Can you pick just 10 episodes of this bat shit crazy Arrowverse spin-off? Robert Turnbull attempts the impossible…
In our next TDF Top 10, we continue a look back at the greatest episodes of each Arrowverse series with Legends of Tomorrow…
Legends of Tomorrow… who knew, huh? This weird, funny little under-dog of a show looked like it might be a spin off too far when it was first announced. A kind of The Avengers meets Guardians Of The Galaxy team up but with TV show B-listers. When the show started it was, to be fair, a little cheesy. Perhaps a little earnest in places and over-stretching itself at times but it had a great cast, headed up by Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz and Victor Garber.
Routh was a stand out success in Arrow, bringing a pure heart to this new show while Garber provided a strong seam of quality and Caity Lotz brought a confident energy. Throw in Arthur Darvill, hot off his very international success in Doctor Who (playing a bit of a surrogate Doctor character here) and the seeds of a great show were all there, even if things were a little goofy and didn’t make much sense. But something happened with Legends of Tomorrow. Really kicking off in its second season, the show very quickly built up a confidence in its batshit craziness and meta shenanigans and started to lean very heavily into its own insanity and bizarreness as a concept and show. What started out as a fairly standard villain running through time adventure show has warped into a Multiverse spanning show about magic, warlocks, Heaven and Hell. Plus hats. They wear a lot of hats.
I have to be honest and say I’ve almost cheated a little with this top 10… for me as a viewer the series gets better as it goes along, so in trying to rank my top 10, I found that they were falling in almost chronological order. I’ve pretty much kept them that way as I found it really hard to re-shuffle them and there was barely anything in it in terms of ordering; so allow me to present The TDF Top 10: Legends of Tomorrow in (almost but not quite) in series/episode chronological order…
10. Night of the Hawk (1.08)
Season one is the trickiest season to pick great episodes from as the show is finding its feet; while there is a lot of good work done, great episodes rarely really jump out the way they do in later seasons. However, Night of The Hawk definitely showcased what the series was actually capable of doing. For starters, guest director Joe Dante does an amazing job and the whole episode kind of steps up a notch and feels far more atmospheric and cinematic then it had before. The 1950s B movie meets The Twilight Zone vibe suits his sensibilities really well and the show never looked so good.
While the story is fun and frothy (season villain Vandal Savage is turning local teens into vicious bat monsters) the episode manages to look at racist attitudes in the 50s as well as a very interesting take on homosexuality. When Sara (Caity Lotz) meets a lesbian nurse while undercover and tries to help sexually liberate her, Stein (Victor Garber) chastises her, pointing out that its not as simple for her to swoop in and have a fling to save the day as she’ll be leaving this women exposed and possibly further confused, in a very prejudice 1950s America, which felt like a pretty mature spin on things. This show is silly but it was impressive and clear from an early stage that it didn’t shy away from the social realities of some of the time frames they visited.
9. Destiny (1.15)
Destiny might not be one of the best episodes in terms of its self contained story but as a catalyst to the finale, it’s a great episode in season one and has the first, big emotional gut punch the series gives us. Everything is very plot heavy, with the team being captured by The Time Masters, the organization Rip (Arthur Darvill) was working for. Rip had gone rogue to try and save his wife but we were still being lead to believe that The Time Masters were fairly benevolent, custodians of time (Much like The Time Lords in Doctor Who). However, its turns out that they have in fact been manipulating and controlling time for what they perceived as a greater good to prevent a devastating future war from ever happing (much like The Time Lords in Doctor Who).
The episode turns what we thought we knew on its head. We already discovered that Rip was rogue and basically kidnapped the Legends because they were available and expendable, not because they were great heroes. In this episode we discover that even Rip has been manipulated, with The Time Masters making him fail over and over again. Its a great rug pull that is topped by the devastating, heart-breaking but totally heroic sacrifice of Leonard Snart aka Captain cold. Wentworth Miller, as Snart, was superb in The Flash and quickly became a linchpin of this show. His redemptive arc was authentic and earned, especially with Rory (Dominic Purcell) finding the path to good more complicated to tread. When Snart saves Rory – himself trying to make amends by sacrificing himself – and sacrifices himself for the team and all mankind, it’s a touching and unexpected moment that still resonates several season later.
8. Abominations (2.04)
This episode became a favourite almost instantly. A great historical setting – Mississippi circa-1863 – and zombies make this a great and goofy genre mash up, something this show does brilliantly. The story splits up in three parts, using the whole cast well; Sara and Nate (season newcomer Nick Zano) go to warn Ulysses S. Grant about the zombies in an attempt to make sure the American civil war stays on track, Jax (Franz Drameh) and Amaya (another newly acquired character, played by Maisie Richardson-Sellers) go undercover to steal plans from an evil plantation owner and Ray and Stein have to fight Rory onboard the Waverider after he gets infected with the zombie plague.
The Ray/Stein/Rory plotline is great fun and plays out with some real horror movie beats. Sara and Nate have a slightly more frothy side quest with a lot of the episode’s comedy playing from their mission. But the episode shines with Jax, particularly. Once again the show doesn’t shy away from tackling the racism and cruelty of the period and we end up getting into some very well handled yet pretty heavy commentary about slave ownership and the civil war.
What is an interesting take by the show, is how Jax, a young black American man, is initially actually pretty detached from the atrocities perpetrated against black people during this time in history. The idea of the distance of time and his present day concerns leading to him not thinking of the historical atrocities of slavery as being a real world thing, makes for an interesting episode arc. He does, of course, by the end of the episode come around to how atrocious things are and develops a new respect for the suffering of the 1860s slave population and Drameh is especially good in the episode.
7. Séance and Sensibility (4.11)
The plot here is vey Legends of tomorrow Jane Austen is bored of love after witnessing a bride getting together with her scullery maid and the groom running off with the bride’s mother. The Legends have to convince her that love exists and to start writing again. We’re joined in this story by new this season character, Mona (Ramona Young) who finally starts to find a place in the group and narrative in this episode. Mona is a hopeless romantic (having fallen in love with and been infected by a magical Hawaiian werewolf who was tragically murdered… you know, usual stuff). Team Legs find out all the lust flying about is due to a new magical character in town, the Hindu God of Love, Kamadera. He’s captured easily and spends time on the Waverider giving all the characters intense sex dreams and eventually drugs Zari into loving him and agreeing to marry him.
The story manages to avoid getting creepy – a love god drugging someone into marrying him is borderline – and its Mona who ends up reassuring Jane Austin that love is true and vice versa. Mona also helps Zari to snap out of her love spell and see the possibilities of real love in front of her (Nate). This is Legends of Tomorrow though, so this is achieved with a full on Bollywood song and dance routine. As you do. The episode shifts dramatically into full blown musical at the end but it does it with such style and so casually that you don’t even question it.
6. Crisis on Earth-X, Part 4 (3.08)
The Arrowverse crossovers are well known in the fandom and Crisis on Earth-X is still probably the strongest crossover they’ve done. It felt genuinely cinematic in style and scale and progressed a lot of plot points for all the shows and incorporated characters from the various live action and animated series. The Legends of Tomorrow hosted episode is the finale of the story and is a real downer. We don’t focus entirely on the Legends alone, with Barry Allen and Oliver Queen taking centre stage for much of the run time but it does include the heart breaking departure of Victor Garber’s Martin Stein.
Garber was a massive boon to this show; he brought a gravitas and emotional centre and was always a joy to watch, even when not taking centre stage in an episode. It was known that he would be leaving but, the show seemed to be gearing him up for a happy ever after – thanks to some timey-wimey stuff he’d found a new lease of romance with his wife, a daughter and a new sense of self and purpose. Like many of the original run of characters, he had been through a great arc, so even when he was shot and wounded in the previous episode – saving the universe – you kind of assumed he’d pull through. But no. In this episode martin Stein dies. Forever. And its heart-breaking and drawn out yet sudden. It trumps the impact of Snart’s sacrifice (sorry, Leonard) and leaves you feeling like you’ve been sucker punched in the gut and you almost don’t have time to register, as so much is at stake and the episode and characters have to move forward. The show goes on to do great things after this and introduces some great characters and stories but, for me, it never quite gets over the loss of Garber/Stein.
5. Here I Go Again (3.11)
Here I Go Again is not only a fun episode but also acts as a low-key reset of the show. The dynamic was a little off for part of season three, after the loss of Firestorm, and the addition of Zari (Tala Ashe) felt a little excess. Her character initially just seemed a little superfluous and undefined plus her lack of interest in being with the team made the core dynamic feel a bit weird. With this episode that is massively readjusted. Zari finds herself in a time loop – in true Legends of Tomorrow fashion; Nate at one point comments he can’t believe it took them this long to do Groundhog Day. It’s a great episode that allows us as an audience to really get to know Zari while she gets to know her crewmates. It’s a bit of a cheat but it’s a fun cheat. We have the conceit that she’s spending day after day with them and it fast tracks her development and connection to them, meaning by the end of the episode she has a full emotional bond and feels part of the team.
It’s also just a very good time loop episode; something is causing the ship to blow up and reset and Zari is the only persons who notices. She goes through the usual time loop shenanigans of being confused, having fun, then getting depressed. What’s great is when she needs to explain to the team that she’s in a loop, they totally get it and understand straight away, because of course they do. Ashe is great in the episode and you really warm to her character a lot from this story.
4. Legends of To-Meow-Meow (4.08)
Zari gets turned into a cat. That’s all you need to know.
This episode is utter, batshit crazy and really the perfect example of what Legends of Tomorrow has become. John Constantine (Matt Ryan) is now a regular part of the team, who are trying to track down escaped magical animals for a secret US government task force. Constantine realised that their troubles are all because he allowed his ex-lover to be killed and possessed by an evil demon. So he ignores the rules of time travel and prevents his lover from being killed; this unfortunately fractures reality creating an alterative timeline where Sara was killed by a unicorn and the male members of the Legends team are now murderers, travelling time and space killing any magical beings as a kind of ultra violent The A-Team spoof… make sense so far?
After trying to fix the timeline, the universe changes again, this time the women are the only survivors in a Charlie’s Angels spoof… but they’re still super murdery. A final attempt to reset things and they whole team are puppets. And still murdery. It’s a great episode, very funny, very, very meta and entertaining at a breakneck speed. Of course its realised by Constantine and Charlie (A repurposed Maisie Richardson-Sellers in a new role as a magical shape shifter stripped of her powers) that the only way to put things back to normal is to go back and allow Desmond, Constantine’s lover, to die.
It’s a strong episode all round because in the middle of the comedy and the TV parodies, Constantine learns about the realities of time travel – as a character he breaks the rules of magic all the time and suffers the consequences but its something he understands. Here he thinks he can control time but can’t, its heart-breaking to see him have to sacrifice the man he loves a second time and it helps bring him deeper into the fold of the Legends and how they do things.
3. Raiders of the Lost Art (2.09)
This is where Legends of Tomorrow really turned a corner. It absolutely ups its game in terms of meta humour, general comedy and pop culture. The plot is crazy; The Legends find Rip, who has been missing, assumed dead, since last season, in late 60s America, enrolled in film school making goofy sci-fi shorts about his adventures with The Time Masters and The Legends. Its great to get Rip/Arthur Darvill back and here he has lost him memory so is getting to play around a little more with his character.
The big gag this week, is that George Lucas has this season’s McGuffen. The whole episode is stuffed with pop culture gags, clever recreations of iconic movie moments and the fun idea of what the world would be like had Lucas never gone into movie making – the idea that Nate and Ray, who were inspired to enter their chosen fields by Star Wars, Indiana Jones etc would now be a pair of uneducated dumbos, is great. The show had already been leaning into its parody, self referential side by this point but Raiders of the Lost Art feels like a significant turning point for the future of the show.
2. Meet the Legends (5.02)
Meet the Legends was the returning (but not first) episode of the fifth season and is quite frankly, a highlight of the entire show. Presented in the form of a fly on the wall documentary, its style that I’m not always a fan of. It has to be done well and it has to be done at the right time. If this had been a season two or even three episode, it might have felt a bit too cheesy; but they dropped the idea on us at the right time.
The first episode of season five formed the end part of the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover and while that was a great story, the episode itself wasn’t very Legends of Tommorwy and didn’t really include all the Legends. This second episode, however, is a proper return to the season. Apart from being extremely funny, it acts as a kind of soft reboot – or perhaps recap – post-Crisis and established were we are not only after the merging of the multiverse but also deftly addresses the fact that Zari was wiped from reality in the last season and has been replaced by her brother, Behard (Shayan Sobhian). The show does an amazing job of introducing him, simple acting as if he’d always been there (reminiscent of Dawn joining Buffy The Vampire Slayer). It works perfectly and by episode end you’re convinced he has always been there.
The story revolves around Astra (Olivia Swann) sending ‘encores’ back from Hell. This sets up the big threat this season; immortal demon versions of historical tyrants sent back to just after they’d died to wreck history. It’s a good premise that incorporates the Legends time travel with the Constantine magic strands. It works well for the whole season and this first story involves Rasputin, who is eventually dispatched when Ray, in his Atom suit, finally answers a question so often posed about The Avengers (namely, what would happen if Ant-Man shrank down, went inside Thanos and then enlarged…)
1. The One Where We’re Trapped on TV (5.14)
This penultimate episode of season five is another meta explosion and another episode that a show can only truly get away with at this stage in its life. After everyone died in the previous episode, Charlie (who by this point has been revealed to be one of the Fates) saved the Legends by placing them all in to TV shows that are broadcast to the masses in a dystopian alternate timeline. The episode basically consists of old version Zari inhabiting new version Zari, who then leads a charge through the various TV spoofs. The episode is a lot of fun but also dives deep into the ongoing storylines of the season, specifically addressing the Constantine/Astra redemption arcs.
We’re offered up one of the best looking Friends spoofs I’ve seen, with a beautifully created set that perfectly captures the spirit of the show. Cheesy jokes and corny set ups complete the package before we move on to a Downton Abbey parody that allows Matt Ryan and Olivia Swann to utilise their own accents for a change. Sara and Ava are taking art in an equally well realised Star Trek spoof, a far more often parodied property but again, done here with more care and attention than is often taken. Eventually the team end up in the weakest TV show parody – Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac (a Mr Rogers spoof). We’d already visited this parody show earlier in the season, so its less exciting. Also, by this point in the show we have lost Ray (a huge shame) and he was linked to Mr. Parker’s Cul-De-Sac in a way that feels a little off not to have here. However, this setting does allow for the characters to launch into song because why the hell not, this is Legends of Tomorrow dammit and we do what we like!
The episode is funny, poignant and delivered amazing character beats and perfectly sums up the show and what is has become over the years.
Its impossible to pick a definitive top 10 for a show with so many great episodes, even as I write this I keep thinking of more that deserve a mention. Here are just a few honourable mentions that didn’t make it…
Slay Anything (5.04)
This season 5 episode is a fantastic mash up of 80s high school movies and slasher films, it really deserves to be in the top ten but it was such a squeeze!
Phone Home (3.04)
A very well constructed E.T. The Extra Terrestrial homage giving us a very sweet insight into the younger days of Ray Palmer.
Helen Hunt (3.06)
Helen of Troy. References to Themiscyra. Amazing title. Nuff said.
Guest Starring John Noble (3.17)
Honorable mentions for this episodes where the team hatch a complicated plan to kidnap John Noble (who has been voicing the season villain).
The Good, the Bad and the Cuddly (3.18)
The show is quite fond of giant monsters fighting and this episodes give us cowboys, giant monsters, giant fluffy toys and a team finally coming together. Its weird and I love it.
Wet Hot American Bummer (4.04)
More slasher spoof but with an adorable exploration of Ava’s backstory as a clone and her and Sara’s love for each other.
Tagumo Attacks!!! (4.05)
A great Godzilla/Kaiju homage that is fun, goofy and very touching.
Do you have any suggestions for episodes that I missed or you think deserve to be in the top 10? Let us know in the comments below (I probably agree with you!)
Guessed the spoiler? Are modern audiences too savvy for TV show twists?
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum