On an ensemble series like Legends of Tomorrow, change is a constant. Characters come and go, as old favorites say goodbye and new faces arrive. The unexpected impact of things like magic and time travel means that characters or stories can become different versions of themselves virtually overnight. And while those changes are often sad, the twists are at least somewhat understandable.
Not so much this time, though.
The news that Legends star Courtney Ford, who plays semi-reformed villain Nora Darhk, will be leaving the show in Season 5 is a decision that’s tremendously difficult to accept, precisely because it seems so… well, wrong.
Nora’s redemption arc had only barely begun, and her slow transition from a girl traumatized by a toxic childhood to a woman capable of both atoning for her past and forging a completely new future feels like a story with much left to explore. Because Nora’s journey isn’t just about a former villain learning how to change; it’s also about a survivor discovering how to heal.
Original Legends cast member Brandon Routh (married to Ford in real life) is also reportedly exiting the Waverider this upcoming season, and we’ll all certainly miss Ray Palmer’s big heart and aggressive optimism—not to mention his charming bromance with Nate. But Nora’s departure is a true gut punch, if only because it feels as though some of the most important parts of her story hadn’t even happened yet.
Legends of Tomorrow has a laudable history of telling stories about complicated, complex women. The evolution of Sara Lance from lost ex-assassin to brave, competent group leader has been amazing to watch. Zari fought to save her family in the future as she learned to let go of some of her anger and open herself up to others. Ava wrestled with the discovery that she was actually a clone and all of her memories were lies. And Amaya used her journey to the future to determine how best to face her own destiny in the past.
Therefore, the fact that the show decided to rehabilitate Damien Darhk’s daughter Nora—a villainous time witch who was possessed by a demon as a child—certainly isn’t a surprise. In fact, Nora is exactly the kind of intricate, messy character Legends of Tomorrow generally loves to explore. Which is why it’s so frustrating that the show appears to be abandoning her story well before it ought to be over. Because, while Nora Darhk may have entered the world of Legends as a villain, she has evolved into one of the show’s strongest and most interesting (female) characters.
Nora has fought for a chance at redemption, taken responsibility for the evils she has committed and the mistakes she has made, and has repeatedly tried to atone for them. Throughout Season 4, we saw Nora make different choices than she ever has before. She refused to use her magic, afraid that doing so would draw her back to her darker side. She rescued Constantine, at some personal risk. And she turned herself in to the Time Bureau, rather than go back to a life on the run. For once, we’re actually watching a character do the hard work of change, and it’s been fascinating to see unfold.
Nora was first introduced on Arrow, where her father was a major villain during its second and third seasons (and Nora was a young girl). By the time the character arrived on Legends, she was a time-displaced adult version of herself, bitter over a life spent watching her father chase immortality. Growing up as Damien Darhk’s daughter would have probably been enough to make anyone a borderline supervillain, but Nora also spent large chunks of her life in an insane asylum, a death cult, and serving as a vessel for an evil demon by the name of Mallus.
As a result, much of Nora’s life has never been her own, and she’s a victim as much as she’s ever been a villain. And her story on Legends has been just as much about healing as it has been atonement. Nora’s initial rough edges, anger and bitterness are the natural outcomes of a lifetime of abuse and trauma, but her decision to choose a different path is all her. But it’s a transition that’s messy and takes time.
Giving herself up in the name of rectifying her past behavior isn’t an instant panacea for her problems. Sure, she’s paying for her crimes, but Nora initially remains distant from everyone around her, even those who are trying their best to help her. Whether that’s because she doesn’t think she deserves kindness, or because she simply doesn’t know how to make friends, it’s heartbreaking. As Season 4 continues, we see Nora grow closer to several of the other Legends, join a bookclub with Mona and Ava, and open herself up to genuinely becoming part of the group on her own terms.
At this point, after becoming a Fairy Godmother and journeying to Hell to save Constantine, it feels like Nora has firmly turned a corner toward the side of light. But that in no way means that her redemption arc is complete. Healing and change are processes, after all—processes that are far from linear—and it feels important that we see the full narrative sweep of Nora’s story. It’s rare that mainstream television allows characters like this – victims of abuse, trauma, or other emotional hurts – to heal in real time, and there’s something that feels so necessary about doing so.
Nora is proof that who you once were doesn’t have to define who you will become. And that has always been one of the key messages at the heart of Legends: that anyone can change, and become better than who they used to be. What an incredibly hopeful storytelling foundation. We deserve the chance to see the person Nora will grow to be – as well as the process of how she gets there.
Far too often, TV characters achieve some perceived “redemption”—or at least join the side of the good guys for an episode or two—with little to no effort, as though there is simply a switch inside all of us that lets us determine whether we’re a good or a bad person. (That’s literally how it works on The Vampire Diaries, after all.) Likewise, characters suffering from trauma often wind up miraculously healed or instantly well-adjusted, rather than going to therapy or doing anything to help them process what they’re going through. (See also: The entire cast of Riverdale.)
Very rarely do we as viewers get the chance to see how genuinely difficult it is for a person to truly change, or the amount of real work that healing requires. But Legends of Tomorrow has always been a different beast in that regard. The proverbial Island of Misfit Toys of the Arrowverse, it’s a home for broken, damaged people who have never necessarily fit elsewhere. These are characters who stumble, regress and fail. Who may have been villains in other lives.
Every person on the Waverider is on their own journey to redemption, and they’re all healing themselves as much as they’re ever fixing the anomalies and corralling the magical creatures scattered throughout the timeline. Nora deserves the chance to do the same, and the survivors out in the Legends audience deserve the opportunity to watch her try, probably fail, and then try again. Because that’s what the hero’s journey ultimately is. And it’s exactly the sort of story this show does best.
However, since Ford and Routh appear to be leaving the show at the same time, one can only assume that Ray and Nora will get a happy ending together, in some form or other. To be fair, isn’t a bad thing on the surface; their relationship is sweet, romantic, and has played a big role in Nora discovering her inner worth and strength. But, there’s something about this idea that feels as though Legends is prepared to simply give Nora a great boyfriend, send her on her way, and call the story of her redemption a victory.
But the thing is: it isn’t. It can’t be. No matter how much she and Ray love one another, a successful romance isn’t an acceptable substitute for holistic character development, and it isn’t the same thing as giving Nora a story a proper ending in its own right.
We don’t yet know how Legends will wrap up Nora’s storyline, but the fact remains: Legends only just started digging into her redemption arc, and what her decision to choose to change means for her, as a person. Her character deserves better than a sudden, unexpected exit – and viewers do too. Because the ending of Nora’s story shouldn’t be tied to man – not even one as wonderful as Ray. It should be about whether she can truly heal and change. That’s the part we deserve to see.
Lacy Baugher is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Paste Magazine, Collider, IGN, SyFyWire and elsewhere. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or the CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.