Quick quiz: Which one of these things happened in the latest episode of Legends of Tomorrow? A) The team had to save Star Wars. B) A British person mysteriously turned into an American. C) A team member made a physicist — not a surgeon — do brain surgery on him. D) George Lucas found himself in possession of the Spear of Destiny, the lance that pierced Jesus’s side when he was crucified. The answer is, of course, E) all of the above.
If you gave up on Legends of Tomorrow during its first season, I can’t fault you. The show had its moments, but the overall arc of Vandal Savage and the Hawkpeople was long and boring, the characters were dour and the show itself just wasn’t much fun.
Season two has changed all of that for the better. It jettisoned characters like Hawkman and Hawkgirl, who managed to be weighed down with a heap of backstory almost instantly (a special super-power DC’s Hawk-people have). It effectively replaced sombre captain Rip Hunter (Doctor Who‘s Arthur Darvill) with the take-no-crap White Canary Sara Lance (Caity Lotz), and then added the charming Nate Heywood AKA Citizen Steel (played by the preposterously affable Nick Zano) to the roster. It replaced Vandal Savage with the most entertaining villains in the Arrowverse, specifically the hilariously droll Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) and Reverse-Flash (Matt Letscher), along with John Barrowman’s delightfully bitchy Malcolm Merlyn. I could watch a show just about them going on their evil road-trip through time.
But most importantly, it leaned into its time travel silliness, accepting that nothing about the team’s mission to fix the timeline by interfering further with the timeline made any sense, so why bother to limit their storytelling?
As such, this season the Legends have travelled to a hysterically tiny, 16th-century Japan where Ray Palmer’s Atom suit was stolen and worn by an evil Shogun; fought Confederate zombies in the Civil War; and battled Damien Darhk after he bafflingly became US President Ronald Reagan’s adviser in the ’80s. Also, in one of my favourite moments of the year (and an oddly prescient one, too), an undercover Ray Palmer punched a Nazi when he couldn’t bring himself to heil Hitler in order to maintain his disguise.
And then there was the latest episode.
The episode’s madness started strong when the team discovered that the MacGuffin the Legion of Doom (named by Nate, to Sara’s utter disgust) has been searching for was the Spear of Destiny, again, the lance that pierced Jesus’s side when he was crucified. It has the power to alter reality, which is like altering the timeline, except permanent. As we discover in a flashback, Rip somehow has a part of the Spear, but as you might have seen in the epilogue of the mid-season finale, Rip has seemingly forgotten his life, turned American and is a director of a mediocre sci-fi movie in 1967 (a movie which is of course based on his old team and their adventures), which is where the Legion of Doom hunt him down.
Of course the Legends discover the “so-called” time aberration and go to 1967 to check it out, where they are shocked to discover Rip on a Hollywood set, with no idea of who he really is or who they are. A massive battle ensues with a lot of laser bolts, but the Legends manage to grab Rip and escape. Meanwhile Rip’s assistant director, a man with the fakest beard I have ever seen on TV, scuttles away terrified.
Watching Arthur Darvill play an exasperated, terrified and very American B-movie director is a treat, but the real fun comes when brilliant scientist Ray and incredibly knowledgeable historian Nate slowly start getting… stupid. Only Amaya, originally the 1940s hero Vixen, is there to witness it, but no one understands why this is happening until she checked the shipboard computer to see how the timeline changed, and discovers the cinematic works of George Lucas no longer exist.
Legends of Tomorrow has very subtly dropped the facts earlier in the season (and subtle is not a word I’d normally use to describe the show) that Ray was inspired to become a scientist by Star Wars, while Indiana Jones simultaneously inspired Nate. Rip’s assistant director? The dude with the incredibly fake beard? That was George Lucas, and he was so terrified by the battle he left film school entirely.
Watching a very confused Amaya slowly learn about Lucas and his movies is sublime; Sara’s aggravation when she realises she now has to save a bunch of nerd movies to keep two of the most brilliant members of the team from becoming a heart surgeon and a yoga instructor, respectively, was sheer delight. Also — and this is a sentence I can’t stop repeating to everyone I talk to — George Lucas has the Spear of Destiny, the lance that pierced Jesus’s side when he was crucified, given to him as a movie prop by the amnesiac Rip.
George threw it away, so the episode culminates in a scene in which Darhk and Merlyn capture Ray, Nate, Amaya and George, because Ray’s Atom suit no longer exists — thanks to the altered timeline, he no longer invented it — just as Nate lost his ability to turn into living steel, because he never encountered the Legends or the serum that gives him his power. The fact that by this logic Nate and Ray shouldn’t be there at all doesn’t matter in the slightest, because LoT has traded logic for what’s most entertaining — in this case, Darhk and Merlyn putting them all in the garbage dump’s trash compactor to find out where the Lance is, where they all say verbatim every line from the same scene in A New Hope that is appropriate.
Obviously, pretending George Lucas had super-specific events that inspired his movies is not a new idea — it’s the entire premise of George Lucas in Love — but I am shocked at how organically Legends pulled this off. Hiding Lucas and letting the reveal come through Ray and Nate’s descent into non-brilliance was the perfect way to reveal the premise. The show’s standard laser battles, already inspired by Star Wars like every piece of sci-fi entertainment made after 1977, aren’t called out and ruined. (No lame “Hey, this would make for a good movie!” crappiness here.)
But it’s that scene in the trash compactor that gets me. I would have assumed that Legends would ham-fistedly drop George in it, but the chain of events — the time-traveller fight scaring George, terrified George throwing the Spear “prop” away as he flees film school, the villains taking them all to the dump to find it and then putting them in a trash compactor to force George to confess where the Spear is — is shockingly organic. It ends up with George Lucas in a crisis moment where he’s dealing with a trash compactor and a laser pistol fight, but also holding onto a religious artefact of incredible power, mirroring both his most famous franchises, and it’s executed perfectly.
Legends of Tomorrow isn’t just the Arrowverse’s most improved show, and it isn’t just the most fun show — it currently has the best writing, too. More than that, it’s become clever, also a word that I wouldn’t normally use to describe it. If you gave up in season one, I can’t tell you more strongly to give season two another chance. It’s a different show, and a much, much better one.
Also? At one point, George Lucas has the Spear of Destiny, the lance that pierced Jesus’s side when he was crucified. Let’s see Arrow do that.
- Nate names the Legion of Doom after the villains of “some Hanna-Barbera cartoon I used to watch”. This is of course a reference to Super Friends, which delighted me to no end, especially as Sara gets more and more irritated as the name sticks.
- In DC lore, one of the origins of the powerful, mysterious entity known as the Phantom Stranger (written by Alan Moore) is that he was the Wandering Jew, a man whose wife and child died during King Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus when he was a baby, and hated him ever since. When Jesus was about to be killed some 30 years later, he bribed a Roman centurion so that he could beat Jesus as he dragged his cross to the crucifixion site. Jesus, understandably irritated at his day somehow getting worse, cursed the man to roam the earth forever. If Legends somehow brings the Phantom Stranger into its proceedings, I will absolutely lose my mind.