‘Birds of Prey’ TV Rewatch, Episode 13: ‘Devil’s Eyes’
Long before comic book superhero TV shows were as common as they are today, the WB launched a live-action Birds of Prey TV series that lasted just thirteen episodes. In an effort to determine what went wrong, our Bird Watching team of Meredith Tomeo and Caleb Mozzocco are watching and dissecting every episode.
This is it! The final episode of the series! A newly empowered Harley Quinn attacks the Birds of Prey head-on, taking over their base and plunging all of New Gotham into complete, apocalyptic (and decidedly off-screen) chaos! It will take the combined efforts of all three Birds of Prey and both Bros of Prey (Alfred and Reese) to punch and kick the city back to safety!
'Devil's Eyes' was written by Hans Tobeason, Adam Armus and Melissa Rosenberg and directed by Robert J. Wilson. It originally aired back-to-back with episode 12 on February 19 of 2003.
Caleb: When Helena Kyle (Ashley Scott) first started going to court-mandated therapy with Doctor Harleen Quinzel (Mia Sara), we joked about how sexy the therapy seemed, based mostly on how sexily they dressed for their sessions and Harley’s suggestive tone of voice. This particular session is like a whole new level of homoerotic tension, though.
Harley, dressed in an off-the-shoulder dress, has Helena, wearing a weird set of sweater sleeves over a low-cut top, close her eyes. She then slowly circles her, looking her up and down, leaning in as if to kiss her ears or lips or neck, all the time she’s whispering questions to her, all of which Helena answer breathlessly.
It’s like, not even subtext or undertones now right? It’s just text and tones…?
Meredith: Honestly, their therapy session is one of the more sapphic things I’ve seen on television.
Helena just gives everyone’s secrets up, like it’s no big deal. She named-drops Dinah, Babs, Alfred and Wade as people who either are metahumans who fight crime or are already in the know.
Caleb: Helena doesn’t seem to work in gradations. She apparently keeps everything secret -– it took her about 11 episodes to tell Reese (Shemar Moore) her name --- or spills everything, even Alfred and Wade’s surnames and their places of business. Jeez, you don’t think this will come back to haunt her in the next 40 minutes or so...?
As we're typing this, it is the third time we’ve watched this scene, and I still can’t get over how much sexual tension is on-screen.
Meredith: All joking aside, I really thought they were about to kiss. Instead, they go in for a hug, and Harley makes a comment about it being as satisfying for her as it is for Helena.
Caleb: Cut to a 1950s sci-fi movie set, built in a third-story loft of a ramshackle building in one of the seedier parts of New Gotham. There a mad scientist in white coat from central casting is putting Harley and an unconscious guy in what looks like a brain-swap contraption, but which he calls a “metahuman transference machine.”
Meredith: It looks like the type of place someone would be in to turn on Frankenstein's brain.
Caleb: Yeah. He turns the dials, and there’s fake lightning and everything. He does everything but say “It’s alive…!” The machine kinda sorta works. The unconscious metahuman dies, but the machine sucked his super-hypnosis psychic powers out of him and deposited them in Harley, who then promptly tests them out by sending the mad scientist jumping out the window to his death.
It occurs to me that with this particular outfit and hairstyle, Harley looks a little like an evil, sexy Hillary Clinton circa the 1990s.
Meredith: Helena and Reese (Shemar Moore) are such a cute couple now. They banter at crime scenes and Reese asks Helena to try to get security cam footage with her Huntress powers without a warrant. How romantic.
Back to the clocktower the next morning and ugh, Wade (Shawn Christian) is there. He says he’s got to give Dinah (Rachel Skarsten) a lift to school. Man, he and Barbara (Dina Meyer) are crappy teachers. Shouldn’t they both already be at school?
Caleb: Well, Babs is a crappy teacher. He's a crappy guidance counselor. But after learning her secret identity last episode, I guess he's spending nights at her place on the reg, and checking in on her crime-fighting endeavors. He's apparently got the run of the clocktower. I wonder if Babs has shown him her sadness room yet?
Newly metahuman, the first place Harley goes is the metahuman speakeasy beneath comics and collectibles shop No Man's Land, where she asks Helena's friend Gibson (Rob Benedict) if he knows how to make a Red Devil. This is a little weird, as Gibson's like the only person she knows that Harley didn't mention to Harley in her lesbian trance.
Testing out her new eye-to-eye hypnosis powers, she makes him bark like a dog and then "go mad."
This mainly involves him reciting random facts --- Gibson's metahuman power being to never forget anything --- and to act like a dog. I wonder if Benedict looks back at this performance and remains particularly proud of it, or if it haunts him?
Meredith: So, Helena follows police reports of a riot back to No Man's Land, and finds Gibson. Where does Helena decide to take him for psychological help? Yep, right back to Harley’s office.
She then heads back to the clocktower. Babs was able to figure out that Harley is the one who got the mind-control powers from the mad science machine and whoops, what do you know! Helena is actually being mind controlled by Harley Quinn at this very moment! She punches Babs in the face, knocking her out cold. There appear to be no rules to her powers and this is starting to remind me of those frustrating episodes of Jessica Jones.
Caleb: Wow, Helena really clocked Babs. Is that why they call it the clocktower? Ha ha ha! (No, they call it a clocktower because it is a tower with a huge clock on it).
Alfred’s ready with smelling salts. This isn’t the first person who likes dressing as a bat he's had to rouse from unconsciousness.
Meredith: He looks like a boxer's cut man, with the smelling salts and the towel over his shoulder.
Babs is able to warn Dinah and Reese that Helena is being mind-controlled, but only just a few seconds before Helena shows up at No Man’s Land, where the two of them were apparently looking for clues or something. Dinah tries to reason with Helena, talk her down, so to speak. If only she had "powers to open hidden doors to the mind"...
Caleb: Or even something like, oh, telekinesis to defend herself or incapacitate Helena. It was just three short episodes ago that she was fighting Helena to a stand-still in the Gladiatrix ring. Now she simply locks herself in the broken freight elevator with Reese, while Helena taunts them and punches holes in it to get at them.
Barbara’s strapping on her leg-fixing contraption, telling worrywart Alfred that she’s been working on it a lot since she wore it to confront Shiva in episode eight. I get the feeling that the producers and Meyer decided it would be much easier to have her standing, walking and fighting throughout this episode, and since they didn't have to worry about her going back into the chair in the next season, they were just like, "Whatever, she's fixed herself."
Meredith: She must have made a lot of improvements on her magic leg contraption, because she seems much sturdier on her feet than the last time she used it, taking on Helena.
Caleb: Good thing Barbara remembered to pack her hand-held de-hypnotizer, which zaps Helena back to normal.
Meredith: Meanwhile, Harley uses the stolen blueprints that Helena retrieved for her to infiltrate the clocktower with some mind-controlled police officers and Gibson. She’s also sporting what looks like the closest thing we’ll be getting to her classic Harley Quinn costume.
Caleb: She’s worn a lot of black and red throughout the series, but this is as close as she’s come to her cartoon (and comics) costume. There’s a ring of black diamonds over a cut-out section of her read top, so that the pale color of her skin forms a sort of white. It’s a little like she went to a department store and found the formal wear that most closely resembled a Harley Quinn costume.
And let me say, for the record, Mia Sara is doing an astounding job of over-acting like a nutcase here.
Meredith: Uh, oh. Wade is home. This can’t be good. Nope. This was decidedly bad.
Caleb: She mind-controls him into making out with her. And she's making out with him pretty hardcore, so I assume this is some sort of therapy.
Meredith: And then she stabs him! A fitting end for a character I actively disliked. Now Babs can go back to Dick.
Caleb: Given that the only reason Wade was there was that Alfred shoehorned him into Barbara’s life against her will, does this make Alfred, like, an accidental accomplice…? Because if only Alfred would have respected her wishes to keep Wade at arm's length so he doesn't get hurt, he wouldn't have gotten stabbed in the heart just now.
Anyway, Barbara calls the tower, and Harley answers, tells her that she killed her boyfriend, and that Helena had given up all their secrets without being hypnotized. Helena runs away guiltily, headed for the Dark Horse bar to get blotto. Reese gives chase, to try and talk to her.
She's not the only one drinking. To toast her success, Harley calls to the now-hypnotized Alfred: "Pennyworth! Bottle me!"
And Babs and Dinah retreat to the backup clocktower: Her school classroom. She’s going to whip-up hypnosis-proof contact lens by dipping them in a green potion she made in the chemistry lab. I love that Oracle uses potions as often as computers in this show.
At the bar, Reese tells Helena "You're not responsible," and she shouts back, "Sure I am!"
I have to agree with Helena. This is all her fault.
Meredith: The team is back together! With Helena back on board, they are ready to take back the clocktower and save the city from Harley Quinn.
Caleb: Using Babs' computer set-up, she's broadcasting an image of her eyeball with the command to "go mad" to every TV screen in New Gotham. So apparently there is mass rioting everywhere, but the producers can't show us any of that, not on their budget. So we just hear lots of shouting off-screen, and the characters mention how messed up things are.
And so Harley’s sitting on a fancy chair on the clocktower set, stroking Gibson's head like he was a dog, while Alfred shines her shoes. That seems like a real bad way to celebrate being in complete control of the city and being able to dominate anyone with your mind.
Meredith: Helena returns to the clocktower, now just pretending to still be under Harley’s control, but really she’s there to bypass the security system. She tries, but a shotgun-toting Alfred catches her in the act.
Caleb: Captured and held by two officers, Helena is at Harley's mercy. She licks her face, then backhands it, and continues smacking her until Helena reveals she was just taking these licks --- figurative and literal --- in order to buy Alfred the time necessary to disable the security system he had stopped her from disabling.
Then comes my favorite part of the series: "Oh Mistress Harley," Alfred calls, "Buttle this!" And then he makes the shotgun go "CH-CHAK!"
Meredith: Harley thinks she’s still got the upper hand, but Helena is unfazed. Then a guitar lick plays and --- holy crud! Dinah and Babs smash through the glass face of the clock!. I actually did not expect that.
Caleb: Wow, she went from not being able to stand to swinging through glass, landing on her feet and beating people up.
Meredith: It’s time for the final battle. Man! Dinah knocks out a couple of goons with telekinetic punches. It’s a pretty cool special effect and I want to know why she hasn’t been doing that the whole time.
Caleb: I’m guessing they only had the budget for one telekinetic punch this episode?
Everybody's fighting! Reese runs off the elevator and starts throwing punches. Even Alfred gets in on the action, knocking a hypnotized cop out with the butt of the shotgun and then kicking him down.
The Harley vs. Huntress fight is really well-choreographed. This might be the best fight scene of the series.
Meredith: Harley attempts to escape, but Babs is right after her. Harley admits to killing Wade and Babs wants blood. Helena has to talk her out of snapping Harley’s neck, reversing their normal roles, in which Babs is the cool-headed one talking Helena out of committing violent acts of vengeance.
Caleb: We aren't really doing this scene justice. But trust us, it's awesome. Every TV show, regardless of genre, should climax with the entire cast in a huge brawl that destroys the main set.
So Babs spared Harley's life, and we see Reese and Alfred sweeping up broken glass and talking shop. "So you worked with this Bat-Guy...?" Reese asks. "Batman," Alfred corrects.
"What was up with this Robin character?" Reese asks as they walk off-screen together "What was his story?" Yeah, that's what we'd like to know! The show name-dropped Dick, Jason and Tim early on, and that's the last we heard of any of the Robins!
The Birds get-together for one last balcony chat, and Dinah says she feels like Batman is out there watching over them, like a guardian bat. Groan.
And, finally, cut to a close-up on a fire and a smooth R&B track; is this gonna be Helena and Reese in front of a fire? No, it’s Alfred, sipping a glass of sherry and talking on a fancy phone.
"Master Bruce, thought you might want to know your daughter is doing rather well. You would be proud. Most proud indeed."
Soooo, Batman is and has been alive and well this whole time, just a phone call away? Apparently enjoying his retirement somewhere, while his former protegee Batgirl and the daughter he never met are fighting crime in New Gotham...?
So, what did you think of the final episode?
Meredith: I've got to say, I'm kind of sad it's over. This last episode demonstrated that they were starting to find their footing in terms of character dynamics and storytelling. Plus! Wade died. I would've been happy to not have to see any more of him. What a pointless blob of carbon he was. If I was watching this back in 2003 I would probably be willing to check out the second season that never got made.
That final fight scene was really well choreographed. Dinah's psychic punches were awesome and I would've liked to see more of her becoming a badass.
Props to Mia Sara and her crazy eyes --- I had a nightmare last night where I was Black Canary and she was chasing me across the roof of some giant mansion. So, I've got to admit she made an effective villain.
Caleb: Agreed on all counts. Well, most counts. I wasn't thrilled to see Wade go, as I always kind of wanted more of their relationship --- like, I wanted to see them dating, rather than just hearing about their dates in tossed-off dialogue.
But yeah, Birds of Prey definitely goes out on a high note. Mia Sara really cut-loose and proved to be a pretty incredible villain once the focus was solely on her, and it was a blast to see everyone working and fighting together. Even --- oh, who am I kidding? --- especially Alfred.
This episode is probably tied with episode eight, "Shiva," for my favorite of the series. Everything the show occasionally does right, it did here. And, like you, I would have been down for another season of it, especially after seeing this episode. In a parallel universe where this show lasted for a few seasons, I could see it being a case where someone would asks you about Birds of Prey and if it was worth watching, and you might say something like, "Well, it doesn't really get good until near the end of the first season, but the second and third seasons are pretty great, and then it goes down hill."
We'll be back one more time next week to discuss the series as a whole, and to try to get to the bottom of the questions we started this project asking ourselves: What went wrong with Birds of Prey, why didn't it last more than 13 episodes, and was it simply a matter of being before its time?