Legends Of Tomorrow And The Art Of Reinvention

"Legends of Tomorrow" has always been sort of the odd duck of the Arrowverse shows. It started out as a more time-traveling spin-off that collected B-list characters from "The Flash" and "Arrow" with a terrible story, lack of humor, and bland villain. Nevertheless, the cast had great chemistry. Well, most of them (Hawkman, gone but not forgotten).

But in season 2, the show reinvented itself. It shrugged off the high stakes superhero dramatics, shed off the weaker links in its cast, added some goofier superheroes, and overall gained a more tongue-in-cheek tone. The time-travel episodes were increasingly more fantastical, the villains outlandish, and the Legends more lighthearted. Even though the show always handled heavy subjects like racism and bigotry throughout history, the individual stories were more fun. They also exploited the idea of saving small events in the timeline with huge repercussions down the line, like traveling back in time to make sure George Lucas isn't scared away from making movies because that would erase two members of the team from history, or the time a Tickle Me Elmo-like toy is sent back to Viking times and it becomes a god to Leif Erikson and his crew. And who could forget the time Gorilla Grodd tries to kill a young Barack Obama?

Now, after seven seasons, "Legends of Tomorrow" is still finding ways to reinvent itself. This time, the show strands the Legends in a singly time period for most of the season and forces them to reckon with what it means to be protectors of a timeline full of pain and hatred.

Gotta get back in time

After defeating an alien invasion in season 6, the latest season of "Legends of Tomorrow" finds the Legends stranded in 1925 with a destroyed ship and no means to return home. For the first half of the season, the show took a more serialized approach than ever, with each episode focused on the team finding a way back home without causing irreparable damage to the timeline.

The lack of a time-travel adventure of the week allowed the writers to tighten the script this season and focus on the Legends themselves. Character work has always been the secret weapon of "Legends of Tomorrow," and by only focusing on a single time period, the characters have more time to react and grow without having to worry about introducing and working with a new time period every week. That they also are devoid of any future technology helps, as they have to rely on their wits to survive, leading to hilarious scenarios like the Legends forming a circus, or Sara (Caity Lotz) and Ava (Jes Macallan) forming their own bank-robbing duo, The Bullet Blondes. Likewise, the team splits up for the first few episodes, which made it easier to focus on building specific relationships — like the most recent additions to the team, Spooner (Lisseth Chavez) and Astra (Olivia Swann), finding they have a lot in common and becoming friends.

Because of the tighter narrative that was largely free of a main villain, and a goal that was more personal than ever, "Legends of Tomorrow" allowed its characters to grow like they never had before. By the end of the season, you actually feel like the characters have been through a lot, changed, and are ready for new things. Bojack Horseman once said that characters in a sitcom can never change or improve, because if they do, there is no more show. We still don't know if the Legends will return for another season, but there is no doubt that these characters have actually achieved something.

The "Legends of Tomorrow" cast has always been a bit of a revolving door, with characters coming and going each season. This has a lot of benefits, like allowing characters to actually grow and leave, and giving the show the ability to introduce new and fun characters. But it is also heartbreaking to see characters you've watched for years depart the show. Indeed, by the end of season 7, only one character from before season 3 remains. But it works. The ever-changing cast keeps things fresh and exciting in the show, and it makes it feel more like a superhero team-up comic book, with an ever-changing roster and characters that leave for a while to have their own adventures elsewhere.

The past sucks

By focusing on a single time period for so long, "Legends of Tomorrow" also confronts the sins of the past much more directly than previous seasons. Though the show has never shied away from showing the bigotry, sexism, homophobia, and racism of the past, it was mostly done in quick moments that seemingly went forgotten by the next episode. Similarly, the season 7 iteration of the team is comprised mostly of women and people of color, and the show acknowledged that.

We see Astra horrified to know a promising singer is abused and destined to be murdered by her mobster partner, Zari (Tala Ashe) befriending a Black and queer speakeasy owner, and Nate (Nick Zano) realizing his hero, J. Edgar Hoover, was a horrible bigot that endangered people. These stories take a toll of the Legends, who start to question their role as timeline heroes.

Of course, a central conundrum of "Legends of Tomorrow" is the desire to change the past to improve the present, but the show usually makes that a more personal dilemma than anything — like a character wanting to save a dead family member or wanting to prevent something happening to a loved one. But not this time. Season 7 raises the stakes to make the team debate if it is right to continue following their prime directive. They take more chances changing small things of the past, saving people, or starting an integrated, women-led assembly plant in the '40s. Though this is still a goofy show with hilarious standalone episodes (like a homage to reality TV), it is also arguably the most emotional season of the show yet because it focuses on the inevitability of time and the personal stakes of these characters.

To make matters even more personal, the villain of the season is not some outside force hellbent on killing the Legends, but an evil version of the Legends' ship's artificial intelligence, Gideon (Amy Louise Pemberton). Evil Gideon is not even trying to control the timeline or change things for the worse, but she is just following her prime directive to the letter, and recognizes what audiences have known for so long: The Legends screw up more than they actually fix things. This makes Gideon the perfect villain for a season as personal and intimate as this one, because it forces the Legends to confront their work protecting the timeline, and ask if it has been worth it at all.

By the end of the season, "Legends of Tomorrow" reinvents itself once again. The Legends have changed the timeline multiple times in order to fight the injustice and oppression of history. They have said goodbye to a longtime member of the team, they are getting ready to say goodbye and find other ways to help people — and they are also in jail with time-traveling hero Booster Gold. If the show does come back for season 8, it seems like we should prepare for another wildly different show. Stay weird, Legends.