Brandon Routh's Departure May Be Good For Ray Palmer But it's Bad for Legends of Tomorrow

As Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) and Nora Darhk (Courtney Ford) draw nearer to their final week as regular characters on DC's Legends of Tomorrow, one thing has become more and more clear: the ending that the writers have fashioned for Ray, who has been there since the series pilot, is a good one. It carries weight for Ray as a character and is in some ways the ultimate expression of his philosophy as a character. It looks like Ray Palmer's arc is going to be completed in a narratively satisfying way, and that in the abstract, this will be good for him as a character.

What is less clear, is whether or not the departure will be good for Legends of Tomorrow. It seems unlikely.

Legends began as a grouping of seemingly random characters -- castoffs from Arrow and The Flash who were interesting enough that the audience wanted more of them than their parent shows could reasonably provide. Thrown together on a mission through time, the Legends turned out to be cosmic screw-ups, who saved history again and again -- usually both by the seat of their pants, and by some high-risk, high-reward gamble that sets the stage for the team's next series of problems.

In a team filled with insecurity, anger, and greed, Ray Palmer was a ray of sunshine. At first, the most traditional superhero in the lot, The Atom offered a lot of the same positivity and idealism that Superman would have brought if Legends was a superhero show -- something not lost on fans, who were excited way back when Routh was cast on Arrow. He was, after all, Superman on the big screen a few years before the Arrowverse came into being.

Ray's naiveté has often been played for laughs, but what usually comes through is that the Legends writers aren't actually laughing at him, but laughing at the humor that can be created by putting somebody who is that good, that confident, and that open to greater things in a room with trained assassins and quasi-reformed supervillains.

In the show's second season, after a disappointing first season that left fans wondering how long the series could last, producers brought in the Legion of Doom. Here, that name was used by Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), the Reverse-Flash (Matt Letscher), and Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), also castoffs from The Flash and Arrow -- but incredibly dangerous ones. Malcolm was Green Arrow's greatest foe, Reverse-Flash was The Flash's arch-nemesis (hence the name), and Darhk was a villain so dangerous that he had murdered Black Canary -- the sister of Legend Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) during Arrow's fourth season.

The Legion of Doom was defeated, but Darhk remained behind, teaming with a time demon called Mallus and taking the fight to the Legends again. His daughter Nora, originally seen as a child on Arrow, turned back up in an episode of Legends -- now an adult, and a dangerous sorceress. After she and Ray had a meet-cute, the hero decided -- in classic Ray Palmer fashion -- that he could help her. Nora, he reasoned, wasn't a bad person, but the circumstances of having a supervillain dad who abandoned her for years had left her tormented by her past and emotionally scarred. At a time when Nora presented one of the most dangerous and powerful individuals the Legends had yet faced, Ray intuitively understood that she was not beyond help.

That faith was called out as naive more than once, both by fans and by his fellow Legends, but Ray was unshakable. In the end, Ray's love for Nora did something that seemed impossible: it helped give Damien Darhk a shot at some measure of redemption, as he sacrificed his life to stop Mallus, knowing that Nora would be in good hands with the Legends. The romance that has been building between the two since was an expression of how right Ray was -- not just about the kind of person Nora is, but in his general outlook that being a good person is something that can impact the lives of everyone around you for the better.

Now, he is headed out -- seemingly by way of a marriage proposal to Nora -- and it makes perfect sense. Not only has Ray found closure with the Legends, along with love and a greater sense of self, but it fulfills a promise that producers made way back in season one: the Waverider is something of a halfway house. The Island of Misfit Superheroes that congregates on board the timeship should, if the Legends are doing things right, eventually find themselves peace and a permanent home somewhere that isn't the Waverider. That's what Ray is doing, and it's something he deserves after nearly a decade (between Arrow and Legends) fighting the good fight.

The hole that Ray and Nora will leave behind, though, will be incredibly difficult to fill. While the Legends do have Nate Heywood (Nick Zano), who embodies a similar heroic ideal to Ray's, their roles on the team are different, and their personalities too. Crucially, Nate is a little cockier, a little more self-involved, and more often the butt of jokes rather than an element of relatively victimless humor like Ray. He's a straightforward hero, yes, but he still has that Legends edge to him.

Sara Lance mourned the death of Oliver Queen in the Crisis, partly because he was one of the only people left alive who remembered her before she got on the Queen's Gambit and her life changed forever. In that same way, Ray is one of the last links to that early iteration of the Legends that wasn't quite sure what it was, but represented the shows that the characters were born out of and featured characters who came into their own in the time before "Raiders of the Lost Art" pushed Legends completely into cloud cuckoolander territory. Yes, he got into the same antics as the rest of the team, but there is something different about Ray, and it's something that the show will have a very difficult time replacing.

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Ray Palmer's happily ever after might be great for Ray Palmer, but it's not so great for the Legends of Tomorrow -- the team or the show.

DC's Legends of Tomorrow airs on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT, following episodes of The Flash on The CW.

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