Legends of Tomorrow wrapped season five last year, and with season six slated for midseason 2021, fans have to wait before the next round of antics with the time-traveling Waverider‘s ragtag group of heroes. Only two of the Arrowverse’s show’s original cast members, Caity Lotz (Sara Lance) and Dominic Purcell (Mick Rory) remain. While the rotating cast has sometimes made the show difficult to follow (along with the many other things, mostly plot-related, that make it difficult to follow), the current crew of the Waverider remains diverse and engaging.
More than that, though, Legends was the perfect show for 2020. It’s likely that it’ll be the ideal show for 2021, as well.
It’s not the writing, acting, special effects, or deus ex furby plot twists that make Legends worth a (re)watch these days. While the show found its niche in a careful balance of absurdity with genuine tension (case in point: season four, episode 13, which simultaneously featured an Indiana Jones-esque plot to keep a dragon egg away from Nazis, a book club gone wrong, and a surprise attendee at a romance novel convention; we cannot make this stuff up), it’s the surprising attention to character development and the ongoing themes of hopefulness, redemption, and growth in the face of trauma and loneliness that sets Legends apart.
Like any self-respecting superhero show, Legends has a cast of characters with so much dramatic backstory that it makes Grey’s Anatomy look like Care Bears. Unlike a number of its in- and other-universe peers, and despite being considered the lighter and less serious cousin of shows like Arrow or The Flash, Legends is perhaps the CW show that pays the most attention to its characters and has the most faith in their ability to grow and change. The most obvious examples are in the multiple redemption arcs, with former villains like Nora Dahrk (although she is, sadly, leaving the show) and “decidedly morally gray” characters like Mick Rory both experiencing arcs of change that don’t just turn bad (or even bad-ish) guys into good guys, but allow the characters to acknowledge harm, struggle with morality and choices, make amends, and genuinely change harmful behaviors.
These two characters soften through their own work, and their teammates support this. The series also takes a look at the role of trauma in creating harmful coping mechanisms. For folks in shows like these, that usually leads to (super?)villainy. Additionally, it challenges relationships and difficulty with feeling a sense of self-worth. Legends avoids the “cool motive, still murder!” trap of hand-waving away a character’s past actions because of a trauma in their past. Instead, the writers explore the multifaceted ways that abuse, poverty, substance use, medical trauma, and grief manifest as harmful behaviors while still requiring characters to take a reckoning of their actions.
And while having other characters around to say “we believe in you, come to the light side!” isn’t a solve-all, it matters. “One of the most beneficial things for someone seeking to recover from trauma is to build a trusting, healthy connection with another human being,” says Lisa Danylchuk, a therapist in California. When we establish positive, secure relationships, we have a chance to flourish; when we feel safe, we have a chance to heal. Legends of Tomorrow takes a crew of misfits, loners, criminals, and general disasters and turns them into a family.
There are jokes about Sara Lance becoming “team mom” when she takes on captaincy of the Waverider in season two. The assassin-turned-babysitter bit always has the potential for humor, but the growth it allows her is profound. She changes from a character focused on violence and revenge. Sara offers her team a home. She gives them a way to use their skills to make a difference and a safe place to grow.
2020 has been a year of collective trauma. As a global community, we’ve experienced incredible grief, loss, loneliness, insecurity, and uncertainty. We’re spending more time away from the people we love. Many of us feel frustrated and angry. This year has been hard. It’s easy to feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. When we turn to media for inspiration, or comfort, or even just to let our brains zone out, it’s easy to look at a show like Legends and see it as an occasionally absurd romp of time-travel shenanigans. However, Legends‘ real gift is in its subtler content: its hopefulness and belief in the power of connection, however we can find it.