It’s a problem that pops up whenever DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow travels back in time in America: What’s to be done with all this sexism and racism? Considering the complex diversity of its crew, the majority of which is populated by women, heading back to the 1920s, 1930s, or even the 1940s gins up all sorts of social shortcomings and societal roadblocks for the Legends. That they’ve been pinballing around time almost exclusively in these eras, stranded without a Waverider or even a reliable time machine (with respect to Dr. Gwyn Davies), only compounds their dilemma.
Legends touched on this here and there during their extended stay in 1925 Odessa, Texas, and later pointed out America’s social iniquity in Chicago during the same year (in-between doing the Charleston and bootlegging, natch). Last week’s traipse through 1986 (in Chernobyl, of all places) allowed a brief reprieve from such backwardness. Through it all Astra and Spooner have received the brunt of America’s, oh, let’s say uncharitable attitudes towards women of color, and this week Astra’s had her fill.
So it is that DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow closes out the first half of its seventh season, not with a stand-off with the rogue Gideon of the future (though she does make her presence known before the credits roll, in surprisingly bloody fashion) but with a social lesson in what it takes to work around the short-sightedness of domineering white men in the year 1945—or, failing that, taking over their means of production entirely.
One thing Legends has made clear is that clearly-defined boundaries of tolerance and equity are essential if it’s to tell its stories effectively, leaning into the racial and sexist issues that pop up whenever this crew goes back in time instead of away from them. That makes sense, considering the ranks in this cadre of time-hoppers are predominantly made up of people of color and, to a smaller extent, people with varying sexual orientations. (Still working out what Gary’s all about on the latter front, but this particular pursuit of knowledge has been fun.) It’s done as such with far more gusto than other Arrowverse series such as The Flash and about as much as Supergirl, but it continues to lack the grounded nuance of Black Lighting. (I’m not caught up on Batwoman; how’s that doing?)
Subtlety, as we’ve long known, isn’t Legends game. However, this is a primetime CW series, so articulating the lack of social progress with more heinous racial epithets and other forms of wanton cruelty aren’t going to be baked into the narrative. (Nor should it, though leaving such things up to our imaginations doesn’t exactly make things more digestible.) That leaves the show painting with broad strokes, and sometimes that means Legends has to make its point even it it has to veer into gentle but resolute After-School Special territory.
This week, the Legends find themselves crashlanded in 1945 Seattle (thanks to Bishop’s expertly-timed toilet escape last week) and they need to find parts to fix Dr. Davies’ time device. (This particular plot point is beginning to become A Thing.) Sara, Ava, Astra, Spooner, and Gideon discover that they can volunteer at the McDougle-Jemison Factory, a fictional assembly plant that makes airplanes for the war effort. (That’s World War II, just don’t tell Dr. Davies that.)
Sara, Ava, Spooner, and Astra are supposed to be putting together parts for Davies’ frustratingly fragile time machine, but the only way to do that successfully is to use discretion—and Astra, being a former denizen of Hell and all, ain’t the best at discretion. Getting tossed into custodial work by their bigoted boss, Mr. E. Staples, it’s no small wonder that Astra begins to chafe at her current situation. (Sara comes by and offers a plan-B mulligan, but Astra decides to stay the course after some encouragement from an upbeat Spooner.) Two prejudiced strikes later and Astra has frozen Staples into place, a statue of stunted authority, pointing at nothing, oppressing nobody.
Staples’ impromptu recess presents an opportunity, not just in the sense that it allows the crew to get its time-machine parts welded together (by Spooner, which sadly takes place offscreen) but to make an unscheduled leap in social progress, as well. (But... the timeline! I cried, into the void.)
It’s here where Astra takes control of the factory and integrates it (“We can do better than efficient,” she says), knowing full well how things went down back in the days of her present temporal pit-stop. Her decisions come after some firm-but-fair push-back from Kimleigh Smith’s Abby, who centers Astra with a bit of tempered, period-specific patience. “I push the same mop as you,” she tells Astra. “Slow and steady progress […] is sustainable progress.”
Astra’s take on incremental social growth is more cynical (not to mention dramatic, given her former Hellacious residency): “You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out only six inches and call it progress. It’s torture.” At the intersection of these ideas does come compromise: Abby will rally the remaining volunteers to complete the construction of the factory’s plane (most, if not all, of the white volunteers quit in protest), but Astra has to make sure Abby and the rest of the women she’ll be leaving behind are able to keep their jobs.
A deus ex Roosevelt late in the episode ensures that this will be the case. Here’s where things go nuts: Legends’ formula is one of chaos, and while it’s somewhat normal to expect things to work out to a morally foregone conclusion, this week’s largely sobering episode takes a dire turn. Astra’s revolutionary jump in progress brings the rogue Gideon down on the Legends, and she didn’t come alone.
Mean-Gideon’s Waverider is manned by a crew of leatherbound Legends (looking like they suddenly take their fashion cues from the Judges of Mega-City One). They apprehend Bishop (whose arc this week was to flummox Behrad’s lessons of ta’arof, which, naturally, is the heart of Persian etiquette and hospitality!) and summarily move in on our beleaguered crew. The shocker of this week’s episode is that it closes out on a bloodbath, with two rogue-Legends getting mowed down (with digital blood squibs!) and Bishop getting executed, just when he thought he’d made the leap into good-guydom.
Beyond its rousing speeches and surprise bloodbath ending (which, !!!) “A Woman’s Place is in the War Effort!” turns out to be yet another catch-up episode for DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow, setting the stage for certain characters (or, to put a finer point on it, certain characters’ relationships) while others continue to spin their wheels with nowhere special to go. (Will Sara & Ava get their honeymoon? And what happens for them after that, if anything?) It feels like Legends has been stuck in gear all season, even though it’s cranked out a couple of all-timer episodes along the way. Maybe now that Dr. Davies’ time machine, powered by the late Bishop’s navigational thingamajig, has been fixed, Legends might finally be able to chart a more fascinating course.
- Episode’s MVP: Astra, for begrudging the initial plan, staying true to who she was, and taking the reins of destiny by force. (Although… is she… getting sweet… on Behrad??!)
- Am I crazy, or s the McDougle-Jemison Factory the same location as the proto-Hall of Justice from Crisis?
- For that matter, weren’t the Justice Society Of America operating in the Arrowverse in 1945? (The Earth-Prime JSA, not the Stargirl JSA.) I’m really surprised they didn’t even merit a mention from the Legends’ resident Hair-storian, Nate Heywood. Legends!
- And speaking of Nate, he says he’s just gonna be commuting from the Totem every morning and that he’s still going to be a Legend. Hrm.
- Astra, after getting stuck on janitor duty: “I am getting really sick of this century.”
- The rules of ta’arof (Nate, take notes): make your guest feel at home; if you’re a guest, you must deny the offering of your host at least three times before accepting it; if a guest compliments something a host has, the host must give it to them (one example this week is Zari’s 2040s future phone); also... no drinking?!
- Astra, to Spooner: “I hate you.” Spooner, to Astra: “I hate you, too.”
- Mr. E Staples. Mystery staples?
- Sara, concerning the frozen Staples: “You know, he’s kinda giving me a creepy John Travolta vibe.”
- Gideon is 100% human and 100% computer: mathematically confusing, metaphorically accurate.
- How is Behrad taller than Astra??
- Bishop’s navigational doo-dad is comprised of Zari’s phone, a pair of tongs, a colander, a Speak & Spell, and maybe also Gideon’s brain? (It reads her horny thoughts about Gary and how his pants accentuate his butt.)
- So how did this midseason finale work for you, group? Is Nate still destined for the cast chopping-block? How did you like Gary eyeballing Bishop when he was complimenting Gideon? Are we getting an eighth season, or is this... gonna be it for the Legends? Let’s cool out in the comments below.