Saturday, May 30, 2020

Legends Of Tomorrow Season 5, Episode 14: The One Where We're Trapped On TV

This week on Legends Of Tomorrow, it's the penultimate episode of Season 5.

The One Where We're Trapped On TV is another "Altered Reality" episode, in which the villains win (temporarily of course) and use a McGuffin to change the entire world. The show used this same basic plot way back in Season 2's Doomworld

These types of episodes are generally a lot of fun, as it's interesting to see the cast get to play different versions of their characters.

Of course the writers always have to stack the deck a bit in favor of the heroes, to give them a fighting chance against the villains— as they did here. Logically, Lachesis and Atropos should have eliminated the Legends. Of course they bow to Charlie's request and let them live out their lives as characters on various TV shows, with no memories of their pasts. Stupid Fates!

This episode borrows VERY heavily from dystopian works such as 1984 and Brazil, with a dash of Apple's infamous Macintosh commercial. Wait, did I say "borrows?" I mean outright STEALS. It lifts so much from 1984 that I hope the novel's in the public domain by now, or the Orwell estate's gonna come knocking on The CW's door. 

It's also an odd framework to build a world upon, since you'd think the Fates would be more familiar with an ancient Greek theme. But what do I know.

The One Where We're Trapped On TV features the directorial debut of Legends co-creator Marc Guggenheim. He does a pretty darned good job here, juggling a whopping FIVE different settings and shows-within-a-show— all of which feature radically different production design and filming styles. It would have been a difficult shoot for a seasoned director, so it's all the more amazing he pulled it off on his first time out!

Finally, I mentioned this last week, but it's worth a repeat as this episode doubles down on it— I am not a fan of the whole Canary/Sharpe "co-captains" thing. I've nothing against a woman being in charge, and think Canary's done a bang up job as captain for the past four years. 

But adding Sharpe to the crew and suddenly appointing her captain as well just rubs me the wrong way. Yes, Canary got the job when Rip gave it to her at the end of Season 1. But she's grown into the position over the seasons, and proven herself worthy. She earned the title.

Sadly, the same can't be said for Sharpe. She was a terrible Director of the Time Bureau, and she's done nothing since coming onboard the Waverider to warrant her position. 

Making her a co-captain actually diminishes Canary and her accomplishment. If anyone can just be appointed captain, then it lessens the title. 

I would have no problem with Sharpe being Second Officer or ACTING captain when Canary's not on the ship. But a full-fledged captain? No.

I feel like the only reason they came up with this harebrained idea is because once the Time Bureau was shut down, they needed to find a reason for Sharpe to stay on the show. Unfortunately, "co-captain" was all they could think of.


The Plot:
Charlie and her sisters have used the Loom Of Fate to once again control the destiny of humanity. The world is now a 1984-like Brutalist dystopia, in which the Fates rule and free will is not allowed.

Mona Wu works at her desk, rewriting history for the Fates. Her coworker Geoffrey whispers to Mona that what they're doing doesn't seem right. Mona says the Fates give everyone food, shelter and TV— what more could one ask for? Suddenly Atropos appears on a monitor and announces that Geoffrey's reached his Fate, and his life thread has ended. He immediately drops dead to the floor.

Mona makes her way back to her living unit. She walks past Gary Green, who's now a crazy, wild-eyed protester. He says he recognizes Mona, and asks if she remembers him. She tells him to get the hell away from her and hurries off.

Mona enters her living unit, heats a bowl of Mush and sits down to watch TV. Ultimate Buds is on, and we see it stars Zari 2.0 and Behrad. Zari 2.0's boss is coming for dinner, and she asks Behrad if he bought Grey Mush. He says he got every color but that, as the studio audience roars with laughter.

Just then their neighbor Steel enters and announces he auditioned for a role on Arrow. He then accidentally shoots his prop crossbow, causing Mush to fly everywhere. Behrad takes off his Air Totem (?) and sets it on a table while he goes to clean up. Zari 2.0's not happy about being left alone with Steel, as the two of them once kissed.

Just then the Totem glows, and Steel touches it. The Original Zari emerges from the Totem and looks around in confusion. She merges with Zari 2.0, sees Steel and embraces him. The audience reacts to their kiss, and Zari asks who's making the noises. She asks where the Legends, the Waverider and Mona Wu are.

Mona's shocked to hear a TV character mention her by name. Behrad then comes back, and Zari's shocked to see him alive again. Just then Zari 2.0's boss arrives, so Behrad and Steel hide Zari in the closet till they can figure out what's wrong with her. They let the boss in, and typical sitcom hijinx ensue.

Unseen by the others, the Air Totem flies under the closet door. A second later Zari uses it to blow the closet door open. She says they must have somehow become stuck inside a sitcom, and looks for a way out. She spots a door, and none of the others seem to know what's behind it. She opens it, revealing a wall of static beyond. Zari touches the static, and it resolves into an Edwardian mansion.

Zari, Behrad and Steel go through the door, and find they're somehow now wearing period-appropriate attire. Constantine enter, dressed as a butler and welcomes them to Highcastle Abbey. He doesn't seem to recognize any of them, and leads everyone to the parlor.

Lady Astra and her mother Lady Natalie enter and introduce themselves. Lady Natalie announces that Behrad's to marry Astra, in order to keep Highcastle in the family. Constantine, thinking Steel is Behrad's footman, takes him to the servant's hall. Zari excuses herself to visit the "lavatory."

Zari finds Constantine and Steel hanging out in the kitchen. She tells Constantine she needs to talk with him alone, and he dismisses the other servants. She tells him he's really a chain-smoking sorcerer with an apprentice named Gary. As they talk, Steel sneaks a taste of Blue Mush, and Constantine turns and casts a spell that wraps him up in an apron.

In the real world, Mona sees this and hears Zari mention Gary's name. She wonders if he's not so crazy after all.

Back in the parlor, Lady Natalie leaves Astra and Behrad alone. Astra confesses she wishes she'd been born a man, so she could have adventures. Behrad says there's no reason she can't have them, as she's a "diva."

In the kitchen, Constantine tells Zari he's ashamed that part of him's been seduced by dark magic. Zari says that's the REAL Constantine, and asks him to help her and the others escape.

Mona finds Gary and drags him back to her place. She tells him the people on TV are mentioning them by name and makes him sit down and watch. He decides she's crazier than he is.

Zari says they need to find their captain White Canary. Behrad and Astra enter the kitchen, as Constantine lights a Tarot card on fire and tells everyone who's going with him to grab hold. They all take one another's hands as they disappear.

Mona remembers Canary from another show called Star Trip. She says they need to break into Clotho Productions (the studio that films all TV shows in this world) to get answers.

Cut to the Star Trip show, where Canary and a Vulcan Sharpe co-captain the USS Faterider. They detect a Gromulan ship ahead and hail it. The Gromulans appear onscreen, and we see they're actually Zari, Behrad, Steel, Constantine and Astra, all with bumpy alien foreheads.

Canary wants to immediately blow them out of the sky, but Sharpe suggests they talk with them first. Zari tells them that none of this is real and they have to escape. Behrad then casually pushes a random button, which causes the Gromulan ship to fire on the Faterider. The ship's nearly destroyed, as the entire crew's killed except for Canary and Sharpe (of course). Zari beams Canary and Sharpe over to the Gromulan ship.

Mona and Gary sneak into Clotho Productions by posing as Mush machine vendors. They make their way to the control room, where they find a typewriter that's automatically generating the Star Trip script. They also see a tube filled with life threads attached to the typewriter, and Mona realizes there are real people trapped inside the show.

On the ship, the crew picks up an odd radio transmission from the planet "Kuldezax." They recognize as a song, and Zari says they should try and make contact. Behrad pushes another button, and suddenly a giant hand appears and grabs the model of their ship, er, I mean their ship.

The crew then find they're in the Mr. Parker's Cul-De-Sac show (last seen in, what else, Mr. Parker's Cul-De-Sac), and are dressed as Community Helpers. Mr. Parker says it's story time, and Canary tells him to take a walk around his circle. Zari tries to get the Legends to remember who they are, saying they're a bunch of misfits who're just trying to do the right thing and make the world a better place. Unfortunately this has no effect, as none of the Legends remember their former lives.

Mona hears Zari's words, sits down at the typewriter and begins editing the script so the Legends remember who they really are.

Mona's plan works, as the Legends' memories come flooding back. Canary and Sharpe hug, and Behrad wonders how he's alive again. Astra asks Constantine if her mother's really alive, and he admits he honestly doesn't know. Steel tells Zari he's never going to lose her again.

Just then a furious Charlie bursts into the studio and asks Mona what she's done. She begins rewriting the script to make them forget again.

Mr. Parker returns and sings a song about repressing bad feelings. He then snaps his fingers and sends Canary, Sharpe, Zari, Behrad and Steel back to their respective TV shows. Constantine threatens Mr. Parker with Hellfire, but Astra says she wants to go back— to make sure her mother is alive or not.

Constantine stands down and holds Astra's hands, and they find themselves back in Highcastle Abbey at Xmas. Lady Natalie enters and Astra embraces her. Constantine tells Astra they can stay in the show as long as she wants. He says she was his Original Sin, and he'll gladly play the role of Mr. Constantine to make up for it. Astra thanks him, and the two forget who they really are and slip back into their characters.

At the studio, Charlie says she's managed to get the shows back on track. She explains to Mona that she made a deal with her sisters that allowed her to hide the Legends in various TV shows, in order to save their lives. Mona said the shows only cause people to get used to obeying.

Back on Star Trip, Canary and Sharpe find themselves on their fully functional ship again. For some reason, the two remember who they really are. Sharpe says she wants to stay on the show because they always win and never die. Canary tells her life is beautiful and terrible at the same time, and existing on TV isn't living at all. Just then their old enemy Dhan (who's actually Heat Wave) appears on the viewscreen and threatens to destroy them. Sharpe loads the ship's torpedoes, but Canary refuses to fire. She says the only way they can be free is to lose for once.

Mona tells Charlie she has to save them. Charlie looks at the typewriter and hesitates. Canary and Sharpe kiss as their ship explodes around them. All over the world, people watch the show in horror, wondering what just happened. Among them are Ali and Lita (Heat Wave's old flame and daughter). Mona asks what Charlie did, and she says she just canceled Star Trip.

At Highcastle Abbey, Natalie gives Astra a present— a ticket to London, where she can have adventures. Astra says she can't leave her, but Natalie tells her she still has her whole life to live and leaves. Astra remembers, and tells Constantine it's time to go. He casts a spell and they find themselves on an empty soundstage.

On Ultimate Bros, Behrad says he can't handle eating Mush anymore, and the studio audience erupts in gasps. Steel says they can't go against the Fates, and Zari says screw 'em. The audience gasps again, and this time the three can see them sitting in the bleachers.

Charlie begs the Legends to stop, or they'll inspire a massive rebellion.

Zari tells the masses to get off their couches and take control of their own lives, as she throws a bowl of mush into the camera. She, Behrad and Steel then find themselves in the empty studio with the others.

Charlie says she gave them everything they ever wanted, and they're all morons for refusing it. She says she can still do rewrites, and takes Zari's thread and splits it into the Original and 2.0 versions, presumably as an incentive. She says if they don't accept their fates, her sisters will kill them. The Legends shrug and walk out of the studio. Charlie tells Mona and Gary that she can't help the Legends anymore.


• The name of this week's episode is a nod to the 1990s sitcom Friends, whose titles always began with the words "The One," such as The One Where The Monkey Gets Away or The One With The Flashback.

• The opening titles change this week, to reflect the fact that the Fates have wiped out all independent thought and free will. While I appreciate that the producers went to the trouble to create an episode-specific title sequence, I'm not sure why it looks like a Russian Revolution-era propaganda poster. I guess because this new Loomworld is an oppressive regime just like Russia?

• As the episode opens, we see Mona Wu's now working in the Historical Sanitation Department. A couple things here:

First of all, this is a VERY obvious nod to 1984. In the novel, main character Winston Smith works at The Ministry Of Truth, altering historical documents to reflect his country's current party line. Mona does the exact same thing at the Historical Sanitation Department, doctoring history books to remove any hint of free will.

Secondly, the fact that there's an entire department dedicated to altering historical records pretty much proves that the Fates aren't all-powerful. Sure, they used the Loom Of Fate to change the world as we knew it, but there are apparently limits to their abilities. Otherwise they'd have altered the history books themselves while they were weaving.

• Mona hands her altered documents to her coworker Geoffrey, who wonders if what they're doing is wrong. At that precise moment, Atropos appears on a monitor and announces that Geoffrey's time has come to an end, and cuts his life thread.

Was Geoffrey's time REALLY up, or did Atropos hurriedly cut his thread to shut him up before he caused an insurrection? It'd be an astronomical coincidence if he "just happened" to die a second after he questioned the New Order.

On the other hand, maybe it was just his time. A few seconds later we see Gary Green openly protesting the state of the world, as he literally stands in front of propaganda posters of the Three Fates. Atropos doesn't strike him down for his blasphemy, so maybe she didn't kill Geoffrey out of wrath after all.

• One last thing about Geoffrey. Atropos appears on a monitor, tells Geoffrey his time's up and he instantly keels over dead. Note that at no time does she ever touch him. Heck, she's not even in the same room with him.

Compare that to when she killed Behrad (in Zari, Not Zari) by literally reaching into his chest, pulling out his life thread and slicing it. Why the difference? If she can kill people without making physical contact, then why the big production with Behrad?

• Boy, I'll bet Dionysus is really pissed with Charlie right now. In Freaks And Geeks he agreed to let her use his Chalice on the condition that she promise not to use the Loom Of Fate to eliminate free will and put an end to his eternal partying. And then she helps her sisters do exactly that! He's gonna be one angry god!

• Nice attention to detail: During the Ultimate Buds show, it looks like they used a video filter to make the scenes look like a cheap sitcom.

Note that they also even added a promo snipe in the corner of the screen, just like the annoying ones The CW adds to its own shows.

• The general public lives in a grey, joyless world devoid of any hope. The Fates use television to pacify the populace, so they'll be too distracted to think about rebelling. So far, so good.

But then every single TV show on Fate+ features characters wearing bright clothing in cheery settings, having fun and adventures. Wouldn't that make everyone realize their lives suck in comparison, and fuel thoughts of insurrection?

Or does the public just see the TV shows as escapism, and live vicariously through the characters?

• As mentioned above, television plays a huge role in the Fates' plan to keep the population oppressed. So then why does everyone have a tiny picture tube TV with a 14" screen? If it's that important, shouldn't every domicile have a massive 75" flatscreen monitor?

And where the hell did all these old school sets come from in the first place? No one makes picture tubes anymore. Did the Fates use the Loom to conjure 'em up?

• I guess Charlie's in charge of all TV? Is that a subtle joke? She uses the Loom to spin the life threads of everyone on Earth, right? So is that a reference to "spinning yarns" or stories?

• The producers did an amazing job evoking the look and feel of the Downton Abbey title sequence. Especially the shot of the servant bells ringing and the logo at the end. Well done!

• This is some extreeeeeeme nitpicking, but whatever. When the Legends find themselves in the Highcastle Abbey show, Steel says, "We went from a hilarious yet heartfelt sitcom, but now we're stuck on some stuffy BBC period piece."

I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't point out that Downton Abbey (on which this show-within-a-show is based) airs on ITV in England, not the BBC. And how would he know about the BBC anyway? In Loomworld there's just one network— Fate+! Whoops!

Told you it was extreme.

• Astra's mom appears in Highcastle Abbey, as the Lady Natalie. If I'm not mistaken, we've only seen Natalie once before, in a flashback and in ghost form in A Head Of Her Time. She looks really different here— I bet a lot of viewers were wondering who the hell she was.

• Mr. Constantine takes Steel to the kitchen, where they have the following conversation:

Constantine: "In this household, servants should be seen and not heard in the company of their superiors."
Mrs. Hutchens: "Which means we should all be silent round you. Isn't that right, Mr. Constantine?"
Constantine: "Mrs. Hutchens, trying to hold your tongue will be as easy as swimming through custard in Wellington boots."

Wait, what? The only food in this dystopian world is Mush, a porridge-like goo which comes in various colors. There's no such thing as custard anymore! Whoops!

Does this mean that the residents of Loomworld remember their former, unoppressed lives? Kinda seems like it, based on this custard reference and the fact that Mona's aware that she's revising history. 

That seems like a baaaaad idea to me, as remembering the past is a recipe for unrest. You'd think when the Fates wiped out free will, they'd have erased everyone's memories while they were at it. That way there'd be no incentive to riot. Of course if they did that, then there'd be no hope for the heroes to change things, and the series would be over, so...

• I was much less impressed with the Star Trip titles. Yeah, they got all the beats of Star Trek's opening right, but they did so by making the ship look like a cheap model that wobbles as it passes the camera, as if it were on strings.

It always pisses me off when modern fans mock The Original Series and complain it looks "cheesy." Of course the FX look somewhat dated now— the show's over fifty years old! But back when it first aired it was revolutionary. No one had ever seen FX like that on TV before— especially on a weekly series!

And contrary to current popular opinion, the Enterprise model was NOT hung on a string, but mounted on a pylon and shot in front of a blue screen— pretty much the exact same way the ships in Star Wars were filmed.

So stop calling The Original Series cheesy, and try to look at it in its historical context.

• Canary and Sharpe appear in the Star Trip series as ersatz versions of Kirk and Spock. Several things:

First of all, note that Canary's wearing a green shirt. As all good Star Trek fans know, Captain Kirk's shirt was actually olive green, but for some reason the velour material looked gold on film. I'm assuming Canary's shirt is a shoutout to this. I'd be too big a coincidence otherwise.

Second, why does Sharpe have platinum blonde hair here as a Vulcan? It's WAY lighter than her normal color. If there's a joke here, it flew far over my head.

Lastly, note that all the background crew— even the men— are wearing black short shorts as part of their uniform.

Was this a nod to the infamous unisex "skant" uniform, seen in a couple of early episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation? I'd say signs point to yes.

 I hate to say it, but Caity Lotz's Shatner impression left a LOT to be desired. Unless it was supposed to be awful, in which case mission accomplished!

• Man, that Gromulan makeup was spot on, and perfectly captured the look of 1990s-era "bumpy forehead" TNG aliens.

• During the Star Trip show, Heat Wave appears as Dhan (a thinly-disguised version of Khan from Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan), complete with luxurious long hair. Gotta say, Dominic Purcell's Ricardo Montalban impression was pretty bad as well.

• At Clotho Studios, Mona and Gary find Charlie's script-writing machine, which features a small monitor with a magnifying glass in front of it. That was definitely a big 'ol shoutout to the 1985 film Brazil. In fact much of this episode's production design apes the look of that movie. If you've not seen it, it's definitely worth a look.

According to director Marc Guggenheim, the Legends' props and art departments worked together to whip up the script-writing machine, and it really worked! The keys actually moved by themselves and typed what we saw on the screen.

• Of all the characters I thought we'd see on the show again, Mr. Parker was WAY down on the list!

• I kinda like Charlie's "Fate Hairdo" here. It's definitely better than that braided nightmare she sported a couple episodes back.

• After they're sent back to the Star Trip show, Canary tells Sharpe the only way they can escape and become free again is if they lose and let Dhan destroy them. Sharpe considers it, then says, "Let's get the hell out of here."

I'm betting that's a reference to The Original Series episode The City On The Edge Of Forever. At the end of that episode, Kirk loses the love of his life in order to restore the timeline, and famously ends the episode by saying, "Let's get the hell out of here."

• When Star Trip is canceled, we get a brief, blink-and-you'll-miss-it Beebo cameo on the test pattern! No idea why Charlie would add him, since she wasn't even part of the team when they faced off against Beebo, but there you go!

• Lita and her mom Ali make an appearance this week! Since no one remembers who they used to be, they probably don't realize they're actually seeing Heat Wave when they watch Star Trip. Although Ali does note that she finds Dhan oddly hot.

• As of this episode, we now have 3, count 'em THREE versions of the same character: Original Zari, the shallow Zari 2.0 and Behrad, who lived all of Original Zari's adventures in the altered timeline.

I wouldn't get too attached to this arrangement, as there's no way in hell all three of them will stick around past the season finale. It'd take up too much time and be far too expensive to shoot scenes with two Zaris from now on.

My gut instinct says that either Zari 2.0 will volunteer to hang out inside the Air Totem, which will restore Original Zari to her rightful place on the team, or the two Zaris will merge and form yet another version with qualities of both characters.

As for Behrad... who knows? I like the character quite a bit, and would hate to see him go. I don't think they'll kill him off, since they finally restored him this week. But it seems unlikely they'd have two characters who share the same power. Most likely he'll leave the show and go back to business college, where he's supposed to be.

Or, here's a wild idea: what if the Tarazi siblings both stay with the show and become the Legends version of the Wonder Twins! Form of... a waterspout! Shape of... a ring-tailed lemur!

• At the end of the episode, the Legends refuse to return to the safety of their respective TV shows and march out of Clotho Productions to face off against the Fates.

This scene inadvertently mirrors the end of the Season 4 finale Hey, World!, in which the Legends marched offscreen in a very similar manner.

This Week's Best Lines:
Mona: "Man, some days rewriting history to eradicate any notion of rebelling and free will is hard."

(Mona watches the Ultimate Buds sitcom, which begins with a ridiculous theme song.)

Singer: "They're the Ultimate Buds, and they're Fated to have some fun!"

Sharpe: "Look, I... I told Charlie to come up with a way to outsmart her sisters. Maybe hiding us on TV was that way."

Constantine: "Bloody Charlie. A butler? I feel violated!"

Behrad: (to Original Zari and Steel) "Guys, love that you're back together. And let's just say that I'm processing what it means that my best bro is in love with my sister, who lived my same experiences in a different timeline. But where's my Zari?"

Mr. Parker: "Did someone say 'problem?' It sounds like being stuck in a TV universe and suddenly remembering two different timelines is very confusing. Well, maybe I can try to help."

(Mr. Parker sings a song to force the Legends to forget who they are again.)

Mr. Parker: "Sad feelings. Bad feelings. Make you so mad you wanna scream feelings. Everyone sometimes has those feelings. When you do, just sing this song. 
Sharpe: "Mr. Parker, I know you're just trying to help, but you..."
Mr. Parker: "Repress. Repress. I'll go back and repress. It's better to bury my feelings, than feel as awful, as this."

Constantine: "Astra, look at me. What have I got to show for myself? Thirty eight crap years of pain and broken promises. You wanna know what my original sin was? It was you. Astra. I rail against the angels and the demons for being arrogant bastards, but I'm worse than the bloody lot of them. You know, I thought that I could use your innocent soul as a bargaining chip to save your mother. Bollocks. If you're happy here, then I will spend an eternity as ruddy Mr. Constantine trying to make it up to you and Natalie."

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