DC's Legends of Tomorrow – Season Two Overview (2016-17)
After a tricky first season, the CW's time-travelling superhero team series underwent a much-needed revamp. The showrunners embraced change, presenting the Legends with a new ongoing story arc, switching out team members while introducing new recruits, and providing a new villainous team for them to face. This ever-changing nature became essential to the success of the series, alongside the most important element: they stopped taking it all so seriously.
The season opener, 2.1, “Out of Time,” is a hectic affair that sets up the new run of adventures. Having defeated the immortal warlord Vandal Savage and the corrupt Time Masters, the Legends continue to patrol the space-time continuum, hunting for aberrations in history. Unfortunately, if not surprisingly, something went wrong, and the Legends have been scattered through time. The only evidence of their continued existence is the Waverider, their timeship, which has been discovered at the bottom of the Atlantic.
Enter Nate Heywood, a surprisingly buff and handsome historian, or as he prefers it, “time detective.” Played with great charm by Nick Zano (What I Like About You, One Big Happy, 2 Broke Girls), Nate looks fit but has struggled his whole life with a debilitating case of haemophilia. Nate threw himself into study and became an authority on the minutiae of history, leading him to realise that something is going very wrong with time. Going to Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), the Green Arrow himself, for help, Nate travels to the bottom of the sea and enters the Waverider. The only member of the team left onboard is Mick Rory (Dominic Purcell), who's been recovering from injuries in stasis. It turns out a nuclear bomb went off in New York in 1942, which would have killed everyone onboard had team leader Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) not sent them all through time to hide out. Oh, and the destruction of New York is impacting history, it just hasn't quite caught up to the present yet.
Oliver leaves Nate with Mick, and much to the historian's joy, they embark on a tour of the timeline, trying to rescue the other Legends. They save Ray Palmer, the Atom (Brandon Routh) from a Tyrannosaurus Rex, while Sara Lance, the White Canary (Caity Lotz) has been sentenced to death for “corrupting” the women of Salem, Massachusetts. (This is not too surprising, as she'd already been in trouble for seducing the Queen of France in 1637.) They pick up Professor Stein (Victor Garber) and Jax (Franz Drameh), together the nuclear superhero Firestorm, from mediaeval Europe, and head back to 1942 to stop the bomb going off.
If this sounds like a lot, it really is, and this is the kind of frenetic adventuring that comes to characterise Legends of Tomorrow from now on. Before the episode is over, they pick up Einstein to help stop the bomb (played by John Rubinstein- Angel, The Young and the Restless), fight Nazis, and discover that the one behind this change to history is none other than recurring Arrow villain Damien Darhk. The long-lived and powerful warlock is played by Neal McDonough (Boomtown, Band of Brothers, Suits), and is one of the most hissably fiendish villains in the Arrowverse. Before the Legends can carry on time-travelling in their search for Rip Hunter, though, they are arrested by the 1940s' own superhero team, the Justice Society of America.
First appearing in 1940's All Star Comics issue three, the JSA were the very first superhero team, inspiring later groups such as the Justice League, Marvel's Avengers and the Legends of Tomorrow themselves. This wasn't their first appearance in live action (that was “Absolute Justice,” a 2010 episode of Smallville) but it was certainly the most prominent until the 2018 series Stargirl and the 2022 blockbuster Black Adam. In 2.2, naturally titled “The Justice Society of America,” the JSA pits itself first as antagonistic to the Legends, before reluctantly joining forces. The JSA makes for a great counterpoint to the Legends, as straightforward (if not perfect) heroes against a group of deeply flawed troubleshooters and reformed villains.
Our guest team of superheroes includes Sarah Gray (The Order) as Stargirl, Dan Payne (Crank Yankers) as Obsidian and Kwesi Ameyaw (Motherland: Fort Salem) as Dr. Mid-Nite. Leading the team is Rex Tyler, aka Hourman, played with resolute style by Patrick J. Adams (Suits, Pillow Talk) who appeared briefly in the previous season asking for help, but now has no memory of the event (that's time travel for you).
Matthew MacCaull (iZombie, Tomorrowland) makes for a fine, upstanding sort as Commander Steel, who just so happens to be Henry Heywood, Nate's grandfather. Nate is understandably starstruck, encountering his family hero in his prime, and in his enthusiasm to impress is grievously injured. With no other way to save him, Ray uses a modified supersoldier serum stolen from the Nazis to cure his haemophilia and heal his injuries, turning him into a literal man of steel in the process.
While Nate's interaction with his grandfather provides much of the focus of this Nazi-punching episode, it's another member of the Society who proves to be the most significant. Maisie Richardson-Sellers (The Originals, The Undeclared War) plays Amaya Jiwe, the superhero Vixen. Thought had been given to bringing in Megalyn Echikunwoke, star of the CW Stream animated series Vixen, to reprise her role in live action. Scheduling conflicts prevented this, and instead the showrunners went back a couple of generations and introduced the grandmother of the modern day hero as the previous holder of the title.
As the guardian of the fictitious African nation of Zambesi, and wielding a magical totem that grants her animal powers, Amaya could easily have become an embarrassingly hokey, even somewhat offensive, character. Fortunately, Richardson-Sellers performs her with nobility, intelligence and grace, making her a fine addition to the team when, unexpectedly, her partner Tyler is killed by a time-traveller. Of course, to start with, she's convinced the Legends are responsible, but she comes round. Richardson-Sellers remains part of the core cast for over sixty episodes, albeit not always as Amaya.
The Legends continue their mission to find Hunter, while Stein temporarily assumes command, being the oldest and smartest. It isn't long before he accepts he is not up to the role, though, and it's Sara who assumes the position, being the Legend most skilled in strategy. Although ostensibly just holding the fort for Hunter, she'll remain the leader of the team for its remaining run, growing in confidence and wisdom as their adventures continue. Meanwhile (if such a word means anything in a show about time travel), a familiar villain from the Arrowverse has been dropping in and out of episodes, manipulating events. The figure responsible for the time aberrations is revealed to be Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash himself, who previously fought the Flash on his own series.
Unfortunately, Thawne is here in his original form, that of Matt Letscher (Almost Perfect, The Carrie Diaries), and not that of Tom Cavanagh, who portrayed him in The Flash, under the more charmingly villainous image of Harrison Wells, whose identity Thawne had stolen. (This sort of thing happens a lot in comic-book stories.) Letscher is fine, but he lacks the gravitas and charisma to make Thawne really work as a season's big bad. Perhaps it's for this reason that he rapidly teams up with Damian Darhk to form a time-travelling team of evil, the Legion of Doom, taking its name from a villain team that was originally created 1978 children's animated series Challenge of the Superfriends. “Legends of Tomorrow” almost has a hint of respectability about it. “Legion of Doom” embraces comic-book silliness to its fullest. (Although I'd have given money to see the Monster Society of Evil on the screen.)
To begin with, though, Darhk refuses to work with Thawne. In 2.5,”Compromised,” the Legends discover Dahrk in 1987, trying to sell out the US government to the KGB. Facing him in the White House, Sara loses perspective and tries to kill the sorcerer – he is, or rather, will be, responsible for the murder of her sister, Laurel Lance. In a scene that shows how Sarah is maturing and moving beyond her violent ways, Sara decides not to kill Dahrk when she has him at her mercy. She does, however, take great pleasure torturing him with the knowledge of his failure and eventual death, which she has seen in her own time. Stealing a vital but mysterious item from him is the last element that persuades Dahrk to join forces with Thawne. There's also a fun subplot in which Stein tries to get his younger self (Graeme McComb – UnREAL) to stop putting his professional life over his personal. Having already met the older Stein in the previous season, young Marty Stein has worked out he's meeting his future self.
While the team search through time for Hunter, they experience some strong episodes. 2.3, “Shogun,” is a fun romp that sees Nate and Ray battling warriors in feudal Japan. 2.4, “Abominations,” is a truly exceptional episode, which gives us the seemingly frivolous idea of zombies attacking a plantation in the American Civil War. The writers use the set-up as a way of exploring the brutalities of the treatment of black Americans in the South, while also giving the Legends an enemy they can defeat (since it's not like they can actually go and stop the Confederacy before it's time). Jax and Amaya naturally have an especially difficult time, being the only people of colour on the team, with Jax in particular experiencing the horrors of the plantation when he is locked up by the owner.
2.6, “Outlaw Country,” is another fun instalment, a Wild West episode once again featuring Johnathon Schaech as Jonah Hex. This episode pits Hex against his comic-book nemesis Quentin Turnbull, played with nefarious relish by Western veteran Jeff Fahey (Texas Rising, The Marshal, Justified). Alleged “time pirates” are discovered to have been creating the historical aberrations, with one of them giving Turnbull bullets made from dwarf star metal, a material that can penetrate even Nate's steel hide. Although he struggles with the idea that Sara is now captain, Jonah works with the Legends again to stop Turnbull from setting up his own anarchist state in the West.
The season's progression is sidelined with 2.7, “Invasion!” This is in fact the fourth and final part of the Invasion! crossover event, following episodes of Supergirl, The Flash and Arrow. This had already become an annual tradition by this point, following “Arrow vs. Flash” in 2014 and “Legends of Today,” “Legends of Yesterday” in 2015, both of which saw the Arrow and The Flash series crossing over, and the latter of which set up Legends of Tomorrow itself. This was the first time that all four main series in the Arrowverse had been included, with the various heroes joining forces to defeat the alien Dominators. It's the first time the Legends are face-to-face with extraterrestrial villains, but it certainly won't be the last. It's a fun episode, but you really need to watch the entire crossover to really appreciate it, meaning you have to get involved with four shows to fully understand what's going on. It's the same model DC and Marvel use in their huge comic-book crossover events, but at least its cheaper.
One element that does push ahead the Legends storyline during the Invasion! crossover is the proper introduction of Lily Stein (Christina Brucato – American Hostage) after her brief appearance in a vision in “Outlaw Country.” Having meddled with his own timeline, Professor Stein now has a grown-up daughter, who as a timeline aberration should technically be dealt with. The Legends aren't going to erase her from history, though, especially as she's actually a very brilliant scientist, eclipsing even her father. She's a big help in taking on the Legion of Doom, as their plans across time develop further.
Having recruited Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman – Doctor Who, Torchwood), one of the Green Arrow's persistent enemies, the Legion are searching through history for the legendary Spear of Destiny, an object of incredible power. 2.8, “The Chicago Way,” acts as the midseason climax, pitting the Legends against the Legion in 1927. The villains have allied with Al Capone (Isaac Keoughan – Rogue), and our heroes are barely able to right the timeline by stopping him before he kills Eliot Ness (Cole Vigue – iZombie, The 100), leaving him free to run his criminal empire. It's a fun environment for a showdown, and you'd expect Mick Rory to be in his element. He is, however, preoccupied by hallucinations of his late criminal partner, Leonard Snart (Wentworth Miller), who mocks him for getting soft and trying to be a hero like the other Legends. The episode ends with the Legion heading off to find the next recruit to their team – Rip Hunter, who's been working as a director in sixties Hollywood.
After a nearly two-month gap for Christmas and New Year, the series returned with 2.9, “Raiders of the Lost Art,” the first of the truly dreadful punning titles which will come to characterise the series. The Legion and the Legends race to find Hunter, who has lost his memories due to something called “time drift” and is working with George Lucas (Matt Angel – Sweet/Vicious). Not only has Lucas managed to get hold of a fragment of the Spear, he's also on the verge of giving up his dreams of filmmaking. Nate and Ray agree this would be an utterly catastrophic aberration, especially since it would mean they likely wouldn't have developed their interests in history and technology.
Hunter is taken captive by the Legion, with the team now determined to rescue him, but first, we have an aside in “The Legion of Doom.” We see the eponymous villains recruit Merlyn in 2016 and follow them on their mission through time to track down the fragments of the Spear. We learn more about Thawne's plan: he is an aberration himself, having been erased from existence in his final battle with the Flash, and is still here as a sort of echo, a time remnant. Desperate to hold onto his tenuous existence as a temporal anomaly, Thawne is running from the Black Flash – a wraithlike figure chasing him through history trying to erase him for good. He needs the reality-altering powers of the Spear to maintain his precarious existence and will use anyone or anything to achieve it.
Having brainwashed Hunter, the Legion continues travelling through history on the search for the Spear fragments. The Legends trail them through history: to the American Revolutionary War in 2.11, “Turncoat,” and then onto both the far future and mediaeval Britain in 2.12, “Camelot/3000,” which sees us join the remnants of the JSA, learning that after Amaya left, they worked with Hunter to break up the Spear and scatter its parts through time. 2.13, “Land of the Lost,” is a fun adventure in the Cretaceous Period; having taken over the Waverider, Hunter strands the Legends 70 million years in the past. The trouble is that Gideon, the master computer of the timeship, still has a built-in loyalty to her old captain. Amy Pemberton, having provided the voice of Gideon in pretty much every episode of the series so far, finally gets to appear in the flesh. The team take a trip inside Hunter's mind (long story) to try to un-wash his brain, coming face-to-face with villainous spectres of themselves, horrors from Hunter's past, and the actual embodiment of Gideon who helps them free Hunter from his mental bonds.
With Hunter back on the team, the Legends become involved in the Apollo 13 mission, which is going surprisingly to plan thanks to Thawne's interference. Nate's grandfather is working on the Apollo programme, having hidden his fragment of the Spear in the American flag planted on the Moon by the Apollo 11 team. It's a cracking episode, seeing Nate go through the emotional wringer as he tries to influence his own family history and save his grandfather's life. Victor Barber finally gets to show off his Broadway skills this season; following his impersonation of Max Lorenz in 2.2, he steals this episode by distracting the Apollo ground team at a crucial moment with a hilarious rendition of The Banana Boat Song.
After this, it's a storming run to the finale. 2.14, “Fellowship of the Spear,” ups the stakes while keeping it silly, as the Legends decide to head to the Battle of the Somme to find J.R.R. Tolkien (Jack Turner – Stitchers, Showmance), who can help them find the grave of Sir Gawain, who supposedly had the Blood of Christ. This is apparently able to destroy the Spear, so it does make some sort of sense. We're just lucky Hunter vetoes the Legends' first plan to go back to the Crucifixion. Things actually go to plan for a change, until the Legion turns up, with a familiar face on the team: Wentworth Miller returning as the late Leonard Snart, plucked from an earlier point in the timeline when he was still entirely villainous. As good as Miller was as the troubled anti-hero of season one, it's fun to have him back as the outright villain he was on The Flash.
Naturally, this is a divisive moment for Mick Rory, who buckles under the influence of his former partner in crime and hands the Spear over to the Legion. The episode ends with the villains activating the ritual of the Spear. 2.15, “Doomworld,” picks up the story in an entirely new timeline, with reality having been rewritten by the Legion using the Spear's power. Thawne runs Star labs, just as he used to under the guise of Harrison Wells, and is the villain-in-chief of this version of the world. He's even captured the 'Black Flash. Darhk is the mayor of Star City (the usual setting of Arrow), while Snart and Rory control Central City (the setting of The Flash). More sympathetically, Merlyn has his dead family and lost company back. The Legends themselves have been rewritten to be either corrupt or incompetent, with only Hunter seemingly unaffected, imprisoned by Thawne.
It's a grim situation, and while the Legends do eventually discover their true natures, they're trapped in a world they can't influence, powerless to change things. In the final episode of the season, “Aruba” (named after Rory's dream destination should it all work out), they decide the only course of action is to break all the rules. Stealing the Waverider back, they travel back into their own pasts, changing their own histories and duplicating themselves in the process. In a truly chaotic final battle, two lots of Legends fight an army of Thawne and his own duplicates, before the Black Flash finally catches up with him and undoes the damage he's done.
It's a suitably over-the-top conclusion to a fun season, one that improves heavily on the first run. In many ways, it's the introduction of Nick Zano as Nate that really completes the team and helps the show step up to another level. Zano's performance gives the series a new emotional centre, much as Caity Lotz steps up as the head of the team, with Sara becoming permanent captain now Hunter leaves the team for good. Nate's embracing of his new powers, his enthusiastic friendship with Ray, and his awkward romance with Amaya give the season a strong emotional story while the sci-fi silliness drives the overarching plot.
Still, it's the show's embracing of the silliness of its concept that really makes it work in its second season. It ends promising even more: having changed their own pasts, the Legends return to the present to discover they've thoroughly broken time, buildings from different times and places line the streets of LA, and the dinosaurs once again walk the Earth. Season three will see the Legends in big trouble indeed.
Published on July 13th, 2023. Written by Daniel Tessier for Television Heaven.