UK TV recap: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Season 1, Episode 8 (Night of the Hawk)
Joe Dante's direction9
Mad scientist plot8.5
Matthew Turner | On 22, Apr 2016
Warning: This contains spoilers.
Episode 7 of Legends of Tomorrow ended on an exciting cliff-hanger that saw Leonard stranding Mick somewhere in time and apparently killing him with a shot from his cold gun. It will come as a surprise to no one that the show chooses not to reveal what happened to Mick tonight, preferring to leave that mystery for another time and having Leonard remain uncharacteristically tight-lipped about the whole thing. Instead, we’re treated to a hugely enjoyable episode that takes place in the 1950s and plays, at least in part, like an old-fashioned monster movie, thanks to stylish and effective direction from much-loved director Joe Dante, of Gremlins and Piranha fame.
Having picked up the trail of Vandal Savage once again, the Legends touch down (if that’s the right phrase when you’re time-travelling) in 1958, Pleasant Falls, a small-town suburb in woody Oregon. It turns out that Savage has been posing as a doctor at an insane asylum and experimenting on the local teenagers by injecting them with an extracted-from-a-meteorite substance that turns them into mutated hawk-creatures. As a character, Savage is a lot more suited to the mad scientist role than the future evil dictator role dictated by the show and he gets probably his best appearance to date here, with his creepy accent finally put to appropriate use. (Watching this episode, incidentally, it finally struck me what’s so annoying about Casper Crump’s accent – he sounds exactly like someone trying to do an impression of Christoph Waltz. And since even Christoph Waltz can’t get away with doing Christoph Waltz voices anymore, it ends up feeling derivative and irritating.)
To combat Savage, the Legends go undercover in the 1950s, albeit slightly more elaborately than strictly necessary: Ray and Kendra pose as a newly-married (inter-racial) couple who have just moved to the area (in a hint of troubles to come, the estate agent tries to make them take a place out of town once she realises they’re wed); Martin and Sara pose as a doctor and nurse at the local hospital (which you can’t help thinking is a cheap plot to squeeze Caity Lotz into a nurse’s outfit); Jax attempts to get information from the town’s high school students; and Rip and Leonard pose as FBI agents investigating the bizarre murders / disappearances.
The 1950s setting is inspired, as it simultaneously gives the show the chance to play around with cheesy horror movie tropes (such as the teenagers getting attacked on the road at night) and confront issues such as racism and homophobia. This is handled very nicely, in a great exchange between Martin, Sara and Jax, with Martin proclaiming “Even someone as jaded as yourself can’t deny how idyllic this time was”, Jax shooting back with “Yeah. If you’re white”, and Sara adding “And a man. And straight. And…”, at which point Martin concedes that he gets the point.
Sure enough, Jax, Sara and Kendra each have to deal with various prejudices in this episode. Jax gets a rude awakening to small-town attitudes when he flirts up a storm with popular cheerleader Betty (Melissa Roxburgh). He seems to be getting somewhere, until he’s threatened by a group of male teens. Later, he becomes one of Savage’s monstrous, serum-injected hawk-creatures, which is possibly something the writers didn’t think through very well, given prevalent 1950s attitudes, but let’s gloss over that.
Jax actually has an important function this week. He’s the only member of the team who’s openly concerned about what might have happened to Mick and he throws a bunch of comments Leonard’s way, only to be met with stony silence. However, when Leonard later refuses to kill Jax when he’s a hawk-creature, Jax comes to realise that Leonard does indeed value the life of each member of the team and that if he had to do away with Mick, then it was almost certainly for the greater good. That’s a clever dove-tailing of the main episode plot with significant character development for both Jax and Leonard, whose gradual progression towards proper hero remains one of the show’s most compelling elements.
Meanwhile, Sara has to deal with both sexism in the way she’s treated by the other doctors at the hospital (including Stein) and homophobia, after she seduces her colleague, Nurse Lindsey Carlisle (Alie Liebert), only for Martin to point out that it would be irresponsible to speed up the young woman’s exit from the closet and then basically abandon her in the most sexually un-liberated time imaginable.
As with Jax’s storyline, it’s a measure of the strength of the writing that Sara’s relationship isn’t just played for face value. Instead, it ties into Sara’s own development, as the relationship scares her because it’s the first time she’s felt recognisably human feelings since coming back from the dead. This gives Sara much more vulnerability than we’re used to seeing from her and Caity Lotz plays it brilliantly, sparking strong chemistry with Liebert into the bargain. She also gets to have a lot of fun elsewhere this week, whether sassing Martin or “accidentally” spilling hot coffee on a sexist guy.
As for Kendra, she also experiences prejudice, while posing as Ray’s wife, and although she partly enjoys seeing people’s shocked expressions, it does begin to wear her down, particularly when repeatedly getting mistaken for the help at her own party. Kendra also has some good moments this week, particularly when they realise Vandal Savage is their neighbour and is coming to their house-warming party (“I’m pretty sure he’s not going to kill me next to the canapés, Ray”). Dante creates some enjoyable tension at the dinner party, as Savage and Kendra confront each other and you’re never quite sure what Savage knows or what Kendra’s presence will do to him. In fact, Kendra plans to kill Savage, arming herself with the Special Dagger and luring him into the study, but of course, she bungles it, again. (The way the show disposes of Savage is rather irritating this week – Ray just blasts him out of a window and that’s basically it, i.e. nobody goes to check on him, or, God forbid, finish him off with the Special Dagger.)
Having Kendra and Ray pose as husband and wife is also a nice way to advance their relationship (something the show has apparently now committed to) and Ciara Renee and Brandon Routh are even starting to generate actual chemistry, as evidenced in their very sweet dance together in their new house. Admittedly, it’s frustrating to have Kendra continually defined by her romantic relationships, but at least she has an actual storyline now and it’ll be interesting to see the show’s plans for their relationship.
As for Leonard and Rip, it’s fun seeing them wearing their 1950s G-Men hats and getting into character (notably Rip’s American accent), but the show doesn’t spend too much time with them this week, because if it did, Leonard’s refusal to talk about what happened to Mick would be more of an issue.
As a lifelong movie fan, I will admit that when Joe Dante’s name came up as the director for this episode, I did a little gasp. Dante does a terrific job, blending humour and horror to solid effect and nailing the more emotional dramatic moments. The revelation of Savage’s activities in the asylum is genuinely disturbing, echoing any number of asylum movies where inmates are secretly forced to undergo experimental treatments and so on. Dante also does a great job realising the time period (aided by a decent 50s-style soundtrack), presenting a version of the 1950s that feels a lot more convincing than the show’s interpretation of the 70s and 80s in earlier episodes.
All in all, this is a highly entertaining episode that delivers humour, monster movie thrills and significant character moments, illustrating once again that the show’s set-up has enormous potential, allowing them to effectively play with different genres on a weekly basis. It also ends on yet another cliff-hanger, as Kronos reappears and attacks the ship again, forcing Rip to take off, stranding Sara, Ray and Kendra in 1958. Obviously he’ll just time-travel back to that exact moment… won’t he? Tune in next time to find out.
– It’s always worth a trip to Wikipedia whenever someone on a CW show like Arrow, The Flash or Legends mentions a particular name. This week, Savage gave his 1950s cover name as Dr. Curtis Knox, who was an immortal mad scientist character on Smallville (played by former Superman Dean Cain, no less) that was apparently based on Savage, except they couldn’t get the rights to the name.
– At one point someone mentions “Hall H for the Criminally Insane”, a very cheeky dig at San Diego Comic-Con’s famous venue that’s always used for superhero movie announcements and the like.
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Photo: © 2016 DC Comics. © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.