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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Legends Of Tomorrow defend free will in a solid end to an exuberant season

Illustration for article titled The Legends Of Tomorrow defend free will in a solid end to an exuberant season

For a couple of seasons now, the Legends have been riding high on their not-so-unofficial motto: “We screw things up for the better.” They have long followed Snart’s four essential rules—make the plan, execute the plan, expect the plan to go off the rails, throw the plan away—except they sometimes skip the first two rules. They are chaos. In RPG terms (hey wait come back), they are, as a team, chaotic good*. Sure, they make many mistakes, but sometimes they’re able to bounce back, or even succeed in ways they’d never have been able to manage without the screw-ups. And sometimes things go wrong and can’t be fixed, but good can emerge from it. They’re The Beatles, making something beautiful in a time of war and turmoil. They’re also Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, out in the world being nuts and having fun and casting Cher as Meryl Streep’s mom. They’re the defenders of free will, armed with bad ideas and soundtracked by one, too. How on earth did Lachesis ever think a simple TV network could contain them?


“Swan Thong,” as crafted by credited writers Keto Shimizu and Morgan Faust, picks up not long after the events of the preceding episode, and it carries the same rebellious spirit. The plan is one of which Snart would have been proud. One team is tasked with locating and destroying the Loom, with part of that group responsible for keeping an eye on “Charlie-fate, Hippie-Mom-fate, and Psycho-fate;” the other sets out to find the Waverider which, as luck would have it, is conveniently located at the nearest Forbidden Dump. As a finale, it’s reasonably satisfying, with one of those bonkers set pieces Legends loves, a few heartbreaking moments (Legends loves those too), some Sara Lance badassery, a terrific cliffhanger, and even a musical number. But there’s also an uncharacteristic hesitation in “Swan Thong,” some dark corners around which this wonderful series hesitates to peer. This is a show that never misses an opportunity to do the most interesting thing, but this time, it’s the threads on which it doesn’t pull which are likely to linger.

Some of that comes down to a story that seems to quite simply run out of time. As an exit for Maisie Richardson-Sellers, “Swan Thong” is top-notch, giving her some of the meatiest scenework she’s had the opportunity to do over the course of the last four seasons (and as two different characters). But it’s hard not to wish that Charlie’s story had gotten more oxygen this season, given how central intends up being to its conclusion. As good as her big scenes are in this episode—and they’re both good and numerous, including the Mamma Mia defense, time spent receiving worshippers in the Loom Temple with Lachesis, her first scene back aboard the Waverider, some tough love from Lita, and that final scene with sister—they would, each and every one of them, benefit from a season that had prioritized Charlie’s identity as a Fate, her feelings about her sisters and about breaking the Loom, why she chose to break the Loom in the first place, and how centuries spent running have shaped her life. The season absolutely addresses those things, but often fleetingly or clumsily; Astra’s relationship with Lachesis is far more important to the season than Clotho/Charlie’s.

So all the pieces are there, but the episode sure has to do a lot of work to get to them. These last few episodes are, for the most part, impeccably paced, but it’s as if there was so much going on that the Charlie story had to sneak a few minutes here and there and count on bringing it all home in the finale. That’s most apparent in the two Lachesis scenes, both of which work on their own but which lack the gravitas that might have accompanied them were there more time spent exploring Charlie’s inner life. What did that forgiveness cost her? How does Lachesis’ emotional abuse figure into Charlie’s decision to break the Loom? What was it like for Charlie to bargain to save her friends by putting them on TV against their will and without their knowledge, and how much did watching them act as puppets hurt? (Not as literal puppets, of course. Not this time.)

Richardson-Sellers does an incredible job of selling the trauma Charlie is carrying from her time back with her sisters. The same is true of director Kevin Mock. The image of Charlie sitting, voluntarily, in a chair as a part of a museum exhibit on history’s greatest villains is downright haunting, and once she’s back on the Waverider, Richardson-Sellers makes the broken parts of Charlie’s spirit sharp enough to cut. But it’s as though that story, along with a few others, is too hot to touch somehow; when the episode approaches, it jerks back. It’s true of the citizens of the world who freaked out when the breaking of the Loom somehow restored memories of a life they didn’t know they’d lived. It’s true of Gary and Mona and Mick and Lita, hiding out for four months because the world thinks they’re Godkillers. And it’s especially true of poor Gideon, forced to control humanity and robbed of her family, her home, and her personality. That reveal is so shocking it drew a horrified gasp from this writer, and while the show didn’t fully follow through**, Shayan Sobhian deserves a lot of credit for absolutely selling the total violation of that moment.

He also sells the episode’s other big storyline, the dueling Tarazi/Tomaz timelines. I promise we’ll get to pogo sticks, Marie Antoinette, and Sisqo in just a moment, but the resolution of the two Zaris, Behrad, and Nate is likely to be satisfying even for those who weren’t ever really on board with the Zari 1.0/Nate love connection. The glimpse of Behrad’s death is unsurprisingly, nightmarishly affecting (especially at the moment), but so are some of the little moments in this story. Behrad saying “I thought you were Zari,” and Zari 1.0 responding, “I am.” Zari 2.0 not quite meeting Zari 1.0's eyes as she prepares to return into the totem. All the pieces of that long, sad goodbye, and especially Zari’s quiet but firm assertion to Behrad that it’s her turn to save him now. Expertly executed and acted by Sobhian, Nick Zano, and Tala Ashe, once again expertly pulling double duty. Zari 1.0, you’ll be sorely missed.


So there’s a lot of darkness in this episode, but there’s also Sisqo! What a fun set piece, and a lovely and potent metaphor for both the episode and the show. Some might argue that this series belongs in the Hall Of Bad Ideas, wedged between the Flat Earth Theory and glitter. Those people are wrong. Wild, strange ideas don’t always work, but the world would be so much more boring without them. We deserve a show where a clone falls in love with a reformed assassin who’s died a lot, the latter of whom regains her sight in this episode and promptly rejoices that she can see “this face!” We deserve a show where a kid born after her time-traveling dad banged her mom at a high school reunion can talk a literal Fate into giving that punk life another try. We deserve a show that casts one of its regulars as Marie Antoinette too, just for fun, and brings her back for the finale in which she takes an energy drink straight to the decapitated head. We deserve Astra’s green wig. We deserve Ava Sharpe attacking an escapee from hell with a pair of Shake Weights while “Thong Song” blares. We deserve spring shoes and glitter and a punk cover of “Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac.” All hail free will, bad ideas, and Legends Of Tomorrow, which does not ignore the darkness, but which will always embrace the fun.

* Mick, clearly, is chaotic neutral; Ava is lawful good. I will gladly argue about the others in the comments.


** — Though perhaps it will next season, since Gideon has been reset to her factory defaults and needs you to select a language and whatnot.

Stray observations

  • Nate does, indeed, need so many drinks. He really should text Dion.
  • Sisqo! You were great! Thank you for being such a good sport!
  • There are far more important things going on, but I would like to say one more time before the long wait for season six (season six!): Dear The CW, Please, please let the people buy themselves a Beebo. These are trying times, and Beebo want cuddles.
  • Speaking of Beebo, did you spot him during the Legends’ presentation on why free will rules?
  • The other contenders for this episode’s title are very entertaining.
  • As always, Chancellor Agard’s coverage at EW is invaluable, and this interview with Phil Klemmer is no exception. Among other topics, it confirms Maisie Richardson-Sellers’ exit and addresses how they chose between Zaris. Also some interesting notes about next season. A must-read.
  • “Whoa whoa whoa, wait. There are two of them?”
  • Thank you so much for reading along this season. It’s been a very dark few months, and I think this show is a big shiny demonstration of the value of art made with joy and humor—particularly when it’s made with thought, heart, and compassion as well. Hope to see you next year when these wonderful idiots return to fight aliens, and in the meantime, please feel free to say hi on Twitter.
  • Episode MVP: Tala Ashe and Maisie Richardson-Sellers. Season MVP: Brandon Routh. Yes, he was gone for half of it. It matters not. But a very good season for basically everyone, and a special shoutout to Mina Sundwall and the impeccably named Sarah Strange, both of whom were great this season.
  • Best episode of the season: Some greats in here, and “The One Where We’re Trapped On TV” comes close, but the clear winner is “Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac.”
  • Why the fuck not?: Sisqo is perhaps the ultimate WTFN. Nate stealing his dance moves to use as an offensive move when he steels up is even WTFNier.
  • Line-reading of the week: “Gidget!”
  • Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: “Weren’t they dead?” “I mean, who hasn’t died?” Runner-up: “Why? Are they tired from the crossover?” “What is a crossover?”
  • Final season five episode title ranking: 14. Miss Me, Kiss Me, Love Me 13. Meet The Legends. 12. A Head Of Her Time. 11. Zari, Not Zari 10. Ship Broken 9. I Am Legends. 8. The Great British Fake Off. 7. Freaks And Greeks 6. The One Where We’re Trapped On TV. 5. Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac. 4. Swan Thong. 3 and 2 (tie). Slay Anything and Mortal Khanbat. 1. Romeo V. Juliet: Dawn Of Justness. A Legends all-timer.
  • This week’s Legends in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song form. Big thanks to fellow A.V. Club contributor (and great pal) Kate Kulzick for helping me narrow my choices this season. This suggestion was all hers—and fittingly, it was also the pick for last year’s finale. So here’s humanity, to their FateWatches:

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves TV, bourbon, and overanalyzing social interactions. Please buy her book, How TV Can Make You Smarter (Chronicle, 2020). It’s short!