Konnichiwa, Legends. Welcome to feudal Japan, where a Shogun threatens to use the Atom suit to conquer the region, murder the team, and take Nate’s new girlfriend away from him.
But before we get to that, landing in feudal Japan — surprise, surprise — had never been part of the Legends’ plan. Having left 1952 behind shortly after Reverse-Flash killed Rex, the team takes off with a stowaway Vixen onboard, who knocks out every member until she reaches Mick, whom she believes to be the culprit. He’s a thief and a murderer, after all — why shouldn’t he, a time traveler (as Rex told her), be the man who committed the crime? Luckily for Mick, Nate healed just in time in the medic bay. Through the serum Ray tinkered for him, his skin transformed into a steel alloy and allowed him to take out Vixen while also looking like Silver Surfer (but with a more chiseled jawline and a hefty helping of insecurity).
While Sara convinces Vixen not to take out an actually innocent Mick, Ray tries to help the newly minted Citizen Steel figure out his powers. At first, it works just fine — it turns out a little adrenaline kick is all Nate needs to get “steel on,” and soon enough, the boys (Jax is there, too) are goofing off when Sara and Vixen walk into the party. Nate and Ray, though, wind up overdoing it and blowing a hole straight through the side of the ship, causing debris to fly through — along with steel Nate, who crash lands in feudal Japan with Ray hot on his heels.
The pair get off to opposite starts: While a woman named Masako picks up Nate and takes him home to treat his injuries, with the help of her father (who initially disapproves of the houseguest), Ray gets caught while still in his suit by a group of samurai. Thanks to the language pill, he manages to communicate his predicament, but the samurai only take him away to meet the menacing Shogun, who wants Ray’s suit for his own. And, well, he gets it — leaving a powerless Ray hanging from the ceiling.
Nate, on the other hand, gets a bath from Masako. The two connect, thanks to Nate’s keen understanding of feudal history (he’d always been a geek about Japanese history, hence his ability to speak the language) and Masako’s anxiety over getting married the next day to — you guessed it! — the Shogun himself. Things go south when the Shogun’s men arrive to check on Masako and make sure no other foreigners are around. At first, Masako manages to lie about Nate’s presence — but an overly confident Nate winds up confronting the Shogun’s squad and, well, gets his ass kicked when his steel powers don’t turn on. Not only that, but he gets stabbed in the abdomen, the last thing a hemophiliac wants to happen.
While he faints, Ray manages to escape from his guards — just as Sara, Vixen, and Mick arrive to rescue him. (Why the delay? Vixen and Mick wouldn’t stop arguing over whether Mick belongs on a team of heroes. Just imagine if she had met Captain Cold.) Sara has a showdown with the shogun’s right-hand samurai, but they escape when the Shogun activates the Atom suit, which he now wears. They run into Ray on the way out and scamper all the way to the village, where they find Nate and try to take him away, as he’s been healed nicely thanks to the serum.
But just as they’re about to leave, Nate says they have to stay. According to Nate, the Shogun became known throughout history because he infamously murdered his wives, so Nate wants to save Masako, if they can. And… With some hesitation, the Legends agrees to save Masako and defend the village, especially since the Shogun could potentially use the Atom suit to conquer the region.
NEXT: Steel on!
The Legends split off into smaller groups to take care of their missions. Mick decides to wait for the action to come, but Ray takes Nate aside to train him further, as Nate hasn’t been able to tap into his steel powers since bringing the Waverider to a stop. While Nate frets over whether he’ll be able to save everyone and rambles about how much he’s always wanted to be a superhero, a frustrated Ray finally cuts him off. He points out that in order to defeat the Shogun, they’ll have to destroy the suit — as in seriously fry it, therefore ruining what gives Ray his abilities and makes him a Legend in the first place. Distraught over this, Ray walks away and gets an unexpected pep talk from Masako’s father, who tells him about his family history. He explains he lost his son to the Shogun when the Shogun grew jealous of his son’s popularity and epic katana. Ray understands his teammates matter more than what he put his heart and soul into, and maybe he’ll even be able to recreate the suit. He just has to help save everyone first.
Sara and Vixen also have a heart-to-heart. After the two usher the rest of the villagers to a safe area, Vixen explains she also came from an isolated village and understands how the Japanese villagers can view the two of them as foreigners now. Sara tells her more about her background, and long story short, it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Unfortunately, things don’t remain beautiful for long. While Nate and Masako go on a walk to, yes, also have a heart-to-heart about death and honor, the Shogun arrives to take care of business. Nate is unable to “steel on” in time and gets knocked down, so Ray runs in — with the armor Masako’s father lent him — and wields Masako’s deceased brother’s sword as he faces the Shogun and his own Atom suit. Sara and Vixen fight a horde of samurai, while Mick winds up fulfilling his dream of meeting real-life ninjas when he gets surrounded in the forest.
When Ray’s just about to be sliced to pieces by the Shogun, Masako steps in and defends Ray. But when the Shogun quickly overpowers her, Nate finally comes into the picture: Having listened to Masako’s words about just letting “steeling on” happen instead of overthinking his, uh, performance issues, he finally transforms and saves both Masako and Ray. At the same time, Sara, Vixen, and Mick save the village and all is well. Later that night, the Legends say goodbye to Masako and her family, who turn out to be Yamashiros — as in the ancestors to Katana, who played an integral part in Arrow way back when.
Of course, that’s not all that happened: While the team handled the chaos in feudal Japan, Stein and Jax stayed behind to repair the Waverider, only to discover a hatch Rip Hunter had never told Jax about. The additional hatch turns out to
contain Desmond hold an armory full of intense weapons — as well as a single message from Barry Allen in 2056, 40 years past the Barry we know on The Flash. The message instructs them to keep the exchange a secret. Disturbed, Jax and Stein follow Barry’s orders and keep the secret safe from Sara and Co. when they arrive back on the ship.
And with that, the Legends fly off once again to protect history — and, in Vixen’s case, exact revenge on behalf of the dead Rex.
But did their jaunt in feudal Japan really work? For me, it seemed cliché and silly — and, at times, stereotypical to the point of feeling like a parody of classic samurai films. But then again, Legends of Tomorrow has never been known for its nuance. The episode was directed by Kevin Tancharoen, an Asian-American director with an extensive resume directing episodes in the Arrowverse and who once nearly helmed a Mortal Kombat adaptation. In this hour, he clearly demonstrates he can pull off and stage an intricate sword fight.
And yet, the episode remained a mixed bag. Every possible trope when it came to telling the story of a Stranger in a Strange Land (I imagine this Lost reference wasn’t on purpose, compared to Jax’s line about the hatch) was delivered, from the helpless damsel who enlightens the hero about purpose and honor to the wise sensei-like elder who waxes poetic about his past and even drops a line about seppuku to garner sympathy from his foreign savior. There were even cherry blossom petals floating through in one shot. And while these lyrical shots and Japanese music were perhaps meant to serve as homage to, say, Seven Samurai, the talk of code and a serious tone didn’t quite match with the usual froth of Legends of Tomorrow. In fact, the plot of the episode itself was thin enough to rival the katanas on screen.
Still, maybe I’m overthinking it. The references to Yoda were cute, the fight sequences were delightfully crafted, and the character work on Nate certainly made him feel like more than the comic relief he’s been. Plus, Citizen Steel looked great by TV standards. If only there’d been as much attention paid to the story itself…because in the end, this feels like a washed-down, thoroughly PG version of what a time-travel story in feudal Japan could have been. Then again, at least this won’t be a season-long setting; no one wants to revisit season 2 of Heroes. So with that…