While Supergirl, The Flash, and Arrow are all still marching along toward their season finales, Legends of Tomorrow ended with a slightly shorter season this week at just 17 episodes, and in a weird reverse of the show’s inaugural season, it now has a few lessons that other CWs shows – I’m looking at you, The Flash – should be taking notes on.
Time travel is silly. Let’s start with that. Time travel is always silly and utter nonsense. It’s the job of the story using it, then, to play with that in a way that makes sense. There are going to be plot holes all over, and nitpicking them sort of goes against the philosophy of playing with time travel in the first place.
And so Legends, this season, decided to treat all of this like fun thing it is.
Fun times with time travel
There was, of course, a very serious plot for the team to contend with. After being split apart at the end of the first season, they had to reassemble, only to find themselves up against the Legion of Doom, a group composed of Damien Darhk from Arrow season 4, Malcolm Merlyn from every season of Arrow, and the Reverse Flash, who might be the CW universe’s best villain. The Legion is seeking out the Spear of Destiny, an artifact with religious connections and, supposedly, nearly infinite power to rewrite time and space. You own the spear, you own time.
The combined missions of recovering all the team members and chasing after the spear gave the team plenty of opportunities to bunny-hop around history, visiting exotic locales and running into the Legion over and over again, sometimes losing, sometimes winning. Going for an extra-goofy option, the team even encounters a few historical figures, both real and maybe-but-probably-not-real through their travels. In the earlier part of the season, for example, the team stumbles across George Lucas. A close shave with the Legion has him reconsidering his decision to make movies, and we see how that starts to ripple out to some of the nerdier members of the Legends.
Most of these hops are fun, with a few stumbles. One such stumble is, again, early in the season, where the team ends up in ancient Japan. The script felt like it was written by a guy who’d read James Clavell’s Shogun and watched the American Ninja movies back in the 1980s and hadn’t learned a thing about Japan since. It was weird at its best moments, and sexist and racist at others. Because this was so early on in the season, I’d been worried about the rest of it, but it was mostly uphill from there.
Road trips are more fun with friends
Along with those silly jaunts through history, the cast shaped up noticeably. Hawkgirl left at the end of the first season, and with her left the eye-rollingly bad star-crossed romance with her and Hawkman and all the dumb, drama-inducing decisions that came with it. There were a few of those throughout the second season, but they were relegated to B-level plots and rarely took center stage.
Instead, the team itself was constantly at the center, and the writers did a good job of using their rag-taggedness to complicate and resolve the situations they ran into. Distrust for once-and-maybe-thief Mick Rory threaded in and out of the season and drove some of the plot, but it never felt like it was weighing it down. Sara Lance’s past spent most of its time in the past.
Most of the interactions between all these characters were fun. Not always for the crew, but always for the viewer. Atom and Steel, the resident nerds of the group, managed to get in quips here and there, while Mick was always good for a more cut-and-dry (or cut-and-run) solution to situations. Victor Garber, the actor who plays Professor Stein, is a talented singer, and this was brought to bear at least twice that I can remember in the season.
But listen. Things were serious. The literal timeline was in danger, very serious danger throughout the season. The characters took it seriously. But the writers never forgot they were writing a time travel comic book show. Legends of Tomorrow was constantly on the move, constantly entertaining. Even the stinger at the end of the season left me laughing for all the right reasons.
The Tears of Barry Allen
Let’s compare this to The Flash: Betrayal Season 3: The Tears of Barry Allen. The Flash had an amazing first season that incorporated some of the character’s goofiest villains and made them fun, from Weather Wizard and Captain Cold to, of course, Reverse Flash. There were serious moments, but so much of it was filled with Flash learning how to harness his powers, encountering villains for the first time, and growing his relationship with the members of his team. Then there was the mystery of “Who is the Reverse Flash?” The show soft-revealed it early on, but played with our expectations, making us wonder time and time again. Harrison Wells’ betrayal of Allen was fresh and it stung. Hearing him say “Run, Barry, run!” early in the season was one of those early fist-pumping moments, and it made the betrayal painful.
The second season did have some very fun moments with the Speed Force, dimension-hopping, and time travel, but it was ultimately once again about Barry being betrayed by a mentor who was not who he said he was. Instead of being an engaging character we cared about, though, Hunter Zoloman was just a cornbread cardb0ard-cutout hero who wasn’t convincing enough as a hero to make his reveal as a villain feel meaningful.
And now with the third season, we’re once again waiting on a betrayal. We know one of Barry’s compatriots is destined to be Savitar, the God of Speed, and the list of who it could be is pretty short. One of the answers seems likely, while another feels cheap. But it’s all about the mystery and betrayal-by-speedster once again. It has this air of sadness hanging over it, as all the characters know that Iris is supposed to die on a certain date. I’m pretty sure someone has cried in every episode except the Invasion! crossover episode and the musical episode.
Every time it seems like the show is about to get fun, the fun gets sucked out of it with some drama putting Barry in a situation with no good answers. That’s fine once in a while, but it’s been relentless this season.
Similarly, Arrow has been this constant process of the writers dragging Oliver Queen down, down, down, and forcing him to ignore really obvious information while the villain takes pot-shots at him. It doesn’t help that the identity of the villain, Prometheus, was obvious right from the beginning. Like, Westworld-man-in-black-hat obvious. But we’re used to that from Arrow. It’s always been trying to claw its way out of darkness, and has been admirable for that. The Flash started bright, but has been steadily applying emo makeup and growing its hair out since the second season. That’s all coming to a head when Barry visits the future in the next episode, set for the end of this month, and actually finds emo Barry Allen there, complete with long hair.
Legends of Tomorrow had a rough first season, even had a bumpy few episodes this year, but it stuck to ideas at the core of what makes a show like that one tick and it came out on top, leaving me not just excited about, but eagerly anticipating the third season. I never thought I’d be saying that about what felt like a doomed show.