Legends of Tomorrow is hands down the weirdest, most bonkers show in The CW’s Arrowverse. It’s also one of the bravest, grounding its zaniest plotlines in rich character work and fearlessly trusting its audience to come along for the ride. Few superhero shows would have ever attempted the full-scale transformation that turned flannel-loving hacker Zari Tomaz into stylish social media maven Zari Tarazi, jettisoning a character that fans had known for years and replacing her with a version that was not just a stranger, but who initially seemed to be the antithesis of everything that had made the previous incarnation so appealing.
Yet, Legends ultimately pulled off the switch in style, using this second iteration to explore central truths about who Zari is through a very different lens. And according to actress Tala Ashe, the heart of Zari’s journey hasn’t actually changed that much just because this incarnation of the character loves stilettos and juice cleanses.
“I think sometimes people forget, [Zari 2.0] is the same person,” Ashe tells Den of Geek. “This is a being of the same soul. Understandably, what sometimes gets a little lost [because] they are, especially aesthetically, very different. But they come from the same place.
“And for me, as an actor, it’s been really an interesting meditation on nature versus nurture. Their nature is the same in spite of [the fact that] they have very different circumstances.”
Those different circumstances are on full display in season 6 episode 3, “The Ex-Factor,” an hour that sees Zari harness her social media influencer cred to compete against an alien warrior on a futuristic reality singing competition called Da Throne. (There are truly days where trying to describe this show feels like a fever dream.)
But, of course, the story isn’t really about Zari’s singing chops — though she does take to the stage in full glittery pop star regalia – it’s centered on the question of what kind of person she wants to become.
“Where we find Zari at the beginning of the season, in general, is in that kind of awkward, somewhat painful place of growth that I think a lot of us experience where she is not quite secure in her authentic self,” Ashe says. “This episode challenges [her] – is this, the old world of 2045, the one that I fit in and belong in? Or am I growing towards [becoming] this other person?
“I don’t think she’s particularly happy inside of [that influencer persona], but it’s the devil she knows. She knows how to play that part and be who people expect her to be.”
“The Ex-Factor” shows us just how far this incarnation of Zari has come since her early days on the Waverider by literally forcing her to confront the life she left behind. From her manipulative DJ ex to the superficial BFF/assistant that he cheated on her with, Zari’s life in 2045 is full of reminders of a person she no longer feels that she is – or wants to be.
“What we get to see in this episode is the discomfort of her stepping back into this life that she’s in some ways outgrown,” Ashe said. “She’s evolved and [is] evolving.”
A big part of that evolution is thanks to her romance with fellow Legend John Constantine, a relationship that Ashe herself laughingly admits “doesn’t really make sense on paper.”
“Yet, kind of against all logical odds, what we get to see and what I think Zari has an inkling about in this episode, and even more as the season goes on, is that actually, he’s someone that she can be herself with,” she says. “And that is everything to someone who has been playing a part so intensely for most of her life.”
Truthfully, it’s hard to imagine a better match for Zari than a man who will not only willingly humiliate himself for her in public but set her ex’s head on fire at the same time. The pair finally make their relationship CatChat official this week, after John joins her onstage on Da Throne for a rocking anthem that celebrates loving someone you always thought you shouldn’t.
“Being able to go head-to-head with each other is attractive to both of them,” Ashe says. “There’s many classic tales of these kinds of couples coming together. But it’s interesting to think about how different [this relationship] is from Zari 1.0 and Nate. [This] Zari kind of needs someone that gives her a little bit of fight. And I think John does as well.”
But just because these two crazy kids have admitted that they care about each other beyond a part-time fling doesn’t mean that things will be easy for them from here on out. Life on the Waverider is never simple, as evidenced by the fact that Legends’ marquee couple, Sara Lance and Ava Sharpe, are currently facing an extended separation thanks to one of them (Sara) having been kidnapped by aliens. But it sounds as though, at least for the moment, Hellstar (cutest ship name ever, btw) will face more everyday sorts of problems.
“I think neither of these people knows how to be in a relationship, really,” Ashe explains. “We’re going to get to see them move beyond [their] obvious physical attraction. They really care about each other. [But], when things get complicated on the Waverider – as they always do! – then things [between them] get complicated, especially with John’s story. [What happens] inherently pushes them to a more serious place in their relationship, with the stakes of what’s going on.
“And I think, by the end, these are two people who are, for better or for worse, in a real, complicated relationship and it gets very, very tricky.”
Yet, to hear Ashe tell it, Zari’s journey toward her true self is still in its early stages. “As with Zari 1.0, it’s a journey of trying to step into vulnerability when that’s [a] really scary [thing to do]. It’s scary to both Zaris. Fundamentally, both of them are guarded in lots of ways.”
This is particularly true for the current incarnation of Zari, who has had to carve out a life for herself in the shadow of a predecessor she never knew, but that all her colleagues – including her current boyfriend – remember.
“Zari 2.0 is very much grappling with this season where she kind of feels like the lesser Zari, the less cool, chill, tough Zari. And she knows there are people on the ship that would prefer in some ways for Zari 1.0 to be there,” Ashe says. “That kind of comes out in [her and] Behrad[‘s] relationship too – [he’s] a constant reminder is that she’s there because 1.0 sacrificed herself. I don’t know if impostor syndrome is the right word but [she’s] trying to feel like she deserves to be there.”
Even though season 6 just wrapped filming last week, Ashe is already looking forward to exploring more aspects of what makes Zari – in all her incarnations tick – as the series goes on.
“I was emailing with our showrunner this week about what we’re cooking up for season 7 because I think we can push that even further with where Zari 2.0 goes and what the facets of Zari – of umbrella Zari – are that we haven’t seen yet. And that’s very exciting to me.”