How “Legends of Tomorrow” Became One of the Best Queer Shows on TV

Legends of Tomorrow is one of the weirdest shows on television. With everything from Julius Caesar being loose in Aruba to a stuffed animal worshipped as a god of war, you truly never know what is going to happen next. The most dramatic lines of dialogue are, simply put, absurd — for example, “I think we broke time” — and the episode-to-episode plots are ridiculous in the best way. This season they went back to save Obama from a giant telepathic gorilla, and saved Elvis from his guitar, which was possessed by the ghost of his dead brother. On paper, it seems like the writers play mad libs with storylines, picking random nouns and locations out of hats and running with it.

And you know what? Maybe they do. It doesn’t matter, because the point of Legends of Tomorrow, much to my surprise, isn’t the action at all. It’s the character development. Legends of Tomorrow isn’t about the time-traveling adventures of a band of misfits; it’s about the misfits themselves, their inner struggles, their strengths and weaknesses, their interpersonal connections. Sure, sometimes they have to travel space and time to find six magical totems to defeat an ancient evil who possessed their arch-nemesis’s daughter, but mostly it’s just about this found family and how they work together.

When I first started Legends of Tomorrow, it was only to catch a glimpse of Sara Lance going all White Canary now and then. I figured I would suffer through some knock-off Doctor Who nonsense between chances to see Caity Lotz kick major ass. And the first season, that’s mostly what I did; I was watching this show for Sara Lance, everything else was just background noise. I watched Sara Lance open the eyes of Ali Liebert’s ’50s nurse character (if you know what I mean) in one of my favorite single-episode queer storylines ever, I got one last scene between Nyssa and Sara that felt a little like closure, and loved seeing Sara kick all-around ass, even as just one of an ensemble cast and genuinely did not expect to get anything more from it. I mean, the entire through-line of the first season was a reckless man endangering his “team” for his own selfish reasons.

I didn’t see myself getting overly invested.

But then in Season Two, there was a shift. The focus of the story started to drift away from Rip Hunter and toward Sara Lance. And when that started working working, the brilliant minds in the writers’ room leaned into it, hard.

In Season Two, Sara Lance, bedded the Queen of France, courted Lady Guinevere of Camelot and seduced literally every woman in Salem during the witch trials, and somewhere along the way found herself firmly in the Captain’s seat of the Waverider. Cut to Season Three, where Sara Lance, the unkillable bisexual badass, is officially the lead character of this show. Her team looks to her for guidance, defends her leadership to others, and respects her authority. When she falters or wonders if she’s really the right person for the job, they reassure her and support her.

Before Season Three aired, a producer casually mentioned that Sara would be getting a more long-term love interest, and then the show announced the casting of Jes Macallan as Time Bureau Agent Ava Sharpe. Jes Macallan, whose character on Mistresses dated a woman briefly once, and who has always been a very vocal ally. Sara and Ava were at odds almost immediately, but in that sexy kind of way? They were both fierce women with opposing objectives: Sara wanted to protect her team and Ava wanted to enforce the rules that Sara’s team was constantly breaking. Ava was the first woman in a long time to be able to go toe to toe with Sara Lance. Did it frustrate Sara? Yes. Did it scare her? Maybe a little. But did it intrigue her? Definitely. And I had to agree.

As the season went on, it became clearer and clearer that these two had feelings with each other. Ava went on a mission with the Legends and started to understand why they do things the way they do. Sara spent more time with Ava and started to understand why she viewed these rules as important to keep people safe. They started to learn that the other’s strengths didn’t have to be an opposing force, but that if they teamed up, they could just be doubly strong against their common enemies.

Ava and Sara stand opposite each other to share a drink

The same taste in scotch is a good first step.

The thing with Sara though, is that she’s been through Some Shit™ and has a hard time letting people in. She lives and dies (often literally) for her teammates, but will never admit how scared she is to lose them. She thinks the demons she has to fight — literal and figurative — would be too much of a burden for someone else to share, so she keeps herself at arm’s length. So when it becomes clear that Ava has feelings for her, Sara denies it as long as she can. Eventually everyone on her ship, knowing her and, well, having eyes, sees what’s going on and urges Sara to take that step. She dives into battle for strangers without batting an eye, because it’s not death she fears, but heartbreak.

When Sara and Ava attempt to get together, their first date is thwarted by a mission, and lies they tell each other about it. Sara tries to use this as an excuse as to why the two could never work as a couple, because her life isn’t normal and she’ll never be able to go on a normal date without having to go save her team from, for example, the dread pirate Blackbeard. But Ava snaps back that she would never expect Sara to be normal, and that’s when Sara realized that maybe Ava does get it. Maybe this is what she was missing; she was trying to fit her odd-shaped life into a conventional box instead of trying to find something custom-built for her.

Sara and Ava kiss

Oops I dropped this.

So Legends of Tomorrow surprised me. They had Sara jump into bed with Constantine (turns out that’s what they meant by reminding the audience she was bisexual) and then turn around and admit her feelings for Ava. What I thought would be a subtext ship forever became maintext almost immediately, with even the spaceship’s AI trying to nudge them together. And then, just when I thought they couldn’t possibly surprise me any more, having seen the way queer relationships on TV always go, they did. Because the thing with this show is, with a lot of their bigger antics, you can see the zag coming before they’re even done with the zig. Zig zag, zig zag, like a fun but predictable roller coaster. But every once in a while there will be a sharp turn you weren’t expecting. A zig where you expected them to zag, a zag when you thought the zigging and zagging was over.

There were two huge twists toward the end of Season Three that directly affected our girls, Sara and Ava. The first one happened when they found out Ava was a clone. Not the born-naturally-raised-separately kind of clone from Orphan Black, though. A 3D-printed-and-coded-to-follow-the-rules kind. In fact, they sort of seemed like AIs if we’re being honest. But Ava has no memory of being a clone, so her entire world falls apart; everything she knew was a lie, right down to her parents being actors. It’s, frankly, devastating. And at first Sara thought Ava lied to HER, but she quickly realizes that Ava had no idea where she came from, so she quickly switches gears from seeing it as an excuse to push Ava away to realizing it’s a reason to try to hold her close.

She reassures Ava that she’s extraordinary, that she’s one of a kind, that she’s special, but it’s hard for Ava to wrap her head around. She’s not even the first Ava who worked for the Time Bureau; hell, who knows if she’s even the first Ava to meet Sara Lance. Maybe some of those early episodes where Ava was coldest wasn’t OUR Ava at all! I don’t know. What I DO know was it added a really interesting layer to Ava as a character independent of Sara, as well as to their relationship as a whole. (She also dropped the info that she has an ex in Vegas. Is it a real ex? Does that mean our Ava has been around for a while? Is it an actor? WHAT IS REAL?)

By then I thought we were plum out of Avalance-related twists, but girl howdy was I wrong. Because in the penultimate episode, Sara sees Ava hurting and pushing back against the plan she knows will save them. Ava says the rules are all she has now, and Sara knows that’s not how she feels. So Sara does something that is scarier for her than all the battles she’s fought and she tells Ava she loves her. And while that was a heart-quickening shock, it wasn’t the twist that floored me. It was immediately after, when Ava scoffs that there is no “her” to love, and turns and walks away. Sara Lance finally said “I love you” to someone, after losing herself in the death totem and being more afraid of her feelings than ever, and Ava WALKED AWAY. It hurt like a knife in the gut but GOSH was it good. It felt real and raw and it didn’t slow Sara down too much as far as saving the world but fuck did it hurt.

But Legends of Tomorrow, this goofy-ass show that has blossomed into something truly spectacular, wasn’t about to leave Avalance shippers hanging until next season. In fact, when they wrote it, I don’t think they even knew if they would get a next season. So in the finale, they proved their love for us. When the Legends needed help, a bunch of characters from throughout the season showed up to fight by their side. Including Helen of Troy who has been training on Themyscira all this time and is a proper Amazon now.And, perhaps most importantly, including Ava. She seems to have spent some time figuring herself out, and asks Sara if she really meant what she said, when she said she loved her. Sara confirms, but before Ava can say anything back, they’re interrupted and the fight ensues. But the olive branch was extended and taken, and though there was too much going on for us to see some of the moments that lead up to it, what with the GIANT BEEBO FIGHTING THE TIME DEMON FROM HELL, there was still time for Ava to quite literally sweep Sara off her feet on horseback, and the season ended with Sara in Aruba promising her friends that her and Ava have plenty of plans together.

Sara and Ava make eye contact and smirk at each other IT'S VERY CUTE

Plans that hopefully include more SMILING AT EACH OTHER LIKE ANGELS

And! The best news of all? Legends of Tomorrow was renewed for a fourth season and Jes Macallan was promoted to series regular. This epic sci-fi romance isn’t over yet. Sara and Ava have fallen into a new category of characters lately; shows that see a thing working and lean into it, whether or not it was part of their original plan. Starting with Sara as Captain and now with Sara and Ava. The writers saw that it was working, saw that the actors had chemistry and the characters were making sense and the fans were responding the way they hoped, and so they do more of it. And maybe this was the Legends of Tomorrow writers’ plan all along. But either way, it feels great and I hope they continue to do this, to develop these amazing and unique characters within an absolutely absurd and hilarious show.

Because the show really is about the characters. And all I’ve talked about so far are the queer female characters. I didn’t even get into the snarky badassery of Zari, the Muslim hacker from the future on a quest to save her family; or Amaya, the elegant African vigilante from the past, known as Vixen and part of the Justice League before meeting the Legends. Three women on the ship, plus the ship herself, Gideon, and Ava. All given episodes that focused on their storylines, all important and invaluable members of the Legends team.

I think Sara Lance will go down in history as one of my favorite characters on television. Just look at how far she’s come. She started on Arrow as a vapid socialite trying to steal her sister’s boyfriend, then became a skilled member of the League of Assassins, then joined her sister and ex-boyfriend and their team of vigilantes as the Black Canary, then joined a time-traveling band of outcasts as the White Canary, and now she is their leader, Captain Lance. She has died too many times to count, once for so long that she came back a little feral. She lost her sister and can’t save her despite having a time machine that would theoretically let her do exactly that, because she knows it could just make things worse. Sara Lance has grown as a person a dozen times over, and while all that was happening, as she moved from Arrow to Legends of Tomorrow, as she is faced with more challenges and character work, Caity Lotz grew with her. She grew as an actress and an activist, and it’s been a wonder to watch.

In one of the best episodes of the season, “Here I Go Again,” Zari says to Sara, “You’re not just the captain of this ship, you are its soul.” And that’s the truth. Sara Lance is the heart and soul of Legends and Tomorrow, and as long as that badass, blonde, bisexual bird is at the helm, this ship is going to amazing places.

Just a nerdy, TV-loving, Twitter-addicted Hufflepuff who loves reading, watching, and writing about stories. One part Kara Danvers, two parts Waverly Earp, a dash of Cosima and an extra helping of my own brand of weirdo.

Valerie has written 131 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. I love this show. I have been trying to convince my wife to watch it with me. I will be sending a link to this story. Thank you, Valerie Anne.

    Confession time – I had to rewind the “I love you” scene a few times. There’s a half second when Jes Macallan looks happy and my heart jumps out of my chest…right before she breaks all of our hearts and walks away. Great acting. I’m so glad they are getting a season 4.

  2. As always, thank you for the reviews, Valerie. I love that your reviews always provide context to the episodes that other reviews don’t. And your GIF captioning game is on point.

    I’m glad that Ava is sticking around for season 4, if for no other reason than it will be interesting to see how she handles meeting Kara and Alex in next year’s crossover. Because that must happen.

    Season 4 is supposed to explore “myths and monsters”, so I look forward to a plethora of Buffy references (some of which may be mostly filler).

  3. Thiiiis Biiiitch!!!!
    I didn’t think this show was worth my time but I went from watching sporadically when a special episode was reported about here to fast forwarding through just Sara’s parts (after teh crossover) to watching the full episodes. I think they finally found their footing and I hope the CW sticks with them.

  4. Yeah, it’s cool how gay friendly Legends is, over the other Arrowverse shows. I love Sara, she was bad ass in Arrow, and she’s great in Legends (I just wish for more stick fighting, like in the old days!)

    I’m glad to see Constantine join the cast, I hope he gets to romance some hot guys on the show!

    My only problem with the Arrowverse, is the lack of gay male characters. When there are gay male characters, they’re just there (Like Curtis, or the cop boss in The Flash).
    All I want, are some gay male characters, who actually are in the story completely (Just like how Sara is) and actually get some action!

    • @denisecantrell maybe it’s because it’s sci-fi. Sci-fi isn’t realistic so maybe it is easier for them to add some queer to the fantasy. Compare that to dramas and comedies/sitcoms. They are all real life stuff. And those are the ones usually scared to have queer characters.

      Look at it, ABC has millions and millions of family comedies. Yet, how many of the kids in these comedies are gay? None. They had one, The Real O’neals and it was cancelled after two seasons. And that one, being gay was the synopsis of the show. We don’t have one where the kid just happens to be gay from the start with absolutely no fuzz and everyone just doing their thing.

      This is just my rough guess of course because I noticed also how sci-fi shows seem more comfortable with having gay characters. I mean so comfortable that many of them don’t need to come out like in dramas and sitcoms.

  5. Thanks for the review, Valerie. I agree that Legends of Tomorrow has been getting better and better. And the finale with Beebo was amazing and very fitting. I laughed really hard during that fight. Of all the arrowverse shows Legends really is my favorite!

  6. I love this show and agree that it has got better and better. The ability of the writers to have you crying one minute to howling with laughter or questioning whether they were high while writing the episode reminds me of Xena.

    I also agree with the development of Sara. She was the only reason i started watching Arrow and in that show was in effect a female Arrow, there to kick ass and brood, before she was fridged so the male hero could brood more. She is a different character in Legends and the development can be tracked through the story arc. I remember watching the promo’s when LOT was being launched and was so excited to see that she would be the main fighter, the male characters all had guns or flew around and shot missiles or fire from their hand, the only character up close getting into hand to hand combat was Sara. I prayed at that point this superhero show would be different and actually treat the female hero right and it has. Sara would have never been able to step up as leader in Arrow or any of the other arrowverse shows, you can see it in the crossovers, they are only ever bothered about the Olicity and Barry/Iris, even though they pretend to be ensemble shows there is an obvious bias. Legends doesn’t do that, each character gets time and episodes and all the episodes are good and make you emphasise with the characters. In fact the only character I didn’t really like was Rip. They even had be sympathising with the demon possessed bad girl and hoping she wouldn’t die.

    I’ve got to admit I’m ‘eh’ about Constantine joining the show and I hope to god that they won’t have a tired love triangle between Sara/Ava/John but the writers haven’t let me down so far and they seemed to have Sara and John pretty nonchalant about their night together so I’m calm at the moment. I’m also hoping that Maisie’s new character is wlw and constantly hits on Zari.

    Here’s to another years of chaotic, time travelling, disaster children.

    • “I’m also hoping that Maisie’s new character is wlw and constantly hits on Zari.”

      Now I want this. I want Zari to be into it (even if she’s not interested in a relationship), but delightfully awkward in how she reacts.

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