Legends of Tomorrow Season 1 Review

Way back when Legends of Tomorrow was first announced, I was hugely, hugely excited for it. I’d been really getting into Arrow and The Flash at the time, so a new show was already a pretty cool prospect - but the fact that it was essentially being positioned as “Superheroes do Doctor Who” was enough to really capture my imagination, given that Doctor Who is my favourite TV show.

Much like Doctor Who, Legends of Tomorrow made effective use of a near-anthology format, with episode crashing into a new time and place, and giving us a new spin on a different genre each time. We had a prison breakout episode, a horror story, a Western, and a futuristic dystopia - there was a real, almost giddying, sense of fun to the way Legends presented us with something new each week. It went a long way towards keeping each episode fresh, and ensuring that each week felt like an event. It’s a difficult thing to pull off - that “eventiness” - but Legends did an admirable job of it.

Given that it was also an ensemble show, Legends was the sort of programme that would have lived or died depending on the strength of its character development. Had we just been given the fun romps through a sensationalised, fictional history, it’s likely that the whole affair would have felt more than a little bit flat - all flash and no substance, as it were. Generally speaking, albeit with one notable exception, Legends did a pretty impressive job of ensuring each character had something of an arc, and clear opportunities for development.

The key emotional arc for this series fell to Rip Hunter, as played by Doctor Who alum Arthur Darvill, who acts as something of a Doctor analogue for the series - right down to the fact he’s a “time master” in a long brown coat. It’s Rip who assembles the team, intending to fight Vandal Savage and change time for very personal reasons - he wants to save the life of his wife and son. It’s slowly revealed across the course of the season that Rip is in fact a deeply flawed and manipulative person; his journey is almost one of redemption, as he has to come to terms with the death of his family. While the writing was at times a little simplistic, Rip was an impressively complex character, and a lot of fun to watch across the series.

My own personal favourite characters - and I imagine this is true of many - were Sara Lance, the White Canary, and Leonard Snart, Captain Cold. It’s largely down to the performances of Caity Lotz and Wentworth Miller, both talented actors who helped create characters who were compulsively watchable. Admittedly, I’m not sure about a romantic relationship between the pair; while I’m sure that a relationship between them could work, I’m not necessarily sure that I trust the CW writers to handle it well, given their history with writing relationships on Arrow and even The Flash. (There’s also more than a few unfortunate implications about “straightening out” a bisexual character who’s already been fridged, so, again, something to be handled delicately.)

Perhaps most surprising was the level of attention paid to Heatwave; at the beginning of the season, I’d guessed he’d be little more than cannon fodder, included only so that the show could kill off a character without losing anyone of particular importance. It transpired to be quite the opposite, though, as Heatwave ended up being a genuine highlight of the show. It’s this sort of thing that shows Legends’ real strength - the ability to take these characters we already knew from Arrow and The Flash, and then really push them to new places, helping us to view them in an entirely new light. 

That in turn made one of the few areas in which the show did fall down all the more disappointing. Hawkgirl, or Kendra Saunders, was a character with a lot of potential - directly connected to big bad Vandal Savage, an extensive and rich mythos, and a talented actress in Ciara Renee could have all come together to create a truly memorable character. In reality, though, we ended up with a female character who was always defined solely by her romantic interests, be they Cisco, Hawkman, or Ray Palmer, or as an object of romantic pursuit, from Jax and Vandal Savage. It was particularly frustrating to see all of the available potential reduced to this, even to the point of ignoring prior character development; Legends of Tomorrow dedicated several episodes to developing a relationship between Ray and Kendra, and at the point when it began to appear that Kendra might be given some plotlines unrelated to romance, an entirely new love triangle was established between Ray, Kendra, and Carter.

(It doesn’t help either that Carter/Hawkman is possibly one of the most obnoxious characters in the entirety of the DC TV universe. He’s arrogant, dismissive, and ignorant; he’s constantly putting down Kendra, and acting like he knows best and then quite consistently demonstrating that he doesn’t. Frankly, there’s no reason to believe Kendra even likes him. It was astonishingly irritating whenever he was on screen, and I’m torn between being glad he won’t be around next year, to disappointed we won’t get to see Kendra without his presence looming over her narrative.) 

The other important aspect to mention is the central conceit of the program itself - time travel. It’s a difficult thing to portray in fiction, given that it’s entirely made up, and there have been so many different interpretations of it in popular culture across the years. That tends to mean that each new time travel oriented programme has to explain its rules fairly early on - Legends of Tomorrow, however, eschewed this entirely, choosing to make up something new whenever necessary (time drift, really?) and avoid properly explaining anything, ever. 

And, you know, that was a little frustrating. It’s a very fun programme, but if you think about any of it in any depth, it does all fall apart a little bit. Legends feels like a show that, in reality, should have been extensively planned out in detail from the beginning; something that would slot together like a jigsaw puzzle week on week. It’s fairly clear that it wasn’t written this way - for example, when watching the early episodes, you never get the sense that Professor Stein had a rough idea of how the series would end - and I do think the show suffers because of this. Hopefully next year might see a more structured approach, with an ultimately tighter plot arc.

Ultimately, Legends of Tomorrow is fun. It’s an entertaining program, and it’s certainly a solid addition to the DC TV universe. I know that, perhaps, the latter half of this review took on something of a negative tone; despite that, I really did genuinely quite enjoy this show, looking forward to each new episode week on week. It’s a wonderful showcase for all the cool things you can do with these characters, and I can’t wait to see where - or when - the show takes them next.

Related:

Arrow Season 4 Review

The Flash Season 2 Review

Arrow - The Disturbing Trend of Fridging Female Characters

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