I really enjoy LEGENDS because of the cast, and Ray Palmer is my favourite character on the show. I think Brandon Routh is great. What follows is armchair psychoanalysis regarding Brandon Routh, the way I theorized as to Jerry O'Connell and David Peckinpah and James Gunn's inner thinking. It's theory. Don't take it seriously. I said don't take it seriously. Why are you taking it seriously? Stop taking it seriously!
Ray Palmer's character on LEGENDS is one of the high points for me, but there's clearly been a shift from ARROW with Ray almost a different character. Yet, Ray's character rings true for me because of Brandon Routh's performance. Acting isn't about pretending; it's about finding your truth and presenting it in a fictional context, and Ray's trajectory mirrors Routh's.
Routh started out as a jobbing actor who worked on soap operas and tended bar and sometimes played bartenders in soap operas before getting laid off soap operas and just being a bartender. Due to auditioning for shows produced by McG, he managed to get an audition for McG's SUPERMAN and the audition videos were kept when Warner Bros. went with another director. Routh was cast as Superman, his career going from zero to blockbuster.
The resulting movie was trounced at box office by romcoms and pirate movies. But Routh was told he'd be in a sequel; the movie had done adequately. Then three years passed, his contract expired and Warner Bros. made no move to renew it and now clearly planned to move on from him.
Routh was quietly shattered by this: he had expected the next decade of his life to be acting as the custodian of Christopher Reeve's legacy. He'd thought, at least, that playing Superman would lead to many other offers. But he didn't get any other offers.
He had to go auditioning again and he confessed in a podcast that he was embarrassed at going from playing Superman to TV guest star roles. Routh was depressed, it affected his work. Looking at his acting, it's like he was afraid to make strong, individual choices that might offend anyone and cost him another job (even though he couldn't have done anything differently to see SUPERMAN RETURNS get a sequel).
You can see an anxiety-depression complex in his work on CHUCK and in ARROW's third season: he's earnest and sincere, but it's the only note he hits, making his characterization wooden. He's afraid to embrace the words and make them his own. He's also extremely low energy; he's not enthusiastic, he isn't impassioned. In real life, Routh was tired; onscreen in ARROW, it came off as Ray being a detached, distant, mysterious scientist, haunted by the murder of his fiancee. At the end of Season 3, he went missing and Season 4 revealed that he'd been trapped in isolation for months.
This led to LEGENDS where Routh's performance suddenly changed, as did Ray. Stepping aboard the Wave Rider, Ray became hyperactively enthused about time travel, adventure and superheroics, diving into situations impulsively and constantly making bad situations worse before learning to make them better.
His high energy was an irritant to the team; his screwups every week led to Reddit starting what the community termed a "Fuckup Counter" for Ray. He was a handsome hero who made a lot of mistakes and he had to struggle and persevere to triumph and needed a lot of help from his friends. He had no ego; he always accepted responsibility for his errors and took his spot on the chore wheel. It's hard to imagine the suit and tuxedo Ray of ARROW doing laundry on LEGENDS.
Onscreen, there was no direct explanation for this change, although Routh's performance suggested that Ray's months of isolation had caused him to regress to a more childish state. After all, the ATOM suit had proven to be a damp squib in the tech community; he'd come to rebuild Star City only for it to carry on without him. All this had eroded Ray's previous superiority complex.
The result is a character I find deeply endearing: an excitable, charmingly earnest and sweet manchild who screws up. A former mogul who's been cut down to size and accepts his diminished stature with a mix of humiliation and grace. And a vastly improved performance from Brandon Routh who has embraced this flawed and lovable character with gusto. Routh is a lifelong gamer and fantasy fan, and he really sold Ray's joy at seeing dinosaurs and the Wild West and the 60s and space.
The real reason Ray Palmer changed, however, is that Brandon Routh changed. By the time LEGENDS started, his son was two years old and Routh realized that his depression over Superman was affecting his family life and career. He accepted that he had to audition for roles; he wouldn't be offered leading parts based on SUPERMAN RETURNS. He came to grips with how he would never play Superman again and he would have to find some other life-defining character to play. He understood that becoming Superman had meant skipping over guest-roles, supporting roles and roles as part of ensembles -- roles he would have to not only accept but embrace to rebuild his career.
As he emerged from his depression, Routh also became obsessed with nutrition, discovering the peculiar beverage that is "Bulletproof Coffee," a grammatically curious name for a combination of grass-fed butter and coconut oil into coffee from mold-free beans as well as a high-protein and fat diet with low carb intake. Routh's physical health went on the upswing, his energy levels ramped up significantly and the once withdrawn and quiet Routh became a manic chatterbox. The LEGENDS writers proceeded to rewrite Ray with Routh's new hypercaffeinated personality.
In real life, Routh is known to never shut up about Bulletproof Coffee leading to the Season 3 joke where Nate only realizes Ray's been kidnapped after a morning has passed without Ray espousing the benefits of this beverage.
Ray Palmer in the third season of ARROW was a deeply depressed person over the death of his fiance just as Brandon Routh was quietly miserable for years over losing his franchise. Depression doesn't always manifest in binge drinking (Jerry O'Connell) or ugly rape jokes (James Gunn) or self-detruction (David Peckinpah). Sometimes, it's just low energy, low enthusiasm, and a low sense of self-worth. And then there's the gleeful joy of a new begnning; just as Routh accepted his career had taken a backwards, Ray became a less mature but happier figure on LEGENDS and took a new path forward.
There's a really strong moment in Season 2 where Ray has to destroy the ATOM suit to save the day and he's trying to help Nate trigger his powers. Ray agonizes that by destroying the suit, he is destroying the only thing that makes him special -- a moment that Routh played with such heartfelt grief and loss, undoubtedly drawing on how it felt when Warner Bros. let his Superman contract expire.
There's also Season 3 opening with Ray, off the Wave Rider, working as an intern at a dating site and being mocked for having once been a big shot in tech. It isn't remotely realistic; Ray Palmer would have still had his profits and savings. But it's *true* -- that is how Routh felt auditioning to play Cop #3 characters after he'd played Superman.
And that's why I really like Ray Palmer on LEGENDS. Ray is a man who, in losing his fiancee and his company and then the ATOM suit, lost what gave his life meaning, just as Brandon Routh lost what gave him purpose and reason for being when he lost the Superman role. And both men had to rebuild themselves and create new lives. Yes, there are some breaks with strict character continuity, but this character rings true because it's Brandon Routh's truth.