The mid-season premiere of Legends Of Tomorrow would like to impart a few lessons. Certain fights are unavoidable, and they just have to happen. Every story needs its ups and downs—it can’t be all wins, or all losses—and really good stories can change the world. Sometimes people (or beings) can’t be together, no matter how much they love each other. Whatever you do, never, ever, ever trust The Man. And last, why throw such a big fancy party if you’re only going to have tiny little treats?
There aren’t many nits to pick with “Lucha De Apuestas,” the efficient, entertaining Legends mid-season opener from credited writers Keto Shimizu (showrunner) and Tyron B. Carter, and director Andrew Kasch. As with most (if not all) of the series’ post-Vandal Savage installments, there’s an appealing blend of the ridiculous, the emotionally resonant, and the thoughtful; the only major detriment here, if you can call it that, is that there are aspects of the episode that seem subdued. That’s subdued by Legends standards, of course: There’s still a tango, a Kaupe acting as a luchador, “GO **** ******** HAIRCUT,” a card game meant to teach the new Legends about all the team’s previous missteps, a conspiracy, a burgeoning romance and a significant death, and of course, the return of RAYGE.
And then there’s the biggest development: the episode-ending reveal of what that scratch of Mona’s (Ramona Young) means for her future, and the show’s.
Story-wise, there’s a lot going on, but Legends has always been good at weaving together multiple threads. The show’s writers are at an advantage here, too: nearly everything that happens, save the odd glimpse of Desmond/Neron, is directly tied to Mona and the conspiracy into which she stumbled. What seems like the beginning of Mona’s inevitable introduction to the team stems directly from one of the threads left dangling in that excellent mid-season finale: Her inadvertent injury at the hands of Konane (Darien Martin) when he was fighting back against his mysterious assailants/abductors, now called “the men in black.” The conflict between Sara and Ava (and the Legends and the Time Bureau), Konane’s trip to Mexico City and his subsequent wrestling adventures, Gary’s temporarily missing memory, the rising tension between Nate and Hank, the very different tension between Nate and Zari—all stem, at least in part, from that one swipe. And Ramona Young’s engagingly weird and warm performance makes such a reliance on one plot point more than possible.
That Legends can make the final scene between Mona and Konane one of the episode’s most affecting—missing out only because Ava and Sara’s final moments together pack such a punch—is unsurprising. The show has a knack for drawing out the emotional core of even the most outlandish storyline. (See: death of Stein + rise of Beebo.) Still, the fact that they so regularly pull stuff like this off doesn’t diminish its impressiveness. Again, a lot of the credit must go to Young (and to Martin, whose watch has now presumably ended), but Shimizu and Carter make a couple of really smart choices along the way to make it possible. There’s a through-line of melancholy running through even the earliest scenes, as Ava finds herself in a precarious position at work, Mona deals with parents who could be called difficult to say the least, before being forced to flee (by Gary, of all people), and Nate soon has to confront the possibility that his father might be even more complicated and/or nefarious than previously thought. Those early blue notes mean that even the most why-the-fuck-not moments (“Did you just try to shoot her shoot her?!) still feel at home in this slightly forlorn chapter.
The wisest decisions that Shimizu and Carter make, however, concern the mission-of-the-week and the person from whom Mona gets some good, if sorrowful, advice.
A luchador storyline on Legends seems like perhaps the surest of sure things. The masks! The fire! Oh, the hijinks that could ensue! But as with “Tagumo Attacks!!!” the series checks all the fun boxes and then moves down the page to the really interesting stuff. Konane, a.k.a. El Lobo, isn’t in the wrong here, really. He’s just doing what, as Mona says, he’s meant to do. El Cura (Frank Gallegos) also sits on the good-guys side of the line. There’s not a bad guy in the story, just a wrestler who doesn’t know how that world works yet: “There’s no rules, there’s no plan, he just wins every time.” The task, then, isn’t to take anyone down, just to set history to rights so both wrestlers can be the triumphant figures they were destined to be. One must be inspired to get off his ass; the other, encouraged to play better with others. Great story, and pretty dan good wrestling, too.
But there’s a villain all the same, and it’s The Man. “Lucha De Apuestas” still manages to tell the “modern morality play” Constantine speaks of, by having the wrestlers, the audience, and the Legends take a stand against the oppressors—and it’s that stand that drives Ava and Sara apart, however temporarily, in a scene that’s as heartrending as it is inevitable. It’s smart writing, finding room both for that wrench of a breakup and Charlie standing on a table and bellowing with all of her punk-rock heart. Good stuff.
The real gem of the episode, though, is a card that Legends plays rarely, but always to great effect. It’s the Mick-Rory-does-the-kindest-thing card. Mona may not realizing she’s getting advice from the Rebecca Silver, but she listens all the same, prepared to let Konane head back to Hawaii while knowing she can never go with him. There’s a gulf between them that can’t be traversed, just as Sara and Ava reach an impasse they can’t surmount. And Mick Rory’s gentle, begrudging advice makes all that follows possible. It’s a solid scene from Dominic Purcell, all the more effective because it’s a trick that’s deployed relatively rarely.
Smart, big-hearted stuff, plopped right alongside wrestling matches and Gary’s absent nipple. Even when this show has some difficult lessons to impart, it finds a way to tell them in the most Legends way possible.
- ICYMI: Renewed!
- History lesson: I am nothing resembling a wrestling expert, but it would seem that El Cura (the priest) is modeled on El Santo (the saint).
- Why the fuck not?: Let’s call it a tie between the entire glorious wrestling storyline but the flames in particular, and the whole “Sara and Ava need to have a private conversation so they tango” thing. Love it.
- Line-reading of the week: Obviously, it’s “WHERE’S MY NIPPLE?!” Runner-up: poor sweet Ray’s “Let’s prepare ourselves to WRESTLE!!!!!”
- Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: “Vandal Savage? That’s a real name?” “And here’s me thinkin’ that Damien Darhk’s moniker was a touch on the nose.”
- Updated season four episode title ranking: 9. Witch Hunt (too easy), 8. Dancing Queen (disappointing lack of disco, bonus for surprise appearance of the queen), 7 and 6 (tie). Tagumo Attacks!!! (love the exclamation points, dinged for lack of cheesy pun) and Lucha De Apuestas (exciting, to the point, also no pun) 5. Tender Is The Nate (needed more F. Scott Fitzgerald, made me giggle), 4. Hell No, Dolly! (no musical numbers? You’re killin’ me, writers), 3. Wet Hot American Bummer (still laughing, weeks later; for a fun bonus, imagine Constantine doing Paul Rudd-style cleaning), 2. The Virgin Gary (solid contender for best Legends title, though nothing will ever beat Guest Starring John Noble), 1. Legends Of To-Meow-Meow (see #2). But just wait until later in the season.
- I hope Nate knows that if he romances Zari, he’ll always come second to snacks.
- “Eat my fuzzy dung, ya dick!”
- Snickerdoodles and whiskey are a legit excellent combo.
- Check the “as seen on TV” logo in the corner of the game box (pictured below). Oh, Ray/Legends writers. Never ever change.