Why Did ‘Legends of Tomorrow’ Drug One of Its Heroes Into Joining the Team?
Today’s ratings will confirm that DC’s Legends of Tomorrow got off to a strong start with last night’s premiere, cementing a second spinoff from the Arrow-verse birthed on The CW in 2012. Countless characters have endured innumerable hardships in that time, fantastical and otherwise, but one moment from the Legends premiere seemed to stick out as especially ill-devised.
Namely, why the hell did Legends of Tomorrow think it necessary for Victor Garber’s Professor Martin Stein to drug and kidnap his Firestorm partner into joining the mission, and how in the world did the others laugh that off?
BE WARNED OF LEGENDS OF TOMORROW SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT
Running just over 44 minutes, the first half of Legends’ two part premiere had no less a mountain of exposition to climb, to gather eight Arrow and Flash favorites and enlist them under “Time Master” Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) and travel across history in pursuit of immortal despot Vandal Savage. There’s only as much skepticism from the group as runtime allows, a point Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen quickly makes in conversation with Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), that Rip provided little-to-no evidence of his claims.
Back and forths ensue: Caity Lotz’s Sara Lance comes to view the mission as an offering of purpose, while Flash foes Leonard Snart (Wentworth Miller) and Mick Rory (Dominic Purcell) reason the expedition as a chance to steal historical treasures. The Hawks too require convincing, as Carter (Falk Hentschel) has little interest in adding a 207th to their long line of deaths at Savage’s hands, while Kendra (Ciara Renee) convinces her past-life lover to leave the decision to a semi-playful contest of strength between them. We don’t see the outcome, but their simultaneous arrival with the others at Rip Hunter’s ship seemingly settles that.
All that said, the final pairing among the cast requires a different kind of convincing, one that inadvertently pulls the series’ lighthearted tone to a grinding halt.
Having previously expressed his disinterest in becoming any kind of deceased “Legend” at Rip’s initial recruitment, Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh) echoes as much in conversation with his senior Firestorm half (Garber), later relocated to what seems to be the professor’s collegiate office (the door bears a plaque identifying as such). Professor Stein espouses the incredible opportunity, both scientific and experiential, to travel through history, to which Jefferson retorts that he’d only just gotten used to the two merging physical forms for their Firestorm powers, let alone adding time-travel into the mix.
Stein: Do you have any idea what an extraordinary opportunity we’ve been given?
Jackson: A chance to get murdered by an immortal psychopath! No thanks!
The next exchange is particularly troubling in retrospect, as Jackson makes note of his underage status:
Jackson: Look, I’m a 20 year-old auto mechanic. The world is better off without me trying to save it.
Stein’s retort proves equally jarring in hindsight:
Stein: I don’t understand your decision. But … I respect it. Perhaps I can persuade Mr. Hunter that he needs my knowledge as a physicist, and not my abilities as Firestorm.
At this point, the scene (or episode, or series, or franchise) takes its most inexplicably dark, if telegraphed turn yet. Stein pours what appears to be whiskey from a decanter into two glasses, with no visual indicators of a sinister alteration, handing one to his partner.
Stein: So, I propose we have a toast … to my grand and solo adventure. To saving the world.
Jackson: Knock yourself out. (sips from the glass)
Stein: You took the words right out of my mouth. (Jackson realizes the implication, looks to his glass, and crumples to the ground unconscious.)
Hang on. Did a DC superhero on a reasonably family-friendly network, and seemingly enlightened professor at that, just drug a young, college-age man in his office? Are we to presume he’d already spiked the whiskey before Jackson even had a chance to decline Rip’s mission, fearing his own personal safety? Stein deliberately avoided taking a sip from his own glass, suggesting the alcohol had been drugged, rather than a specific glass. And remember, there was no indication of Stein slipping anything in after Jackson made his feelings known, not that it would make the incident any less offensive. Jackson’s will was never taken into account, before or after the meeting.
Incredibly, the episode proceeds with little address of this act. The very next shot sees Stein driving to Rip’s meeting in a silver convertible, Jackson slumped over in the passenger’s seat, apparently unnoticed by any pedestrian, or authority figure in between. Moments later, the rest of his teammates arrive (seemingly out of thin air), apparently unperturbed by the drugged youth in Stein’s car:
Mick Rory: It seems your buddy threw himself a little going away party.
Stein: Yes, I believe he drank something that didn’t … quite agree with him.
Granted, it seems here as if Stein expresses at least some regret of his actions, to attempt explaining away the image to his teammates, who inexplicably fail to raise a single eyebrow. Between Sara Lance, protector of disadvantaged young women; Ray Palmer, genius billionaire philanthropist; and even Kendra Saunders, gentle-soul and new inductee into the world of high-stakes superheroism, no one finds anything wrong with this scene. Rip Hunter too, enlightened future crusader who deliberately courted Jackson’s permission earlier, doesn’t even bat an eye!
It doesn’t get any better from there. Rory agrees to lug Jackson’s body into the craft (presumably Stein struggled with getting his victim in the car, but still dismisses the body as luggage), before this hair-raising exchange:
Rory: Whatever you roofie-d him with, I’d like some!
Stein: I did not roofie him!
Rory: Oh, I ain’t judgin’!
The fact that the writing was even self-aware enough to use the word “roofie,” without weighing its significance, is especially troubling. Meanwhile, Jackson sits, slumped over in one of the Waverider’s seats, as Rip Hunter explains to the team the logistics of their fight against Vandal Savage, pre-takeoff. As a reminder, Jackson is neither able to hear, nor understand any of this, and no one appears to care. The character is merely furniture within the scene.
Predictably, Jackson wakes up mid-takeoff, confused by his surroundings, and subsequently begs to be let off of the ship and excused from such a life-threatening endeavor, while the rest of the team dismisses his protests in jest:
Sara: Good luck explaining this!
Stein: I did him a favor!
Snart: He doesn’t look all that grateful.
Upon arriving in 1975, Jackson is understandably incensed, specifically noting that his elder partner both drugged and kidnapped him, as well as his desire to go home. Unphased, Rip Hunter sarcastically reminds Jackson that 2016 will come up again 40 years from their current time. Perhaps more baffling still, after Jackson remains behind on the ship with Sara, Rory and Snart, the latter three elect to visit a local bar, and specifically forbid the dumbstruck youth from accompanying them. Why he elects to adhere to Snart’s apparent snub, is anyone’s guess.
Jackson’s next scene sees him attempting to command the ship’s artificial intelligence, Gideon, to take him back home, only for the disembodied voice to reply that Captain Hunter had specifically predicted Jackson would try that, and to disregard anything he might say. Incredibly, it even offers him a sedative, to which Jackson shouts “I DO NOT NEED ANOTHER ROOFIE!”
The ship is then immediately attacked, exactly the thing Jackson had feared, and Gideon still refuses to listen to his concerns. Is the insanity here sinking in on anyone yet?
I’ll spare you details of the subsequent battle, as both sides of the team return to the ship to combat temporal bounty hunter Chronos’ assault, Stein having psychically felt his other half’s distress. Suffice to say, Stein eventually risks his own well-being to return to the ship and merge with Jackson, an act that impresses on the youth in a later scene.
There’s also something to be said of the storytelling constraints here, as we know from earlier Flash episodes that Stein needs to bond with a Firestorm partner with some regularity, lest his own physical being destabilize, which itself would have prevented Stein from joining the mission solo in the first place. I bring that up, as the aftermath of the battle sees some attempt to bond all of the teammates in having joined the mission under false pretenses, following Rip’s revelation that he actually chose the eight for their minimal significance to history. Still, Jackson never wanted any part even before we knew that.
Moved by Rip’s subsequent explanation that Vandal Savage murdered his family, while the Time Masters turned a blind eye, Stein speaks for the team needing time to consider the new information. At last, the episode returns to Jackson and Stein, in hopes of smoothing over the earlier transgression:
Stein: Seems an apology is in order. What I did was wrong; I should never have forced you to come along. But, for me, the opportunity to travel through time, see the mysteries of the universe revealed, notions I’ve spent my whole life studying …
Jackson: Please do not geek out on quantum physics right now.
Stein: Mr. Hunter was offering grand adventure. At my age, you never know how many adventures you have left.
Jackson responds comfortingly, to which Stein even offers to take them back home for further adventures, though the professor’s earlier act of courage apparently reminded his partner of football days, and the satisfaction of having a team at your back. Sufficiently made up, the two join the inevitable chorus of team reaffirmation, vowing to take down Vandal Savage, and decide their own part in history along the way.
That’s all … very well and good. A tidy enough explanation for a CW drama with so many moving pieces, and more than enough self-awareness to espouse its identity as a Guardians of the Galaxy meets Doctor Who-type adventure. Still, given limitless storytelling possibilities, why any of the writers involved deemed it necessary to feature one of its leading heroes (let alone a noble professor viewed as a figure of authority) drugging his young counterpart into a life-threatening crusade, remains bafflingly ill-conceived.
This isn’t a nitpick of the Arrow-verse’s logistics, or YouTube diatribe against easily-resolved plot holes, but rather my own insane astonishment that any of the writers or producers involved failed to grasp the absurdity of Stein’s act, and its repugnant implications. One half of a major DC superhero, kidnapping a young man fearing for his life (Grodd only knows if Stein ever explained, let alone informed his wife of this endeavor), an act brushed off by equally moral-seeming heroes, and all in service of a manufactured spinoff with literally any avenue to craft said team’s formation.
It’s also entirely possible that future episodes of the series take the matter more seriously, or revisit Stein’s deed in a more meaningful way, perhaps reflective of the pilot episode’s lapse in judgement. Still, what the hell were they thinking, to bake such an insane decision into the series’ very first hour?
Check Out 100 TV Facts You May Not Know!