This is your moment, theater majors. Brace yourselves. In the paragraph below, you will be asked to call upon your degree.
One of my favorite nerdy theater words comes from Commedia dell’arte. There are several ways to define “lazzi,” both in terms of how it was used in the 17th century and how it’s used today, but I tend to think of the penguin-waiters entering in Mary Poppins:
Or, more recently, Jaida Essence Hall yelling “look over there!” My theater history professor would probably retroactively fail me for saying this, but in my mind, an easy/lazy way to define lazzi is to think of a lazzo as a “wocka wocka wocka” moment. Do you need to fill time? Lazzi. Is the audience asleep? Lazzi. Has a scene gone off the rails? Lazzi. Do you need to distract from something else? Lazzi. It’s the unholy, extremely helpful, often very entertaining marriage of stalling for time and playing the hits.*
“Bad Blood” is a lazzi episode. That’s an odd thing to say, maybe, of an hour in which a kid watches his uncle get killed by a fascist, then brings the uncle back to life with magic that scares the crap out of him, knowing full well that things are going to get even worse after that because, well, fascists. One does not hear the word “lazzi” and think “Constantine’s unaddressed trauma and self-loathing rear their ugly heads when his quest for a MacGuffin comes up short, so Spooner attempts to lullaby a kid’s magic out of him and float it across the room to John, but John isn’t worthy so instead he drinks a crazy blood-magic potion that makes him maniacally cackle while he trips balls and murders fascists in a dried-up-fountain cave.”
But that’s “Bad Blood:” half a grim, unsettling Legends history episode in which Constantine seriously regresses and transgresses, and half a collection of lazzi loosely strung together. It’s also the first episode of the year to feel like the uphill battle that making this whole season almost certainly was. You can sense and sometimes see the budgetary restrictions, the time constraints, and the surely endless practical and safety issues unavoidable in a pandemic season. (What a thing to say.)
Chaos is pretty much always welcome on Legends. It’s what makes the time-idiots so great: chaotic good = screwing things up for the better. But this doesn’t play like cultivated chaos. Instead, it’s a frustrating, though of course entertaining, 42 minutes in which a potentially good (and legitimately scary) Constantine/Spooner episode gets bulked up by Gary losing his glasses, the shipbound Legends getting their asses kicked by a rapidly-growing Gus**, and Mick yelling about being pregnant.
None of that stuff is bad! It’s all either engrossing or fun, but when it’s all smushed together it becomes a sort of glob of Legends essence, like the nicotine gum John stuck on Crowley’s painted forehead. But because the A-story isn’t a total triumph, its inadequacies become that much more obvious. The Legends dealing with Gus-Gus off-screen is a good lazzo, but it’s not that good. The Legends singing Gus-Gus to sleep, though? Perfect.
There are highlights, of course: This season, Legends is really not fucking around when it comes to its political leanings. The gang has now taken shots at capitalism, Nazis, the Catholic Church, gentrification, the flattening of art for mass consumption, and racism in several of its many forms; I’m sure I’ve forgotten others. To the credit of the writers (including this episode’s credited writer, Grainne Godfree), it never comes off as self-congratulatory or trite; it’s always either totally earned, a la John’s really wonderful speech about why he needs magical power, or it takes the form of a jabby punchline, which is a Legends specialty. Matt Ryan sells the hell out of that speech, and it’s potent enough that it counterbalances the slight nature of the war aspect of the story and makes up for some, if not all, of the uncharacteristic issues with tonal shifts. If any show can make the switch from ‘magical donkey’*** to a sort of Indiana Jones vs. Nazi situation and from Indiana Jones to blood magic murder hallucinogens, it’s Legends, but I’m not sure Legends can, either.
Still, Ryan and Lisseth Chavez, who gets to do some real capital-A Acting in this episode, are both great. Mick’s storyline spun its wheels until it arrived in the medbay, but Dominick Purcell and Mina Sundwall do lovely work together, and the adjustments Sundwall makes to her performance for this older, wiser Lita are really thoughtful and effective. The rest of the time-idiots are pretty great, too; we don’t spend much time with Zari (“the O.Z.”), but her getting a video of the Gus lullaby was funny, as were the increasingly chaotic hair situations of everyone but Mick. And Jes Macallan got the biggest laugh of the episode from me when Ava reacted to Mick’s brood-sac sonogram.
But as is always the case when an episode of this show falls a little flat, my instinct is to end with what’s most promising. This isn’t a series that stands still; often new supporting characters help to yank even the most recalcitrant storylines along. So it is with Noelle the French vampire/lawyer (Melissa Farman). Feeling a little let down because Legends is stalling for time? Just say the words “French vampire-slash-lawyer” aloud to yourself, or better yet, start imagining the possibilities—because on this show, they’re pretty much endless.
* — I am not any sort of serious scholar when it comes to dell’arte, please do not write “the penguins from Mary Poppins” on any theater history exam you may take next year. This is just how I’ve got it filed away in my brain.
** — Uh, where did they drop him? Is he hanging out with Ray’s dinosaur community? Is he on planet Kayla? He’s coming back, right?
*** — The surest sign of budget constraints is not Nate failing to steel up. It’s the magical donkey with giant magical udders that must be suckled THAT WE NEVER SEE ON SCREEN.
- Gary losing his glasses is BRILLIANT. BRILLIANT. SO BRILLIANT.
- I’m going to be bummed if we don’t get a live-action Matt Lucas appearance, if only for the Doctor Who element. Every Who player in Legends puts me one step closer to seeing Bill Potts on the Waverider.
- Does Nate use his extremely helpful superpower in this episode? Hahahahahahhhahahahahahah yeah probably, since he’s mostly off-screen dealing with Gus-Gus.
- Episode MVP: If every time Matt Ryan was good at playing John Constantine he got an MVP then he’d have 14 MVPs for the NBC series alone. He’s good, but I think this has got to go to Lisseth Chavez, who hit a bunch of solid comic beats but also held down the heavier stuff as well as, if not better than, her new blood-juiced hypnotist pal.
- Why the fuck not?: French lawyer/vampire/blood-potion-dealer.
- Line-reading of the week: “Yeah, well, then you’ll understand my attitude towards priests.”
- Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: Tie: “New girl on the ship vibes” and the fact that the Nazis researched the Spear of Destiny and the Loom of Fate as well as the Fountain of Imperium. Presumably, they also researched the Hawk People and various and sundry totems.
- 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. Bad Blood.