Show Stealer spotlights some of my favorite side characters across television. Though they don't lead the show, but they have something unique about them that makes them worth celebrating.
Legends of Tomorrow is a show that doesn’t seem to play by any sort of conventional superhero show rulebook. It has a smorgasbord of a premise, bringing together a wide variety of characters to team up and fight evil across all of human history (though for budgetary reasons it’s been mostly confined to the last several decades). The time traveler Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) that leads the crew together brings together not clean cut heroes but sidekicks, misfits, and outright bad guys from its sister shows. And one of those bad guys has emerged as the secret heart of the show.
Leonard Snart (Wentworth Miller), career criminal who pulls heists using a freeze ray, has been a fan favorite since he debuted in sister show The Flash. Every line Miller delivers drips with grandiose camp. He not only accepts his role of supervillain, he embraces it. Teaming up with his partner Mick Rory (who’s given a matching flamethrower, natch) the two battled The Flash several times before winding up as leads on Legends. The transition is a little awkward, but it helps that Miller doesn’t lose a step when transitioning the character. Though the rationale for him joining the time traveling crew, the ability to steal things throughout history, is a little thin, Miller sells it with oily panache.
Early on the show plays up the character’s previously established strengths. Snart’s cool, detached personality is on display, and the character gets a lot of great one liners. It doesn’t take long for Snart’s softer side to start to come out though. In the early episode “Blood Ties”, Snart takes advantage of being in 1975 to try to prevent his father’s arrest and subsequent mistreatment of him and his sister. Doing so, he runs into his younger self and it allows Miller to play the character in a new register.
The range of emotions Miller plays in this scene, the sadness as he works through the memories of his terrible childhood, the comforting presence he tries to give his younger self, the anger at his father, all show that a part of him is being wasted just serving as a quip machine standing on the sidelines. Despite his earlier claims, he does want to use the ability to change time to do some good. This display of good intentions also acts as a turning point for the character, as he begins to become a more essential part of the team. Between breaking out of a Soviet prison, breaking into the Pentagon, and fighting a crazed gang in an alternate, post apocalyptic future, the whole Legends team grows close together, and it becomes clear that Snart is part of that.
Not everyone becomes invested in the team however. Snart’s partner Rory is continually at odds with them throughout the show, questioning his place in a team of do-gooders when he still just wants to steal stuff. After trying to defect to the aforementioned future gang, in the episode “Marooned” Rory successfully betrays the team to a group of pirates trying to hijack the ship. When our heroes inevitably save the day, the question becomes what to do with the traitor, and Snart decides to take his now former friend’s fate in his own hands.
It’s another great display of conflicting emotion from Miller that shows how far the character has come in such a short time. The transition was necessary to keep the former villain hanging out from these heroes, but the fact that Snart’s about face is so believable is in large part due to Miller’s talent. And even though the character has changed so much, what makes him likable and special is still intact. The dry wit and confidence are still full on display in the next episode and there’s even an extra button on his character arc as he proves even though he killed his partner he will still protect the rest of the team. Though turning a villain into an anti-hero is hardly an original move, it’s the way Legends of Tomorrow did it through open hearted emotion and kindness that makes Snart’s transition unique, and that’s how he steals the show.