Oh, ‘Legends of Tomorrow’, aren’t you so clever and meta, giving Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell a storyline about breaking out of a prison? I see what you did there. In fact, it’s kind of hard to miss given the way you drive the joke home in the episode’s dialogue.
Episode ‘Fail-Safe’ opens (deliberately) confusingly, as Dr. Stein talks to Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) in S.T.A.R. Labs. Is this a flashback to an old episode of ‘The Flash’? Nope, I get it now; it’s all a trick. Cisco isn’t really Cisco. Stein was captured by evil Russian scientist Valentina Vostok, who has drugged him and is trying to con him into revealing the secrets behind Firestorm. She wants to create her own Russian Firestorm, but every attempt she’s made has ended badly. She needs Stein’s knowledge to stabilize the pseudoscience gobbledygook matrix or something. He sees through her ruse and refuses. Vandal Savage then name-drops that he used to be good buddies with Josef Stalin, who taught him a thing or two about interrogation. He assures Stein that he will eventually break him.
Back on the Waverider, Jefferson feels guilty about fighting with Stein and letting him go on the mission without him. Snart devises a plan to break into the gulag where Stein is being held with Mick and Ray. He has some experience in this area. Snart insists that he really only cares about rescuing his friend Mick, and what happens to Stein or Ray is a secondary concern.
When Rip asks the Gideon computer to render a new projection of the current timeline, he sees an army of evil Firestorms destroying major cities all over the world in 2166. He pulls Sara aside to make a contingency plan. If all else fails and they can’t rescue Stein, she’ll need to kill him. Stein’s information cannot be allowed to fall into Savage’s hands. Sara clearly grapples with this decision. Snart figures out what the two of them are up to pretty quickly.
In the gulag, Mick is his usual surly self. Ray remains flippant about the whole experience (he’s sure they’ll be out in no time), until he gets the crap beaten out of him by an inmate and Mick just stands by and lets it happen.
Rather than torture Stein, Vandal Savage tortures Mick and Ray in front of him until he relents. Before he gives up any information, Stein tells Vostok about the eventual fall of the USSR and warns her, “You are on the wrong side of history.” Unfortunately, this just convinces her to redouble her efforts in order to ensure that the Soviet Union remains a superpower. Stein probably should have seen that coming.
Sitting on the sidelines back at the ship, Kendra and Jax (Jefferson) want to be part of the rescue plan. They need to talk Rip into letting them help, because he’s not convinced that they’ll be of much use. (Kendra is still recovering from her recent injury, and Jax doesn’t have any powers without Stein.)
Sara and Snart break into the prison and find Mick and Ray. Snart reunites Mick with his flame gun and has brought a shrunken A.T.O.M. suit for Ray. Sadly, Ray is out cold from his beatings and torture. Snart drops the suit on him and wants to leave him there, but Mick has taken a liking to the guy and insists on carrying him out, even if that puts them at risk of getting caught.
Vostok figures out that Stein is not just an expert on Firestorm, but is half of Firestorm himself. This makes her very excited. She wants to merge with him (cue Austin Powers “Yeah, baby, yeah!”) so that she can become Firestorm (“D’oh!”).
Kendra flies Jax to the gulag and drops him off outside a building where he has to use his football skills to make a dash to an electrical power main. As soon as he cuts the power, all the cell doors in the prison automatically open. This is actually bad news for Snart and Mick, who are disguised as guards.
Vandal Savage senses Kendra nearby and drops what he’s doing to go hunt for her. Waiting just outside the prison fence with a sniper rifle, Sara has a clear shot to kill Stein, but Snart talks her down from taking it.
Vostok and Stein merge and become an evil Firestorm with her in charge and Stein nattering in her head. Stein warns her that they’re too unstable without his genetic splicer doohickey. She isn’t concerned.
Just as Savage thinks he has Kendra cornered, Rip ambushes him. He takes back the locket with the photos of his wife and son. Savage taunts him that he’s already memorized their faces and information. Rip walks away but sets off an explosion that blows Savage up. Rip knows that this won’t kill him permanently, but he feels pretty good about doing it in the moment.
As the prison riot rages, the new evil Russian Firestorm emerges and fights with our heroes. Jax gets close and tries to talk to Stein inside. He gives him a pep talk and encourages him to fight Vostok’s control. Eventually, Stein is able to forcibly split the two of them apart. He’s fine, but Vostok has no control over her powers without him. Fortunately, the Waverider flies in and jets away with all of the Legends team just as Vostok creates a nuclear meltdown.
Wait a minute. This is supposed to be 1986? Is the show suggesting that its own heroes caused the Chernobyl disaster?
Rip flies the ship to the Temporal Zone and everybody toasts a drink to not screwing up the timeline for once. Suddenly, the ship is rocked by an attack from Chronos. He hits them with a missile that causes the Waverider to crash in 2046 Star City, which looks like a very dark dystopian future.
As the ship begins its repairs, Rip and the team exit and take a look around town. They’re confronted by a shadowy figure with a bow and arrow. Sara is relieved to see her friend Oliver Queen… except that this guy’s black and says he doesn’t know them. Zoinks!
I was pretty frustrated with the last couple episodes of the show, but this one finally feels like things are starting to come together. I could nit-pick the plot apart if I felt like it, but it holds up better than the others.
I’m not sure how I feel about the Chernobyl thing, though. That was a tragedy in real life that destroyed countless innocent lives. For this series to treat it as a throwaway joke is in pretty poor taste. (I will note that the episode never actually uses the name Chernobyl, but it sure looked to me like that’s what was being implied.)