No other comic book show has had a run quite like Legends of Tomorrow. Rising from a mediocre first season, subsequent years have fleshed out the premise and cast, to the point that it’s become the goofy, Beebo-loving step-child of the Arrowverse.
The second and third seasons set new heights for the show. And while fourth season had a lot of great going in (Charlie, Constantine, everything about the mid-season finale) the back half saw a bit of a downward slump. And while it’s certainly not enough to start wringing our hands, there are things worth reconsidering going forward.
Here are some of my biggest issues with fourth season - and where I hope to see the show improve for next year.
Mona and Gary
A year ago, none of us had ever heard of Mona. But in a surprisingly short span of time, she became central to the ensemble, with some of the most emotional story content of the season. Never mind that it came at the cost of taking screentime away from stalwarts of the series like Ray and Mick. The writer’s puzzling infatuation with Mona is unhelped by the fact that she has a cloying personality, with an emotional fragility that often forces others to walk softly around her.
Gary fares only moderately better, but not by much. In past seasons, he worked best in small doses. Bringing him to the fore exposed the limitations of his cartoonish caricature. His contributions are oftentimes cringe-inducing, if not downright meanspirited. And the writers seemingly have no interest in fleshing him out, which drags the down ensemble every time he makes another appearance.
In the long run, LoT is a show that would be better served by letting both of them go.
A Zoo of Magical Creatures
First of all, there’s the fact that this was clearly a retcon. The writers admitted to changing course midway through the season because everyone liked Hank’s character. That’s a nice motivation in theory, but in practice it meant changing the set up from secret agents seemingly kidnapping and experimenting on magical creatures into creating a magical zoo based on his son’s boyhood drawings. It made no sense in the context of that setup, and the writers made little effort to fix to address the discontinuity.
Second of all, putting all the magical creatures – many of them sentient – into an entertainment venue to be trapped and gawked at by strangers, is nowhere near as charming as the writers seem to think it is.
Nate and Zari
Before this last year, there wasn’t a whole lot to this relationship. By which I mean, it basically didn’t exist. There was no one-on-one personal history. They had no chemistry. There had never been any indication of them personally connecting. So naturally the writers decided to put them together in a UST relationship and spontaneously try to convince the viewers that no, really – they do have feelings for each other. And then try to sell it by repeatedly telling us how much these romantic feelings exist, and forcing it into major storylines without lifting one finger to actually earn it. Because why try to build a relationship on trust, care, and sacrifice, when instead you can build it on throwing two attractive people together to justify an Indiana Jones-homage episode and a musical instead?
It also doesn’t help that Nate, in the meanwhile, also had an ongoing storyline that involved connecting with his father…and Zari became completely defined by the relationship.
Meta Without Purpose
When Buffy the Vampire Slayer made a musical episode, it was a heartbreaking exploration of the lies and secrets people keep from those they care about most. When Community made a high-concept episode – musicals, paintballs, Ken Burns documentaries – it was used to test and examine group dynamics, and the shifting relationships in the core cast.
When Legends of Tomorrow made a musical, it was, well, because they wanted to do a Bollywood musical episode. And then defaulted to a Zari-Nate romance to justify its existence, never mind that there was no history or chemistry to back that up.
Unfortunately, the show has started leaning too hard into all the cute and meta references that largely exist for their own purpose. They don’t serve plot or character. They’re there because it’s an easy way to get a cheap laugh from the audience. To be clear, I’m not saying the show needs to stop being meta - meta is part of its identity. I’m just asking that they not get in the way of things like developing our beloved ensemble of misfits.
Hey Remember When This Was a Superhero Series?
To be fair, Legends is at a disadvantage here alongside its Arrowverse compatriots, as it has no specific comic book text from which to borrow and adapt. It’s the corner for castoffs - the characters and concepts that have no room in any of the other series, those who easily slide into our cheerful band of miscreants. Unfortunately, without anything solid to work with, the show has kind of lost its way. And arguably, something of its identity.
Look, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the show still try to remember its roots. At the end of the day, I just want to see these people suit up and use their superpowers every once in a while. Musicals and magical creatures are all well and good. But they’re the time-traveling misfit-superheroes of the Arrowverse. I’d like to see them acting like it every once in a while.