Sometimes a great show stumbles, and it’s infuriating, or dispiriting, or both. (The North remembers.) This is not one of those times, though it’s not because “Bishop’s Gambit” is a stumble-free zone. It’s because of the final five minutes. If you choose to follow Behrad’s advice and live in the now, those last few beats might well wash the preceding missteps right out of your head, and if that’s the case for you, I get it. If I weren’t reviewing the show, I’d probably be in that camp, too. And it’s not as though the acts that precede the last are without highlights. Still, the stumbles here, some linked to issues carried over from weeks previous, are worth addressing.
But screw it, let’s start with the good stuff, and that ending in particular. It’s the one point at which most of the disparate threads in this episode come together. (John and Astra are basically just setting up future story stuff, so we’ll get to them another day.) First, Kayla tells Mick that stupid humans were always going to bring about their own destruction, and then asks him why he doesn’t defend humanity. He said he agrees, humans suck, but Sara’s different, and that’s why they have to find her. (There’s also some chat about fear and intelligence to go along with all the other chats about strength and fear and weakness and the past and the future. It’s one of those episodes.) Then Spooner, terrified she’s turning into an Amelia Alienhart, confronts the alien formerly known as Amelia herself for more weakness chat and the revelation that she killed Sara Lance. Ava is devastated, but we’re not, because we know Sara is alive and well and currently dragging Bishop’s recumbent form all over his swinging space station! Right?
Wrong. Well, sort of. Legends has always been very deliberate when addressing what makes us who we are. Take George Lucas out of the world and Ray and Nate change because they were never inspired by Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Rewrite Zari’s past and she becomes another version of herself—still intelligent, emotionally guarded, and funny, but with a completely different set of lived experiences which push her in entirely new directions. When Sara successfully wields the death totem, it’s because she accepts the dark chapters of her past as part of what makes her who she is, without defining who she is or limiting who she can become. And there’s of course Ava, whose struggles with self-acceptance and finding a place to belong were a focus for the character even before the C-word revelation.
So what does it mean when the Sara Lance with whom we spent the hour looks down at the corpse* of the Sara Lance with whom we started the season? No idea. But having spent a lot of time with this show, I can tell you this for free: It doesn’t mean that the current version is a “fake” Sara Lance and that the one on the table is “real.” It will, inevitably, be more complicated than that.
It’s a terrific final act, particularly on Planet Butthole; the physical comedy and Raffi Barsoumian’s deranged performance blends with the steely determination Caity Lotz always gives Sara Lance to create an element of satisfyingly weird and tense tonal dissonance, and the one-two punch of Ava learning Sara is “dead” with Sara learning Sara is “dead” is a hell of a kicker. (It’s made even better if you immediately watch the preview for next week, so here you go.)
Maybe I am in the ‘live-in-the-now’ boat after all, because that’s some ~600 words on the ending and only a few on the hiccups. Still, let’s dig into those, too, because at least one has bigger implications.
The first issue is a simple one, and it’s one I’m inclined to hand-wave away, since it’s a Covid season: “Bishop’s Gambit” is somehow both overstuffed and disappointingly thin in spots. Splitting the cast into smaller groups has always been the Legends m.o., but usually, they come together (like the chest-bump at Woodstock). With an episode like this one, which builds to a big revelation while setting up important future arcs, the coming together to chest-bump piece is important. Credited writers James Eagan and Emily Cheever do an admirable job of braiding all the individual strands together, and the pace is terrific—it just never stops! But because the gang is so divided, the ties that bind them—the chest-bumps, the thematic links, etc—become all the more important. It’s easy to see the attempts to reinforce those bonds, but there are only so many minutes and there’s a lot of ground to cover.
That’s the bigger problem—the number of storylines makes it all but impossible to settle into any of them. Sara and Spooner fare best, Sara because she’s largely on her own and we know her so well, and Spooner because we’re still learning about her and because the threat is so immediate. (It’s also the story most directly tied to Sara, so.) But Mick and Kayla basically just show up, get taken prisoner and/or get killed by the pink planet’s toxically pink atmosphere, and then do the old Titanic hand on the window gag with a tentacle. The last part is great, but the rest is just kind of... there. Mick flew across a galaxy with a hot alien and she drank him under the table and we saw none of it? They’ve developed a camaraderie how exactly? Of course Mick hooks up with Kayla. That’s just destiny. But it feels like the show skipped to the thing we all knew was going to happen, and in doing so makes it much less satisfying. (See also: The Legends have to camp out at John’s.)
Then there’s the last thing, which I’m going to mostly withhold judgment on until we see how the next few episodes play out. For now: Is it just me, or is Legends going darker than it seems to acknowledge? I know this episode ends with Sara’s dead body, so that’s pretty dark and very acknowledged—but don’t they also drug, torture, and ultimately murder Amelia Earhart?
* – I’m assuming for the moment that it really is her body, but Bishop did seem to be convinced to let Sara out of her cuffs a little too easily, so maybe the body is a startlingly realistic prop and her finding it was all a part of his plan.
- “Why?” “It’s heavy.”
- Does Nate use his extremely helpful superpower in this episode? He does not, but in Nate’s defense, he was busy wrecking John’s guitar.
- Episode MVP: I think I’m gonna have to give this one to Raffi Barsoumian, because Tom-Haverford-But-He’s-An-Evil-Tech-Bro is pretty goddamn entertaining, I must say. Appies. Appies.
- Why the fuck not?: Normally I’d say it’s that Gary radicalizes the Avas, but Amelia Earhart stole the Waverider and then they straight-up killed her when she turned into an alien.
- Line-reading of the week: “You ever seen an octopus squeeze through a hole? My body is like that!”
- Gideon, what’s the most meta moment?: They are really going for it with Gary-the-shipper, aren’t they? He’s going to have a lot of feelings about his OTP next week I suspect.
- Episode title ranking: 1. Meat: The Legends. 2. Ground Control To Sara Lance. 3. Bishop’s Gambit (lost points for lack of chess jokes, gained points because now Sara has “died” on both the Queen’s Gambit and in “Bishop’s Gambit” so that’s hilarious and awful) 4. Bay Of Squids. 5. The Satanist’s Apprentice. 6. The Ex-Factor.
- For Sara, for old time’s sake: