Oddly enough, 1958 turns out to be a rough place to be if you’re not a straight white man. “Night of the Hawk,” however, turns out to be a pretty good episode—when it’s not about Vandal Savage.
We open with some scene-setting ‘50s action: two cars full of teens racing on a deserted road. Because this is a sci-fi show, that deserted road, naturally, runs past a glowing meteor; just as naturally, Savage shows up just when the teens do. It’s almost like an X-Files opening, until Caspar Crump starts showing too many teeth.
Following the lead given to them by Eve Baxter, Rip and company touch down in the fictional town of Harmony Falls, Oregon. It’s 1958, and exactly what Savage is doing there is a mystery, but someone’s been killing people, which makes for a few openings: Kendra and Ray set themselves up as a couple in the former house of one murder victim. Professor Stein, with Sara as his assistant, infiltrates the local insane asylum as the replacement for a murdered doctor. Jax, being the youngest, goes to mingle with his peers. Rip and Snart, in my new favorite buddy comedy, team up as fake FBI agents with spiffy hats.
As the opening scene hints, this is a monster of the week episode—and one handily directed by Gremlins’ Joe Dante, no less. But the monsters are secondary to the show’s exploration of the differences between today and the past. White jocks hassle Jax; Sara is drawn to a nurse who shies away from admitting her attraction; Kendra is repeatedly mistaken for the help.
There’s nothing subtle about how most of this is handled, which is pretty par for the course. But it also highlights the way Legends rarely shows what it can show and tell—and tell, and tell some more. People are constantly saying things that have just been illustrated, as when Ray says, long after all the show’s conflicts have been made quite clear, “An immortal psychopath—and racists. I’m beginning to like this quaint little town less and less.”
It’s all part of a stylistic broadness—Rip’s grandiosity, Snart’s elegant camp, Crump’s whatever-Crump-is-doing—that Legends relies on too heavily. Why use a fine point pen when you have a Sharpie Magnum? The trouble is, this works better as one part of a set of tools, used in contrast with understatement, or slyness, or … well, with anything else. By the end of “Night of the Hawk,” the show has found a little bit of grace, but most often, the closest thing the show has to subtlety is Caity Lotz.
I know I’m constantly praising Lotz, but with reason. This week, Sara struggles with a complex knot of feelings: the woman she’s interested in is from a time and place where such attraction is kept quiet, and Sara herself hasn’t “experienced much in the way of feelings” since she came back from the dead. She wants to save the nurse from the world she lives in, but how can she do that? Is learning that things get better in the future enough to help, or is it worse to know that the world will get better when you’re trapped where (and when) you live? Sara tells Stein, “I would love for someone to drop into my life and tell me that the future’s gonna be a better place,” but she has no way of knowing if Lindsey feels that way too. Life is complicated, even without time travel.
But speaking of time travel and awkward romances: Conveniently, the house Kendra and Ray rent is right across the street from where Savage lives … with his wife? (I hate to think what happens to her when Savage tires of Oregon life.) Savage has come to this town because of the meteor, which is like the one that changed him and Kendra—though this one has the somewhat different effect of turning people into bird-monsters.
Jax wasn’t incorrect when, early on in the episode, he noted that Harmony Falls looks like the towns in the horror movies he grew up watching, the ones where something is always terribly wrong. Through the toxic cocktail of institutional racism and psychotic immortal, Jax winds up transformed into a bird-monster himself—mostly so that he can come to appreciate Snart when Snart doesn’t harm his monster-fied self. I’m in favor of those two getting along, but this is a case of the plot steering characters rather than characters driving plot, and it feels a little stapled-on.
The Savage plot continues, unsatisfying as ever. Kendra decides that she is ready to take on Savage herself, and tells Ray to step off when he tries to help—a scene I would like to cheer, except that Kendra isn’t ready to take on Savage. Her failure, narratively speaking, isn’t about Kendra, but about her and Ray. He gets a neat little speech near the end about how a 4,000-year-old demigoddess needs not an overprotective husband, but a partner. It’s well-intentioned, but it puts too much weight on a relationship that has no foundation yet.
And really, could Ray not have just said, “Sure, you can totally kill him, but at least let me hold him down for you?” Every time the Legends go further back into time and fail to kill Savage, they give him more ammunition against the future. Will they just keep going backwards, trying and failing to use the element of surprise? Will we ever get off this hamster wheel?
At least Kendra tried. Like Jax tried to save poor Betty from the bird-monster, and Sara tried to save Lindsey from the ‘50s. That’s the quiet little secondary point in this episode: the people who experience the most bigotry and hatred from the people of Harmony Falls are the ones doing a lot of the work. More work, you might say, than their straight, white companions (Rip and Snart disappear for half the episode; Ray plays hubby and tries to tell Kendra what to do; Stein … mostly walks around?). Existing in the world as a woman, a person of color, a lesbian—it’s more work. It’s protecting yourself and looking out for things straight white men don’t have to look out for. Ray’s speech is too much about he and Kendra’s non-relationship, but it’s also about being an ally.
“Night of the Hawk” doesn’t do much for Legends’ plot—still with the hamster wheel of Savage—but it was straight-up delightful to watch everyone running around denouncing racism and sexism in a superhero show. I can only assume they’ll have a bit more of that to do, seeing as Sara, Ray, and Kendra are currently stranded in 1958 while everyone aboard the Waverider deals with another Chronos attack. The preview for next week’s episode has me convinced that there’s more to Chronos than we’ve seen so far. But more than that, it has me excited for the return of Matt Nable’s Ra’s al Ghul, who appears ever so briefly. Isn’t this what time travel is really for? Getting to visit characters who are dead in the present? No? Are you sure?
HIGHLIGHTS: Sara Lance Special Edition
- “Just so you know, Ra’s al Ghul taught me how to kill someone slowly. Over the course of … days.”
- “Actually, I was liberating her. With an option to seduce her later.”
- All my applause for the scene when Sara tells Lindsey that she saved Sara, too. In a show that’s so often about big heroics, that little moment—the reminder that rescuing someone can happen in so many different ways—was genuine and lovely.
Molly Templeton will help them hold down Savage if it will do something to get the plot off this not-so-merry-go-round.