Monday, March 9, 2020

Legends Of Tomorrow Season 5, Episode 6: Mortal Khanbat

This week on another decent Legends Of Tomorrow, the gang encounters a strangely modernized Genghis Khan, Charlie finally gets a backstory (as well as a private life!) and we get a watered-down, abbreviated version of one of the most famous storylines from the Hellraiser comic.

The other big news is that this week's episode was directed by Caity Lotz, aka White Canary. Which likely explains why she's AWOL for most of the runtime, showing up in the last thirty seconds or so. She was absent for most of the previous episode as well, no doubt prepping for her directorial debut.

I mentioned last week that once a TV series reaches its fifth or sixth season, the actors start complaining that they're "bored." In an effort to shut 'em up and keep them from jumping ship, the producers will give them the chance to direct an episode or two (whether they show any talent in that area or not). Think Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which virtually every major cast member took a turn in the directorial chair.

Fortunately Caity does an admirable job here, juggling several different storylines and making sense of the show's typical chaos. She's also apparently a big John Woo fan, as she fills the episode with a pitch-perfect tribute to his films and tropes.

I'm glad to see Charlie finally getting some attention, as she's been one of the more sorely neglected characters since she showed up in Season 4. Looking forward to her "Loom Of Fate" storyline, and I hope she sticks around once it plays out.

Lastly, I can't help but be a little disappointed by the Constantine section of this episode, which was inspired by the Dangerous Habits storyline, arguably the most famous plot from DC's Hellblazer comic.

As I mentioned last week, this arc ran from Issue #41 to #46, way back in 1991. Long story short, Constantine discovers he has lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking. Before he dies, he secretly sells his soul to three different demons. When he eventually dies & goes to Hell, they all show up to claim it. None of the demons want to back down or start a war, so they heal him & send him back to Earth. There's more to it of course, but that's the condensed version. 

Of course I didn't expect the show to give us a slavishly faithful adaptation of that storyline. That said, I thought it might hew a little closer to the source. Instead we get a surly Constantine trying everything he can think of to save his life, only for Astra to have a change of heart and save him at the literal last second. 

The TV version of the storyline felt rushed too, as if they couldn't wait to get it over with. Why bother with it at all then, if they weren't going to give it the room it needed to breathe (no pun intended)?


The Plot:
Gary and Charlie bring a deathly ill Constantine to the Waverider. Atom takes him to the Med Bay, where Gideon runs a scan on him. She confirms he has Stage 4 lung cancer, and gives him a sedative.

While the others stand around Constantine looking worried, Charlie attempts to sneak off the ship. Suddenly she stops as she begins hearing voices in her head. She takes off running and bumps into Behrad, who wonders where she's been the past few weeks. Before she can answer, Sharpe calls everyone to the Bridge.

Sharpe shows the team the project she and Gideon have been working on— "The Prognosticator." It'll locate Encores before they can cause any problems. She activates it, and Gideon detects a mysterious gangster taking over Triad territory in 1997 Hong Kong. Unfortunately the gang is much more impressed with Steel's new scooter (?).

The Waverider arrives in Hong Kong, and Ava takes Charlie with her to a tea house that's a known Triad hideout. Steel and Behrad stay outside to patrol the perimeter. Suddenly a helmeted rider pulls up on a motorcycle and dismounts. He removes his helmet, and Steel recognizes him as Genghis Khan. Steel warns the others that they've located their Encore.

Khan enters the tea house, where he meets with the Triad leader and offers him a briefcase full of drugs. He says if the leader hands over control of the Triad to him, he'll conquer the globe or something. 

Charlie tells Behrad to create a diversion, so she can sedate Khan. Before he can act though, he's spotted by one of Khan's guards and all hell breaks loose. Three hostesses reveal they're undercover cops, and a huge shootout ensues. Khan grabs the Triad leader and hauls him off into a back room, while Charlie chases after him. Behrad sees her and follows as well.

Behrad enters the storeroom, where he's attacked by Khan. Charlie tries to sedate him, but he grabs her arm and points his gun at her. Behrad grabs one of Khan's guns and points it at him, resulting in a three-way standoff.

In the tea room, the shootout continues between the Triads and the cops. Two of the cops are hit, and Sharpe grabs their guns and teams up with Heyan, the remaining one. They fight back till they run out of ammo. The Triads prepare to execute Sharpe and Heyan, but just then Steel— in his steeled-up form for a change— rides in on his scooter and bowls over the thugs.

In the store room, everyone pulls their triggers at the same time, but nothing happens. Realizing they're all improbably out of ammo, Khan tells Charlie and Behrad they're lucky and leaves.

Back on the ship, Constantine staggers out of the Med Bay (um... didn't Gideon sedate him?), and Gary asks Atom to help stop him. Constantine says no one gets Stage 4 lung cancer instantly, and suspects magic's behind it. He says he's taking the jumpship to find out who. Atom and Gary insist on going with him.

The three arrive at Constantine's manor. He orders Atom to pull up a rug, revealing a pentagram underneath. He falls into it and finds himself in a room in Purgatory. A digital clock appears on his forearm, counting down the short time he has left.

Just then Astra emerges laughing from the shadows. She holds Constantine's chit and waves it in his face, saying he's bad for her business. He warns her that whoever altered the chit for her is trying to trap her. He says he can change everything— he can make it so she doesn't grow up in Hell and her mother Natalie doesn't die. Astra says it's tempting, but doesn't believe him. He suddenly finds himself back in the manor. He tells Atom and Gary that Astra altered his chit to speed up his death.

The Legends return to the Waverider, and Charlie asks Behrad why he didn't just stop the Triad's bullets with his Air Totem. He snorts and says that's impossible. The two storm off in opposite directions. Sharpe wonders why they're being so hostile to one another, and Steel and Zari 2.0 say it's obvious the two had sex. Gideon tracks Khan's motorcycle plates to a junkyard, and Sharpe says that's where they'll try to capture him next.

Khan and his men arrive at the junkyard and head for their warehouse hideout. One of the men thinks he hears something and hangs back. Behrad appears and knocks out the thug with an air blast, and Charlie morphs into him. Behrad tells Charlie to be careful, and she hurries to catch up with the other thugs.

Inside the warehouse, Khan questions the captive Heyan, and says he'll spare her child if she gives him what he wants. Outside, Steel & Behrad sit in a car with the captive guard. Steel asks when Behrad hooked up with Charlie, and he admits it was right after Heyworld. He says he's hurt because she left without saying goodbye. The guard pipes up and says it's not about Behrad and Steel agrees. He says he should just ask Charlie what's wrong. Suddenly they notice the guard is gone.

At the manor, Nora Darhk arrives with a young girl named Pippa, who she's currently fairy godmothering. Pippa says she wishes Constantine wasn't sick, which gives Nora permission to use her magic to cure him. Everyone stares expectantly at Constantine, wondering if the spell took. Suddenly he has another coughing fit, spewing even more blood.

Back at the warehouse, Heyan reluctantly gives Khan the info he wants— the travel route of Prince Charles, who will soon arrive to hand over Hong Kong to China. Charlie realizes Khan intends to force the Prince to give the region to him. Khan then begins monologuing, explaining that he came back to life as an Encore seven hundred years ago, but it took him that long to dig out of his tomb (?). He then pulls out a magical Hell Sword and stabs Heyan with it, disintegrating her.

Khan turns to the disguised Charlie and asks about the status of his "fleet." Charlie fumbles around and says it's going great, and says she's going to check on it right now. She exits the warehouse and runs into the real thug, who screams and runs off. Suddenly Charlie hears the voices again, which call her "Clotho." She's so distracted she doesn't notice a truck bearing down on her, but luckily Behrad appears and knocks her out of the way. Instead of thanking him, she pushes him away and walks off.

Back at the manor, Gary & Atom bring in a Puca (first seen in Nip/Stuck) to try & heal Constantine, but she can't. Constantine becomes angry and tells the others to piss off, saying he'll save his life without their help.

Charlie returns to the Waverider, looking for a time courier. She runs into Behrad, who's holding one. Before he gives it to her, he says he likes her and was hurt when she walked out. He just wants her to be honest with him. An exasperated Charlie tells him the sex was mediocre at best and there's nothing between them. Behrad hands her the courier and says they need her help to defeat Khan.

Constantine begins hallucinating, as the bulldog head on his cane starts speaking to him. It says Gary and Atom are the only two friends he has, and Constantine says he can't argue with that. He hobbles into the kitchen, where Gary & Atom are cooking dinner. He tells them he might owe them an apology.

Steel sneaks around the Hong Kong docks, trying to figure out what's in the "fleet" that Khan was talking about. He opens a crate and finds it's filled with scooters just like his. On the street, Khan and his men emerge from the fog, weaving in and out of the snarled traffic on their agile scooters. They surround Prince Charles' motorcade, kill his guards and capture him. Behrad tries to protect the monarch, but is captured as well.

Khan and his men take Charles and Behrad to a parking garage. Suddenly "Prince Charles," who's actually Charlie, morphs into Khan. Khan isn't impressed, and grabs Behrad. He threatens to kill him unless Charlie shows her true form. She morphs back into herself, and Khan demands to know where Prince Charles is. She says somewhere he'll never find him. Cut to the Waverider, where a very confused Charles is hanging out with Heat Wave.

Khan tells Charlie that she'll become his thirteenth wife. She says her past is complicated and it wouldn't work out between them. Khan then realizes that she and Behrad slept together, much to his disgust. He orders his men to shoot Charlie, but Behrad dives in front of her and uses the Air Totem to actually stop the bullets in midair.

Charlie then grabs Khan's Hell Sword from him and stabs him in the chest with it. Khan disintegrates in a puff of green smoke. Well that was anticlimactic! She tells Khan's men to beat it before she kills them too. Amazingly the hardened thugs bugger off like scared rabbits. She and Behrad then hug.

Back on the Waverider, the Legends demand to know what's going on with Charlie. She finally tells them the truth— she's actually Clotho The Spinner, one of the three Greek Fates. She used to spin people's futures on her Loom Of Fate, but destroyed it thousands of years ago and scattered the pieces across the Multiverse. She says now that there's only Earth-Prime, the pieces are back and all on one plane. She says her sisters will eventually find the pieces and kill her and anyone she's with. She starts to leave, but Behrad tells her she can stop running, as the Legends have her back.

At the manor, Constantine bequeaths the house to Gary. He asks Atom what's on his bucket list, and he says he wants to marry Nora. Constantine asks what he's waiting for, and Atom says he was engaged twice before and it didn't work out. Constantine tells him to stop wasting time. He then toasts his two friends, and explains he just drank poisoned whiskey. He then ups and dies.

He wakes in Purgatory, as Astra sits across a table from him. He tells Astra that her mother Natalie never gave up on her. She asks if he can really bring Natalie back, and he promises he can fix everything. Astra gives him a long hard look, then resets his chit. She says she can use it to kill him anytime she wants, so he'd better not be lying. She sends him back to the real world.

A now completely-healed Constantine tells Gary and Atom that Astra reconsidered, and says he needs to see a lady about a loom.

• Charlie and Gary bring the ailing Constantine to the Waverider, where Gideon scans him. She announces he has acute Stage 4 lung cancer, and administers a powerful sedative to him. 

Either Gideon's knockout drugs leave something to be desired or Constantine has a very strong constitution, because a few minutes later he's up and around and tries to leave the ship!

• Sharpe calls a meeting of the Legends and presents her Prognosticator device, which will supposedly detect Encores before they have a chance to cause trouble. She's then disappointed when the team doesn't ooh and ahh over this bit of tech. I can't say I blame them for not being impressed. In fact I'm having trouble understanding how it's different than Gideon simply announcing a new "time quake."

• So far whenever an Encore's returned from Hell, they've done so shortly after their death. Hence Rasputin was resurrected in 1917, Bugsy Siegel in 1947 and so on. So what's happened with Genghis Khan? He died in 1227. Why's he suddenly showing up in 1997?

Welp, the writers have a reason for that— sort of. They explain that when Khan was resurrected by Astra, he woke inside his tomb. It then took him a whopping 700 YEARS to get out of it! Several things here:

So... what exactly was Khan doing inside his tomb for seven centuries? Was he trying to claw his way out with his bare hands? Beating against the walls with his fists? Digging under the walls of the tomb?

Do Encores need to eat? Did he slowly starve to death inside the tomb, get sent back to Hell and then wake up back inside it over and over for 700 years?

And what about Astra? You'd think once she realized Khan was resurrected inside his tomb that she'd have given him a bit of help. After all, he's not going to be able to terrorize humanity very well from inside a thick-walled burial chamber!

Lastly, the real Genghis Khan wasn't actually buried inside a tomb. On his deathbed he made his men swear to keep his death secret for some reason. Anyone who saw his funeral procession was immediately killed. Khan was buried in an unmarked grave, the location of which is still a mystery. Whoops!

• Looks like Steel forgot he's an historian again. Otherwise he'd know that "Genghis" was actually pronounced "Chengis."

• The tea house battle is a love letter to the movies and tropes of director John Woo. In particular it's a nod to his action masterpiece Hard Boiled. Observe:

You've got Sharpe blasting away with two guns at the same time, which is a Woo staple.

As is the "Fighting Back To Back" stance.

Then there's the slow motion, balletic kill scenes, in which an unfortunate thug flies backward while being riddled with bullets...

And don't forget the "Multiple Characters Point Their Guns In One Another's Faces" scene, which is a given in any Woo film.

And lastly, you can't do a John Woo tribute without having at least one dove fluttering across the frame, in contrast to the horrific onscreen violence.

• Khan gets away from the Legends, but Gideon manages to find him, saying, "I'm currently tracking Genghis Khan's whereabouts via his license plate."

Wow. That was really nice of an ex-warlord like Khan to comply with the law and drop by the local Hong Kong DMV to get his motorcycle registered! He may be a psychotic, murderous Encore from Hell, but he's no scofflaw!

• Speaking of Constantine, right after he shakes off Gideon's sedative, we see his trademark white shirt is covered with blood he's coughed up from his lungs. Ew.

Once he arrives at the House Of Mystery, er, I mean his ancestral home with Gary & Atom in tow, he's wearing a nice, clean spotlessly white shirt again.

OK, so it's not all that far-fetched to imagine he changed clothes and wiped the blood off his face while we weren't looking. But a few weeks ago in Slay Anything, when Constantine first entered the house, he said "he lived there once" and hadn't been back in years. He doesn't say exactly how long it's been since he was there, but we see flashbacks to him in his punk days, so it's probably safe to say it's been at least a couple decades.

Nice to see he keeps a fully stocked closet full of crisp, starched shirts in the house, for when he drops by every twenty years or so.

• Constantine tries several magical cures, none of which work. In frustration, he takes out his anger on Gary and Atom and tells them to piss off. He then engages in a conversation with the head of his cane, which takes the shape of an animated bulldog. The cane chastises Constantine for lashing out at his last two friends. 

A bit later Constantine apologizes to Gary & Atom and says, "Did I ever tell you both about the time I met the ghost of Winston Churchill?"

Of course he's talking about the cane here, as the bulldog head looked and sounded much like Winston Churchill!

• On a related note, Atom & Gary refuse to give up on Constantine, so they decide to cook dinner in the kitchen of his ancestral home. Constantine wanders in and says he can't remember the last time the room was actually used as a kitchen. Atom says there's a roast in the oven, and offers him a vegetable tray.

So... if no one's lived here in years and Constantine can't remember the last time anyone cooked in the place, where'd all the food come from? Is there a grocery down the street? Or has Gary been practicing really hard and conjured up all the food by himself?

• At one point Atom brings in Nora Darhk to try and cure Constantine with her magic. Because she's a Fairy Godmother though, she can't freely use her power. Instead she has to get the child to which she's currently bound to wish Constantine back to health (it doesn't work, by the way).

Wait, that doesn't sound right... Last season when Tabitha was the Fairy Godmother, I feel like there were numerous instances in which she used her powers against the Legends, with nary a kid in sight. I was barely paying attention to the back half of Season 4 though, so it's possible I'm mistaken.

• Sigh... I suppose it's impossible to have a Genghis episode without having a Wrath Of Khan reference in it somewhere.

• Prince Charles has one of the most distinctive and recognizable faces in the world. This is the actor they got to play him!

C'mon, guys! You're not even trying here! This guy looks about as much like Prince Charles as I do! Surely there's at least one decent Charles impersonator in the Vancouver phone book?

• Genghis Khan was arguably one of the most feared, ruthless and genocidal warlords in history. So how's he defeated at the end of this episode? Do the Legends unite an use their formidable superpowers against him? Do they get Constantine to conjure up a ghostly army to oppose him? Have Gideon fabricate a disintegrator ray to blast him?

Nope! Those methods would be logical and rational. Instead they have Charlie deliver a good right cross to his face, grab his Hell Sword out of his hand and stab him with it. That was easy!

I can't wait to see how Astra blames Constantine for this Encore death as well, despite the fact that so far he's only killed one of the five.

• If I had one complaint about this episode, it's with Astra's abrupt change of heart at the end. Constantine's been trying to save her soul for months now, and she's always ignored his attempts at turning her. Suddenly in this episode he tells her he can save her and restore her family, and instantly she's onboard with his plan. So what changed? Why's she suddenly believe him after all this time? Because he was dying? 

I dunno, it all just seemed a bit too easy and rushed to me. As I said in the intro, the Dangerous Habits storyline is the most famous one from the comic, so it seems like a huge missed opportunity to dismiss it like this.

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