The obvious big draws to tonight’s episode of “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” are the hyped appearances of Arrow (both Oliver Queen and Connor Hawke) and Deathstroke — well, Deathstroke’s son Grant Wilson, anyway (Jamie Andrew Cutler). The thing is, we keep getting reminded by Rip Hunter and several others that these are only the 2046 versions of the characters, a 2046 that may never come to be, no less, depending on future events of the show.
While that makes sense within the time-travel rules of the series, it also lessens the impact of most of the events that happen in 2046. As he helps the Legends steal a ship part they need from a warehouse (side note: how many episodes of this show are going to center around having to burgle a piece of technology?), Connor gets abducted by Deathstroke’s gang to be beheaded. When everyone returns to the Waverider and prepares to make another time leap, White Canary wants to go back to save Arrow, while Rip does not, explaining to her that this is simply an alternate future that they can change by going back to the past. Canary counters him: What if they never get back to the past?
Once again, this type of argument has its place in a series about time travel, but the more they talk about it — the more Rip downplays it (and as I said, this argument isn’t the first time it happens) — the less important it seems, even as he finally concedes to Canary’s point of view. There are also a lot more warnings from Rip that we’ve seen on several episodes prior to this: avoid one’s future self, interfere with future events as little as possible, yadda, yadda, yadda. This all makes for an episode with characteristically impressive action sequences that don’t have a lot of emotional weight to them. Sure, the various battles are filmed in long, sweeping shots that reveal various pockets of fighting, and it’s dazzling to see Connor’s crisp acrobatics and rapid-fire arrow shots — quiver, pull-back, fire, reload. But it ultimately adds up to a whole lot of eye candy with little at the center.
That’s a shame, too, considering all that’s supposed to be at stake for everyone in 2046. In this world, Canary’s family is dead, Connor and Oliver are estranged, and the latter’s become the grizzled, gray-bearded, one-armed version we’ve come to love in Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight” universe. Here, it’s Deathstroke II that took his limb on his ascent to ruling Star City with an ironed, armored fist, and by the end, the supervillain plans to extend his revenge by taking Connor’s head.
Because there’s potentially little permanence to any of this, the story points that work best in “Star City 2046” are the smaller character moments between the main cast that can carry over to other episodes. When Heat Wave decides to abandon the mission and take over the gang faction whose leader he just killed, Captain Cold tries to bring him back to the light, and boy does it drive a wedge between them. Only when Heat realizes that the gang is loyal to Deathstroke and that they’re out to kill Rip and Canary does he relent. But the tension is already there, eventually becoming physical when we realize how far the two partners have drifted apart, even if they’ve never spoken about it until now.
Although Heat Wave’s heart has grown a few sizes in these past weeks (especially when rescuing Atom at the Gulag), he’s still primarily concerned with a life of crime, where Captain Cold seems to be pledging more loyalty to Rip’s quest with each episode. Their conflict is left unresolved, and that’s more thrilling than any battle sequence tonight, since it looks like it’s going to cause bigger problems for the team in the near future. Deathstroke II (and the dystopian 2046 in general) may be dead — Connor ends his life with an arrow from Oliver’s bow — but the problems between Captain Cold and Heat Wave are very much alive.
The other storyline — lighthearted as it is — that looks like it may pay off big down the line is Jax’s crush on Hawkgirl, made all the more melancholy when he sees Atom start pursuing her as well, thanks to a boneheaded (albeit well-intentioned) remark from Professor Stein. Kendra wisely rejects Atom, explaining that her centuries-spanning love life has been complicated enough already, but it’s clear there’s some sort of connection between the two, one that may not be there for Jax. He looks morose and dejected upon eavesdropping on their exchange, and like the friction within the team’s rogue duo, it’s more engaging than any sci-fi jargon or alternate timeline “Legends of Tomorrow” can throw at us.