Anyone else worried about Gideon, or is that just me?
Early in this episode, Captain Sharpe is getting the details on the
Massacre on Main Street Suburban Slaughter from our favorite ship-steering, time-skimming A.I., and then dear, sweet, chipper Gideon announces the anomalous event with a dramatic blood-splatter graphic. Dark. It’s a relatively minor moment, but one of several that set the tone for “Meat: The Legends,” an episode that doesn’t want for either grimness or verve. Written by Matthew Maala & Morgan Faust and directed with great panache by time-travel TV legend Rachel Talalay, it’s an hour that sets up a new variation on a familiar formula (what’s scattered through the timeline this season? Aliens, obv) in its A-plot. In the B storyline, however, things get considerably weirder, and in both, there’s an undercurrent of grimness that’s uncharacteristic, but by no means a misstep. Even the good things are also pretty messed up!
Let’s start with the special sauce, shall we? After an alien splats on the Waverider’s windshield (and then gets wiped away by a previously-unseen giant space windshield wiper), Ava frets that the team’s just lost a lead, but the newly grim Gideon knows that’s not the case, and she sends the time-idiots back to San Bernadino in 1955, where the birth of fast food will soon be interrupted by the violent death of every human currently in residence. The cause, at first, is unclear, but it soon seems like they’ve stumbled onto a Blob-like situation.
But instead of eating the customers (at least at first), the customers eat the blob. “Meat: The Legends” relishes (unintentional pun, honest) the idea that the alien that the team needs to locate is, in fact, the special sauce that makes the Big Bang Burgers so irresistible, because as Behrad points out, it’s almost certainly not the patties. A
special sauce parasitic condiment alien is hell of a conceit, and one worthy of this daffy show, but Maala and Faust find a way to pivot back to the more obvious solution, which is somehow less obvious after she special sauce fakeout: it’s cocoon goo! It eats you alive —> you eat it alive —> you eat its cocoon and eat each other alive if it doesn’t eat you alive first.
The result is another Legends zombie-fest of sorts, and while it’s not the best of its kind (and there are quite a few), it’s entertaining enough, if only because it allows us to see Dragon Girl and Burger Boy (that would be Zari and Behrad, who apparently cherishes very fond memories of working the grill at a burger joint) overcoming a sibling spat to work together and save the day, at least temporarily*. That’s the warm fuzzy piece of this episode, and even that has a less cuddly undercurrent: it’s resolved when Zari 1.0 (!!!!!!!!!!!)** overhears the Tarazi siblings attempting to our-courteous each other and uses her magic totem-dweller abilities to split the totem in two. Wonderful! Except, wait, hold up, can Zari 1.0 hear all the people she loves hanging out and interacting with this other version of herself all the time? Because that sounds like hell. First of all, she deserves some peace and quiet. Second, what happens when they’re all in peril, as they very often are? She just listens to the panic? Her new reality is “Sara has been abducted by aliens, guess it’s time to go back to my book?” I have more questions, but you get the idea.
But while the Tarazi siblings “are, like, so good at sharing,” the real substance of this story is neither the fate of the air totem nor the commentary on consumption and the death of small businesses; it’s about hunger for closure, for progress, for stability. Rhonda (Kirsten Robek, expertly cast) hungers for a way to save her marriage and Big Bang Burger, and a sauce literally falls from the sky, the byproduct of the “she” Rhonda has taken to nuzzling like it’s a miracle baby. Ava craves some kind of lead, any lead at all, to put her on a path to finding Sara, and forgets to treat Spooner like a human being instead of a tool for the job. Spooner just wants to kill aliens, but it’s a desire rooted in loss and helplessness. Even Mick is uncharacteristically focused, once again getting the job done while his co-workers fuck off, which perhaps is the result of a need to get shit done so he can get back to being a Dad. (Then he... disappears? It’s odd.)
Once the giant air feeder gets crispy-bugged, Ava and Spooner have the now-traditional “we’re all misfits here, join the gang” conversation. But like Spooner says, “y’all are dark.” As expected, the pair arrive at a determination to keep going, but in Spooner’s case at least, that drive springs from the idea that if only she can kill enough aliens, she’ll get closure for the loss of her mother. Y’all are dark! That’s not a complaint! It’s an affecting scene, beautifully played by Jes Macallan and Lisseth Chavez, but it’s not uplifting. It only takes the shape of something warmer, when underneath is nothing but loss, fear, and self-delusion.
As for Sara and Gary, who the hell knows? After crash-landing on an alien planet, alien-Gideon informs Gary that they’re completely out of fuel, and when they spot a golden retriever wearing a scarf out the window, the pair rightly recognizes that as an odd occurrence and set out to follow the mysterious pup. It’s very Lost. And once they arrive at the Pacific Northwest’s most popular site for faux-alien planets, they find Amelia Earheart, or maybe they don’t.
I’ll wait until we see what the hell is up with the teeth and the stew and the flashlight-eyes and memory loss and puppy before digging too far into this story—it’s clearly the start of something bigger—but I will note that, my quibbles about the Gary reboots aside, Adam Tsekhman turns in some really excellent work as this more genuine Gary. It’s all just turned down a little bit, as though the stress of hiding all those secrets was what was making Gary so.... Gary. Now that we know he’s an alien, he seems far more human. It’s really lovely, actually. There’s a previously unseen tenderness at work that adds a lot to an otherwise BONKERS but relatively thin subplot.
Whether the darkness is an unexpected byproduct—like, say, the goo that tastes like ketchup and mayo and rice vinegar—of the choices made in this episode or an indicator of what’s to come this season, I don’t know. But it makes a solid, if not top-tier, Legends outing that much more memorable. What comes next? Wish I had an answer for you. Last thing I remember, I was soaring over the Pacific. Me and my navigator Fred were almost done with our flight around the globe. It was mission accomplished. Then the left engine started sputtering. Why? Wish I had an answer for you. Last thing I remember, I was—
* – It also gives us Nate on rollerskates in little shorts, but not nearly enough of Nate on rollerskates in little shorts. Come on, Legends, give the people what they want!
** – !!!!!!! Honestly thought we’d seen the last of Zari 1.0, excepting perhaps a reappearance if/when Nick Zano departs the show. If this is it, it’s a nice little coda. But if she’s going to continue to be a presence, I am thrilled. Give Tala Ashe all the things to do! She’s great! Make four Zaris!
- God, Rachel Talalay is good. This episode is stylish as hell. (So are the costumes!)
- “Okay Gary, resist the cuteness, you’ve been fooled by dogs before.”
- Love the Stabcast reference.
- “Don’t finish that sentence. Not unless you want to summon a trickster prawn.” Please, please summon the trickster pawn.
- “It’s like that old movie The Stuff but with aioli instead of ice cream!”
- In addition to The Blob and The Stuff, this episode also brought to mind Men In Black (the bug alien), The Exorcist (the sauce vomit, obviously), and American Graffiti (basically all the stuff at the restaurant). And there’s a definite Harryhausen vibe to some of the effects, which is pretty great. Anything I missed?
- “I know what it’s like to have people mess with you, and it doesn’t make you crazy, it just makes you vigilant.” I won’t use the C-word, but of course Ava understands what that’s like.
- Episode MVP: Lisseth Chavez! So good! Welcome to the team, Spooner! But again, I want to acknowledge how subtle the adjustments in Tsekhman’s performance are. It would be so easy to just keep Gary Gary, but he’s adding layers. Great stuff.
- Why the fuck not?: As Ava said last week, swing a dead cat—but maybe the importance of the dragon ash?
- Line-reading of the week: “Like Mothra! Coooool!”
- Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: It’s not a moment, but the approach to the effects, which seem to embrace rather than obscure budget limitations, was inspired.
- Episode title ranking: 1. Meat: The Legends. 2. Ground Control To Sara Lance.
- After the episode ends on the west coast, I’ll be discussing “Meat: The Legends” fellow TV Clubber LaToya Ferguson and EW’s Chancellor Agard on Crowdcast. Come share your thoughts, assuming you’re not roaming the countryside in a frenzy, dripping with meat-sweats and hungry for some more special sauce.