Legends of Tomorrow Is Not Just About Timelines, but About Throughlines
By now, readers of my articles for DC’s Legends of Tomorrow know that I almost always put on an academic cap when writing about this phenomenal show. Why? It’s due to the excellent narrative construction and story structure. Yes, there are Easter eggs and references to note, theories and guesses on where and who our ragtag band of heroic misfits will encounter. But what I find to be the most interesting is how much care the writers have taken in weaving together separate plots and developing an ensemble cast.
It’s hard enough in screenwriting to develop one single protagonist while keeping focus on the narrative. Legends of Tomorrow does it with aplomb with
nine eight (sorry, Carter) main characters. How do these skilled writers juggle this? It’s something called a throughline, or in the case of this show — throughlines. The emotional tapestry exhibited by each character and their effects on others around them create a dynamic that makes the overall story that much more cohesive and compelling.
This week’s episode, “Blood Ties”, had some of the best emotional throughlines I have seen in a comic book-inspired show. We had Sara having the need to not feel like a “monster” from her bloodlust. Ray trying to regain his confidence after a brief scare, and learning to not rely on his A.T.O.M. suit as a security blanket. And Leonard realizing that no matter what he did, he had to accept that his family would always be broken. All of these were great emotional journeys that these characters took.
Sara’s bloodlust has been known to the avid Arrow fan every since she was resurrected. However, her rage during the initial fight scene was a big surprise to Rip. To further the emotion, the writers allowed for Sara’s reaction to her own bloodlust to be in the form of guilt and shame. I feel that Rip being paired up with her was perfect. He too had shame, but it was the opposite. He showed too little rage when given the chance to kill Vandal Savage. Rip guides her and tells her that she needs to find a way to go on. And Sara helps Rip to understand that he shouldn’t admonish himself for acting decent and human.
Ray had a very rollercoaster of a throughline that was quite interesting. His initial confidence of saving Kendra by shrinking himself and going inside of her was met with protest from the overly-cautious Martin. When a piece of the dagger damages Ray’s suit, his confidence is shattered. Though Martin wanted him to take less risk, he never wanted Ray to lose hope. And that’s exactly what happened to Ray. He lost the hope that he could save Kendra.
The reason for his development of the A.T.O.M. suit was also revealed to Martin. Ray didn’t want to feel powerless after the loss of his fiance. Because Ray was so dependent on his suit and technology, he saw that as an extension of himself. That was his power. Martin had to reignite Ray’s confidence by concocting a fake story — about remembering him as a student of his who solved an almost unsolvable theorem in record time. Ray understood that it wasn’t the technology that gave him power, it was the belief that he could overcome any challenge.
Leonard was the most surprising. This is a guy who makes the snarkiest, sarcastic remarks, yet his journey and realization were the most emotional. We all know that people who project an overly hard exterior are probably the most vulnerable. In the case of Leonard, this is truer than ever. What seemed like a simple emerald heist, turned out to be a pretty noble deed. In his mind, he was still that younger version of himself who he encountered. Don’t tell me you didn’t get choked up when he thought that if his father already had the emerald, then he wouldn’t try and rob the museum and get prison time. I’m really liking how they’re transforming Leonard into a sympathetic anti-hero.
The emotional throughlines for Legends of Tomorrow are, like its heroes, strong and defining. Ensemble casts are very difficult to pull off and develop, but it seems that the writers have found a good formula rooted in the adage of “divide and conquer.” Separate your heroes into small groups and let their emotional journeys collide. This give and take conflict will only drive their characterizations further. A story is a series of plot points, and a plot is driven by the characters. Allowing various character-driven plots to later converge in a final battle has made this show legendary (pun intended).
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Steve Lam (Slam of Steel)
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