Last night, Flash sent Barry back into the speed force to be judged by ghosts. The experience cost him his relationship with Iris (for some reason). Legends of Tomorrow landed on the moon, and, well, a lot happened but weeks from now all we’ll really remember is Professor Stein and Mick singing the “Banana Boat Song” (aka, that one song everyone remembers from Beetlejuice) at NASA as a stall tactic. The episodes in question were “Into the Speed Force” (S3:E11) for The Flash and “Moonshot” (S2:E14) for Legends of Tomorrow, and here’s my reaction to each of them:
“Into the Speed Force”It’s mildly surprising to look up and see Kevin Smith didn’t direct this episode, what with it clearly being season 3’s answer to last year’s touching, ugly cry-inducing “The Runaway Dinosaur.” That Smith-directed episode saw Barry enter the speed force and finally achieve a sense of closure over his mother’s death. Of course, he threw all that out the window not two episodes later when he went back in time and created Flashpoint, but, still, “Runaway Dinosaur” was a season highlight.
“Speed Force,” directed by Alexandra La Roche, replicates “Runaway Dinosaur”’s formula by confronting Barry with physical manifestations of his past, except instead of his dead mother he’s faced with Eddie, Robbie and Captain Cold. They all died because of him.
Okay, not so much Captain Cold, regardless of how much “Into the Speed Force” tries to say Cold only sacrificed himself on Legends last season because of the way Barry inspired him to be a hero. That doesn’t ring entirely hollow, but Captain Cold’s place in the long line of those who died in Barry’s name doesn’t feel nearly as immediate or compelling because his death had nothing to do with actual plot events on The Flash. He died saving his best friend Mick on Legends, taking down a bunch of time travel dicks in the process. Not quite the same as Robbie flying into a reality breach or Eddie shooting himself, both events which Barry was around to witness and react to.
That minor quibble aside, “Into the Speed Force” navigated this scenario fairly well. It pointed out that Barry is supposed to be the hero, yet he’s getting the life (or wife) which should have been Eddie’s. Moreover, as he pursues his dreams he’s forgotten the mess he’s made of Caitlin’s life, as evident in the speed force version of her singing to a baby while ghost-Robbie more or less tells Barry, “That could be my baby she’s holding if I wasn’t so very dead, ya’ jerk!
The speed force’s point: you’re not much of a hero, Barry Allen, not with the way you keep letting those around you sacrifice themselves. I wouldn’t be stunned if the episode’s screenwriters, Brooke Roberts & Judalina Neira, were drawing some inspiration from the Doctor Who moment where Davros called out the David Tennant Doctor’s hypocrisy over preaching non-violence while also turning those around him into glorified soldiers who will kill or be killed in his name.
Furthermore, I also wouldn’t be stunned if the “for Wally to leave this prison of perpetual torment someone has to take his place” twist was stolen from Angel’s superior season 5 episode “Underneath” where the prisoner and replacement prison were Lyndsey and Gunn respectively. However, there the prisoner exchange was the culmination of solid character work and dramatic build up, giving Gunn something he truly had to atone for. Here, it’s more like “Jay? Where did you come from? Uh-huh. Ok. So, something entirely off-screen happened to get you here. Cool. Got it. And now you’re staying so Wally can leave! Because, mostly, you’re old and we’re not? Thanks, man. Appreciate it. Super confusing for me, though, what with you looking exactly like my dad and all. But I guess you and I are kinda close? So, this is sad-ish?”
By recent standards, this was a heavy, deck-clearing episode of The Flash, temporarily jettisoning two part-time characters (Jay and Jesse, who had just moved in with Wally), suspending Barry and Iris’ happy relationship mostly because happiness is the enemy of drama in the Arrowverse and moderately advancing the Savitar plot by revealing he’s probably just some dude under that suit. The drama was somewhat undercut by the on-going ridiculousness of this show’s go-to move (i.e., everything always comes down to, “I’m not fast enough yet!” thus Barry’s on-going defense, repeated again here, for why he needed Wally to save Iris) as well as Barry’s poorly articulated reasoning for sort of breaking up with Iris. But this was The Flash trying to get serious again. It wasn’t the gut punch of “Runaway Dinosaur,” but it was still plenty effective.
And then these bunch of knuckleheads landed on the moon. I feel like any review/recap/whatever of a Legends episode should always just be a matter-of-fact summation of the plot followed by an excited, “Why aren’t you watching this show! It’s next-level crazy and stupid, but so much fun.”
So, in “Moonshot” Sara and the Wavewider crew stop Eobard Thawne from hijacking the Apollo 13 mission to the moon. What’s that you say, why would Thawne ever want to do that? Oh, just because Nate’s grandpa hid the last piece of the spear of destiny in the U.S. flag planted on the moon. Kind of ingenious, really. How else will the Legion of Doom be able to retrieve it?
Travel to a future where space travel is as routine as hailing a cab or ordering an Uber. Catch a space taxi to the moon. Get the piece of the spear from the flag.
You shut up about that.
As I was saying, with no other way in the world for them to get that spear the Legion sent Eobard to Apollo 13 to get the job done. No quicker than you can say, “This sounds like a job for the Legends,” Sara and pals hijack Eobard’s hijacked Apollo 13 module but not before he ejects in the lunar lander with mini-Ray in tow, who had stowed away to spy on him. Ray and Eobard end up Matt Damon Martianed on the moon, and somewhat awesomely science their way out of it because Legends is always good for an unforeseen, but ultimately ingenious character pairing. During their temporary truce, Eobard trots out the old villain cliché “we are not so different, you and I,” yet it actually rings true, reminding us that just like Ray Eobard is a scientist who desired notoriety. Moreover, while Damien and Malcolm have their own reasons for wanting the spear Eobard’s goal is more elemental: he simply wants to live, to change reality so that he….actually, the time travel logic here is so unbelievably convoluted it’s best to just say “he wants to live” and then say, “Awww, that doesn’t sound so unreasonable.”
Back on the Wavewider, Sara and Rip lightly tussle over who’s actually the captain (it’s Sara, and Rip feels emasculated and without purpose). Nate, his grandpa and Amara debate time travel ethics (the former two want to travel back in time to change their family history, but Amara’s not having it) because whenever characters on a show like this are going through something intense (Nate hasn’t told Amara about her doomed future) they must immediately encounter a storyline which oddly speaks to their situation (turns out, Amara is not cool with bending time travel ethics).
At the NASA control center in Houston, Stein, Mick and Jax pretend to be British scientists observing the mission while in fact they are there to prevent NASA and the world from hearing what’s what really going on with Apollo 13. In practice, this actually means Jax spends the majority of the episode off screen, presumably just standing in front of the breaker wires supplying the video and audio feed from the Apollo module back to NASA, ready to turn them back on when given the go-ahead. Why exactly no one in the control center thought to send a technician to that location to check on the wires I have no idea.
As per usual with Legends, the whole episode was gonzo comic book storytelling, throwing some dodgy special effects at us (e.g., Ray bouncing on the moon) and working overtime to pair off its ensemble cast in such a way that everyone had something to do (even if that something for Mick was “be yourself” and for Jax “stand in the same spot the whole episode”). Nate’s grandpa died in heroic fashion, striking a rare dramatic tone for such a light show, but Stein also sang several bars of a Harry Belafonte song while everyone listened/watched in dumbfounded silence, too shocked to even ask, “What the hell are you doing?!?” Those two extreme moments should not exist in the same episode, yet “Moonshot” crammed both of them in there because Legends is hands down the craziest, yet also most self-assured comic book show of the moment. Why aren’t you watching? It’s next-level crazy and stupid, but so much fun.