The Legends shoot for the moon — and land among a bunch of literal and figurative space rocks

By Shirley Li
March 14, 2017 at 11:55 PM EDT
Dean Buscher/The CW
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Tonight, Legends of Tomorrow made history: It let Victor Garber sing the Banana Boat Song.

It wasn’t possessed; it simply found the best, most entertaining way to get the Legends out of yet another tight spot. (Mick’s intro voiceover can only do so much.) Every episode sees the Legends backed into a corner, of course, but this one packed an emotional wallop that hit the right beats — just as Garber hit the right notes.

Let’s start with the return of Captain Hunter. As much as it pains Rip to see how the team has thrived without him, he has to accept the fact that Sara’s a better captain, and she’s done wonders as the leader of a team that used to bicker constantly instead of focusing on keeping history intact. The hour emphasized this by starting with Rip’s previous actions: It opened on Rip telling Henry Heywood to start a new life away from his family, right before the current Rip, Sara, Nate, and Amaya arrive to find him.

Under Rip, the Legends would have been dismayed at losing their target; under Sara, they get moving right away, even if Vancouver-dressed-as-1965-Manhattan turned out to be a bust. Jax points out that Henry wouldn’t have simply disappeared; as a former fighter pilot and JSA member, he would have wanted to continue serving his country and going on adventures, which means he probably headed for a gig at NASA. Before Rip knows it, Sara’s team has already figured out where to find him: in 1970, at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center. And before Rip gets a chance to pitch his idea on how to get to Henry, Sara steps in and informs the group they’ll have to infiltrate NASA. This isn’t rocket science, Rip! Keep up.

When they arrive in 1970, it turns out NASA’s in the middle of the Apollo 13 mission, and Henry isn’t just any employee — he’s the flight director. When Rip heads over to say hi, though, Henry’s none to happy to see him and punches him to the ground. “Surprise,” Ray whimpers. “We’re back.”

Henry keeps Rip in an interrogation room while the rest of the Legends catch up. Amaya and Nate warmly greet Henry, but Sara moves fast, telling Henry exactly why they’re there: They need his fragment of the Spear of Destiny, the last they have to track down. Henry tells them what every other JSA member told them — that he’s kept it safe — but Nate, as Henry’s grandson, figures it out. Henry has hidden his fragment inside the flag Neil Armstrong planted on the moon.

But a trip to the moon won’t be that easy for our time-travelers. It looks like Apollo 13 isn’t a failed mission, and history has changed to allow it to land on the moon itself, because, unbeknownst to NASA’s top minds, Eobard Thawne has infiltrated the crew as Jack Swigert. (Kevin Bacon played Swigert in Apollo 13, so is Thawne technically one degree away from Bacon now? Never mind.) The Legion of Doom leader has patched the ship up so it can bring him to the moon, and to the spear. He quickly knocks out the other two astronauts — sorry, Tom Hanks and the late, great Bill Paxton, I mean Jim Lovell and Fred Haise — and sets course for the moon.

All of which means the Legends must now intercept Apollo 13. To do so, they take their stations as if they’re NASA mission control and astronauts themselves. Jax, Stein, and Mick remain on the ground — Henry helps them enter mission control posing as British engineers — while Henry, Nate, Amaya, Rip, Ray, and Sara shoot for the moon.

They land among the stars. (Sorry.) With Apollo 13 drifting off course and radio contact with NASA severed for 20 minutes, Ray Atom-suits his way inside and finds the unconscious astronauts and Thawne poking around the lunar module. Inside, he gets spotted by Thawne, and the two fight (Thawne can’t use his super-speed without gravity). Eventually, Ray gets the upper hand, but he accidentally causes Thawne to push the button separating the lunar lander from the rest of the module, and the two crash straight into the moon.

The Waverider can’t pick up the stranded Ray and Thawne just yet. He has to retrieve the Spear fragment, and the rest of the team have to save the two astronauts now floating off into space. The action has taken too long, however, and with their 20 minutes up, Jax is forced to cut the radio feed between NASA and the module. To distract mission control from panicking right away, Stein, well, sings the Banana Boat song — much to Mick’s amusement, of course. “Nice voice, professor,” he chuckles in a scene that I’ll be watching over and over again until the end of time.

Ray, though, could use a distraction. He finds the flag just fine after bouncing across the moon to the epic 2001: A Space Odyssey theme, but quickly learns that the Waverider might not be able to pick up him and the nearly fuel-free module anytime soon. “And now I know how Matt Damon felt,” Ray says. Sorry, Ray. Just… pretend you’re Spaceman Spiff or something! It’ll be fine!

It’s because the Waverider hit, as Sara puts it, a bunch of space rocks. Well, it’s not like the space rocks just flew straight at them the way debris flew straight at Sandra Bullock in Gravity or anything; Sara was trying to use the Waverider as a shield to protect the unconscious astronauts, much to Rip’s chagrin. He’s no fan of using the Waverider as a punching bag and not as a weapon to blast the rocks out the way, but part of their mission’s complete: They’ve saved the remaining astronauts. Rip, though, still has more on his mind than just making it back to Earth.

NEXT: Clearing the air(lock)

Ray channels Matt Damon a la The Martian, turns on a camera, and starts chronicling his plight. Unfortunately for him, he’s not alone: Thawne is there and more than happy to make fun of Ray’s dramatic recording. He’s also more than happy to form an alliance. As he reminds Ray, he’s a scientist from the 22nd century, and he can help him patch up the module so they can launch themselves high enough to be picked up by the Waverider.

That’s all great to hear, but Ray’s not into working with the enemy. And so, Thawne goes under Ray’s skin until Ray agrees to cooperate: He points out that they’re similar in many ways, and not just because they’re scientists. If you think about it, Ray’s as selfish as any member of the Legion of Doom. He took the dwarf star energy and converted it into making himself a supersuit when he knew perfectly well that energy could have powered entire cities. Ray, looking hurt, argues that all Thawne wants is selfish, too. A shadow crosses Thawne’s face as he thinks about Black Flash — but even then, the two continue to work together, hoping to save both of their skins.

Elsewhere, Rip and Henry are also finally meeting in the middle. Rip had tried to talk to Henry earlier, but Henry had refused to talk with the man who convinced him to leave his family. Nate, noticing the tension between them, went to talk to his relative and told him that Rip lost his family as well. So, when Nate brings up the fact that he and his father, Henry’s son, don’t have the best relationship, Henry feels guilty, saying that if he could, he would go back to 1956 and raise his son properly. Then again, he is in a timeship, so what’s stopping him?

Nate, after thinking it through, agrees, but Amaya overhears their conversation. She tries to push Nate to tell Henry the dangers of changing history, but Nate wants his father and his grandfather to both be happy. It’s irrational, of course, so Amaya talks to Henry in front of Nate and tells him the truth: that if he goes back to 1956 and lives with his family, he could risk turning Hank into someone different, which could in turn change who Nate will become and affect much more of history than he could possibly fathom. Henry, teary eyed, understands and walks away to find Rip in the library, where he apologizes for punching him the jaw and clears the air. The men talk of how time travel really isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it’s too full of risks, too empty of rewards, and as heroes, they have to make sacrifices.

It’s a lesson Nate struggles to learn. After Amaya tells Henry the truth, Nate lashes out at her, telling her what Ray told him last week: that because they pulled Amaya from her timeline in 1942, she’ll have to return to a future that’s already set. That future includes a granddaughter who becomes the new Vixen, but it also includes tragedy in her village and a difficult life for her descendants.

And with that, the Legends approach Ray on the moon with high emotional stakes. After all, those matter more than the physical stakes, as the mission to bring Ray back on board the Waverider goes incredibly smoothly. Thawne kept true to his word and allows himself to be locked in timeship jail before they return to Earth. Jax restores the radio feed — “let’s get history back on track,” he tells himself — and Stein realizes there’s still one snag left: The Waverider doesn’t have enough power to reenter safely. In fact, it’ll burn up and break apart if they don’t approach at the right angle.

Without a supercomputer, Stein can’t help, but Thawne and his 22nd-century brain can. When Ray rushes to consult the speedster, Thawne already knows what Ray wants and gives him the answer. Ray believes him; after all, Thawne also wants to return home.

But reaching 38 degrees on their way in takes a toll. The ship burns up as they enter the atmosphere, and in order to relieve it of some air pressure, they need someone to head to the cargo bay and open the door — and, in other words, sacrifice themselves. Rip tries to go, then Sara, but Henry gets there first. After his conversation with Amaya and thinking through his duty as a protector of the Spear and his destiny as someone who doesn’t survive to 2017, he’s made peace with having to die for the good of the Legends and history itself.

Nate, though, hasn’t thought that through just yet. He pleads with his grandfather to come back, but Henry won’t let Nate risk his life for his team. He offers Nate a final message to pass on to Hank, who’s just arrived at Mission Control after Henry rigged an essay contest so he could see his son in person. “Tell him I’m sorry for leaving,” he tells Nate, and then he pulls the lever — and he’s gone. Nate cries as the ship rights itself and safely returns to Earth, and not even Amaya, who rushes to his side, can comfort him.

Back on Earth, Thawne vibrates his way out of his holding cell and starts to walk out when Ray arrives with his speedster-stopping gun. Thawne teases Ray about the fact that those weapons were created by him, but Ray reveals to Thawne that he knows Thawne’s running through time because he’s being chased by a mysterious entity, and just as he divulges this, Thawne’s alarm sounds again. Gravity brought both speed and terror back to Thawne’s life, and without enough time to search the ship for the Spear, Thawne hurries away to save his own life.

Sara, meanwhile, finally gets a chance to talk to Rip, who’s brooding inside the library. She thanks him for backing her on their reentry mission, but he acknowledges that he hasn’t been the most supportive person since he’s returned. Sara understands, and when Rip admits he’s felt like an outcast ever since seeing how well Sara has adjusted to being a captain, she grins. “Sounds to me like you’re a Legend,” she says. It’s a nice moment between the two — and even better that they end it with a clink of their glasses.

Nate takes a trip away from the Waverider to find his father as a child, still waiting in Mission Control, soaking it all in. He tells his father that even if it seems unfair not to have a father, it’s important to accept that and become a better man for himself — and for his son. Hank doesn’t run screaming away from this stranger who just told him he’ll have a kid; instead, he looks up at Nate, simply taking in what he said.

Later, Amaya finds Nate back on board the Waverider. She tries to apologize for telling Henry he had no future, but Nate tells her not to feel guilty. He understands that Henry was always a hero, and that he would have given up his life either way. And with that, he apologizes to Amaya for yelling at her about her own future, and though Amaya seems to accept that destiny is destiny, she waits until Nate’s out of the room to ask Gideon for a favor, a favor that has Gideon pulling up documents about Amaya’s own future. It’s not a good idea, and Amaya unsurprisingly looks disturbed by what she sees.

Maybe Amaya should ask Gideon for footage of Stein singing. Honestly, that moment was so great it elevated my grade for the episode an entire letter. The hour was already scoring well for combining its adventure-of-the-week with a logical emotional narrative grounded in its guest star, and the space film references only helped sell its earnest silliness. I took points off for the rushed pacing toward the end (oh look, Hank Heywood! Oh no, 38 degrees! Ah, here comes Black Flash again!), but otherwise, this was a solid hour of Legends. More, please.

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  • 01/21/16
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