REVIEW: Legends of Tomorrow, S3E17 – Guest Starring John Noble

After meandering a bit for the last few weeks, Legends of Tomorrow bounces back with an exceptionally strong episode. “Guest Starring John Noble” balances a high-octane plot with some seriously high-stakes emotions, culminating in a shocking climax for Amaya’s (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) family as well as Damien Darhk’s (Neal McDonough).

“Guest Starring John Noble” opens on the discovery that Amaya has stolen the jump ship, which only further opens the cracks in reality that will allow Mallus to escape his prison. But they can’t go after their teammate, because Gorilla Grodd is going after Barry Obama in 1979. While it’s not really clear why killing Obama specifically is necessary for Grodd to rule the world, it makes for a fun detour and some great jokes – chief among them “Obamacare,” “Make America Grodd again” and “Run, Barry, Run.”

Turning good and bad again just to save Nora.

Meanwhile, Nora can feel Mallus’ cage breaking which in turn breaks Damien’s heart seeing as Mallus’ return will cause him to lose his daughter forever. When he broaches the subject of keeping Mallus at bay, Nora rejects the idea because she’s been trained her whole life to serve the demon. Their farewell is bittersweet, and once more McDonough manages to make Darhk pitiable and understandable after several seasons of being nothing but pure evil. With no other recourse, he hops onto the Waverider and offers the Legends of Tomorrow his help in stopping Mallus – along with the Water totem. Sara (Caity Lotz) is loath to trust him, and with good reason, but she stops before killing or jailing him. Even when emotionally compromised, Sara remains steadfast in her leadership and ready to do that she must for the greater good.

Barack is used even better when giving Sara advice on how to manage both her love life and the Time Bureau, which leads to Sara teaming up with Darhk and admitting her love for Ava. Unfortunately both of those choices go awry, as Darhk betrays them in the hopes to salvaging what’s left of Nora and Ava turns Sara down because she’s too focused on being a clone. But for most of “Guest Starring John Noble,” it means we get a literal appearance by John Noble while on the set of Lord of the Rings and Ray (Brandon Routh) literally jumping inside Nora to give her the word of Mallus. There are so many balls being juggled in the episode that it’s almost confusing, but writers Keto Shimizu and James Eagan manage to keep them all in the air. Very few shows would be able to weave between the laughter of Ray’s Mallus impression and the tears of Damien losing his daughter, but this one does it impeccably.

Ignore the makeup and focus on the feelings.

Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) and Nate (Nick Zano) travel to Zambezi in search of Amaya while the rest of the team works on Mallus, and for the first time Nate is literally faced with a future that doesn’t include him. I haven’t been the biggest fan of their romance, but one of the strongest throughlines in “Guest Starring John Noble” is the way in which Nate processes this truth and still forges ahead to save the family of the woman he loves. He’s certainly come a long way this season in terms of maturity, and he’s finally become a man worthy of Amaya even if they can’t stay together in the end. On the other hand, Wally trying to impose the rules of The Flash on his new show is humorous from a metatextual perspective. He can bring up Flashpoint all he wants, but the fact of the matter is that actions that have season-long consequences in Central City are barely a blip on the Waverider’s radar.

A large part of the Zambezi storyline centers around preparing Amaya’s daughter to receive the Anansi totem as a way of changing history. And while contemplating all the ways she might affect history is a nightmare – again, this isn’t something Legends of Tomorrow particularly cares about outside of coming up with funny anachronisms –  her scenes with Essie are particularly touching. It also helps to have Nate reinforce the idea that Amaya’s choices here aren’t selfish, they are borne out of a love for her family and her people. With Zari (Tala Ashe) trying to come up with loopholes and Sara coming up with a plan to leverage Amaya’s success as a way to defeat Mallus, it’s impossible not to root for her without compunction. Grodd popping up for a final showdown is probably the weakest part of the story, aside from older Amaya’s tragic makeup job, but it’s still a joy to watch her save the day and hopefully ensure a better life for her granddaughters.

The final moments of “Guest Starring John Noble” end with Mallus’ complete reawakening, leaving us no idea how the team will stop him in the finale. But as confused as we all may be, there’s no doubt we’ve enjoyed the ride.