“Compromised” was most likely done being edited before Tuesday night’s election. And even if that weren’t the case, it doesn’t come off as being an especially political episode, despite taking place largely at the White House and the surrounding Washington D.C. area. Like most of the second season of “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” it’s meant to be fun.
Which of course does make it a very political episode.
Regardless of your beliefs, the country is hurting right now. There’s no denying that. We’re hurting because of how divided everything is, and even if you were happy with Tuesday night’s outcome, there’s a good chance you’re exhausted, too. I, for one, wasn’t especially looking forward to watching a superhero show that takes place at 1600 Pennsylvania during the Reagan era. And I definitely wasn’t looking forward to a superhero show focused on Damien Darhk trying to bomb a state dinner.
But by the end of the episode, it was just what the doctor ordered. As “Compromised” reminds us, it’s good to absorb aggressively pulpy pop culture during times of great unrest. It’s good to watch a skirmish in the White House come out of a misunderstanding about jellybeans rather than a true-blue assassination attempt. It’s good — healthy, even — to turn off the news for a little bit and turn on a superhero yarn.
The jellybean brawl’s ultimately a result of Atom trying to act cooler and tougher for Heat Wave, and it’s every bit the ’80s buddy comedy we could have hoped for after they decided to team up last week. It also helps that their misadventures take place in the ’80s — I’d watch a whole episode of them sitting in a car on a stakeout, awkwardly working through their feelings and insecurities as Cutting Crew softly hums in the background.
Although their rapport is played for laughs, it also unveils a still-fresh wound for Heat: Atom reminds him too much of Captain Cold. That sense of vulnerability extends to most of the characters in the episode, from Professor Stein — who has to remind a younger version of himself to spend more time with his partner, Clarissa — and an older version of Obsidian (Lance Henriksen), who’s been weathered by years of guilt over the demise of his team, not to mention the homophobia he’s had to contend with. And we haven’t even gotten into the leadership doubts and squabbles among Jax and White Canary.
If all that sounds like a lot, it is, and that’s what makes “Compromised” the best episode of the second season. There’s a light touch — a deftness, if you will — to the plotting and acting that never steers the show too much in one direction. Thanks to Neil McDonough’s grounded performance, Darhk’s mission has genuine stakes; he’s never a melodramatic mustache twiddler like Vandal Savage.
At the same time though, there are many jokes peppered throughout from the Heat Wave/Atom dynamic and even the younger, more self-obsessed incarnation of Professor Stein. That plot device also results in some lovingly familiar time-travel gimmicks, including older Stein chastising younger Stein after a stab wound from Darhk takes them both down. Likewise, there’s a genuine chemistry between Maisie Richardson-Sellers and Henriksen. Their thread could have been a corny series of old-age jokes had they not found the era-spanning melancholy in their performances, and it pays off to finally get some character development from another member of the Justice Society of America.
“Compromised” juggles all of this magnificently, rendering it a balanced tightrope routine of political intrigue, comic-book action, and character study. Not too much, not too little. More so than last season, the show is getting better and better at keeping its various parts moving. It’s dazzling to look at, and will hopefully continue to be a welcome distraction in the coming days, weeks, months, years. In times like these, that’s a great gift from a lighthearted spectacle on The CW. Emphasis on the “heart.”