“Blood Ties” is almost the episode Legends of Tomorrow had to make. It’s the one where we find out about Ray’s dead fiance, Sara’s bloodlust and Leonard’s abusive father. Those are crucial elements to the DNA of each character, vital parts of their respective backstories which helps Legends viewers better understand each one of them. How well did all of that work in “Blood Ties”? Well…
More on that in a moment. First, a quick bullet-point synopsis of the episode:
- Year: 1975, just 1 day after the events of the last episode
- Place: Leipzig, Germany
- Basic Plot: Rip and Sara try to hurt Savage by crippling his finances, but they end up his prisoners at a ceremony revolving around Carter Hall’s corpse. Elsewhere, Snart and Rory talk Jax into being their wheelman for a bank heist which turns out to be Snart’s attempt to change his own history, and Dr. Stein and Ray team up to Fantastic Voyage their way into saving Kendra.
- What We Learned About Vandal Savage: Whenever he kills Kendra or Carter he feeds some of their blood to his followers who are then magically gifted with prolonged lives, not quite made immortal but definitely looking at another 100 years being added to their lifespan.
- What We Learned About Rip Hunter: Before recruiting the “legends” he actually went on a solo mission in which he could have killed a pre-immortal Savage in ancient Egypt had he not hesitated while he had a knife at the bastard’s throat.
Now, back to the, um, backstories…
The information we learned about Sara, Ray and Leonard in “Blood Ties” should be remarkably familiar to any regular Arrow/Flash viewer. Ray already sold his dead fiance story to Felicity while he was stalking/courting her last season on Arrow. Sara ran away from her family and friends on the current season of Arrow precisely because her post-Lazarus Pit need to kill left her feeling like a monster and a threat to anyone around her. Leonard straight up killed his dad during his big showcase episode earlier this season on Flash, reacting to years of parental abuse of not just himself but more importantly his younger sister.
As I watched the parade of re-stated backstories play out in “Blood Ties,” I kept asking myself if we were learning anything new. That might have been the wrong question, though. Of course we already know their origin stories, but the other characters don’t. Jax is probably that much closer to Leonard now that he knows about his rough childhood. Sara and Rip actually bonded over their shared self-hatred for what they’ve done or didn’t do. Dr. Stein understands Ray a little more and seems to finally respect him.
Was all of it organic? I’d say not so much. Rip looking back at his own story and thinking of himself as a monster felt like a forced way to lead to a “We are not so different, you and I” moment with Sara. Ray’s battle with self-doubt upon encountering an obstacle in Kendra’s bloodstream invited unwelcome second-guessing. Why would this throw him into ‘I-tell-my-tragic-backstory-now’ territory after he’s already been able to deal with so many other setbacks as the A.T.O.M. on Arrow and Legends without pausing to lament that one time his fiance was killed right in front of him?
You could counter-argue that this was a very different situation since it’s the first time he’s ever used his suit to go all Fantastic Voyage, and the fact that it was another woman he was failing to save could have naturally led to “Oh, my dead fiance, how I miss her so” musings. So, it wasn’t completely forced, and it could been their way of spelling out something which Ray and Kendra might eventually bond over, i.e., their shared grief over lost spouses. After all, the showrunner Phil Klemmer has repeatedly teased that there will be romantic hook-ups on this show.
Clunky or not, all of that played fairly well in the context of the episode because of the performances. Rip and Sara are surprisingly compelling together, with Darville playing his self-doubt and Lotz her self-hatred to fascinating results. Dr. Stein and Ray are turning into a fun mentor/mentee situation, and I like that they’ve ultimately waved away the possibility that these two might build a relationship based upon the far-too-convenient “I used to be one of your students!” It’s more interesting that Dr. Stein still doesn’t remember Ray from back then, but is learning to respect him here in the present (which is a tricky word to use when discussing a time travel show).
Speaking of time travel, as inherently fun as it was to see Darville and Lotz in their 1970s outfits the part of “Blood Ties” which seemed to most remember that this is actually a time travel show was everything with Snart and pals.
Think about it. Rip and Sara go out into the field and learn that she has rage issues leading to bonding. Dr. Stein and Ray try to science their way into saving Kendra, and halfway through Dr. Stein has to give Ray a pep talk. All fairly basic stuff.
Snart, on the other hand, appears to be behaving like his normal self, e.g., stealing a critical access key from Rip, convincing Jax to drive him to a museum heist, always talking in that weird cartoon voice Wentworth Miller uses. However, there’s a good twist. The thing he stole was something his father failed to steal back in the original 1975 thus leading to a five-year prison sentence which hardened him and made him abusive. Plus, the time-travel shenanigans ultimately revealed a new side of the character – Snart leaves the artifact in his childhood home and meets his younger self as well as his younger father, dropping his cartoonish voice and sounding more like an actual deeply scarred human.
All of the other business in this episode served to bring some of these characters closer together at the expense of some understandable narrative redundancy. What they did with Snart, though, was a fascinating hint of taking full advantage of the show’s actual premise. That’s encouraging.
1. I don’t like the idea that Rip tried to kill Vandal before recruiting the team. That’s one big lie too many for me, and it forced a team building exercise which felt a tad repetitive after last week.
2. When Sara was simply stabbing the ground next to the head of her intended target during the climactic fight scene what the hell must that guy have been thinking?
3. Is it kind of lazy that both Arrow (Thea) and Legends of Tomorrow (Sara) have characters going through the same exact storyline, i.e., resisting a supernatural need to kill? And is this really just a new version of Sara’s long-standing battle with overcoming her assassin-instincts?
4. Rip Hunter can totally thrown down. Look at Arthur Darville, kicking some ass.
5. Vandal Savage is still a boring villain, Eyes Wide Shut ceremonies and all.
6. Time Travel Rules: All those people Sara killed in the bank were going to have no impact on the future, right?
7. Sara’s New Hairstyle
8. Shipper’s Delight – At this point, I’m predicting an eventual Kendra-Ray pairing.
9. The first three episodes must have all taken place in 1975 for budgetary reasons, right?
10. “Men of Steel die, Dark Knights fall…”
Now, I want Rip Hunter to interrupt one of the Cavill/Affleck staring-so-intensely-at-each-other-it-looks-like-they’re-pooping moments from the Batman v Superman trailers to quickly offer, “Do you want me to tell you how this turns out? Because you both die!”
11. “Finally at full team strength” / “What about Carter?” – Well, that was awkward.
12. Enough with the “Vincent Garber was in Titanitc” easter eggs, Arrow-verse.