Spoiler warning for anyone not caught up through “Here I Go Again”
When Legends of Tomorrow first premiered, it was a holding pen for some of Arrow and The Flash’s secondary superheroes and villains, ones who deserved more story than their origin shows could provide, but maybe not a full spinoff. Together, this motley crew was given a fairly nebulous mission about “fixing time,” set up a lot of rules for itself (including not being able to meet themselves in the past), and had a toothless villain that didn’t bring any stakes to the narrative. But in its second season, Legends showed it wasn’t afraid to reboot itself, discarding several characters who didn’t quite work, bringing in new ones, and better still, introducing the evil triumvirate known as the Legion of Doom. The show did away with the timey-wimey rules it never followed anyway, and embraced the fun and character banter that has made it such a joy to watch.
Still, there were kinks to be worked out, like the need for Rip to move on as Sara took the captain’s seat, and for the show to stop forcing romances that just weren’t working. In the first half of Season 3, though, Legends not only delivered some incredibly fun anachronisms (culminating with “Beebo the God of War”) but again proved that no cast member is sacred to the show through a truly emotional send-off to Victor Garber’s Professor Stein. That move also gave an opportunity for Jax to depart the Waverider as Wally West was primed to join. It allowed for there to be real sacrifice and consequences, and for the team to take the time to work through that, both together and apart. It wasn’t just about bringing together misfits from other, more popular shows — it had become the best of the bunch.
With “Here I Go Again,” Legends is only two episodes into the back half of its third season, yet it’s still reaching new heights. In the midseason opener, “Daddy Darhkest,” the show not only incorperated fan-favorite character Constantine into its story, but it took on the trappings of a horror film (to great effect). But it’s in “Here I Go Again” that Legends proves why it continues to soar where other Arrow-verse series have faltered in their third seasons and beyond. The episode included great character drama, some very funny asides, as well as a devastating demi-conclusion (it’s real conclusion was also just fine, but Zari’s sacrifice, and the desire she had to take her own like to stop the time loop just before that, was intense emotional work). It’s a three-way balance that illustrates just how great this show can be, and how an episode that steps away from the Big Bad can be even more effective than one that sets him (or her) as its focus.
As Nate mentions within the episode, taking on a Groundhog Day (or “Hedgehog Day”) plot can sound hacky, but like the Bill Murray movie itself “it’s actually extremely well-executed.” But of course Legends had to do a time loop episode, and it’s surprising it took this long to make it happen. It was also essentially a bottle episode in how contained to the ship it was, and how much time was given to deepening our relationships with these characters. Ray Utarnachitt and Morgan Faust‘s script was a beautiful balance that concluded with a meta-commentary of a writer’s room approach to the episode through Gideon. Zari, who we didn’t know much about beyond her sarcastic quips, had to learn to appreciate the Waverider team and recognize Sara’s authority, something she shares with each group member after she wakes up from the simulation. It makes sense, and it worked really well. And why was Gary there, stuck in a trash compactor the entire time? “I thought I’d be funny,” Gideon says with essentially a shrug. It was! And we really don’t need more of an explanation about it than that. (Though I kinda want to read all of Mick’s sci-fi story).
Maybe Legends has been so successful because it continues to take risks, and isn’t afraid to change up its formula in service of great story. Supergirl, it should be noted, has also had an encouraging third season, though one that has ultimately felt a little stagnant (And Black Lightning, which is excellent, is notably not part of the Arrow-verse yet). Still, it’s nothing compared to the third seasons of Arrow and The Flash, which faltered mightily and have continued to struggle with 22-episode seasons that require an over-arching Big Bad (something Supergirl has had some trouble with as well).
But Legends isn’t restricted by that — it has embraced an episodic, procedural structure and it’s worked. Every week there’s a time anomaly, some fun costumes, and the team usually messing things up so much that they end up having to fix their fix. But within that there are some great comedic gems as well as occasionally revealing character moments, and they never feel forced. In this season we’ve seen, among the jokes, some more serious narratives like Mick meeting his father in the past, Ray having to confront the fact that his childhood maybe wasn’t as sunny as he remembered, and now Zari being driven to her wit’s end to learn her own lesson. It all illustrates the success of a series that has secured its future by also learning from its own past.
Legends of Tomorrow airs Monday nights on The CW.