Editor’s Note: Be aware there are some storyline spoilers through the current season of Legends of Tomorrow.
Legends of Tomorrow has always occupied a strange place in the Arrowverse. After a notoriously rocky start and a cast made out of an ensemble of new and side characters, the show eventually found its place by being wackier than any of its superhero CW counterparts. By dropping the melodrama and seriousness of its predecessors, it quickly became the weird and fun adventure series we love today.
But one of the key ways Legends of Tomorrow became this show was by putting all its faith in its cast. Like many long-running dramas, Legends of Tomorrow experiments with its ensemble. It adds and subtracts characters until it finds which combinations of personalities work best: Hawkgirl and Hawkman were too serious and quickly axed; Rip Hunter was redeveloped and became stronger as a side character than as a leader; and by the time Wally West joined the Waverider, the show had outgrown its Flash roots, and his presence didn’t mesh with the new vibe.
So when Legends of Tomorrow does learn the exact mix of actors and personalities that blend well into their show, it holds on tight. While actors repeating roles is a common fixture in CW series (The Vampire Diaries, Arrow, and The Flash have all featured the main cast taking on new versions of their characters), Legends of Tomorrow augments the idea: when cast members take on new roles, they aren’t only playing alternate universe versions, they play entirely new characters.
Not all of these reinventions are equal regarding their explanations. Some make sense, like the universe reboot at the end of Season 4 which meant Tala Ashe’s Zari 1.0 returned with a new personality. Others are more tenuous, like when Maisie Richarson-Sellers’ time as Amaya came to an end and she rejoined the show as Charlie, a shapeshifter who took on Amaya’s form. But in Season 7 the show decided to do away with any explanations. Constantine’s storyline ended, so Matt Ryan is now Gwyn Davies. Are the two characters related? Maybe, but it doesn’t really matter.
Cycling through characters’ storylines while retaining the core cast gives Legends of Tomorrow a skill that other Arrowverse shows never learned: the ability to end while they’re ahead. Rather than dragging out a character’s plot, the writers simply conclude that journey and keep the actors for new roles.
The adoration for their cast also makes the writers come up with more interesting storylines for those who stick around. Making Ava a clone gave Jess Macallan more emotional material to work with, but in Season 6 she also got to play different versions of a character she has been developing for years. By knowing her character inside and out, she is able to give glimpses into the Ava we know when portraying a cast of clones we have never met.
There’s also the Gary twist, where in Season 6 the Gary we all know and love was revealed to be an alien the whole time (!) Gary has served mostly as comic relief, but Adam Tsekhman has quietly become one of the biggest MVPs of the series. The alien reveal was deeply funny and quitessionally Gary, but it also reinvigorated the character from getting too stuck in one joke; the Gary of Season 6 and beyond suddenly has swaths of new material to work with.
Perhaps no transformation has embodied Legends of Tomorrow’s love for their ensemble more than the recent development of Gideon joining the team. Amy Louise Pemberton has been putting in consistently solid work as Gideon from the start of the show. We saw her relationship with Rip grow into a friendship with all the Legends, and her performance more human (than robot helper) and more accented by a developing personality over the years. In Season 7, this hard work is rewarded by Pemberton joining the team in human form, allowing Gideon to finally take up physical space among the cast. In only a few episodes, she has already established herself as a perfect fit after being part of the voice cast for so long.
Because the cast of Legends of Tomorrow has fostered such an incredible chemistry with one another over the course of the last seven seasons, when regulars do leave permanently it’s easy to think that will be the moment the show stops working, that the void will ruin the show’s rhythm. But the Legends has proven that it’s always ready to fill any absence by investing even more into new characters. This is a show where time holds infinite opportunities, and the writers invest all those choices into a cast that has carried this series into the weird and wonderful thing it is now.
The current seventh season has proven this true on every level. Bishop, who was set up as a one-season antagonist, has already gotten the typical Legends of Tomorrow “join the team” treatment, with Raffi Barsoumian already on a reformed villain arc. Pemberton and Ryan have been integrated in new ways, and Ashe is now on double duty playing both Zaris. The mid-season finale also teased that even more versions of the Legends are around to cause havoc.
Throughout the series, every character twist and development feels rewarding for both the audience and the show’s cast and crew, as they get to experiment with the chemistry that gives Legends of Tomorrow its strength as a superhero drama that’s also a hangout show. And as long as there are still more wacky stories to tell, the writers will continue to find new ways to show their appreciation for this hugely talented cast. The Legends may not be forever, but they are infinite.
Leila Jordan is the TV intern for Paste Magazine. To talk about all things movies, TV, and useless trivia you can find her @galaxyleila
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