You were great in the episode and directed it beautifully!
- Why the fuck not?: Sky-finger.
- Line-reading of the week: “I can’t get married in plain shoulders!”
- Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: There are a few good ones, but I’m very partial to the red shirt bowling team (especially since the Legends are in blue shirts.)
- Episode title ranking: 1. Stressed Western. 2. This Is Gus. 3. Meat: The Legends. 4. Ground Control To Sara Lance. 5. Back To The Finale: Pt. ii. 6. Bishop’s Gambit 7. Bay Of Squids. 8. The Satanist’s Apprentice. 9. The Ex-Factor. 10. The Final Frame (a perfectly good title!) 11. Bad Blood.