Did ‘Legends of Tomorrow’ Just Acknowledge What a Terrible Villain Vandal Savage Was?

     January 25, 2017

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I want to start by saying how much I’m enjoying Legends of Tomorrow’s second season. After its messy first run, I wasn’t sure I would even return it. But Season 2 kicked off by fixing some major problems: it got rid of the Hawks and their utterly non-compelling story (“a week ago I was just a barista!”) as well as toothless, casserole-making villain Vandal Savage. It stopped trying to make rules and stick to them (goodbye time paradoxes, wraiths, and Time Masters, even Rip!) and instead just had fun with things like Confederate zombies. It brought in two great new additions to the team in Nate and Amaya, and set up the fantastic villainous trio with The Legion of Doom.

Of all the CW’s superhero shows, Legends is inherently the goofiest and most comic booky (and now, refreshingly, the funniest). It has a sprawling cast that it doesn’t always know what to do with, but it has learned that splitting them up into unexpected pairings serves the show best. In “Raiders of the Lost Art,” the show’s return from its winter hiatus (and its debut in a new post-Flash timeslot), Legends went full-on fan service with the inclusion of George Lucas and the question of what the world would be like if we didn’t have Star Wars and Indiana Jones. And while that was fun, the episode also succeeded in a number of other ways — most strikingly, by seeming to acknowledge its Season 1 failures.

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Image via The CW

When the Waverider team arrive in 1967 because the Legion of Doom have caused a time aberration there, they find Rip Hunter (under a new, forgettable name) as a rather useless screenwriter. Rip sacrificing himself to save his crew was a brave thing for the show to do, just like how it created real stakes when Captain Cold did the same thing. But whereas Cold left a void, Rip’s absence allowed the team to get better. Nate took over as the group’s historian, giving context to moments the group travelled to, while Sara stepped up as as a strong and capable captain. And unlike Rip, she puts the team and the mission first — not her own desires.

What I’m saying is, apologies to Arthur Darvil (and it’s not his fault, but the script), but we didn’t need Rip back. And if we did, just to get this silly, bad-wig-filled episode so these ancient artifacts could be introduced, then so be it. But when the Legion took him, it would have been much better to either say goodbye, or see him be a villain — after all, was he not truly the Legends’ greatest adversary in Season 1?

In any case, when the group finds Rip in 1967, he’s written a screenplay about them. We catch a glimpse of a scene between his versions Rip and Vandal Savage, before he yells cut and exits to brainstorm with George. The exchange went as thus:

“It’s not that bad …”

“You saw him! I just can’t seem to get Peter to bring any menace to the part! I need to recast.”

“No no, you don’t have time to recast, your thesis film is due in under a month.”

“I know, I know, but … a film is only as good as its villain, and I have an antagonist who is as threatening as a wiener dog.”

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Image via The CW

Was that an open admission from the writers, in the most meta way, that Season 1’s villain was a failure? That Vandal Savage was as threatening as a wiener dog? Did it also throw some shade at Casper Crump’s portrayal?

If so, I applaud it for doing so (at least, regarding Vandal generally as a villain, as I wrote about last year). But Legends has already showed us how its broken with its past and started into a new and better future this year. The scenes in “Raiders of the Lost Art” between Stein and Mick Rory were excellent (funny, but also ultimately just the right level of poignant); the sibling-like friendship among Nate, Amaya, and Ray is cozy; and the Legion of Doom is deliciously diabolical. Every time Darhk and Merlyn saunter in and cooly start killing people, they are full of old-school badassery. Eobard Thawne’s powers are restricted to level the playing field, but I don’t mind — he’s a great leader of their squad who manages to be even more dickish than the other too. It’s so much fun!

And that’s the key to Legends of Tomorrow Season 2: it’s just fun. Don’t think too hard about why only certain aberrations and time fluctuations matter, and don’t even begin to think about how the Legends could teach Team Flash a thing or two about messing with time and destiny. Speaking of destiny, the piece they found in “Raiders of the Lost Art” sets up the back half of the season beautifully, introducing the MacGuffin they will be fighting with the Legion over to recover.

Whether or not the scene with 1967 Rip’s screenplay was meant as a commentary on the show’s first season or not, Legends has proven in plenty of other ways that it has learned from its past.

Legends of Tomorrow airs Tuesday nights on The CW.

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