Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)

Last week I was lamenting how boring Damien Darhk has become on this series, but I’m fully invested in him after “No Country For Old Dads,” a very silly episode that also makes Damien an interesting, complicated character again. Continuing this season’s trend of cinematic homages, tonight’s episode is inspired by the work of the Coen brothers, contrasting the gritty tone and visual style of works like No Country For Old Men and Fargo with this show’s light-hearted fantasy. In 1962, Damien Darhk has a blonde Anton Chigurh haircut and works as an unstoppable assassin willing to take any hit for the right price, and he’s taken a contract from Big Oil to kill a German scientist who unlocks the secrets of cold fusion. Present-day Damien needs that information to tap into his Fire Totem, and Nora volunteers herself and Ray, their new prisoner, to take on the mission.

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Noah Hawley’s Fargo TV series is another major point of inspiration in “No Country For Old Dads,” specifically with the split-screen storytelling. It’s a stylistic flourish that makes this episode look different than any other chapter, and director Viet Nguyen makes an excellent Legends debut this week, taking advantage of the script’s multiple worlds to give the story a variety of visual dimensions. There’s the bright, almost sitcomy world inside the Waverider, and the opening scene showing Sara and Ava the morning after their hookup has a comedic energy that sets the groundwork for the rest of the episode. Bouncy music plays in the background as Zari awkwardly interacts with the two lovers during breakfast, and it’s clear from the start that “No Country For Old Dads” isn’t taking itself too seriously.

On the opposite end of the tonal spectrum is the action in 1962 Berlin, and while there’s still plenty of humor in the dialogue, the visuals and the circumstances are much more intense. The colors dull and the contrast amplifies with the addition of graphic shadows, and while the Waverider scenes have TV tightness, the Berlin scenes have a cinematic scope that allows Nguyen to create more striking, memorable moments. My favorite little sequence comes when past Damien finally catches up to Ray, Nora, and Bernhard, and after he shoots a hole in the bathroom door, the camera zooms in to show Damien framed by the bullet hole, looking threatening and totally ridiculous in that wig.

There’s also the mystical world of the ancestral plane, which has an old-school TV horror vibe in that it feels like a soundstage pumped full of fog and decorated with dead trees. I appreciate that low-budget look, and the minimalist set evokes a very specific atmosphere of cold devastation. Zari helps Amaya get to the ancestral plane through meditation, but it no longer reflects the vibrant, lively lands of Zambesi. It’s a barren wasteland corrupted by darkness, but the spirit of Amaya’s ancestor is still able to reach her, providing new details about Mallus and why Damien and his gang have been creating anachronisms. The demonic presence was imprisoned centuries ago by the original totem bearers in a prison of time, but he’s breaking free because the anachronisms have weakened the barrier keeping him in another dimension.

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Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)

This episode takes certain elements from preexisting dramatic works and plays them for laughs, from the awful wig thrown on Neal McDonough to the pitch-perfect split-screen montage underscored by German folk music, a well-aimed jab at Hawley’s Fargo. Damien, Nora, and Ray don’t belong in a Coen brothers world, and Adrian Hough actually has a very important role as the scientist Bernhard Vogal, the character who does belong in this world. Hough doesn’t deliver any camp, and he gives a severe, despairing performance that is a stark contrast to the superhero and supervillains trying to save him.

“No Country For Old Dads” is a spotlight for Neal McDonough, who gets to show off a lot of Damien Darhk’s different sides by playing the character in two time periods. In 1962, he’s a stone-cold silent badass that lets his guns do the talking. In the present, he’s an obnoxious deliverer of dad jokes struggling to connect with the daughter who resents him for making her a demonic conduit when she was a teenager. He struggles with showing affection, and Ray Palmer helps him realize how much he loves his daughter and how proud he is of who she has become. This episode mines a lot of humor from the Damien/Nora/Ray dynamic, and they develop a real sense of familiarity with each other. The script puts Damien and Nora’s heightened relationship in a relatable context, and their story boils down to a father forcing his child down a path she didn’t want.

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There’s some impressive use of Damien’s magical telekinesis in this episode, starting with his extended beating of an employee at Ray’s old workplace, Upswipes. The script undercuts the violence with humor, and as he’s being tossed around the room, the employee is responding to Damien’s comments about the effectiveness of his dating app. He mentions how focus groups found up-and-down swiping more intuitive than left-to-right and recommends that Damien flesh out the hobbies section of his profile, and these scenes are when Neal McDonough starts to light up, relishing Damien’s jackass attitude and leaning into his obnoxious dad persona.

Later, Damien will use his powers to keep his daughter from falling to her death while he fights his past self, and this scene functions as a nice metaphor for Damien’s relationship with his daughter and his own feelings. He’s trying to reach out to Nora, but there’s a part of him that keeps him from making that personal connection. With Ray’s help, Damien eventually reaches a point where he can express his emotions to Nora, and spending so much time on the Darhk family enriches the entire season by fleshing out its main villains. There are family relationships at play with the antagonists that weren’t there for the Legion of Doom, and it makes Damien, Nora, and Kuasa a more complicated trio.

Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)

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Wally West is a very smart addition to this series, giving the Legends a significant power boost with a speedster in their ranks but, more importantly, giving Keiynan Lonsdale the opportunity to continue exploring Wally’s character. Lonsdale has been making Wally more charming and self-assured over the last couple years, and I think the playful tone of this series will bring out even more of Lonsdale’s charisma. Wally already feels like the awkward little brother, and accidentally calling Amaya a “basic bitch” starts him off on the wrong foot with his teammates. Sara convinces Wally to stay by telling him they’re the all-stars of bad first impressions, and I’m very excited about the future friendship of Wally and Sara. This would be a great opportunity to bring Lonsdale’s queer identity into the show, and maybe Wally has bisexual feelings that he’s never felt comfortable expressing.

The Legends are going to need all the help they can get for their battle against Mallus, which heats up when Gorilla Grodd is unleashed on the Time Bureau and kills the current director. The final moments of this episode up the tension, and the season is entering its endgame as the Time Bureau crumbles and Mallus makes his way through dimensions. The Legends gain an extra totem thanks to Wally’s help, but there’s still a lot for them to overcome before they save the day. I’m eager to see if the show can stick the landing of the Mallus storyline, and given how strong this season has been, I have faith that Legends will maintain its hot streak and keep surprising us until the end.

Stray observations

  • Ava Sharpe has a secret. Any guesses as to what it is?
  • I hope Legends Of Tomorrow does a musical episode that uses the throwaway plot at the end of this episode where Bennett has to stop Alexander Hamilton from seeing Hamilton. The writers could create a new musical and makes the Legends actors in some kind of anachronism-related situation.
  • I love the way Agent Sharpe talks to Gary.
  • Damien is only getting one match on Upswipes: Fellow Arrow villain Carrie Cutter, a.k.a. Cupid. The writers should continue exploring this dating app subplot, it is very humanizing.
  • Is a Ray/Nora romance creepy if the Nora in Ray’s original time period is still a teenager? Time travel makes things complicated.
  • Wally: “Wasn’t that so fun? It was such a beautiful ceremony. The hors d’oeuvres were meh, and then the Nazi invasion.” Rip: “The what?”
  • Sara: “Rory—” Mick: “Crush a six-pack.” Sara: “You do what you do.”
  • “I enjoy destroying the world to remake it in my image. And I like trying new restaurants.”
  • Nora: “I’m annoyed.” Damien: “Hi, Annoyed. I’m dad!”
  • “Are you decent?”
  • “She only knows what you say to her, Damien. Can I call you Damien?”
  • “I am gonna kick my ass.”
  • Mick: “Dishes need cleaning.” Ray: “Ha! And I can’t wait to get ‘em done.”
  • “Well I wish we could stay longer but my boss was just murdered by a gorilla.”

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