Why Legends of Tomorrow's Second Season Was Such a Triumph

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Image: The episode where the team has to go make sure George Lucas makes Star Wars. Yes, really. (Bettina Strauss/The CW)

If you gave up on Legends of Tomorrow in season one, that would be more than fair. What should have been a fun romp through time and space instead got bogged down in a single plot that didn’t showcase the best of the characters involved. It’s to the credit of everyone involved that season two managed to fix almost all of the show’s problems and become a joyful experience.

All of that collided in last night’s glorious season finale. The main plot of this season has revolved around a Legion of Doom made up of Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), Eobard Thawne (Matt Letscher), and Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller). The Legion of Doom was trying to get its hands on the Spear of Destiny, which can alter reality. Two weeks ago, during World War I, the bad guys managed to get their hands on the Spear. Last week, we saw the world they created with it (all the bad guys are powerful and all the heroes serve them, basically).

Last night, their memories restored but minus a few members and powers, our heroes traveled back to WWI in order to succeed where they failed last time. In the process, they break the cardinal rule of time travel and meet themselves. They do manage to defeat the Legion of Doom, but the episode ended with a shot of Los Angeles filled with buildings and creatures from all over time and space. Because talking to your past self breaks time, apparently.

Now that season two is over, io9’s new Legends evangelists James Whitbrook and Katharine Trendacosta decided to have a conversation about why and how Legends of Tomorrow went from nearly unwatchable to one of the most fun shows on TV.

James Whitbrook: I have been waiting to have this conversation pretty much the first episode of this season completely hooked me. Watching Legends’ return after the forgettable first season has been like night and day.

Katharine Trendacosta: And the award for “Most Improved” goes to…

James: The Flash! Wait, no, sorry. Time aberration.

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Katharine: Ha.

James: But seriously, I wanted to ask before we really got stuck in here… be honest. Did you finish the first season of Legends of Tomorrow?

Katharine: I watched half of it.

James: I checked out after about five episodes, which at the time I felt was such a shame as I had really been excited for the show from the moment it was announced.

Katharine: It announced all these characters we really wanted to stick around in the other shows! Sara Lance (Caity Lotz), Heatwave/Mick (Dominic Purcell), Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), Martin Stein/half of Firestorm (Victor Garber)—I was so happy that they’d get stories of their own, away from Flash and Arrow. And then season one did nothing

James: But it was just so… not what I expected from this series at all. The focus on the one arc with Vandal Savage and the Hawkpeople (the name of my retro ska quartet), and having future time traveler Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) sort of be a miserable dad to all these different characters just meant it dragged and dragged.

Katharine: It wasn’t any fun.

James: They had all of Time and Space at their fingertips, but they were stuck in the land that fun forgot, week after week.

Katharine: It’s not that it should have just been a series of standalones—although that would have been better—it’s that it got bogged down in the one miserable Vandal Savage story. Which is stupid for a show in its first season. This season proved that you could have a overarching plot and still have fun.

James: It felt like they had launched this thing on such a crazy premise—taking disparate characters from across Flash and Arrow and smushing them into a time-traveling spaceship—but then proceeded to play it as safe as they possibly could.

But, that’s all in the past now (I swear I will stop making time jokes at some point), because season two has come along and basically been the exact inversion of everything that disappointed me in season one.

Katharine: Remember how season one started with, like, Rip lying about how the team was all elite and then the reveal was that, lol, no. Rip actually picked them all up because they wouldn’t be missed from when he picked them up?

This season felt like they actually explored that issue.

James: Totally!

Katharine: That these people had abilities, but they weren’t an elite team of brilliant people. This is where they should have started all along!

James: Season two actually took the joke that kicked off all of this—that these people are in no way prepared to handle the complexity of time travel and guarding timelines—and went “okay, let’s show them doing that, in the funniest way possible.”

Katharine: Yes! It recognized that messing with time can go horribly wrong and did it in a fun way. I think getting rid of Rip was vital to that.

Image: Arthur Darvill as Rip Hunter, professional time traveling wet blanket (Bettina Strauss/The CW)

James: Dumping Rip Hunter as fast as they could for most of the season and letting these characters work it out on their own, and in their own way, was one of the smartest things the show did coming into this season. That’s not really a knock on Arthur Darvill, who’s great in the role—but Rip acted as the one big barrier in the way of this team ever actually getting to muck up and learn to become the legends they’re meant to be, and a barrier to a lot of the zany fun we’ve got to see week in week out in every new story.

Katharine: He was basically one big set of brakes. And putting Sara in charge was the perfect choice.

James: Yes! Caity Lotz can carry an ensemble cast so well. Her being both the leader and the heart of the team with her arc and Damien Dahrk gave season two an emotional core that resonated a lot more than Hawkman and Hawkgirl’s story ever did.

Mainly because she was an established character—we knew her, we knew her relationships, we knew about losing Laurel. We had the emotional investment in her we never had in Katar and Shayera. Her being so anchored at the center of the show this season really let everyone else just go wild, in terms of the more comical hijinks.

Katharine: The first season built up Vandal Savage so much and never paid it off, whereas this season basically assembled a group of villains that actually mirrored the WHOLE team. And a group of villains that were just as ridiculous as the premise deserved Not a piece of scenery was left unchewed.

James: And god, yes, the Legion of Doom is so much better than Vandal Savage—because, once again, we were familiar with these characters. They could get on with devouring every piece of scenery in sight because we got the jist of them already in Flash and Arrow. We didn’t need their life stories told to us again and again, we know what someone like Malcolm Meryln or Reverse Flash is going to be like.

That’s been the big thing I’ve loved about this season. It’s freed itself from the baggage of overexplaining its premise and basically gone “You get it, it’s Doctor Who with a superhero team. Let’s go do that.”

Katharine: If you felt lost in the time travel shenanigans, it was fine, because so were the characters.

James: The Spear of Destiny might have been the plot device that tied the whole season together, but it stayed out of the way (until the last few episodes) and instead you got a new time, a new setting, a new premise, every week. Confederate zombies! Power armored Shoguns! Stopping the Nazis from nuking New York! Saving the creation of Star Wars itself, with George Lucas!

It’s honestly like the writers’ room picked different jumbled words out of a hat, and then said “we’re writing a story about this for this week.” It kept the whole show’s momentum always moving, because neither the Legends themselves or the audience knew what would be coming up next.

Katharine: GEORGE LUCAS! JRR TOLKIEN! And, of course, the really hot-right-now era of the American Revolution.

James: “Anything goes” was pretty much the defining factor of season two. And that’s just a fun as hell premise to go with when you’re a TV show about a bunch of time-traveling goofballs. And at the same time as all that, they did a really good job with shoring up the emotional arcs of the team over the season really well.

Katharine: In very different ways! They were all on the general theme of teamwork and relationships, but everyone’s development was actually different.

James: We talked about Sara becoming the leader and her rivalry with Darhk already, but there was Mick’s evolution into a hero, Stein’s quandary over the daughter he gained from accidentally altering his own history, and even the introductions of Nate and Amaya has been great. It’d be easy to say “none of these characters never really grow but it’s so much fun to watch them goof around it doesn’t matter,” but the show excelled in the goofing AND making us really care about these characters as a team and as individuals.

Katharine: Mick’s was SHOCKINGLY good. He lost his partner, decided to join the bad guys, realized he was a member of the team, and became one of the driving forces behind getting the team back together and fighting the Legion. It was a real arc, when Mick would’ve been so easy to slot into pure comic relief.

James: If anything, I feel that’s become Ray’s job now. He’s team clown. And he’s really, really good at it.

Katharine: Let’s talk about the finale, because it was bananas.

James: Thanks to this and Power Rangers: Dino Super Charge, I can now say I’ve watched two shows in the last six months that ended with time being weirdly fucked up while dinosaurs roam the Earth.

THAT’S A VERY GOOD THING IN MY BOOKS.

Image: Screenshot from the final scene of Legends of Tomorrow’s second season (The CW)

Katharine: What I loved is that, while the consequences were real and bad, the finale never forgot what the show was. It didn’t just turn into an action piece From the moment it started with the miniaturized Waverider, it was like “Yeah, this is who we are now. Our timeship is in danger from a desk lamp.” And, speaking of Ray as comic relief, we also began with Ray’s weird relationship with his suit!

James: It’s probably the most serious the show has been all season with its time travel logic, and yet, yeah. It was just still so fun.

Katharine: Even Rip! Rip meeting Rip was a high point for Rip. Just like both Rips seeing each other and going, “Oh shit, this is going to be so bad.”

James: Yesssssss. Them meeting and actually having to team up with themselves was so good.

Katharine: Again: it was so true to what we’ve seen. They had great intentions, but there was no way they were going to pull that off.

The premise of this episode was: The Legion of Doom ended up with the Spear of Destiny and it made everything bad. So let’s go back to when we failed and, without crossing the time streams, try not to fail this time. And then: oh no, we totally crossed the time streams. But we can make this work!

James: It was basically the equivalent of the “This is Fine” dog, until the moment they realized that it was very much not fine.

Katharine: Not to belabor the Doctor Who comparisons. But the ending was basically like the season where Martha left and then the Titanic slammed into the Tardis. Serious moment followed by a nuts set up for the future.

James: How great a line is “Guys, I think we broke time” to end the season on?

Katharine: It’s a really good one! It follows from their actions, but doesn’t feel like the thing they actually fixed was unfixed.

James: The consequence of everything they did mattered in a really satisfying way, even if they’d spent most of the past season not having that much of a consequence to running around being silly across time and space. And hey, if the consequences are “L.A. is overrun by Dinosaurs,” those are some damn good ones to have to deal with come season three.

Speaking of which, let’s start to wrap this up: we’ve discussed what made season two work so well, but where do you want the show to go next?

Katharine: I don’t even know.

James: It’s cheating, but I just want season two… two.

Katharine: Yeah, me too. Just do “traveling around doing random shit that helps unbreak time.” I’d be good with that.

James: I really hope they follow on the promise of that cliffhanger. Because it opens up SO much for them. Having them tweak something, seeing what it actually changed, fucking up, trying again… that is a great premise for them to build upon the level of variety in stories and settings we saw in season two.

Katharine: I can’t tell from the finale if all of time is just slammed on top of LA means they have to run around and try to sort shit out there.

Or if they can travel around time like usual trying to undo this. Either works for me! I think it’s the former, based on how they couldn’t get anywhere but L.A. But this is the kind of show where the fun means I forgive a plot hole. Time is hard.

James: Time is really hard. But that’s part of the fun!

Katharine: The one thing I want is for them to just leave Rip out of it. He passed the torch to Sara officially and walked away. Can we agree his part in this team is done?

James: I think it has to be. The team basically only just got him back from his evil brainwashing by the end of the season, and he’s already gone again. If they’re setting up another arc where he returns so soon after this, it’d make me feel like they just don’t know what to do with the character any more.

So keep him gone, unless they’re planning on having time broken so hard it basically reworked all of Rip’s personality into… someone that could have a bit of fun every once in a while? Either they make him gone for good but make that actually a running gag. Rip leaves, comes back a totally different person because of time travel nonsense, then leaves again a few episodes later. Repeat from season three to 20.

Katharine: Yeah, I was about to say: What if Rip appears in every time they go to as a different dude? And every time they’re just like “Fucking Rip again!”

James: Hahaha. That is the sort of fun I think we can actually expect from Legends now, and that’s great. They really clicked with this second season and settled into a format that, while doesn’t make for a perfect show, makes for one that’s fun as hell to watch now.

Katharine: You can forgive a lot of plot holes if it’s fun.

James: Whether they can build on that for season three… well, you know what they say. Time will tell!



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