Ray Palmer has left the building. Or, more precisely, the Waverider. After five seasons on board the time-traveling ship of DC's Legends of Tomorrow, and over 100 episodes across the Arrowverse, actor Brandon Routh and his unflaggingly optimistic alter ego said goodbye to The CW's superhero sphere on Tuesday night. In an emotional episode, Ray (aka The Atom) and his wife, Nora Dahrk (played by Routh's real-life wife, Courtney Ford), left the Legends to start a more normal routine following their impromptu wedding last week. "We can't begin our life together when I literally have one foot in the past," Ray said of the decision to leave the rag-tag squad of misfit heroes.
The episode featured one of the Legends' classic farcical missions to save the timeline. Traveling to London in 1594 to pursue a piece of the Loom of Fate (this season's MacGuffin), the team's antics accidentally inspired William Shakespeare to re-conceive one of his most famous plays as Romeo V. Juliet: Dawn of Justness (also the title of the episode).
Once history was restored to normal, there were emotional goodbyes onboard the Waverider, most poignantly between Ray and his best friend, Nate (Nick Zano). The two have developed a tight bond and were unafraid to express affection for each other, a rare dynamic on television. Indeed, they parted by saying "I love you" to each other, and sharing a tender hug. "That was the hardest moment of saying goodbye," Routh told SYFY WIRE. "Because it's not just acting, it's personal. Nick and I are friends and the camaraderie that those guys have is what we share in our time on set or off set."
When the news first broke last summer that Routh (an original Legends cast member after debuting on Arrow) and Ford would be leaving the show, the actors made it clear that this was not their decision. And in a recent interview on Michael Rosenbaum's "Inside of You" podcast, the Superman Returns star reaffirmed that feeling, telling Rosenbaum that filming his final episodes "was a very traumatic event for me." Earlier this year, executive producer/showrunner Phil Klemmer told TVGuide.com, "The thing we like to think of is that our characters all have lives beyond the show. In [a] weird way, the Waverider is where all of these broken people can find kinship and camaraderie. [It] isn't exactly a permanent place… after a while they have grown-up responsibilities."
In a candid interview with SYFY WIRE, Routh shared his feelings about the decision to write Ray and Nora off the show, how it was handled behind the scenes, and whether he might return to the Arrowverse someday.
How do you feel about the final episode and the way Ray and Nora's story was wrapped up?
This episode and the previous episode are two of the best episodes the show has ever produced. It was great story, great comedy, obviously great heart and emotion that comes out in both of them.
It was a challenge to film the entire season for myself, and for Courtney as well, knowing that this was going to be our last season. It's a challenging position to be in, because I love our writers and what they've done with the show, but it's a tough position for me because I know that they loved Ray and they were doing the best they could by [having] them exit this way.
They did the best they could, but that was hard for me personally, for both of us, because we didn't want to go.
How was it presented to you that this would be the last season for you two?
I was called by our showrunner while I was in Vancouver and they were in Los Angeles, and I had to put two and two together to realize that we weren't going to be in all the episodes of the show [this season] and also that this was going to be our last season.
I won't go through all of that, but there are better ways to have handled that situation, especially for someone who has been on the show since it began. So that started everything out on the wrong foot, and every day has been very challenging.
What has it been like in the last few months since you finished filming? I imagine doing interviews about it now is not very pleasant, so I appreciate your candor.
I've been doing this for 20 years and I can give very good political answers. Even when I want to give a deeper truth I still give political answers, that's just who I am. I try to do the best by people.
But there comes a time when I realize that it's a day and age where we're talking about mental health and anxiety so openly and freely, thankfully, so it was important for people to know the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Everybody is going through their own challenges. Speaking on Michael Rosenbaum's podcast a couple of weeks ago brought that to light for me that it's important. People are responding in positive ways to us talking about these challenges we have in our lives.
In the wedding scene in the previous episode, it looked like you were tearing up. How much of that was acting?
It was very bittersweet for Courtney and me to be there celebrating while Ray and Nora are leaving. Those were not necessarily tears of happiness and joy. It was very challenging for us to be in that moment celebrating something when we're not feeling happy on the inside about leaving the show.
As the Legends were dealing with Ray's departure, Sara [Caity Lotz] said to Nate, "I don't know what we're going to do without his stupid optimism and blind faith and ridiculous plans that somehow always work." That sounds like the perfect encapsulation of Ray Palmer. What was your favorite part about playing this character?
His joy. Joy for life, for new adventure, for bringing people together. I think it all stems from his joy from experiencing something new and something different.
Would you be open to coming back to Legends or any of the other Arrowverse shows for a guest spot?
It's a weird question to answer. I can say yes to all of the other Arrowverse shows, that's easy. I love those people and I love the character. But [as for Legends of Tomorrow] we were effectively told there was nothing left to write for our characters, so I don't see how that's possible [to come back]. This has left an indelible mark on our lives. It's impacted our lives and our families and the fans of these two characters. It's not up to me. Ultimately the first step doesn't start with me.
What's next for you?
Just trying to get back to quote/unquote normal life. We moved our lives up to Vancouver to be part of the show. So now we moved back to Los Angeles, dealing with school for our child [son Leo, 7] and getting back to knowing our friends and family here. So we're just taking it easy and looking for the next right project for both of us.