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Credit: The CW

Zari has quietly become the stealth MVP of Legends of Tomorrow. Twice.

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May 3, 2021, 2:11 PM EDT (Updated)

Since its debut in 2016, The CW's DC's Legends of Tomorrow has been steadily making a name for itself as one of the strangest, bravest, and most downright delightful superhero shows on television, thanks to its ever-shifting cast of characters, weird humor, and fearless dedication to going where no series has gone before. Sometimes literally.

The show is a heady mix of fun, emotional pathos, and gleeful subversion of established tropes about what superhero stories are supposed to be and do. And no other character epitomizes the breadth and success of Legends' occasionally madcap approach to storytelling than Zari Tomas (Tala Ashe), television's first Muslim superhero and a woman who went on a groundbreaking journey of self-discovery not just once, but twice.

Zari first appears in Legends' third season. She's an Iranian American hacker and activist who hails from a dystopian future where her family was persecuted for practicing their faith. When she initially encounters the Legends, she tricks them into helping her retrieve a mystical amulet known as the Air Totem that had once belonged to her dead brother Behrad (Shayan Sobhian), who had been tragically killed by A.R.G.U.S. agents. She ultimately decides to remain with the group when team member Amaya (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) offers to help her learn how to use her new powers.

Credit: The CW

Over the course of the next two seasons, Zari not only masters wielding the Air Totem, but fully comes into her own both as a woman and a hero. Her transformation from a hardened, prickly loner to a loyal friend and brave leader is remarkable to witness, as it requires her not just to open her heart again (both romantically and platonically) after losing so many people she cared about, but to process and let go of the rage she has carried for so long because of it. A big part of Zari's arc is accepting that loss, and understanding the reasons why she can't use the Waverider's time travel abilities to undo or change Behrad's fate. Until, of course, she does — albeit completely accidentally.

In the Season 4 finale, Zari is erased from the timeline when she chooses to leave the safety of the Waverider and save her boyfriend Nate's (Nick Zano) life from the demon Neron. Her actions alter existing events to such an extent that the Anti-Metahuman Act that originally sent her family into hiding is never passed, rewriting the tragic future that so definitively forged her character and made her a Legend. In the new version of events, Behrad is still alive and in command of the Air Totem and has taken Zari's place on the Waverider as a result.

The painfully cruel irony of this — Zari achieveing the only thing she wanted for so long just as it erases everything else she's accomplished for herself in the meantime — is Legends of Tomorrow at its absolute best. Rather than a bait and switch twist, it's a conscious decision on Zari's part, made with full knowledge of what the likely consequences will be. She chooses to save Nate anyway, in a culmination of her hero's journey that is heart-wrenching and beautiful all at the same time. That, as the kids say, is growth.

The next time we see Zari, she is an entirely different woman. Literally. Sporting a brand new surname — Tarazi — this version of the character is light years removed from the first when it comes to interests and life experiences. Yet, her story is one that is once again grounded in growth, self-determination, and agency.

Credit: The CW

A socialite that's every bit as intelligent as her hacker counterpart, this Zari is one who never lost her family or inherited the Air Totem that made her a hero. Instead of activism, she turns her smarts to promoting and monetizing her personal social media empire, and her life as an influencer is obviously considerably different from that of her initial incarnation. Her family is successful and well-off, she and Behrad aren't particularly close, and she's never had any dreams of becoming a hero.

That Legends of Tomorrow allows us to go on another — but still completely different — journey of self-discovery with a second version of the same woman is practically unheard of in a genre that can often barely be bothered to include token female leads. However, that's precisely what happens here, as we're allowed to get to know the "new" Zari on her own terms. Legends has always been a show that's willing to center and explore its female characters, but the care the series takes with Zari 2.0's story is pretty remarkable, particularly in the ways it ties back to and mirrors her first.

This Zari may be funnier and she may be more obsessed with things like carbs and fashion, but she's also just as prickly and closed off emotionally as she was before, thanks to a lifetime of being dismissed and belittled as a vapid socialite.

Credit: The CW

Underneath the shallow influencer veneer, she's just as smart, capable, and big-hearted as her previous self was, with the added bonus of having a much better understanding of why people behave the way they do. (Which, when you think about it, explains so much about her burgeoning relationship with Matt Ryan's John Constantine, who is perhaps the only other figure on the Waverider who exists behind an act as often as she does.)

Yet, no matter what version of the character we're talking about, the strength of this Zari's heart remains constant: her willingness to fight to get her brother back, her desire to help people, the fact that she often cares about others in spite of herself. Whether she's an Instagram expert or a computer whiz, her Legends of Tomorrow journey is always about embracing and nurturing her best self — and that's what becoming a hero looks like, whether she's dressed in flannel or wearing stilettos.