One of the best things about “Mad Max: Fury Road” was that the action scenes weren’t just window dressing; they were a means of character development. Audiences learned as much about a person through the way they attacked someone — and how they reacted to others attacking them — as they did through dialogue.
“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” isn’t anywhere near “Fury Road”‘s level in its economic storytelling, but the second half of the pilot is certainly an improvement over the first. Where as last week launched headfirst into its elaborate action sequences without properly establishing the characters, part two actually ups the action and, in certain parts, uses the battles to inform us of who the Legends are as people.
Director Glen Winter turns to this technique right off the bat during a pre-credits sequence, where the Legends infiltrate a gathering for black-market arms dealers. Naturally, Vandal Savage is there, and is immediately suspicious of them thanks to a slip of the tongue from Professor Stein. Savage offers a discount on a missile warhead to anyone able to kill the heroes, and the airplane hangar erupts into bedlam. But if you pay close enough attention, those character-oriented fighting styles become apparent: Hawkman and Hawkgirl show their unbreakable bond when lifting up one goon into the air, then dropping him back to the ground; conversely, the reckless, indiscriminate blasts from Heat Wave and Captain Cold are the polar opposite (pun intended, as always) of Atom’s methodical strikes. This is a man who, while often jovial, knows what he’s doing in combat.
Their differences come to a more consequential head later on at Savage’s mansion. It’s here that the supervillain has locked away the only thing that can kill him: a dagger gifted from Hawkman to Hawkwoman back in ancient Egypt. But when Atom, Heat Wave, and Captain Cold break into his trophy room to steal it, the two criminals of the group can’t resist helping themselves to a host of other valuable weapons. Atom tries to stop them, as he (correctly) believes it will set off an alarm with little time to escape. As he and Cold once again display their contrasting fighting styles by exchanging blows — this time with each other — a cage appears and traps them.
It’s a simple yet smart move on the writers’ part. Besides making sense in the context of the scene — of course Savage’s home would have a trigger alarm — the cage plants Atom, Cold and Heat Wave, who remains outside the cage, in the same place, allowing them to reveal some of their respective backstories to each other without it feeling clunky. If you’re trapped somewhere with folks you don’t know, you tend to talk about yourself.
The other half of the team also makes some discoveries about one of their partners, albeit in a much more unconventional way. When Rip Hunter realizes Savage retrieved a piece of Atom’s suit during the arms-market fight, he sends White Canary and Firestorm (both of ’em) to find it. If they don’t, Savage will use the technology to develop more advanced weaponry way ahead of schedule, since it’s still 1975. And the only person who has a device able to track down the particles of the suit is a much younger version of Professor Stein. But there’s a catch: he can never know who the heroes — especially Stein — truly are, as to not alter past histories and cause time to fold in on itself. (Note: as with any time-travel story, it’s better to not think about the logistics of this too much).
Because they’re conversing with the Ghost of Firestorm Past and have to remain somewhat anonymous themselves, Jax and White Canary discover some of the flaws in their well put-together teammate just by watching him talk and roll joints: his ego, his disregard of the rules. Granted, these are traits the older Stein’s claimed to have moved past, but they’re still there, even if they’re buried deep inside himself. After a complicated series of runarounds to ensure that the younger Stein still meets his wife on that day and doesn’t alter the future too much, they use his tracker to locate Savage’s lab, thus completing the mission. But by the end of the episode, Stein seems like a more complicated man — a far cry from the stuffy professor we first met.
Unfortunately, the two characters we’re supposed to care about the most are the ones most heavily affected by last week’s hastiness. Had we gotten to know Hawkman and Hawkgirl a little better, the former’s death may have hit a little harder, but so far, the couple has only been defined by the plot details of their backstory, not the emotional ones. Previously, we were told they had a son. Since we didn’t know much about them, the relationship felt hollow. This week, it’s revealed that although the two have been a couple in each of their past lives, the current iteration of Hawkgirl isn’t as attracted to her male counterpart as he is to her. She wants her independence, a life free from the symbiotic connection to Carter.
As interesting as that plot development is, it’s also dropped on us before their characters are explored in any kind of substantial way, then squashed when Savage stabs Hawkman with the dagger. Also, this causes Hawkgirl to realize that she does love him, which makes her seem weak. Due to their eternal nature, there’s still a high possibility of Hawkman returning to the show (Hawkgirl would have to die first though, as discussed by Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim), and if he does, hopefully the writers will treat it as a do-over, a chance to give these two lovebirds (pun intended, again!) the breathing room their relationship needs to feel honest and substantial. Since the show’s already figuring out how to do that with the other characters, it only seems fair.