Doing characters second this year because there are a lot of categories and summing up 13 shows took up a lot of space. New faces, a few surprises, and a few obvious answers await. Here goes.
Best Male Lead
Honourable Mentions: Preacher’s Jesse Custer is an interesting character played well by Dominic Cooper, but this being a ten episode origin story, and him spending the second act kind of mad with power, means he doesn’t quite make the podium as a protagonist.
Bronze: Dan Stevens as David Haller, Legion
Dan Stevens, an actor I was largely unfamiliar with due to not having watched much Downton Abbey, does impressive work as David Haller, a man struggling for sanity only to learn the depth of his true powers. Sure, it takes him a while to accept who he truly is, but it’s a journey worth taking.
Silver: Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, Arrow
Arrow’s fifth season put past and future Oliver through three kinds of ringers, and Stephen Amell upped his game to meet the challenge. Oliver’s struggles against his past, and his fight to earn his future, led to Amell doing his best work.
Gold: Tom Ellis as Lucifer Morningstar, Lucifer
Stephen Amell wasn’t the only one bringing his work to a new level. Tom Ellis’ work on Lucifer was already excellent in season one, enough to keep me watching a show I’d considered ridiculous in premise, but this year? Gone was his over-reliance on “amused surprise and lustiness.” His reaction to the events of his brother Uriel’s visit are heart-rending. His attempts to deal with his mother go from intense to hilarious. When Lucifer’s on top, he’s a delight. When he’s broken, you break with him, and Tom Ellis is charismatic and captivating throughout.
Best Female Lead
Honourable mentions: Ruth Negga did great work as a largely re-imagined Tulip O’Hare on Preacher, but the first season kept her on the sidelines in a go-nowhere plot too long; Rose McIvor always does great work as Liv on iZombie, but this wasn’t her character’s best year; Riverdale haters probably don’t want to know how close Betty and Veronica came to the podium.
Bronze: Rachel Keller as Syd Barrett, Legion
Syd Barrett did not exactly win the mutant power lottery. If she touches someone, they instantly switch bodies. (The weird part is that when it wears off, their bodies switch places, not their minds.) This led to an uncomfortably tragic moment in her youth that may have helped her end up in the same mental hospital as David, where despite being unable to touch, they fall in love.
But make no mistake, Syd is no one’s damsel or passive love interest. If anyone’s saving anyone, Syd is saving David. Their allies and enemies may be fixated on his power levels, but Syd just sees the sweet, sensitive, scared man she fell in love with. And if any conspiracy, mutant-hunting black ops group, or sinister [REDACTED] want to threaten him, they have to go through her.
And she does not make that easy to do.
Silver: Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers/Zor-El, Supergirl
The training wheels are off in Supergirl’s second season. Kara spent season one learning the ropes, but she opens season two working alongside Superman as an equal, and closes it taking his place as Earth’s champion (his words, not mine). Along the way she becomes an advocate and defender to refugees, immigrants, and the downtrodden. And above most characters this season (save for David Haller and, weirdly, Archie Andrews), it’s her innate goodness that shone through. Punching is rarely Supergirl’s opening move.
And Melissa Benoist is just delightful.
Gold: Caity Lotz as Sarah Lance, Legends of Tomorrow
Sara “White Canary” Lance has been many things since being introduced back in Arrow’s second season: island survivor, reformed assassin, Starling City vigilante, corpse, feral ex-corpse, and time travelling renegade. But when the Waverider’s captain, Rip Hunter, went missing at the start of season two, Sara had to take on a new role: leader. After a brief, fumbling attempt by Martin Stein to take command, it became clear that only Sara could captain the Waverider in Rip’s absence. And by the time he came back, it was equally clear that she was better at it than he ever was.
And it’s not just the writers trying to force this despite nothing in the writing backing it up, Sara stepped up. She rose above her desire to alter time by killing Damien Darhk (not that he’s easy to kill), led the team through multiple successes, and held the line against the Legion of Doom. When it falls to Sara to put things right in the end, it’s earned.
And let’s admit, Caity Lotz is pretty badass when she wants to be. No wonder even Camelot’s Queen Guinevere has a crush on Sara.
Best Supporting Male
Honourable mentions: Freed of his unrequited crush on Kara, Supergirl’s Winn Schott was pretty delightful this year; the iZombie writers finally learned how to exploit Robert Buckley’s gift for comedy, meaning Major finally got some fun material this season; Danny Pudi and Alan Tudyk were often funnier than their material on Powerless; and despite some poor choices his character made, I’ll always enjoy iZombie’s Rahul Kohli’s take on Ravi Chakrabarti.
Bronze: Tom Cavanagh as the Harrisons Wells, The Flash
Tom Cavanagh’s had an odd journey on The Flash. First he was Barry’s secretly sinister mentor, Harrison Wells, but when that character wrapped up at the end of season one, the producers rightfully couldn’t let Tom go. And so we were introduced to Harrison Wells’ Earth-2 doppelganger, known as “Harry” for simplicity. And this season, Earth-19’s “HR” Wells took his place for most of the season.
HR isn’t the scientific genius that the others were; he’s a novelist with a talent for helping actual geniuses (like his partner in founding Earth-19’s STAR Labs) find their big ideas. More important to the season, he doesn’t have any of Harry’s stern and abrasive nature. HR’s peppy, coffee-addicted (Earth-19 lost its coffee crops to a blight), drumstick-twirling cheerleader provided comic relief in The Flash’s mopiest season to date. And when the season wrapped, he broke our hearts.
Cavanagh isn’t the only Flash actor to pull double duty (or even triple), but he is the only one to make fans forget that they were both the same actor.
Silver: Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz, Agents of SHIELD
One half of Agents of SHIELD’s most adorkable duo, Fitz had a hell of a ride this year. At first all was well as he was finally together with his longtime love Jemma Simmons, although new SHIELD policies kept them apart at the office. But as Holden Radcliffe became a surrogate father figure, Fitz found himself getting deeper involved in Radcliffe’s off-the-books robot research, especially Aida, the AI that’s slowly becoming sentient and making her own plans. Which brings us to where he became truly impressive this season.
When Aida creates her own Hydra-controlled world in Radcliffe’s Framework, she arranges for Fitz to be her right hand. Fitz transforms from the sweet, lovable gadgeteer we’ve known for the past 3+ years to the cruel, cold-hearted, Inhuman-butchering second-in-command of Hydra, led to the dark side by a functional relationship with his father. Hydra-Fitz is chilling, which would be an impressive enough turn for the character, but there’s more. When Simmons practically drags him out of the Framework, real-world Fitz is shattered by what he did. Every line he crossed, every evil act he authorised, and the two real lives ended by his actions in the Framework crush him. It’s heartbreaking to watch, and it’s anyone’s guess how he comes back from this.
Gold: Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy, Preacher
“I am a 119 year-old vampire from Dublin City. And I’m currently on the run from a group of vampire-hunting religious vigilantes who keep tracking me down somehow. What else? I’m a right-handed Sagittarius. I love Chinese food. I’ve never seen the Pacific Ocean. And I think that The Big Lebowski’s overrated.” It’s that last part that sticks in Jesse Custer’s head at first and leads to a great running gag.
You wouldn’t think a hard-drinking, drug-abusing vampire would become Preacher’s moral center. And while that title sometimes falls to Eugene/Arseface, when Jesse’s crossed a line, it’s Cassidy who’s there to call him out. When angels are out to vivisect Jesse, Cassidy’s got his back. And Joseph Gilgun was the most reliably entertaining member of a particularly strong cast.
Also, the sequence in which Cassidy casually explains how vampirism works by answering a series of short questions from Tulip is one of my favourite “explain the magic” moments.
Best Supporting Female
Honorouble mentions: Dr. Linda, Maze, and Ella are all super fun on Lucifer. Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple might have made the podium for Luke Cage if Iron Fist hadn’t worked so hard to ruin her as a character.
Bronze: Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons, Agents of SHIELD
The other half of Agents of SHIELD’s most adorkable couple also had a great year. The difference being that Simmons didn’t wait until after the Framework to break our hearts.
That Elizabeth Henstridge is an asset to the cast of SHIELD shouldn’t surprise. She anchored what might be the show’s best episode last season, and starting with a riveting performance in the paranoid “Self Control,” she was the heart of the show’s best arc. She fights to prove that the Fitz she loves is still somewhere inside Hydra’s cruel Doctor throughout Agents of Hydra, and is almost as crushed as Fitz himself when he comes out broken by his virtual misdeeds. Daisy’s in theory the lead of Agents of Hydra, but Simmons is doing the emotional heavy lifting, and doing it well.
Silver: Danielle Panabaker as Caitlin Snow/Killer Frost, The Flash
It happened. The moment comic fans have been expecting since Caitlin Snow first appeared on Arrow’s second season (or, if you surf entertainment sites like I do, since they announced her casting). We got a tease of it last year, thanks to Caitlin’s evil Earth-2 doppelganger. But after Barry’s Flashpoint meddling with time, in season three STAR Labs’ resident biologist began her transformation into cold-powered and cold-hearted Killer Frost. She spent months trying to hold her powers and the accompanying shift to her personality at bay, but when her would-be love interest Julian Albert unleashes her powers to save her life, Caitlin Snow dies and Killer Frost takes her place.
But this new Killer Frost is better and more interesting than her pure-evil Earth-2 doppelganger. Sure she’s quick to turn on her former friends and side with Savitar, but Caitlin isn’t all gone yet. There’s an ember of her past self still fighting against Killer Frost’s vicious instincts, and Panabaker’s doing a great job of playing it. It’ll be fun to see where that leads next season.
Gold: Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers, Supergirl
Chyler Leigh has acting superpowers. When Alex Danvers cries, you cry. When Alex is happy, you get a contact high. When she straps on a Kryptonite-powered battle suit to help her sister go round and round with Metallo, you cheer.
And Alex also got to be part of one of the season’s best love stories, as working cases alongside police detective Maggie Sawyer leads to Alex coming out and finding love for the first time in her life. It’s a moving story that Leigh absolutely crushes.
Honourable mentions: There was some great villainy happening out there this year. From Jackie Earle Haley’s disturbingly calm but vicious Odin Quincannon on Preacher, to [REDACTED]’s fantastic heel turn as the near-unbeatable Prometheus on Arrow, to Teri Hatcher’s legacy casting as Queen Rhea of Daxam on Supergirl, to Mahershala Ali’s too-brief performance as Cottomouth on Luke Cage, to the overbearing Alice Cooper and the Gothic horror of the Blossom family on Riverdale. And the only thing holding back Lucifer’s Goddess, aka “Charlotte,” is that I’m not always 100% convinced she’s really a “villain,” per se. Okay, sure, the plagues and the floods turned out to be on her, but still.
There are, however, still three standouts.
Bronze: The Legion of Doom, Legends of Tomorrow
There’s a moment in season two of Legends of Tomorrow when Rip Hunter, thinking he’s a film student, complains that his film about rogue time agent Rip Hunter is failing because his villain (clearly meant to be season one’s Vandal Savage) has no menace, and was possibly miscast. Damning but accurate shade thrown at their own first season. Moments later, Malcolm Merlyn and Damien Darhk stroll up to him. “See?” he says, “That’s better.” A little self-congratulatory, but again, accurate.
Legends of Tomorrow was born out of making a team from the DCW-verse’s best supporting characters, and they took the same approach to building the Legion of Doom: a collection of their best villains (save for Deathstroke). Matt Lestcher’s Eobard Thawne/Reverse-Flash, Neal McDonough’s Damien Darhk, John Barrowman’s Malcolm Merlyn, and some surprise bonus members provide the perfect blend of menace and camp for the Waverider crew’s second season. They’re up to all kinds of bad, to be sure, but they’re almost too fun to watch to root against.
Silver: Mallory Jansen as Aida, Agents of SHIELD
Aida wasn’t the villain for a lot of the season, but only because they gave her time to grow into the role. She began as Holden Radcliffe’s Life Model Decoy prototype, a computer in a human-looking body, programmed to assist Radcliffe and preserve life. Exposure to evil spellbook the Darkhold grants her sentience, but not free will. She can’t break her programming, but she can bend it just enough to launch a plan… trap key SHIELD personnel in Radcliffe’s artificial world, the Framework, then use it and the Darkhold to build herself a human body loaded up with Inhuman powers. But also with human emotions she isn’t prepared to process. While positive emotions give her a sense of incomparable bliss, despair and rage send her over the edge.
It’s not just the best character arc of any villain this season. Most protagonists should have been so lucky to have an arc that good. And Mallory Jansen is great in it, nailing the transition from Siri with a body to an all-powerful mega-Inhuman driven crazy by her first taste of heartache. And as a bonus, the ex-girlfriend Holden modelled Aida after, which let her use her natural Australian accent. Always a plus.
Really, only one thing could beat an arc like that…
Gold: Aubrey Plaza as “Lenny,” Legion
There weren’t many performances, comic book TV or otherwise, than can compare with Aubrey Plaza’s unhinged tour de force as Lenny, the voice in the back of David Haller’s head, the bad influence in every low moment of his recent life. I can’t say much about Lenny without giving away chunks of the story, which I’m loath to do, but I can say that Aubrey Plaza is nothing short of magnetic every time she’s on screen. She’s the voice of reason. She’s an enabling fellow addict. She’s doubt made flesh. She’s Tim Burton as a silent film monster. As a friend put it, she ranges from calm to chaotic to malevolent to sensual to violent to vulnerable to playful to sympathetic to sinister, sometimes in the course of a single episode. Sometimes in the course of a single scene. She is, simply put, impossible to top.
And that’s not even telling you what she’s doing.
Rookie of the Year
New category this year! See, sometimes a new character comes along who breathes whole new life into a show. This category is for new characters in established shows who really added something.
Honourable mentions: Many, because it’s harder to find a new character not worthy of a mention. Chris Wood and Floriana Lima were both great as the Danvers sisters’ new love interests on Supergirl, Mon-El and Maggie Sawyer; Aimee Garcia as the LAPD’s delightful new CSI Ella on Lucifer; Jason O’Mara as SHIELD’s new director, Jeffrey Mace; and just barely off the podium is Nick Zano as the Waverider’s new steel-skinned forensic historian Nate Heywood on Legends of Tomorrow.
Bronze: Tom Felton as Julien Albert, The Flash
I basically created this category to give a shout-out to Tom Felton’s CSI/meta-human expert Julien Albert, even if he didn’t make it to the top. Felton was a great addition, gradually and naturally evolving from Barry’s rival/nemesis to a truly valuable member of Team Flash. He had the edge and the know-how of earlier variations of Harrison Wells (the season three edition lacking both), with enough heart under his crusty exterior that you root for him just the same.
Silver: Katie McGrath as Lena Luthor, Supergirl
Lena Luthor arrives in National City looking to redeem both Lexcorp and the Luthor name following her brother’s arrest in Metropolis for, I don’t know, something related to trying to kill Superman, I assume. Can she be trusted? Is she truly out for redemption, or will she eventually follow in her brother’s footsteps? Who knows. McGarth perfectly walks the line between earnestness and darkness. What we do know is that her friendship with Kara feels real and heartfelt. Kara truly believes in Lena, and Lena’s gratitude for that blooms into one of the show’s closest friendships. Maybe it’s doomed to turn sour, like Clark and Lex, maybe not… I mean, Lena’s more sinister mother Lillian has a point, Lena might not react well to being literally the only major character who doesn’t know Kara’s secret identity. But if it does go bad, it’ll be heartbreaking. Smallville wishes they’d done Clark and Lex’s doomed friendship this well.
(There are those in the fandom who feel Kara and Lena make a better couple than Kara and Mon-El. But since neither of them has indicated being attracted to women… it just feels like seeing two women bonding and yelling “Now make out!” Which is just a gross thing to do.)
Gold: Tricia Helfer as “Charlotte,” Lucifer
Well why even do this category if gold isn’t going to the Goddess Charlotte? No new addition, or returning player for that matter, did as much for their show as the tumultuous arrival of Lucifer’s mother, trapped in the slightly murdered body of adulterous lawyer Charlotte Richards. Her very presence brought the series’ mythology to a whole new level, and Helfer nailed it. “Charlotte’s” love for her angelic children, disdain for humanity, and confusion about how to function on Earth are all spot-on. And even if none of that were true, she’d nearly have this category locked down just from her hilarious delivery of Charlotte’s views of humanity: “All they do is eat. Then later the food comes out changed. And not for the better!” or “They breathe through their mouths and will NOT. SHUT. UP about something called ‘gluten.'”
Best Guest Star
Second new category! Sometimes a guest star makes enough of a splash that you wish their appearance weren’t so temporary. I’m defining this as guest stars outside the main ensemble, which includes both credited principals (eg. Buffy, Willow, or Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and major recurring characters (eg. Tara, again from Buffy, who was only a credited principal for one episode but was consistently around for three years). Which sadly means no love for Arrow’s Anatoly, ’cause he was around all the time, or Jemaine Clement’s Oliver Bird on Legion, because he’s basically part of the ensemble.
Honourable mentions: Michael Imperioli’s game-changing guest spot as Uriel on Lucifer; Natalie Morales’ dry wit as the only live-action Green Fury I’m ever likely to see on Powerless; Gabriel Luna as a surprisingly effective Ghost Rider on Agents of SHIELD; Timothy Omundson as a mental patient who might be Lucifer’s Father.
Bronze: Dolph Lundgren as Konstantin Kovar, Arrow
Oliver Queen has been through some dark and scary things over the last five years of Green Arrowing and the previous five years of flashbacks. Shipwreck, torture, arrow wounds, having his life force magically drained… but very little of it seemed as scary as getting worked over by Dolph Lundgren. As Russian gangster Konstantin Kovar, Lundgren was perfectly cast as the final boss of Oliver’s flashback journey from playboy to The Hood. And their final confrontation made for a surprisingly good capstone to the flashback saga, even with the way they meandered in seasons three and four.
Silver: Tyler Hoechlin as Superman, Supergirl
Supergirl’s more famous cousin finally came to visit at the top of Supergirl’s new season, and he was basically perfect. Hoechlin’s Superman had the folksy charm, positivity, and innate goodness that some people feel is missing from Henry Cavill’s version. He played well against basically everyone. Obviously he can’t come by super often, because nobody wants Supergirl to be overshadowed on her own show, but when he can swing by, it’s special.
Gold: Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold, Flash/Legends of Tomorrow
The DCW-verse has made its share of mistakes. Laurel’s pill addiction, mixing up Earths 2 and 3 (although pretty much only I care about that one), introducing Jason Rusch before they knew they were going to need a replacement Firestorm, uninspired versions of Ra’s Al Ghul and Vandal Savage… but nothing was quite as big a mistake as killing off Captain Cold at the end of Legends of Tomorrow’s first season.
Yes, it was a good scene, yes, he had a killer final line, yes it was a fitting end to his season arc. But every time Leonard Snart swaggers onto the screen, we’re reminded of what a perfect addition to the Flash world and crewman of the Waverider he was. This year he haunted his ex-partner, was present for the origin of Mirror Master (who is not filling his shoes), and helped Flash steal an alien power source that was guarded by a giant man-shark, and all of it was great, and it all me sad he’s not around more.
Okay. Next up, the rankings. Brace yourself, there’s a lot to cover.