‘Legends of Tomorrow’: In Praise of The Legion of Doom

     February 1, 2017

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I don’t have the exact quotes written down so details are a little fuzzy, but I remember at the TCA press tour last year, CW President Mark Pedowitz recounted how he had called up super-producer Greg Berlanti in the middle of the night with an idea about a supernatural show centered on the villains. The consensus later was that this show would be too dark and maybe even difficult to establish with a fanbase, so instead, they created a motley group of heroes with the Legends of Tomorrow.

Last week, I wrote about how much I’m enjoying Legends this season, especially thanks to their new hierarchy and cast members. And while the Waverider crew did get some great quips and moments in “The Legion of Doom,” the focus was, amazingly, almost entirely on the Legion itself. The best moment (in a wonderfully directed episode by Eric Laneuville) may have just been the intro, where Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) got to take over and explain his story alongside Malcolm Merlyn’s (John Barrowman) and Eobard Thawne’s (Matt Letscher), and never has it been clearer that this trio deserve their own show.

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Image via The CW

What’s even more fantastic about the Legion is that they (like the Legends) all come out of the discard piles of The Flash and Arrow, so their backstories and powers (and cold-blooded natures) are well-established. One of the things that made The Flash so great in its first season was the reveal of Harrison Wells as the Reverse Flash / Eobard Thawne, setting up an incredible sacrifice at the close of the season that appeared to destroy him. And yet, this being a comic book-driven world, dead is never dead. While Damien Darhk started off as a fantastic villain on Arrow, his final arc on the show was a disappointment, and also ended with a death (seemingly). Malcolm Merlyn, a character who has been all over the place, also seemed to not get his full due on Arrow except for when he was Ra’s ah Ghul. As “The Legion of Doom” shows, he’s now washed up and haunted by his past.

As such, this is an opportunity for second chances, as Darhk points out. It’s the perfect setup: Darhk wants to change his future, Malcolm wants to change his past, and Eobard is trying to outrun his own death. They need a mystical object to help this happen, sure, but they are also hugely effective villains regardless. Their methods of torture and violence may differ, but they are all just different flavors of the same evil drive. It’s fantastic to watch as something so different for these shows — which often sacrifice a villain’s story in service of the hero’s, which isn’t surprising — and the banter among these three veteran actors as delightfully diabolical characters provides a whole new dynamic. It’s just fun.

“The Legion of Doom” (written by executive producers Phil Klemmer and Mark Guggenheim — Guggenheim also added his name to that battle of champagne on the ship if you noticed) acted as a mini origin story, where Malcolm and Darhk figured out that they needed to be allies in order to standup to Eobard, who treats them like henchmen because his power is greater than theirs. Those shifts were handled exceptionally well, especially in such a short amount of time, and culminated in two great scenes. In the first, Eobard confesses that he’s being tracked by the Black Flash (check out our explainer on that character here). This not only levels the playing field among the three, it introduces another element to the classic Legion villains versus Legends heroes setup (especially since, of course, the Legends — and more pointedly Barry Allen — have also messed with time).

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Image via The CW

The second thing it allowed for was a cautious equilibrium among the Legion. Whereas their alliance before was precarious, now the three realize that they all need each other and work better together. That’s a dangerous thing, but gloriously so, especially since their first move was to weaponize the brain-added Rip Hunter by addling his brain a little more to make him their newest henchman — a twist I was hoping for ever since Rip returned on the scene. With the Legends in good hands under Sara’s leadership, Rip doesn’t really have a place on the team anymore. And as I’ve said in the past, let’s get real; whether he meant to be or not, Rip was one of the biggest antagonists of Season 1, in a “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” kind of way.

If we’ve learned anything from the superhero movies and TV shows of the last decade now, it’s that their quality relies in large part on their villains. The hero is only as great as the villain is depraved, and a weak villain (something Legends addressed last week) doesn’t provide much room for the heroes to shine. And thankfully, the Legion wasn’t wasted on a crossover where they would be defeated within a few episodes. They deserve to stick around, and frankly, to run their own show. And if that’s not possible (because unless we use the Spear of Destiny to rewrite reality it isn’t), then the occasional Legion-focused episode of Legends is a fantastic way for that show to spend its time. Legends continues to improve this year, and perhaps the biggest way it has done so is by elevating and embracing its villains. There are ways to make them scary, badass, and human all at once, and “The Legion of Doom” absolutely nailed that balance.

Legends of Tomorrow airs Tuesday nights on The CW.

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