The latest episode of Legends of Tomorrow ventured to the brink of meta, embracing its self-referential nature by trapping the Legends in a series of classic television shows. But behind the cameras, laugh tracks, and happy endings hid a powerful and heartbreaking story five seasons in the making.
“The One Where We’re Trapped on TV” starts with a jolt: The Legends have lost. The Three Fates rule the world, and Mona and Gary are trapped in a dystopian reality controlled by order and censorship. Mona spends her days removing mentions of revolution throughout history while Gary acts as the lone conspiracy theorist the Fates decided to keep around. Their only solace—other than the grey mush they eat—is the time they get to spend at home watching some of their favorite TV shows.
It’s here where we learn what happened to the Legends after last week’s horrific ending. We start with Zari 2.0, Nate, and Behrad on a Friends parody called Ultimate Buds, where Nate is an aspiring actor with some serious “will they or won’t they vibes” with Zari. Their lives consist of eating the grey stuff (it’s delicious!) and getting into wacky shenanigans, like inviting Zari’s attractive boss over for dinner.
But the totem has other plans, and it brings Zari 1.0 into their TV show, where she possesses the other one’s body (and her vocal octave lowers by about a third). Zari 1.0 convinces the others to jump into a portal, and they all find themselves in a fake Downton Abbey, where Constantine is a haughty butler for Astra and her mother. Finally, the whole group ventures to Star Trip, Ava and Sara’s Star Trek parody—complete with adorkable Kirk and Spock impressions.
These might all seem like simple, silly parodies, and in some ways they are, but each has a much deeper purpose: they represent the Legends’ hopes and dreams. Zari and Behrad want to have a normal life together, free of the pain that stemmed from all their lives apart. Nate wants to find love, and fill the void left by Ray’s departure. Astra wants to be with her mother, and Constantine wants to be the one who facilitates their happy ending (there’s also the fact that his butler self is ashamed of his dark powers, a sign of guilt over the pain he’s caused). Finally, Ava and Sara want a reality where they never have to lose. Not only are they the heroes guaranteed to make it until the end, but all their crew members are androids. There are no risks in their perfect world.
The Legends all wind up back at Mr. Parker’s Cul-de-Sac and are “woken up” by Mona messing with the script. In that moment, they remember everything—not just from this reality, but from all realities; Nate remembers Zari 1.0, Ava sees Sara’s death, Behrad realizes just how many times he himself has died. We find out that Charlie created these shows as part of a bargain with her sisters. The Legends could live so long as they were out of the way and part of the Fates’ propaganda machine. In exchange, she got to give them the lives they’d always wanted because she still cares about them.
This isn’t a new phenomenon in storytelling, forcing the characters into false realities and making them to choose the real world instead. But what Legends of Tomorrow did so well in this episode is make us feel the burden of that choice. Because, at first, the Legends choose the dream. They all join Mr. Parker in a song about repressing your feelings, akin to “Turn It Off” from The Book of Mormon and head back to their own TV shows. Constantine and Astra share a beautiful moment, where he acknowledges that they’ll be living a lie in Highcastle Abbey, but he’s happy to live it, for her. They’ve all worked so hard and sacrificed so much. Don’t they deserve to be happy?
Yes, they do. But they deserve more than false promises. They’re Legends! It doesn’t take long for them to realize that a fake perfect world isn’t worth it and proceed to break their TV shows. All the situations are heartbreaking, but it’s Sara and Ava’s story that delivers the biggest feelings punch. Ava is in tears, terrified at the thought of watching Sara die again, so Sara delivers the ethos for the episode (and, really, the entire series): “Life is beautiful and terrible, all at the same time. But if we’re only living part of it, we’re not living at all.”
Legends of Tomorrow continues with its season five finale “Swan Thong,” next week.
- The episode ends with Charlie dividing Zari 1.0 and 2.0, so now each of them has their own body. It felt like a strange move at this point in the game, and to be honest it makes me worry that one of them isn’t going to survive the season finale. Prediction: Zari 2.0 is going to sacrifice herself to save everyone else.
- This episode was showrunner Marc Guggenheim’s directorial debut, and I think he hit it out of the park. I loved how well the episode recreated the look of each TV show with the camerawork, and it knew when to drive it home for the more powerful moments. Here’s hoping it’s the first of many for Guggenheim.
- Charlie’s hair may have been on point, but Mick Rory as Fake Khan wins for Best Look this week...and possibly all time.
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