They’re back! They’re really back! This is a review, it really is, but to begin with anything other than flat-out glee that this marvelous, irreverent, stupid-like-a-fox show has returned would be disingenuous. And while you can chalk some of this next assertion up to projection on this writer’s part (psychological projection, not the astral sort), that oh-thank-god-let’s-have-some-dumb-fun energy seems to exist on both sides of the screen. While there’s an unavoidably melancholy streak to “Ground Control To Sara Lance,” there’s also a palpable sense of possibility, from Astra’s adventures out of hell (and apparent disinterest in a permanent place amongst the Legends) and John and Zari’s whole deal to David Frickin’ Bowie inadvertently revealing to Ava and company that Sara’s prepared to propose. And as always with the start of a new Legends season, there’s the energy that comes with a new pure-chaos problem, this time the scattering of a whole shit-ton of aliens (and maybe some other beings?) through the timeline.
So yeah, pretty glad this show is back—and so, it seems, is the show itself.
That doesn’t mean that “Ground Control To Sara Lance,” written by James Eagan & Mark Bruner and directed by Kevin Mock, is without either flaws or sadness. When it comes to the latter, it would be strange if there weren’t. Is it any surprise that a storyline in which the team is abruptly confronted with a reality-shifting crisis, one which puts nearly all its members well outside their comfort zones, would resonate with the writers and cast? That after the year and change we’ve all had, they might be drawn to a plot that’s rooted in the tension between helplessness and urgency? Legends being Legends, the episode never tips entirely into mournful territory (this ain’t Arrow, and Barry Allen’s not around to suggest that he sacrifice himself to save Sara through the power of the speed force and/or love), but Ava Sharpe’s the one driving this bus, and she never for a moment forgets what’s at stake or stops thinking about what might be happening to the Space Girl.
So let’s begin with Ava and the rest of the Legends, at least those who weren’t abducted by aliens. The action picks up with our heroes still in London in 1977, either waking from, wrapping up, or still living out the previous night’s festivities. All except Mick, that is, who seems to have so thoroughly embraced fatherhood that he does more than his fair share of scolding. After waking Ava from a little puke-nap in the Waverider’s lone bathroom, the pair head off to round up Zari and John (casually doing some casual morning-after chat), Astra (gambling with suckers), Behrad (chatting up a member of the Queen’s Guard), and Nate (telling David Frickin’ Bowie* his sad love story). By complete coincidence, David Frickin’ Bowie happened to get film of Sara on his Super 8, first as she tells him she’s planning to propose to Ava, and then as she’s being sucked up into space by a “blue light funk,” as David Frickin’ Bowie puts it.
And just like that, we’ve got space adventures! The team spends most of the episode reeling from not only Sara’s abduction, but also from the fact that none of their skills, knowledge, or tech seem particularly useful. So Ava turns, as many of us do in such moments, to being productive. It’s a very useful way to keep the feelings at bay, and Sara’s not lost, she’s pre-found, thank you very much. But when Gideon figures out that the appearance of the spaceship above London is itself a time aberration, it becomes clear that it’s at least sort of their territory, and they head out to follow whatever absurd leads they might have. Among them: Aleister Crowley’s alien magic (via The Book Of The Law), an old tabloid, and a green smoothie made with 100% organic alien cocoon. Macallan continues to balance the comic appeal of Ava’s type-A tendencies with genuine feeling, and does so expertly here.
But about that cocoon: John, Astra, and Zari’s search for a magical means of locating Sara leads them to Gary’s bedroom, where they find an alien cocoon and glasses that the Doctor (you know the one)** would probably call a shimmer. Because hey, it turns out that Gary’s an alien, and he’s engaged to his boss Kayla, who ate Spartacus for lunch.
The latest Gary retcon/reboot works a little better than the previous Gary retcons/reboots (count ‘em!) for a few reasons. Among them: Adam Tsekhman’s physical acting before his alien form once again puts the specs on his face, which somehow makes it clear that the alien in question is Gary long before it’s revealed; Tsekhman’s performance as Zari-as-Gary, which is even more spot-on; and especially the fact that yet another major change in who Gary is and what it’s about has occurred, which makes the frequency with which that character has mutated seem like a feature, not a bug. Gary’s a walking plot device! Maybe next season we’ll meet his evil twin!
Still, it’s a little haphazard. Once Sara, the “quintessential human,” wakes up, we get some solid alien fights with no help from either Spartacus or Gary but with an assist from the difference in gravitational pull (those jumps!) But the flimsiness does itch a bit. Surely the disguise might have become apparent around the time that a unicorn bit off his nipple? Or when he succumbed to the Dark Side? Gary the Little Flower Boy as a secret alien I absolutely buy, but Gary, pursuer of Mona Wu and absolute butthole? Not so much.
As an introduction, there’s some serious clumsiness—and the same is true of Lisseth Chavez’s Spooner, who we meet when a stoned Behrad and nihilistic Mick head out to find the little kid who was once abducted by aliens, now a very smart, very paranoid woman who may or may not have alien tech in her head (which Gideon would very much like to dissect, pleaseandthankyou.) Chavez seems like a natural fit for the cast, but Spooner’s character progression is a bit all over the place, her suspicion, sympathy, terror, and toughness ebbing and flowing based on the tone of the scene, rather than the character’s journey. But as with this latest retooling of Gary, it’s too soon to tell how effective they’ll be (and both actors are certainly up to the challenge).
Still, even with some bumps in the road, this Legends return could not be more welcome. Let Sara Lance and Gary the Alien explore new planets in search of a way home while Ava cleans up the timeline-and-galaxy-spanning mess. Punch aliens! Roll your eyes at Spartacus! Drink a cocoon! Talk about John Constantine’s ass! Do whatever you want, Legends—we’re just glad to see you.
* - Not easy to play David Bowie, folks! He’s David Bowie! Thomas Nicholson did pretty well, particularly once he started singing.
** - Crossover when? Priority one: Beebos for purchase. Priority two: Get The CW and the BBC to join forces long enough to get Jodie Whittaker on the Waverider. Or maybe Clara and ME. Good with either.
- Welcome back to Legends coverage! I’ll be here all season.
- Astra’s got the right idea. If you run into David Bowie whilst traveling in time, you should absolutely shoot your shot.
- Episode MVP: Jes Macallan, straight killing it. But Caity Lotz also did really well.
- Why the fuck not?: Gary’s fiancée/boss Kayla eats Spartacus, who is stupid, for lunch via her terrifying chestmouth.
- Line-reading of the week: It’s not funny, but Jes Macallan’s delivery of “Sara never liked to be alone” was just perfect.
- “Zari. Her name is Zari. And I’m afraid I’ll never see her again... Hi Zari!” And speaking of great line-readings, “Zari 1.0, not yuh.”
- Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: Lots of options, but let’s call it a tie between Gary’s ship description and “being an Avenger is stupid... I’m a Preventer.”
- Episode title ranking: Check back next week. 1. Ground Control To Sara Lance.
- Tonight (the day of the premiere, that is) after the episode airs on the west coast, fellow TV Clubber LaToya Ferguson and I will be discussing all the hijinks on Crowdcast. Come share your thoughts, or just squee about that proposal.
- “Space Girl” rules.