Legends of Tomorrow Binge Watch: Episode 2-1 : “Out of Time” Rebooting/Revising A Team Story

legends-binge-logo-snartless The first season of Legends was flawed and often terrible. But if you isolated out some of its parts, it was wonderful. I sympathize; this is exactly how I describe my first drafts. So let’s look at how rebooting a flawed series with huge potential is like revising a flawed first draft with huge potential. And of course we’ll start with . . .

Who’s the protagonist? What is his goal?
Who’s the antagonist? What is his goal?
What’s the conflict?
What needs to be fixed, what needs to be changed, what needs work?
What must be kept?
What do you expect/hope will happen after this?

FIRST SEASON:
Who’s the protagonist? What is his goal?:
Rip Hunter wants to save his wife and child.
Who’s the antagonist? What is his goal?: Vandal Savage wants to conquer the world; behind him the Time Masters want to defeat the Thanagarians.
What’s the conflict? This is a good question. Rip wants to stop Savage killing his family because he loves them, and Savage wants to kill them because . . . we’ll let you know in Episode 15. Of a sixteen episode series. Until then, it’s just “Vandal Savage is a sonofabitch. Pass it on.”
What needs to be fixed, what needs to be changed, what needs work?
Oh, god, let me count the ways: the protagonist and his goal, the antagonist(s) and goals, the complexity and sheer wrong-headedness of the conception of the conflict, the weakness of Rip and the Hawks, the scattered and non-complementary skill sets of the team, Ray’s gormlessness, the complete lack of any structure for time travel, that horrible Hawk love story . . . AAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH, it was awful. Also bring back Snart.
What must be kept?
Sara, Mick and Snart. The great premise of traveling through time. The team at the end, bonded and efficient and really caring about each other. The Mick and Ray odd couple partnership. Sara at the controls of the ship. Jax as a time ship mechanic. Captain Canary (the Sara/Snart porcupine romance).
What do you expect/hope will happen after this?
I really expected they’d bring back Rip as captain but I hoped they wouldn’t. I also hoped they wouldn’t add anybody else to the team and the Hawks would leave, so at least there’d be six people instead of nine. I hoped to hell that Vandal Savage was gone forever never to return. And I really hoped that when Snart died over the Oculus, it’s timey-wimey-ness would send him somewhere not dead so they could get him back; an earlier timeline Snart won’t do it because that would erase that great character arc from the first season.

SECOND SEASON:
Who’s the protagonist? What is her goal?: SARA! And her goal and the team goal is to safeguard the timeline from time marauders now that they’ve wiped out the Time Masters. GOOD goal, huge series potential, great showcase for the team. Go, CW! (Also she wants vengeance on Damian Darhk for killing her sister, but unlike Rip, she’s not going to be mentioning it every fifteen minutes.) Also the protagonist or extension of her: The Legends who really are a team now: emotionally bonded, complementary skills, shared sense of purpose, the works.
Who’s the antagonist? What is his goal?: Ding dong, Vandal Savage is dead, dead, dead. Who’s the antagonist? In the first episode it’s the Flash’s first season antagonist, Eobard Thawne, an efficient time-travelling son-of-a-bitch if there ever was one. Oh and he’s partnering up with Damian Darhk, one of the best antagonists Arrow ever had, master of the occult arts and killer snark. To be added later in the season to form the League of Doom: Malcolm Merlyn, Arrow’s first season antagonist, once the leader of the League of Assassins,Thea’s real father, and General Good Time because he’s played by John Barrowman; I’m betting it’s Malcolm who says, “You know what we should call ourselves? THE LEAGUE OF DOOM! Come on, guys, LEAGUE OF DOOM.” Fourth member of the League of Doom: Leonard Snart, who will refuse to be grouped under that name and threaten to kill Malcolm weekly. Honestly, it’s like they looked at Vandal Savage and said, “We must do penance,” and brought in four characters who are really powerful, really amoral, really fun, and don’t mind killing people. As to what their goal is: no idea. Which is not good.
What needs to be fixed, what needs to be changed, what needs work?
So they fixed the protagonist and her goal; they fixed the antagonists (not sure about their League of Doom goal but I’m sure it’s dastardly); they’ve simpled up the conflict in this first episode at least (Thawne wants to nuke NYC during WW2 to help the Nazis win, the Legends want to stop them from nuking NYC so the Nazis won’t win); they got rid of the Hawks and Rip’s on leave of absense, lost somewhere in the timeline near Broadchurch; they fixed the scattered and non-complementary skill sets of the team by making Jax the ship mechanic, Mick the ship’s expert on time travel (thanks to all those years as Chronos) and Sara’s Lancer, fixed Ray’s gormlessness by pairing him with Mick who still needs some I-have-morals ballast now that Snart’s gone, got rid of the horrible Hawk love story, and they’re bringing back Snart, granted as an antagonist but I’m assuming Sara and Mick will have a few things to say about that.
What they haven’t fixed: the complete lack of any structure for time travel, the overcrowding on the team because they added two new members: another affable goofy guy who can turn into Steel (hey, this stuff is from the comics, you want nuance, go watch high class TV), and a woman from the forties who has an amulet that lets her channel animal spirits, an idea that is not working on TV.
What must be kept?
Sara, Mick and Snart. Kept except for Snart (stay tuned).
The great premise of traveling through time. Kept.
The team at the end, bonded and efficient and really caring about each other. Kept.
The Mick and Ray odd couple partnership. Kept.
Sara at the controls of the ship. Kept.
Jax as a time ship mechanic. Kept.
Captain Canary: They killed Snart, for which I blame Miller, but with any luck, Sara and Mick will slap upside the head whatever Snart shows up in the League of Doom and bring him back on board.
What do you expect/hope will happen after this?
I got most of what I wanted, kind of.
Rip’s out of the picture as captain, and according to one of the actors, when he comes back, he comes back changed. Change is good.
I hoped they wouldn’t add anybody else to the team and the Hawks would leave, so at least there’d be six people instead of nine. They got rid of the Hawks and Rip left temporarily which left them with Sara as the Leader, Mick as the Lancer and time travel expert and muscle and growly snark (there’s a reason Mick’s the MVP this season), Stein as the Smart Guy, Jax as the Mechanic, and Ray as the Chick. Then they added another Badass Female Fighter (we have one those, she’s our leader) and another Goofy Nice Guy (have you met Ray?) so that was step back.
I hoped to hell that Vandal Savage was gone forever never to return, and he’s dead, dead, dead.
I wanted Snart back, and he’s coming back, but he’s appearing in all three (four?) of the CW Arrowverse shows so he won’t be a regular on Legends. That’s not enough.

But the big news is: The surviving team members really are a team now with complementary skills (I’m ignoring the New Sara and the New Ray) especially after they run into the Justice Society and see how a disciplined team behaves. And the new premise of protecting the timeline is a great. And Sara is a terrific lead character for many, many reasons, but let’s also praise the CW for putting a bi woman in a position of power and respect. And white leather, but you can’t have everything all at once, baby steps to liberation.

So how does the new improved Legends of Tomorrow do in its second season premiere? Well enough that I thought, “Hmmm, maybe I misjudged this show,” and went back and watched the first season which is how we ended up with the bitchy binge watch.

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Episode 2-1 “Out of Time.”
(The picture above is of the Season Two Legends Team as of the first episode. The guy with the white hair is Albert Einstein who will not be staying with the team in Episode 2-2. If you’re thinking, “That’s ridiculous,” you’re obviously not part of the Legends target audience, which requires that you not only embrace the Absurd, you tell it that it has nice eyes, pat it on the butt, and take it to dinner.)

The best advice for starting a story is “Start as late as possible,” and this episode does exactly that. The problem with starting that late is that you have a lot of back story to catch up on. In this case, that starts with Nate Heywood the Historian crashing into the office of Oliver Queen the Mayor (and Green Arrow) with the breathless news that the Legends are in Trouble! No, they really are, they’ve disappeared and the Waverider is at the bottom of the ocean. So Nate and Oliver go to the bottom of the ocean (just go with it) and enter the Waverider, where they find the guy most likely to make backstory entertaining: Mick. legends-of-tomorrow-s2-premiereAt this point, I’d watch Dominic Purcell growl the phone book while changing the oil in his car, so Mick’s explanation of how he came to be in stasis all by himself in the Waverider at the bottom of the Atlantic is actually entertaining, especially since Mick the Oafish Crook is giving the story to Oliver Queen, the Gentleman Mayor. There should be more scenes with Mick and Oliver Queen. (Also Mick and Supergirl, but “Skirt, call me” is eight episodes from now.)

Okay, here’s a shocker: Mick’s story is told in flashbacks. I liked them.

I know, it boggles my mind, too. But the first flashback is an example of what they’ve been doing in the six months since the first season ended: they’ve been traveling around time fixing the damage to the timeline that bad guys have created, like Louis XIII’s France, where they have to protect the king so he’ll consummate his marriage to the queen and French history will happen. But the cardinal has hired guys with laser guns to kill the king, and the Queen turns out to be Sara’s type, and the whole flashback is a brightly colored cartoon of laughing women and guys in puffy shirts facing bad guys (you know they’re bad because they’re dressed head to toe in black). They save the king and Oliver interrupts Mick’s story to tell him that he has a life he’d like to get back to. Oliver Queen doesn’t like flashbacks, either. So Mick explains that when they got back to the ship, there was a timequake (new term for the playbook) because the Nazis nuked NYC in 1942. So even though they’ve been warned not to go to 1942, they have to go to 1942. That’s thirteen minutes into the show and I’m having a wonderful time.

There’s another flashback–this one for twenty minutes–explaining that the Legends had to kidnap Albert Einstein and his wife to save NYC from Damian Darhk’s plan to nuke NYC . . . you know, you had to be there. It was fun. The Waverider took the force of the blast but right before it hit Rip sent everybody but a wounded Mick into the timestream, so NYC is saved, but now Mick and Nate the Historian track time anomalies to find Ray being chased by a dinosaur, Stein and Jax threatened with execution in ninth century Britain, and Sara about to be hanged for corrupting the women of New England in Puritan times. Still missing: Rip. Everybody else goes back to 1942 to fix the last glitch and save history, after which they meet the Justice Society of America, superheroes from the 40s comics.

Clear protagonist: Nate, aided by Mick, and then the whole team, acting as a team.
Clear antagonist: Damian Darhk and the Nazis
Clear conflict: Stop the Nazis from nuking NYC
What must be kept: Pretty much everything: It’s bright, it’s colorful, it’s moving, there is no navel-gazing, no dopey love stories, everybody is competent and the things they do make sense, played out in steady rising action to strong climax. It’s a miracle.
What needs fixed: Rip is still swanning around in that duster, bitching at everybody; I could lose him. Oh, wait, he’s gone at the thirty minute mark. Okay then, bring back Snart.

By damn, they fixed Legends of Tomorrow.

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2-1 “The Justice Society of America:” This was probably more fun for comic geeks who got to see Golden Age superheroes in the Justice Society. I loved it because the Legends went to a Nazi nightclub wearing forties clothes, Stein quoted “Back to the Future” and then sang “Edelweiss,” and Ray started a bar club fight because he couldn’t bring himself to do a Nazi salute. Good times. The theme running under this one is that the Legends, in comparison to the JSA, is kind of a lousy team: no leader, arguing constantly, acting impulsively, generally amateurs. Working with the JSA gives them a model to follow: Sara becomes the leader, Nate joins the team as a historian (very helpful), and the team stops fighting. Mostly.

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2-3 “Shogun:” One of JSA, Amaya Jiwe, boards the ship and tries to kill Mick because she thinks he killed one of her teammates. Mick takes it pretty well, and after some misunderstandings are sorted out, Amaya joins the team to find the time traveler who killed her friend. This leads to Sara, Amaya, and Mick fighting ninjas in feudal Japan (Mick saying, “I don’t want to fight you guys. I love ninjas!”).

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2-14 “Abominations:” Civil War Zombies. Sara gets respect from General Grant. And there’s a fairly serious look at slavery through Jax’s eyes without slowing down the action.

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2-5 “Compromised:”
I’m not actually sure what happens during this one. It’s something about Darhk making a deal with the Russians by giving them the nuclear codes and putting a bomb in the state dining room . . . nope, I got nothing. But it was the eighties and it was fun and good stuff happened including Mick and Ray becoming partners so really, good story overall.

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2-6 “Outlaw Country:” Another Western, not as good as last season’s because no Snart, better than last season’s because no Hawks. Oh, and this one moves the plot, first because it has a plot (some gang leader has changed the future so that the Western half of the US isn’t the US), and second because they discover a lot of the stuff that powers Ray’s suit. Also, no extraneous subplots about the past. Just fast-paced storytelling about a team that really works well together.

I posted all those pictures because they pretty much capture the fun of this series this year:The team in different time periods, working as a team to defeat bad guys–Nazis, evil warlords, zombies, Russian spies, evil outlaws–with the Legion of Doom lurking in the background. The key here is that the people behind the show, now freed from a dead wife and child and the comic stylings of Vandal Savage, are swinging wide and having a good time, anchoring everything in the team instead of in a bunch of unrelated subplots and boring love stories. The stories are fine but I’m really watching for the team interactions and the team in action. Legends this year so far is a much goofier, fantasy-based Leverage.

How I’d Fix This:
I don’t have to. They fixed it.
Okay, fine, drop two members from the team and bring back Snart.

What I Learned From This:

• Cut anything that isn’t working no matter how much I love it. The temptation is to fix the places that are broken, but the truth is if you can just have them fly off or get lost in the timeline, you’re better off. Putting bandaids on plot weaknesses is just a waste of time. Cut the dead weight. Which in my case is a big chunk of that first scene, just to start with. Especially cut anything that’s there because it explains something, or sets up something, or does anything except entertain and move story. Somebody on this show loved those damn Hawks, and it almost brought down the series.

* If you arc the team to at least semi-competence and cohesion in the first act, you have the rest of the story to have a good time in. Right now I have the team coming together at the midway point, but that’s too late. I’d had the first act as Nita’s big shift and the second as Nick’s, but the team has to start in that first act, too, even if they’re just assembling in the background as Nita and Nick freak out at the changes in their lives.

• Show what the antagonist wants early, clearly. This season is fun, but I still don’t have a grasp on what the forces against the Legends want. They’re defeating them on things like nuking NYC, but I’m not clear on why they want to nuke NYC, what the long range plan is. That leaves Season Two as a lot of fun individual stories without a strong season arc but with strong individual arcs because there are good antagonists in each episode. That would work as a short story anthology, but it wouldn’t work in a novel. This is key for me because I STILL don’t know who Nita’s antagonist is for sure.

• Those individual interactions within the team are crucial for not only showing the bonds but moving story. The Mick-and-Ray team is not one I was expecting, but it pays off in a lot of different ways as odd couple pairings often do. I think Button’s going to be gold for that, but also possibly Rab. I keep going back to Mort as the much-mocked demon expert and Rab as the Earth Studies guy (he has his master’s degree) and them comparing notes; it’d be a great way to get the demon and island back story on the page without identifying it as back story that something somebody remembers or god forbid flashes back to. If it’s something they have to figure out as part of the ongoing story, it’s not back story, it’s now story.

* Don’t get so bogged down in intent that you forget to have fun. A good story almost always has a serious bedrock, but you don’t want to tell the bedrock, it’s just there for foundation. You want all the great topsoil and flowers and trees and I just lost control of my metaphor, but you know what I mean. Know the serious stuff, write the exciting/fun/mesmerizing stuff.

• Do not put more than five people on a team, six tops, because it dilutes the page time that each character has, multiplies the page time you have to spend on character arc and relationships, smothers the plot, and confuses the hell out of the reader/viewer. I actually have about ten characters that were to end up working on Nita’s side and Nick’s, which is fine, but they can’t all be the Team. And since two of the team are Nita and Nick, using everybody would be a team of twelve. No. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. Time to winnow.

9 thoughts on “Legends of Tomorrow Binge Watch: Episode 2-1 : “Out of Time” Rebooting/Revising A Team Story

  1. Balancing Romance in a team setting:
    -Strongly establish the non-romance dynamics first, the wingman/best friend/confidante before the romantic partner.
    -The climax can culminate the romance, but the platonic relationships have to be just as important. Mick/Ray and Mick/Snart are given just as much weight as Snart/Sara. The romance shouldn’t be the main thing saving the day, either. Best to leave the triumph of the romance to a smaller victory on the way to the climax.
    -Important character issues can’t all be solved by the romance. The most important ones should be solved by being with the team. This is a big point where the Kendra and Rip love stories fell down. They had nothing to do with the team at large! Whereas Snart becoming the kind of man who wanted to be with Sara was hand-in-hand with becoming a hero and loyal to the team. The same motivations drove him to save Mick, as well.
    – The marketing matters. Nick-and-Nita can’t dominate audience expectations, or they’ll be chafing at how much the characters they think are supporting cast are taking up “screentime.” In most of the supernatural-team YA novels I’ve read, this is usually accomplished by changing narrator POV between each member of the team.

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    1. Agree on the first three.

      Marketing can only do so much, though. If people go into a team story and find a romance they like better, they’re going to be annoyed at the team story no matter what. And vice versa. I’m not sure what the answer is, except I know that i have to know going in if this is a romance (Nick and Nita) or a team story (Nick and Nita as first among equals). And I probably won’t know until I get to the end of a complete first draft.

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      1. Do you have an example in mind of audience picking romance over team, to the point of disliking the story? I guess it comes back to the grey area between team story and regular relationship drama, as lots of shows try to do both types simultaneously. But otherwise, it seems more common for audience to be irritated by a romance they don’t like, than a friendship.

        Fringe centered a romance within the team, but I think they telegraphed that transition, so both writers and audience were on the same page.

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        1. Personal experience: Wild Ride.
          I think Legends may have defaulted to that, not so much because the romance (Sara/Snart) was so strong, but because the team was so weak so that when the two strongest members were attracted to each other subtly, viewers gravitated to them. I read a lot of fan commentary to see what the reaction was, and the romance was popular, but a lot of people said they didn’t even need it to be a romance, just focus on the those two (three with Mick), and I think it’s not just because they were the strongest individually, but because they also had the strongest bond.

          A team story is a romance, so if the team is working, it should always be the primary story the readers want to read. Leverage is a great example of this: Nate and Sophie were wonderful, Parker and Hardison were great, but nobody wanted those romances to be the main story. We wanted them, but we watched for the team.

          another thing that’s different about TV from books: You’re seeing people instead of imagining them based on words. And seeing two very attractive people in close proximity to each other makes people think romance. If the chemistry isn’t there, viewers will abandon the expectation even if it’s shoved down their throats (the Hawks), but if the chemistry is there, viewers will glom on to it, even if it’s not written in there (Sara and Snart, who cheating with body language, but still).

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  2. I know we discussed team v. ensemble somewhere–what was that post again? I’m trying to apply the stuff we’ve talked about here to Fantastic Beasts, and have already gotten into an argument about whose story it actually is. I know it’s promoted like it’s Newt’s, but I don’t think it is. Sorry for how off-topic this is

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    1. I don’t think we talked about ensembles, but I did a thing on community–that was actually the basis for the Leverage Binge Watch–because at the time I was confusing community with team. I think community is probably the same as ensemble? Maybe?

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  3. I would suggest that ensemble is basically a team that does not think or itself as a team? So it remains individuals in proximity, sharing tasks until …something changes; someone notices and starts arguing about who is boss anyhow, there is a giant celebration and they recognize themselves, somehow they are made aware that the easy working relationship they have is not just proximity, chemistry or fluke.

    Alternatively, ensemble is the part of the community that matters to you most, without explicit parts to play.

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    1. I think “team” is such a formal designation that they almost have to think of themselves as a team or at least as a formal unit. As in, “We have these skills and we employ them together to gain this goal.”

      Whereas an ensemble is a bunch of characters who have a relationship but not a common goal.

      So I’d say “Friends” or “Cheers” or “The Big Bang Theory” are all ensembles, but none of them are teams, but “Burn Notice,” “Person of Interest,” “Leverage,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” and “Mission Impossible” all have teams.

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  4. How underwhelming and weak as a character LoT’s Kendra was last season drove me even crazier because Hawkgirl was one of the characters I loved best in the Justice League animated series from the early 2000s. JL’s Shayera was complex, strong, determined, action-oriented, and interesting, not to mention snarky. She developed a believable, genuine relationship with confident John Stewart/Green Lantern, and the show dealt with Carter much better and much more briefly. She was always a fighter, and, even struggling with who she was, she didn’t whine.

    Sigh.

    That show, unfortunately, thanks to network pressure, went the wrong way with its team size, expanding from a core seven after a couple of years when the JL added Unlimited to its title. All those extra characters knee-capped much of the momentum of the originals whom viewers had been watching develop for the first couple seasons. From time to time we did still get to see Shayera and the others continue to grow, though. That core group was something special.

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