The Flash: “Legends of Today”
Egypt. Four thousand years ago. The Middle Kingdom. A time of cataclysmic meteor activity. Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. Boy falls for girl. Girl puts on the pretense of arguing with the boy before the pharaoh in order to attempt to disguise that she has fallen for boy, too.
Creepy dude covets girl. Stalks the two. Catches them post-snuggle in the girl’s bedroom. Creepy dude reminds them that the punishment for this little indiscretion is death.
That’s because in this case, the boy is Prince Khufu and the girl is Priestess Chay-ara, and in the Middle Kingdom, it was forbidden for the royals to hook up with the priest caste and vice versa. Creepy dude kills boy. Creepy dude kills girl. Meteors rip the building apart around the triad. Priestess prays to Horus to protect the two lovers. In response–whether to her prayers or the proximity of the meteorites blasting them–the Staff of Horus that creepy dude hauls around glows.
That, ladies and gentlegeeks, is the introduction of Hawkman and Hawkgirl to the DC/CW television universe. It’s a story that’s been played out countless times with as many variations. The star-crossed lovers. The lovers torn apart and reconnected. You don’t have to be a Wednesday regular at your local comic shop to be familiar with the trope (but it doesn’t hurt that you are).
What’s so special about this version of the story that it warrants telling over two nights in December and will likely be a key component to the upcoming series Legends of Tomorrow? Well, this time the lovers sprout wings and pleather and are backed up by a revolving band of superheroes.
Vandal Savage is said creepy dude from way, way, way back when. Somehow, the meteor shower that happened 4,000 years ago connected Savage to the life force of Khufu and Chay-ara. The lovers reincarnate. Savage kills them, retaining his immortality. The lovers reincarnate again. And so it has gone for 206 cycles. As The Flash opens, Savage has allowed himself to be captured as a stowaway aboard a ship bound for Central City, where he has been drawn for the completion of cycle number 207. Upon coming ashore, Savage kills the ship’s captain, crew, and the dock worker who met them.
The pile of corpses puts Joe, Patty, Barry, and the CCPD on the case. While they are investigating the flint fragments from Savage’s blades, Cisco is getting smooth with Kendra on their latest date, which Savage rudely breaks up. The Flash makes the save, but Savage gets away and Cisco accidentally outs Barry to Kendra.
With that secret out of the bag, Barry and Cisco bring Kendra back to STAR Labs, where Cait and Wells have been working on a serum to help increase Barry’s speed, since The Flash is topping out somewhere between a quarter to a third of Zoom’s top speed. Having recently been humbled by Zoom, Barry wants to call in some help on this. How busy can the guys and gals in Star City be?
Pretty busy, actually, and things aren’t going all that great. Damien Darhk and his ghosts hit a truck full of chemical weapons. In spite of (or perhaps because of) Team Arrow showing up to stop the heist, Darhk is having a ball. The fun that the writers and actor Neal McDonough bring to what could have come off as a cheesy role is palpable. Darhk is almost saddened by the fact that he’s got the Green Arrow in his mystical clutches and has to put an end to “this dance” between himself and the Star City vigilante.
Enter The Flash, who makes the save (seems Darhk likes surprises after all… good to see him smiling again). Dig tosses his cookies. Speedy is brought up to… well, speed. Yes, Speedy, we do know The Flash. Back at the Arrow Lair, Barry gushes over the new HQ, even if Cisco is upset at the way it is all put together. Ollie is not cool with Barry bringing Kendra to the hideout. This is a secure location. No one is allowed in here unless Ollie has personally vetted them.
Or, unless the intruder is the leader of a league of assassins and is Ollie’s sister’s daddy.
After a fun couple of reunion scenes that play well off of the differences between the personalities of the two different heroes and their team of partners–and running a facial recognition scan that found Savage back in 1975–we learn from Malcolm that Savage is an immortal and one bad dude. Creepy, sure, but bad, too.
After all she’s been through, Kendra steps out for some of that not-so-fresh Star City air to help clear her head. That’s when the boy–make that the man, as in Hawkman–swoops back into the picture by abducting Kendra and telling her to just pop out her wings already so they can fly out of here.
Barry and Ollie race to Kendra’s rescue, and, by working together, manage to take down Hawkman, who explains his backstory as prince Khufu and the connection between himself, Kendra, and Savage. Where is Savage, by the way? Oh, he’s headed back to Central City to snatch the Staff of Horus, which is not the Scroll of Horus that John Constantine recovered from Lian Yu. The Scroll of Horus just transferred tattoos from one person to another. The Staff of Horus is a freakin’ laser!
The best chance our heroes have against Savage is 1) to get the Staff of Horus before Savage and 2) for Kendra to remember that she has wings and learn how to use them. Regarding number one, Savage beats Ollie and Barry to the Staff. The good news is that after a false start that saw Hawkman push Kendra off of the top of a building to her imminent death (had Barry not made the save), she does remember how to fly. But, that re-awakening is felt by Savage all the way in Central City.
In other The Flash developments, Cait and Wells manage to create the speed serum. Wells says they have to try it out on Jay before giving it to Barry, but Jay’s not having any of it. Luckily–or unluckily, I can’t decide which–Patty Spivot spots Earth-2 Wells, who she and everyone else thinks is the dead Earth-1 Wells, who was not really Wells, neither.
Patty follows this Wells into the even more secure STAR Labs. Mistaking the injector Wells is holding for a gun, Patty fires and strikes Wells. Cait tells Patty that they can’t take Wells to a hospital and orders Patty to call Joe, who tells Patty to make like a tree and get out of there. The bullet inside Wells is killing him. The only way to safely remove it and save Wells is for Jay to take the serum and remove the bullet. Which Jay does, because he’s the hero. Wells thanks Jay and Jay tells Wells that he can thank him by never giving that serum to Barry.
Arrow: “Legends of Yesterday”
Ollie and Barry have their respective teams and the Hawks lay low at a farmhouse on the outskirts of Central City, Hawkeye style (I know, I’m mixing my Marvel and my DC… try not to get your various Hawk-people and archers confused, please). While Hawkman takes it upon himself to train Kendra, Cisco gets to work making a power glove that will allow Barry to touch the Staff of Horus, and Team Arrow tries to dig up anything they can on Savage (including a tape from 1975… there it is again), Ollie goes off to see the son he never knew he had but whose existence has been teased for a couple of seasons now (remember, during last season’s crossover event, Samantha called her son from Jitters on her cell phone).
Malcolm calls Ollie and says that he has arranged a meeting between himself, Ollie, Savage, and Barry. On the way to the meeting, Barry races alongside himself, a phenomenon he calls “ghosting” when describing it later to Cisco. To us, that means the writers are telling us that you can pretty much disregard whatever happens from this point forward until we reveal exactly when Barry time travels back to this point.
So, do we throw out what happens next? Does what happens really happen, even though it gets changed later, like the entire second half of LOST? (What, you didn’t think that just because we were free from flashbacks to Lian Yu this week that I wouldn’t get in a LOST reference, did you?) That’s up for debate. What happens-but-gets-changed is that Ollie finds out that the boy–William–that he thought was his son actually is Ollie’s son and in spite of Barry’s best effort to cover for Ollie, Felicity finds out. Ollie promises Samantha to keep the fact that William is Ollie’s son a secret, even from Felicity. Felicity gives Ollie the chance to come clean, but Ollie lies to her face, then makes some lame excuse about needing to process all this alone for a minute, leading Felicity to break off their relationship.
With Ollie rattled, the rest of Team Arrow is left on the bench while Ollie, Barry, and the Hawks meet Savage and try to stop him from killing the Hawks. The plan fails. Ollie tackles Savage alone but is overwhelmed. Hawkman dies and Hawkgirl follows. Barry grabs the Staff of Horus, but Cisco’s gloves don’t work. With Barry dying, Ollie takes the staff and tells Barry to run, Barry, run. Ollie dies. The rest of the gang back at the farmhouse is burned away. Central City is destroyed in a blue wave of destruction… all except for Barry running out ahead of that wave… right back into the past.
Do-over time. After the meeting between Ollie, Malcolm, Savage, and back from the future Barry, Barry tells Ollie that the plan is a bust. Sure, the gloves failing and Kendra not being able to sprout wings didn’t help things, but the real reason that the plan failed was because Ollie’s head wasn’t in the game after his fight with Felicity. Barry tells Ollie that yes, William is Ollie’s son, and that while William does need his father in his life, Ollie can’t keep that a secret from Felicity.
This time, things are going to be different. Instead of Hawkman being ineffective at getting Kendra to tap into the warrior side of her nature, Cisco gets her alone and tells her to tap into the priestess side of herself. Kendra does and flashes back to her first death those 4,000 years ago. With a piece of the meteorite that changed Savage and created the bond between the immortal and the constantly reincarnated lovers, the heroes can defeat the villain.
Barry swipes a chunk of meteorite, conveniently on display in Central City and Cisco works it into the glove. Rather than benching Dig, Speedy, and Laurel, Ollie has them suit up alongside himself, Barry, and the Hawks when they confront Savage. Instead of attacking Savage first and on his own, Ollie frees the Hawks first. When Barry grabs the Staff of Horus, Ollie doesn’t take it upon himself and tell Barry to skadoodle. They work together and use the Staff’s blue laser to blast Savage into dust.
Another bad guy dead. Sigh. Typing that after the events in San Bernardino earlier today, I can’t help but wonder, again, why we’re letting our heroes get a free pass at killing people. Villains do bad things, yes, but if their lives don’t matter, then why should any of the lives on either of these shows matter? Why should Barry’s life or Ollie’s life or Felicity’s life or Cisco’s life or any other matter? Because they’re the good guys? By whose definition? They are operating outside of the law. Ollie’s body count is as high as anyone else’s on either of these shows. It’s one thing to say that The Flash gives hope to the people of Central City or that Ollie is doing things differently and running for mayor to give hope to the people of Star City, but to continue to have these heroes killing people week in and week out without either of them or anyone on their teams having any problem with that is disturbing.
I’ll admit, at times this week I’ve wondered how much longer I want to stick with these shows when the heroes are killing without remorse. I like these shows. I like the writing. I like the actors. But at what point does it become an issue of, “You know, they’ve lost what it means for these guys to be heroes. Now it’s just people I like who are supposed to be the good guys killing the people I like who are supposed to be the bad guys, just because that is what’s easiest at the time. And there’s no ramifications for all that killing. The only one disturbed by it is me, and I’m done.”
To wrap it up, the Hawks are headed out of town to go do some good for others. Maybe they should find a group of like-minded individuals and go do something legendary together. Ollie promises, again, not to tell Felicity about William and is rewarded with action figure play time with his son. When they get back to Star City, Felicity gives Ollie every chance to come clean with her about what had him so preoccupied in Central City. Still, Ollie keeps his secret to himself, and since Felicity doesn’t know any better this time, all is right between them. For now.
But that’s not all. We’ve seen from the ads for Legends of Tomorrow that Vandal Savage is the Big Bad of season one. How can that be? He was left a pile of ashes thanks to the Staff of Horus. The crossover event ends with Malcolm gathering the ashes and repeating Savage’s curse to hunt down the Hawks throughout all time. “You owe me one, buddy.”
Which leaves me with my final thought. The first episode of Arrow this season ended with a flash forward to the end of this season. Six months later, Ollie and Barry are standing at a grave. Ollie is crying. Ollie vows that he has to “kill him.” Following the premier, Arrow executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle told Entertainment Weekly that “We want to bring stakes back to the show.” Dead is dead.
But, with eight episodes of Arrow now in the books this season, we’ve had Sara Lance return from the dead via the Lazarus Pit (count ’em with me… that’s one), Ray Palmer–who was believed dead–found and rescued (two), Dig’s brother Andy–who John saw shot and killed–alive and working for HIVE (three), and now the not-as-dead-as-he-looks Vandal Savage (four). How can the EPs say they want to bring the stakes back and make the grave the final resting place for any of these characters while bringing back a character from the dead or from the presumption of death every other episode?
I don’t want it to sound like I hated these past two episodes. On the contrary, I enjoyed them a lot as I watched them. As mindless entertainment, they were a blast and made me wish we got these kids together more often. It’s when I stop and think about what’s actually happening on the screen or think about how these character archetypes and these stories that, again, we’ve heard so many times before are changed to fit into today’s television landscape, that I can’t help but find them missing the real point of what it means to be a hero. Who was the real hero these past two nights… Kendra, for not wanting anyone else to suffer and die on her behalf, or Khufu/Hawkman/Carter Hall, for thinking that it’s their will to fight that makes Team Flash and Team Arrow the real heroes?