Even in its greatest moments, “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” has rarely gotten romance right. Usually, there’s so much story and action going on that it becomes difficult to properly expand an intimate relationship between two characters. It’s even more challenging in a season like the current one, where the overall lighter tone makes the prospect of love seem… well, a little silly. I’m not saying it can’t be done. But it’s certainly never been the series’ strong suit. In “Shogun,” a somewhat random romance once again becomes another detour, although there is a good deal of intriguing spectacle surrounding it.
When Nate struggles to master his new powers as Citizen Steel (or simply “Steel”), he causes an accident on The Wave Rider, landing most of the team smack-dab in the middle of feudal Japan. Like the Jonah Hex episode a little while back, it’s more or less a self-contained chapter that plays to the time period-of-the-week formula. The team almost immediately gets tangled up with the local Shogun (Stephen Oyoung) when he becomes entranced by Atom’s suit. He takes it for himself, effectively stripping Ray of his powers for the time being.
While the Shogun never gets enough screen time to move beyond being a generically brooding villain, most of the combat builds to a satisfying battle sequence we haven’t seen on “Legends” before. To put it bluntly, there are a lot of badass samurai fights in the woods, each one filmed with the no-frills clarity that’s become a hallmark of the show’s fight scenes. White Canary recalls the final duel in “Kill Bill: Volume 2” as a she slices a baddie so fast, he doesn’t even realize he’s wounded.
Steel also gets to shine as he continues trying to master his powers. Even if he looks like a knockoff version of Colossus whenever his skin hardens, there’s still an intriguing relationship between him and Atom, who’s becoming somewhat of a mentor to the show’s resident Indiana Jones. You have one hero who’s trying to learn how to live with potentially hazardous superpowers and another who now has to live without them. Like any great training montage, there are lessons learned, and by the end, both men have figured out how to rely on an inner strength that’s not always as obvious as a high-tech suit or steel skin. They’re able to successfully detonate the suit (it’s the only way to defeat the Shogun), which means Atom will have to find new ways of contributing to the team.
All of this gives “Shogun” just enough thematic weight, but the writers muddle the script at several points with the aforementioned love scenes. Even more vaguely defined than the Shogun is Masako (Mei Melancon), a young peasant woman who Steel develops feelings for as soon as they meet. Their dialogue never moves beyond meet-cute platitudes; it’s all about doe eyes and hokey displays of affection rather than substantial conversation. Why is it there? There’s enough good stuff without it, and Steel already has enough to fight for with his past, his hemophilia and his rookie status on the team.
As I said, there’s a lot to like in “Shogun,” from the Japanese swordplay to a potentially juicy revelation uncovered by both halves of Firestorm back on The Wave Rider. And that’s to say nothing of how cool the A.T.O.M. suit looks when it’s mixed with samurai armor. But Steel and Masako’s almost-relationship somewhat stalls the momentum that’s been built up over the first two episodes. Unlike just about everything else on “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” right now, the love story simply isn’t that much fun.
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