A time-travel show with a diverse cast presents an inherent problem: throughout most of history, a bunch of ethnically and racially diverse people appearing as a group together in many time periods and places would’ve caused a host of problems for that group. Instead of shying away from that, Legends of Tomorrow embraces it as a way to grow its characters. Spoilers follow for Legends of Tomorrow Season 7, Episode 7, “A Woman’s Place is in the War Effort.”
“A Woman’s Place is in the War Effort”
CREATING CHANGE — When the Legends crash land in 1940s Seattle, they find themselves right in the middle of WWII with a surprise guest. Needing replacement parts to fix the time machine, Sara, Ava, Astra, Spooner and Gideon find themselves working in different sections of an airplane factory alongside “Rosies.” With Astra frustrated with inequality in the workforce, she takes matters into her own hands. Meanwhile, Behrad offers to play host and help teach Nate about Persian culture and etiquette.
Astra is a strange case for the Legends. She grew up in literal hell, with the story hinting that she’s done some heinous things to take care of herself while there. And so living on Earth, she’s truly a fish out of water. Astra is naive without being innocent. She’s not used to someone having her back, nor is she used to things like discrimination and racism; she’s used to assertively taking what’s hers. I think that makes her a uniquely well-suited character for this week’s storyline.
The war at home
The crew ends up in 1940s America during the height of the war effort. This was a strange time for America; with so many men enlisted as soldiers and working abroad, women joined the workforce in unprecedented numbers to fill in the gaps. As the episode synopsis notes, this is the height of “Rosie the Riveter.” At the same time, this is pre-Civil Rights America, and the idea of integration is still years out and basically unheard of.
Astra, then, is at the center of the story as someone who operates like she’s from 2050 but is working in 1940. Ava, Sara, Spooner, Astra, and Gideon go to the factory together to apply for work. Sara and Ava are sent to the floor and quickly end up looking like the spitting image of Rosie. Gideon is of course made A secretary. Astra and Spooper–a manager from hell and an engineer–are sent to janitorial because they’re not white. Spooner finds ways to take advantage of that situation while Astra starts looking for ways to tear it down.
One of the main guest characters is another one of the janitors. Weirdly, she’s unnamed, credited simply as Female Worker. That honestly feels kind of problematic. The actress who plays her is Kimleigh Smith. She acts as a contrast to Astra. She’s a black woman born and raised in the time period the Legends are just visiting.
The two converse a few times throughout the episode, and those conversations are great writing that feels to me like it encapsulates the complexity of handling discrimination in America. Smith’s character feels that slow, steady progress is the best because it’s sustainable. You can’t force people to accept things, but you can get them used to it slowly so that they don’t really realize it’s changing. Astra, meanwhile, is impatient and sees injustice. She wants to force progress in a big, splashy way.
Neither approach is right or wrong, and both have huge benefits and potential downsides, and the show is careful to avoid showing one or the other as being right. Astra’s plan is a failure at first, but the middle-manager in her sees an opportunity. With Eleanor Roosevelt about to visit, she is able to cast the changes in a positive light on a nationwide stage that demonstrates the benefits of change. Her failure gives her perspective on Smith’s characters’ approach, though, too. It balances the kind of episodic triumph required for a show like this with the greater complexity of the world.
I love Goodfellas
Meanwhile, the episode is otherwise kind of a mishmash of styles and stories. When the ladies are beginning to put together their plans to repair Gwyn Davies’ time machine, it’s framed like those scenes from Goodfellas, where Henry Hill is narrating the rise of the crime family; the Legends are operating just under the noses of the authorities all around them.
But then Ava is left alone at the assembly line, giving Jes Macallan another chance to play the goofball–a fun contrast to her usual ultra-organized persona. When she starts to get overwhelmed, she tries to slow the line down but ends up speeding it up. When someone catches her, she stuffs a bunch of washers into her mouth (ew) to hide them. In other words, the show turns into I Love Lucy for a couple minutes.
Family: can’t live with’em
While all that’s happening, Nate is preparing to live in the totem with Flannel Zari who, more and more, seems like a different person altogether from Fancy Zari. Behrad tries to prepare him for the ins and outs of Persian culture via the customs around hospitality. Bishop–whose Escape Toilet landed on the time machine at the end of last week–wants to be a good guy, but is used to a life of luxury and convenience, and of having clones around to do his bidding rather than fully-formed humans. He treats people around him like crap. This becomes a path for both Bishop and Behrad. Bishop has to learn how to be around actual people, while Behrad has to learn that sometimes assertiveness is necessary–otherwise you become a doormat.
The final twist at the end of the episode, however, leaves me stoked for what comes next. Bishop dies at the hands of the Evil Waverider’s soldiers. When the Legends zap away in the repaired time machine, though, the soldiers take off their masks. They, like J. Edgar Hoover and Thomas Edison, are Clone-Robot hybrids generated by Evil Gideon.
Legends loves doppelgangers, and now every character has a doppelganger. This gives every one of these actors a chance to play with a completely different version of their character. I would normally distrust this move on nearly any other show. With the Legends, though, it feels like a path straight to silly, good-hearted fun.