In many ways Arrow’s “Legends of Yesterday” has it much better off than its Flash predecessor, “Legends of Today.” Billed as the build-up to the CW’s latest entry into their DC shared universe, Legends of Tomorrow, the two-part crossover primarily centers on introducing the apparent Big Bad of that series, Vandal Savage, in addition to looping in future Legends team member Carter Hall (aka Hawkman) to the fold. This unavoidable amount of world building and backstory, however, ended up massively bogging down the crossover’s first installment. With all the pieces now in place, “Legends of Yesterday” (yep, this is a lot of “Legends” in one graf) has the freedom to play around with its toys a bit more. What it chooses to do with that freedom is the bigger question.
First, credit where credit’s due. There’s much more of a sense of ease to the proceedings this time around. In one of the episode’s earliest and most notable scenes, both Team Arrow and Team Flash move into a remote cabin with both Kendra and Carter while they figure out next steps. Here, the camera bounces back and forth between each character, capturing more than half a dozen small interactions and little bouts of banter. It’s a seemingly insignificant scene in terms of the overarching plot but an essential one in terms of creating an atmosphere of camaraderie (“when it rains I can still feel where you shot me with those arrows,” Barry comments to Oliver at one point). When you’re building a shared universe of this magnitude, chemistry between the characters is key and the actors manage to pull this off in spades here. “Welcome to the new normal,” Thea proclaims to herself at one point. It’s a valid response given that Arrow began its existence as a grounded, gritty take on a superhero story, and has now grown its world to include evil, immortal priests from Ancient Egypt and a pair of star-crossed lovers with bird wings who are reincarnated throughout the ages.
Now in position of the Staff of Horace, Savage offers our heroes an ultimatum—deliver Kendra and Carter to him for sacrifice, or he burns their respective cities to the ground. As the group puts their collective heads together to figure out a way out of this no-win situation, personal issues threaten to undermine their teamwork. Feeling threatened by Carter’s off-and-on centuries-long relationship with Kendra, Cisco backs away from the two’s relationship. Oliver, meanwhile, dives headfirst into the case of Samantha and William (not Connor), the two’s potential lovechild. A DNA test shows that, yes, Oliver is indeed the biological father. When he goes to confront her, however, Samantha refuses to involve her son in Oliver’s chaotic life unless he keeps this knowledge a secret, even from Felicity.
While it’s all well and good that the episode boasts a highly personal narrative in the midst of what could easily have served as a bloated backdoor pilot, Samantha’s demands can’t help but feel like little more than a blatantly contrived means of throwing further bumps into Oliver and Felicity’s relationship. And, indeed, that’s exactly what it does. After learning about William, Felicity is enraged—not because Oliver has an illegitimate child but because he didn’t feel as though she could be trusted with that info. This appears to be the last straw, and the two break up.
Needless to say, Oliver is nowhere near the right headspace when he, Barry, Kendra and Carter confront Savage. In what amounts to the superhero version of Murphy’s Law, everything that can go wrong does go wrong—Kendra is unable to tap into her powers and she and Carter are quickly dispatched, the gauntlets designed to defeat Savage are a bust and Oliver is too emotional beaten to be an effective fighter. And so, Savage swiftly releases a blaze that destroys the entire city, killing every single main character.
Luckily, we’re only 23 minutes into the installment, so hope has to come from somewhere. That “somewhere” turns out to be Barry who, in the course of running away from the explosion, finds himself time traveling back to when Savage first offered up the ultimatum 24 hours earlier. Torn between wanting to avoid this brutal future and not wanting to screw with the timeline, Barry confides only to Oliver about the devastation that lies ahead.
After some gentle prodding courtesy of Oliver, Cisco discovers the missing ingredient they need to make the gauntlets work, in addition to giving Kendra the pep talk she needs to access her powers (in many ways, Cisco serves as the MVP of this crossover). Armed with their new strategy, the combined teams all engage in battle with Savage. It’s a fun, if all too brief encounter.
A subsequent epilogue ties up the episode’s hanging threads. Kendra departs Central City but not before giving Cisco one last goodbye kiss; Oliver agrees to keep William’s parentage a secret from everyone in exchange for visiting rights; Oliver and Felicity remain together, though Felicity’s final look all but confirms she knows that something is up. Finally, Malcolm Merlyn collects the dust that once was Savage’s body. No offense intended to Casper Crump, who does commendable work as Savage (no easy character to pull off without veering into heavy camp) and certainly looks the part, but here’s hoping the character is endowed with a bit more presence and menace when he’s eventually resurrected.
If “Legends of Today” demonstrates any ostensible achievements, it’s the fact that the creators are able to so thoroughly throw their various protagonists (and antiheroes) together for a fun and rollicking good time. Sure, not every character is fully serviced (Laurel only has a few lines and Diggle’s contributions amounts to a few choice wisecracks), but the Arrow/Flash creative team deserves major props for making the special feel like a legitimate event, as opposed to just a half-assed stab at ratings gold.
As I write this, the latest Internet controversy concerns the new Batman V. Superman trailer. Personally, I choose to keep any comments to myself until the film is actually released. Nevertheless, to those simply celebrating the fact that a DC Cinematic Universe is being attempted, it’s worth nothing that their TV shared universe is doing just fine—thank you very much.