In Stephen King’s novel (and recent limited series on Hulu) “11/22/63,” the protagonist can only reach the title date by going back to 1958. This means that every time he travels backwards in time to stop the Kennedy assassination, he has to live through five years of the past. For several of his journeys, we spend a lot of time with him in the ’50s and ’60s, getting to see him fall in love, forge new careers and friendships, and grow more attached to a bygone era than he ever was to the present.
“Left Behind” follows a similar conceit with two of “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” primary characters, albeit in a much more condensed fashion. After Chronos attacked the Waverider at the end of “Night of the Hawk” and forced the ship to make another time leap, Atom, Hawkgirl and White Canary are — like King’s character — left stranded in 1958. To their credit, they make the most of their situation, with the two lovers entering a life of suburban bliss and Canary (sort of) returning to the League of Assassins under the tutelage of Ra’s al Ghul.
Rip and the rest of the Legends are able to retrieve Atom and Hawkgirl after two years have gone by in the past, interrupting the couple right as Ray is about to propose. And so for the rest of the episode, he spends his time bemoaning being back on the Waverider. He misses the quiet life. He misses fondue with neighbors. He misses being the professor of Bill Gates’ father (which doesn’t actually work since William H. Gates, Sr. was a decade out of school by 1960, but whatever). The last thing he wants to do is embark on another one of Rip’s death-tempting missions, even if Hawkgirl relishes the return to a more adventurous lifestyle.
While Atom’s reluctance makes for an interesting plot device, it gets stripped of its dramatic weight for one simple reason: We don’t get to spend that much time with him and Hawkgirl in the past. To be fair, “Left Behind” is a single episode of television — not an entire novel or series like “11/22/63,” but at the same time, it’s hard to invest in something we never really get to see. Most of the above facts are merely recollected by Ray, not actually visualized for the audience. Nostalgia is something we can all relate to, and had we gotten to spend even half an episode with Atom and Hawkgirl in the ’60s, then the former’s longing would feel more painful and emotionally resonant, as would his eventual acceptance of the present, and the fact that they can still have a relationship no matter what era they’re in.
Although White Canary has similar feelings about getting retrieved by Rip (she’s naturally right at home among martial arts and assassins), her time with the League already feels developed since we saw some of it on “Arrow.” We also spend a lot more time with Ra’s al Ghul and his people (including a first appearance by his daughter Talia as a little girl), as the entire second half of the episode — rife with sword fights, smoke and mirrors, and general ninja badassery — takes place in his realm. When White Canary resists assimilating back into the Legends — so much that, in the tradition of the League, she duels with Hawkgirl over it — we understand where she’s coming from. We understand because we actually see how at home she was in her training, a luxury we don’t get with Atom. Eventually though, Canary does relent, realizing that her time with Rip and his team has changed her. She’s no longer as ruthless or bloodthirsty as she once was. She’s not as much of a killer.
There’s also the matter of the League business getting interrupted by Chronos, who it turns out isn’t really Chronos at all, but Heat Wave. As most of us predicted, Captain Cold didn’t actually kill him back in “Marooned,” instead firing his Cold Gun to the side and leaving him to fend for himself. Heat was eventually picked up and trained by the Time Lords, then donned the bounty-hunter armor to seek vengeance on his former partner and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the Legends.
To be honest, I’m not sure if the show’s implying that Heat Wave is simply posing as Chronos for the moment, or if he’s been another timeline’s version of him under the armor all along, which would be a completely welcome mind-fuck that’s very much in line with the show’s confounding logic. Either way, he ends up back on the Wave Rider after apprehending Cold, realizing Cold’s escaped his shackles by freezing his own hand and shattering it to bits, and finally getting captured by our heroes. Next week, they’re all headed to 2147 in their continuous pursuit of Vandal Savage. For the sake of the mission, let’s hope no one wants to stay in that year.
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