by Thom Yee
1×08: “Night of the Hawk”
Soooo are they still trying to kill the immortal tyrant Vandal Savage or are they just running around time to play dress up and solve mysteries?
Having gained vital new information after rescuing the timeship Acheron last episode, our heroes, hot on the trail of their hated enemy, travel to the small town of Harmony Falls in 1958 where they… go undercover… to save the town from… being trapped in a ‘50s horror movie cliché? With Ray and Kendra posing as the new couple in town who face prejudice for their mixed race marriage; Professor Stein and Sarah posing as the town’s new asylum doctor and nurse who face sexism and homophobia for Sarah’s independence and interest in a female coworker; Jax posing as the new teenager who faces racism for being a black kid who thinks he can talk to white kids; and Rip and Cold posing as G-Men who face no significant difficulties because they’re white, presumably straight men (who have convincing fake IDs), our heroes… wait—what’s happening again? I have to admit there’s a certain passivity I sometimes have while settling into the latest episode of shows like Legends of Tomorrow, but even going back and watching the opening premise again led only to a very tenuous bond between the team’s activities and finding Vandal Savage, the team assuming the town’s string of recent disappearances would naturally lead to Savage. I mean, they do, but the explanation feels a little oversimplified and very beside the point
Personally, I’m kind of getting tired of all the undercover work in Legends of Tomorrow (is this a time-travelling superhero show or Quantum Leap?), but to get us started on the good sides of the episode, I almost laughed out loud when Jax called Cold out for the mysterious disappearance of Heatwave. It’s obviously something that wouldn’t go unnoticed given that they’re a small group of seven on a time-spaceship with only so much space, and I’m glad to see they’re not ignoring it. It’s also an interesting trick in general to confront Savage by going further back in time as our heroes hold the advantage of learning more about their opponent while Savage himself knows less and has no way of learning from previous encounters since those are in his future.
Unfortunately, that last paragraph holds the balance of what I liked in “Night of the Hawk”, a largely clumsy episode that, but for its cliffhanger ending that we’ll have to wait three weeks to see the conclusion of, could pretty easily be skipped. The episode suffers greatly from the two biggest problems with the overall show, ill-considered details and a lack of urgency. Though it’s good to see a show that takes place in the 1950’s tackle the social issues of the time that continue to live on (and even thrive) to this day, the episode goes really far in that direction, and, frankly, it was just too much. It was like the teams, circumstances, and settings were specifically chosen to draw out as much and as many of the era’s institutionalized prejudices as possible. Because of this bluntness, we don’t learn anything new about the social sins of our forefathers, nor do we really want to, that’s not what this show is supposed to be about.
The horror elements of the show — Savage as the town’s Asylum director abducting and experimenting on locals for his own villainous purposes— also fall flat specifically because there is no nuance to the show. I’m not going to call classic monster movies scary exactly, but there’s still usually something to them that lingers, but in “Night of the Hawk”, I dare you, your children, or your children’s most easily scared and frightened children to feel anything at all resembling horror while watching the episode (other than maybe the horror of wondering when anyone’s going to use their powers). When Savage literally sticks a syringe into a chunk of the Nth-metal meteorite and then injects the contents into his victims, resulting in them becoming bird people, it just felt stupid.
Eventually our heroes find and steal the dagger they need to finish Savage off once and for all (if ever), and hearing Savage openly question the stupidity of their plan, it was hard for me not to be struck by how stupid a plan it really was. We’ve still seen very little convincing evidence of Savage’s combat superiority, but even accepting that it’s there, things like Ray’s shrinking armour and Cold’s freezing gun just make it hard to accept that they couldn’t subdue the villain for at least long enough for Kendra to stab him in the heart. And now that I think about it, what is their plan for when they do kill him? Aren’t they still sort of trying to keep most of the established timeline intact? The further back they go, the more vanquishing the immortal Vandal Savage will mess with everything our heroes know and care about in their own time.
Even if you liked the type of episode “Night of the Hawk” was trying to be, nothing about the episode felt like it needed to be in a Legends of Tomorrow story. It didn’t leverage their powers, it hardly advanced the overarching plot, and, if anything, it’s further evidence that at least this Vandal Savage is kind of a silly villain. Even though I liked the implications of the cliffhanger of the episode — unintentionally abandoning Ray, Kendra, and Sarah in the past after a surprise attack by Chronos — it’s a tricky story to resolve since, due to the nature of time travel, there’s no particular reason our heroes wouldn’t return to pick the three up at the precise moment after they originally left because why wouldn’t you, you’re time travellers. I’m sure there will be a reason why they don’t, but at this point I’m far from confident that the writers of Legends of Tomorrow have come up with something good (or even something that at least hangs together).
Now I want to be clear on something. We used to do recaps for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., another little superhero show that debuted way back in 2013 to good reviews on this website only to quickly dwindle after the first episode. Right now it might feel like I’m being hard on Legends of Tomorrow, but make no mistake, Legends is still a far better show than Agents was back in its first season when we dropped it. If I had to break the two shows down to one key difference, it would be that where Legends feels like a clumsy but fun show that struggles to get to where it’s going, Agents like a show going nowhere that was being written by people who hated their job. Legends is at least an earnest show, and as long as it’s a superhero show that feels like something the creators care, I’ll probably be on board.
Thom’s Legends of Tomorrow — “Night of the Hawk” final score
Items of Note
- Is it just me or does Kendra really like her high pants?
- I wouldn’t be comfortable dipping my fries into somebody else’s milkshake. That’s just unsanitary regardless of race.
- Ray and Kendra didn’t have to be so reverse rude to everybody about their faux marriage. That’s not right either.
- Did they really say “sucks” in the ’50s? Was that a thing?
- So I guess Cold’s gun is a force blaster now? Doesn’t seem to freeze things much anymore.
- Is Chronos’s identity supposed to be a mystery, because it’s starting to feel like he might be Heatwave.
- I think the better question is “WHEN did they go?” No wait, “Why did they leave us? is better. When you’re right, you’re right.
- For those who are interested, yes, I still watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s not great, but it’s way better than it was when I dropped recapping it.