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The huge Arrow-verse crossover of 2017 brought together the heroes of Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl to battle an invasion of Nazis from Earth-X. While the good guys were ultimately successful in getting rid of the bad guys, it wasn't before they sustained a tragic loss. Martin Stein was killed after being shot by Nazis on Earth-X, dying in the final installment of the four-part crossover. The death made for a heartbreaking twist in an action-packed event. I recently spoke with Legends of Tomorrow and Arrow executive producer Marc Guggenheim, and he told me this about the decision to kill Martin rather than write him off:
To be honest, we always gravitate towards the things that have the most emotional resonance as well as the things we've never done before. Certainly killing off Martin as opposed to writing off Martin just had a lot more emotional resonance. For me, the high point of the whole crossover is that scene where Martin dies. You wouldn't have gotten as much emotional resonance out of the scene where Martin just says goodbye. And then also one of the very first things we talked about when we talked about the crossover was we wanted to do something that we'd never done before in a crossover and that was to kill off a character. Not as a stunt or a gimmick but again, as writers, there are certain tools you have in your toolbox for how to get at those deeper, more emotionally resonant and killing off a character happens to be one of them. We had never done that on the crossovers before, and this was our fourth crossover. We were looking at ideas that would up the emotional stakes but also do so in a way that we hadn't done in previous crossovers. In many ways, it's awful because it's so emotionally gut-wrenching and it's so emotionally gut-wrenching because it's awful.
Martin Stein was always going to leave Legends of Tomorrow sooner rather than later in Season 3, as actor Victor Garber had landed a job that would take him to Broadway on a full-time basis, but we didn't know for quite a long time just how Martin would make his big exit. After all, his daughter had just had a baby, and he spent several episodes of Legends trying to figure out a way to detach from Jax (played by Franz Drameh) so that he could return home to be with his family. At first, it seemed quite possible that Legends would simply come up with a science-y way to separate Firestorm and let Martin return to a quiet life in Central City. Then came the crossover, and fans had to watch the lovable character die.
According to Marc Guggenheim, the decision to kill off Martin Stein had nothing to do with trying to pull off a stunt or gimmick on audiences. Instead, he and the rest of the folks behind the scenes decided to do something that hadn't been done on an Arrow-verse crossover before. Rather than simply repeating a plot twist that had happened in one or more of the past crossovers, "Crisis On Earth-X" killed Martin and left him dead with no time travel shenanigans to save his life. In fact, the very next episode of Legends of Tomorrow addressed the possibility of stopping Martin from doing what he did that resulted in his death. Martin chose not to meddle with time, and Jax chose to depart the Waverider, at least for a time.
As sad as Martin's passing was, the death was at least treated with a great deal of respect in the crossover. All the characters who knew him had the chance to grieve him. Marc Guggenheim went on in our chat to commend the actors for making the death scene so impactful, saying this:
[Victor Garber] was incredible. I think Franz [Drameh] was incredible. That scene between the two of them where Stein dies in Jax's arms is, I would put that scene up against anything else on television. It really is a testament to these two guys, these two actors. That scene is a very long scene particularly by broadcast television standards, particularly in the midst of a crossover, and there were a lot of moments out of that scene we could have cut just to make it shorter, but the performances were just so good. We couldn't bring ourselves to do it.
The death of Martin Stein was given the screen time it deserved, and the result was a heartbreaking scene that both gave a major Arrow-verse character a solid sendoff and raised the stakes for all the surviving heroes heading into the crossover's climax. While we could be sure that characters like the good guy versions Oliver, Barry, and Kara weren't going to bite dust, other characters' survival was much less guaranteed, and the danger felt even more real after Martin's death.
We'll have to wait and see if the shows of the Arrow-verse continue to address Martin's death and the loss of Firestorm moving forward. Legends of Tomorrow is actually moving to a new night on The CW for a time in the new year, but all four shows are currently on hiatus. Marc Guggenheim will have a different project debuting a new batch of episodes, however, as Season 2 of Trollhunters will be available on Netflix starting on Friday, December 15 at 12:01 a.m. PT. Guggenheim already explained the specific way Season 2 was inspired by Empire Strikes Back, and the second season should be worth the watch. Don't forget to check out our midseason TV premiere guide as well.