By Shirley Li
November 13, 2018 at 12:39 AM EST
Jack Rowand/The CW
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Before we begin, I’d like to get one thing out of the way: “Wet Hot American Bummer” is an excellent episode title. I bequeath this hour 100 bonus points just for that.

And then I would add 20 points for the use of a child-eating vampire (creepy!) as the magical antagonist, 30 points for the strong Sara-Ava development (lovely!), and 50 for incorporating Charlie into the team so quickly and seamlessly through Mick (nicely… done!). From there I’d subtract roughly 1000 points for triggering my summer camp PTSD.

Juuuuuust kidding. (Summer camp was alright. Let’s just not talk about it. Also, point systems are, like, Ava-as-a-counselor-level lame.) This was a lean, entertaining hour that focused on a straightforward mission and didn’t feel overstuffed or overwhelmed with too many ridiculous elements or side missions. The central mystery wound up being rather predictable, and I wasn’t a fan of the final tease around Nora Darhk, but overall, this was a strong showing for Legends. In fact, I was surprised by how swiftly the action kicked off: Sara noticed that the horror movie franchise she and Ava were watching seemed out of place, Gideon confirmed that there was indeed something magical changing a summer camp’s history in 1995, and off the team went to Camp Ogawa in Maine.

It helped that this episode was set in relatively recent history: There was little setup needed for viewers to understand what’s going on or meet historically significant characters in order to understand the stakes. Instead, Sara, Ava, Ray, and John — Zari stayed behind, and Ava left the Bureau business to Nate and Gary — immediately donned their polos, khakis, lanyards, and friendship bracelets, and got to camp counseling. Some, like Sara and Ray, take well to their temporary new job. Ava and John, on the other hand? The former thinks summer camp should be boot camp, while the latter could care less about teaching kids wilderness survival tips.

Besides, the team had a plan: They’d keep the kids safe simply by having John set up a magical perimeter that blocks monsters, then search for the monster themselves and handle the situation. Unfortunately for them — and many newbie camp counselors like them — two kids sneak out of their cabins late at night to meet in the woods for a kiss and end up attacked.

And so, the Legends are forced to come up with a new plan: to figure out where the kids went that night so they can track down the monster. Sara tries to bond with the girls to learn their secrets, but Ava prefers interrogating them and preventing them from making the ice cream social. Ray tries to have his boys meditate, but John considers hypnosis much more productive. By the end of their efforts, the team realizes only the girls know anything, and Sara wishes she could simply transform into her 12-year-old self and make the campers talk. Her comment piques John’s interest, but before they can act on it, one camper tells Ava there really is a monster out there that may have taken their friends. She tells Ava and Sara of the “Lake Beast,” a creature that used to be a bullied boy who drowned in the lake and now seeks revenge and can be summoned by being called to three times on the dock alone.

The team buys it, and Ava wanders out onto the dock — only to be launched into the river by the campers, who’d been pranking her all along. (“Those girls are monsters,” Ava groans, while I laugh through the end of the scene and into commercials.)

The Legends gather again for yet another new plan: This time, they’ll split up, with Ray and John venturing into the woods to track the monster, and Sara and Ava staying behind to find out what they can from the girls. Sara pitches to Ava her idea to actually transform into a girl temporarily — John has a potion that can do that — but Ava gets upset at the idea. She was never a kid, after all; the idea of becoming one and interacting with real ones scares her, and it’s why she’s been so tough and awkward this whole time.

Ray and John, meanwhile, have found evidence of the myth-tery they’re looking for: A pile of skin lay in the woods, and John deduces that the beast they’re looking for is a type of vampire called a “striga” (I’m assuming similar to the strigoi of The Strain?) that feeds on the life force of children. Quick: Someone get a wooden stake!

Next: The adults are alright

The Legends figure they need to lure the striga out themselves, so Sara and Ava — after the former apologizes and the latter cools off — drink John’s potion and transform into their 12-year-old selves. In a fun (but, personally, flashback-inducing) sequence, the two try to infiltrate the cool girl group by swapping stories of why they had been in trouble and play the classic game of Truth or Dare. Sara, who’s successful with the group right away, guides Ava into giving the group the right answers and eventually gaining their trust. Naturally, gossip ensues, and the girls reveal that Meredith, one of the missing kids, had gone into the woods as part of an annual camp tradition: the midnight meet-up, during which two campers follow a hidden string and, well, meet at midnight to — gasp! — share their first kiss. How cute and innocent and dangerous!

Sara and Ava leave the cabin to investigate the case themselves. They find the string, head into the woods, and run straight into Paula, the director of the camp who’d dismissed the missing kids earlier that day. They toss cayenne pepper into her eyes — John had said it would stop striga — and knock her out, only to learn that she’s not the beast.

And that’s where the events on the Waverider come in. Zari’s been getting nowhere with shapeshifter Charlie, who unsuccessfully attempts to break out, but Mick, as a fellow criminal, bonds with Charlie over alcohol and memories of being jailed. Soon, Charlie’s opening up about her time in the inter-dimensional prison with magical creatures and demons, time she mostly spent shapeshifting into whatever could ward off threats against her. So when Mick and Zari go back to her to ask about the striga, Charlie makes a deal: They’ll let her free if she gives them intel. She holds up her end of the bargain and reveals that the striga they’re looking for isn’t some old woman, but a beautiful young man — as in someone like Chad, a fellow counselor they’d met when they arrived.

Chad appears just after Sara and Ava knock out Paula, and the fight begins. Luckily, John and Ray have, with the help of a will-o’-the-wisp, found the cabin in which the missing children were being held, and John has Ray help him with an incantation to return the children’s life forces to them. It works: Sara and Ava watch the striga disintegrate into its gruesome true form, and after a stunning combo attack, destroy him with a stake.

The potion wears off just as they share a kiss to seal their adventure. Back on the ship, they confront Mick and Zari for letting Charlie out of containment, but when Charlie shows up and offers to continue providing insight into the creatures they’re looking for, Sara accepts.

The Legends, though, aren’t fully in the clear. One of the boys didn’t wake up after the incantation, so John used a spell to siphon off some of his own life force to revive the boy. (“I’m not losing another kid,” he told Ray.) Onboard the Waverider, Gideon’s treatments fail to heal him, and Sara and Ray wonder if they can use magic instead. Ray proposes Nora, of course, and the episode ends on a short scene showing her making a rather unsatisfying soup at a Renaissance Fair. What’s she really up to? Or are we to believe that Nora Darhk is using her freedom to dress up as a lusty wench — sorry, witch? We’ll have to see.

Gideon’s findings:

  • Nate didn’t appear this episode, and Nick Zano posted a really sweet Instagram message explaining why. I’m wishing his family the best.
  • Within the show, though, I’m guessing this means we won’t see Nate meet Charlie for a while, and you know what? I’m okay with that. Charlie is fun as is; let’s save the angst for later.
  • The horror movie Ava and Sara chose to watch? Swamp Thaaaang, with four A’s to indicate its number in the franchise, and an installment so bad The AV Club gave it a D+. Hey, I wonder what EW gave it…?
  • Paula kept calling Sara “Freckles.” Somewhere in 2004 to 2010 on a mysterious island that’s home to polar bears and smoke monsters, a con man’s ears prick up.
  • Sara and Ava’s cayenne pepper mission — in which Sara dares Ava to sneak into the mess hall and bring back something as proof — was adorable. I love them as a pairing so much.

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