‘Birds of Prey’ TV Rewatch, Episode 2: ‘Slick’
Shortly after the debut of Smallville, but long before comic book superhero TV shows were as commonplace as they are today, the WB launched a live-action Birds of Prey TV series that lasted just one 13-episode season, and seems little mourned today. In an effort to determine just what went wrong with the seemingly before-its-time show, our Bird Watching team of Meredith Tomeo and Caleb Mozzocco are watching and dissecting every episode. You can watch along with us on DVD or digitally on iTunes or Amazon.
In this episode, the Birds face a new metahuman adversary with extraordinary powers, Barbara and Helena learn more about their new ally Dinah, the pair continue their halting flirtations with the men in their lives, and we get both a shower scene and a sauna scene. "Slick" originally aired on October 16 of 2002, and was written by series creator Laeta Kalogridis and Melissa Rosenberg, and directed by Michael Katleman.
And the opening goes something like this:
Meredith: I hope we don’t have to listen to Alfred explain the premise of the series before every episode.
Caleb: Well on the plus side, you get to see Barbara Gordon get shot by the Joker... again! And I imagine we will at least 11 more times. So trigger warning for people sick of seeing The Joker shoot Barbara Gordon in flashback in, like, just about every Barbara Gordon story post-Killing Joke ever.
Meredith: It needs a power ballad theme song.
We open with Helena (Ashley Scott) in her last court-mandated session of Dr. Quinzel’s Sexy Talk Therapy™.
Caleb: In this scene, Helena tells Doctor Quinn, Maniac Woman, just how angry she was when her mother Selina Kyle was killed, and how she just wanted revenge against the man who did it. “You can’t just go around killing people, Helena,” Quinn says, to which Helena replies, “Yeah, that’s what I hear.” Apparently Helena is more of her mother’s daughter than her father’s, vis-a-vis vengeance vs. justice, and the taking of lives.
Meredith: What’s your opinion of the ridiculous CGI establishing shots? It’s not like they couldn’t have used any generic city shots. Do you think they were trying to make a stylistic choice?
Caleb: By "ridiculous CGI establishing shots," you mean the camera appearing to fly around the New Gotham skyline, until it settles on one of the two or three buildings much of the action takes place in? I suppose they were making a stylistic choice, but a bad one. Maybe the idea was to suggest the way Huntress sees the city through her super cat eyes when she’s running and jumping around, but all it does for me is remind me of the same technique in the 1994 Spider-Man animated series.
But it’s one of those swooshing shots of the CGI cityscape that gets us the New Gotham Police Department, where Detective Hottie (Shemar Moore) and two other Honest Cops are getting ready to process a perp named Slick (Silas Weir Mitchell). Where did he get his name? Is it his very moist face, or his slicked-back hairstyle? Or that he’s such a smooth operator? After all, he tries to bribe the cops into releasing him, but they’re not having any of it.
So, when they leave him handcuffed to a bench, he just straight up turns into water, just like Spider-Man villain Hydro-Man, and like no villain in Batman’s extensive rogue’s gallery, and escapes down the drain.
Weird that with all of the super villains in Gotham, the producers decided to create a brand-new one for this episode. If you’re counting, we’ve had two villains in two consecutive episodes that are original to the show rather than taken from the comics.
Meredith: That screams, “I’ve been doused with GC-161” to me.
Meredith: The Secret World of Alex Mack. I think you might be too old for that.
Meredith: Slick conveniently finds his way into Dr. Quinzel’s shower.
Caleb: Where she is not wearing any clothes! Because she is in the shower! Showering! In the nude! (Readers, I would like to hear point out that I asked Meredith to take a screenshot of Mia Sara in the shower, but she refused.)
Meredith: And she is also alarmingly unconcerned with the man who just appeared in her shower.
Caleb: So yeah, they are in the shower naked together, and probably not for the first time considering the nature of their conversation, which revolves around evil-plotting and sexual innuendo. Also, she seems to grab his penis in a threatening manner... off-screen, of course, this is the WB, not HBO.
Meredith: Wait, she’s calling herself Harley Quinn all of a sudden?
Caleb: Just in the relative privacy of her own shower. I suppose they wanted to be sure we knew that this evil blonde psychiatrist who always wears red and black and is named Dr. Harleen “Harley” Quinzel is, in fact, really the villain known as Harley Quinn.
Once she releases her threatening grip on Slick, she updates us on the status of The Joker, after what we knew from Alfred’s recap about his having been defeated by Batman but having had Catwoman killed and having shot Barbara. It turns out that he is “in a prison far away” and that Harley has come to Goth--- er, New Gotham to make the city pay for what it did to her "beloved Mister J."
Meredith: Ugh, "Mistah J"; I’m not a huge Harley Quinn fan, but the original “abused girlfriend of the Joker” is my least favorite version of her. So, it seems like Harley is being set up as the “big bad” of the series. She wants to take over the world! Or at least New Gotham.
Oh, hey, there is a theme song.
Caleb: There is. Is it power ballad enough for you? Wait, I thought Alfred’s prologue was the opening, but now we get a theme song with credits and everything. So I guess this show has two openings…?
Meredith: It’s not quite as rocking as I would like, but it definitely screams, "I am a show airing on the WB circa 2000."
Babs (Dina Meyer) is in The Clocktower trying to get Dinah (Rachel Skarsten) registered for school, but Dinah’s more interested in destroying the place with an errantly thrown Oracle-arang than going to school.
Caleb: It’s not an Oracle-arang! It’s a Birds of Prey-arang! See, it's not shaped like an, um, oracle, but like a bird of prey with its wingtips touching above its head.
Dinah did pick out her outfit for the first day of school, which Helena, dressed in skintight leather pants and matching crop top, is rather derisive of, saying it has a “draft me for the chess club thing going on.” Not everyone can pull off leather and bustiers 24/7, Helena, and maybe that wouldn’t be the best look for the first day of school, anyway.
Meredith: That’s a sick burn on Helena’s part, though. Man, Dinah is a terrible liar. She offers up really awful excuses for why she doesn’t have school transcripts or a birth certificate.
Caleb: What, that a really big fire burned up everywhere that any and all paper records are kept in her hometown, and that her parents are dead? Sounded legit to me. And Oracle only begrudgingly agrees to “run a background check” on the teenage runaway super-psychic that just moved in with her after Helena says she doesn’t trust her.
Meredith: Back at school, Handsome Guidance Counselor (Shawn Christian) appears again to shore up those date plans. Babs apologizes for cutting their earlier conversation short because of an emergency with her online gourmet baking company. Wow, that’s... not a great cover story.
Caleb: Maybe that’s why she wasn’t immediately suspicious of Dinah’s story? I like that this lady who has been a superhero with a secret identity for so long hadn’t already prepared for this sort of situation, and has to make up something completely implausible off the top of her head. She and Helena make custom fudge and muffin tops to sell online, apparently. And sometimes her beeper goes off and summons her back to the kitchen to deal with custom fudge and muffin top-related emergencies.
Helena is very happy about the fact that the guidance counselor is pursuing Barbara though, as she apparently thinks that Babs needs to get laid.
Meredith: They keep saying "muffin top."
So Babs ran that background check and nothing came up. Apparently Dinah gave them a fake name. She’s actually Dinah Redmond from Opal, Missouri, as opposed to whatever she actually told them.
Caleb: What? I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening. Ashley Scott looks distractingly like Rachel Leigh Cook circa Josie and The Pussycats. I keep imagining cat ears on her... which actually wouldn’t be that out of place, given her family history. I guess it’s the hair?
Wait, did you say her last name was "Redmond"? Not Lance or Drake? Huh. Psychic, no fishnets, and a different surname? Despite being a blonde lady named Dinah in a TV show called Birds of Prey, she’s looking less and less like Black Canary.
So while Helena was annoyed by Dinah’s lying and secretiveness, and suspicious of whether or not they should have taken her in, what really pushes her over the edge is when Dinah appears wearing her sweater... which she borrowed. Without even asking!
Meredith: Yeah, the more I watch this, the more I dislike Dinah being a teen. Like I said last time, it’s the wrong energy. I want to see an established team, or at least the characters being already in place. It’s odd to see Babs training Dinah. I don’t need to see Helena argue with Dinah over clothes.
Their fight forces Babs to set some Clocktower rules --- no using superpowers to settle domestic disputes. I look forward to the inevitable episode where Helena uses masking tape to divide the place in half, insisting Dinah stay over on Alfred’s side.
Caleb: Babs and Helena go out for some fresh air, and man, this street scene is awesome. I don’t think it would be possible to make the streets of New Gotham look any faker. Like, they could have literally just filmed on any street in the world to produce a semi-convincing street scene. This looks like Sesame Street sans Muppets though, like the producers built a fake street on a sound stage and hired a local theater group to portray passersby, and to bring their own costumes.
It’s almost enough to distract me from this bit of bombshell dialogue.
"It’s not about clothing and you know it," Babs tells Helena of her issues with whether or not they should take in and train Dinah. "Think about how we learned. How we all learned. Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, Jason Todd. Even you. It’s more than a tradition. It’s a legacy. It’s what your father would have done."
Wow! So many comics references in a single line of dialogue! Of course, this begs the question of where Dick, Tim and Jason are, since obviously none of them are around fighting crime and/or dating Barbara Gordon in New Gotham anymore.
Meredith: We move on to the crime scene of a very strange murder. One of the police officers who had previously arrested Slick have drowned... but there is no water around!
Caleb: Hmm, that dripping water cooler in the hallway of NGPD HQ is suspiciously prominent in this shot, isn’t it? OMG Slick was hiding in that water cooler all along, and he appears to murder the lady police officer by shooting water down her throat!
With her drowned, that’s all of the arresting officers who weren’t named in the opening credits killed by Slick’s water powers. I hope Detective Sexy will be okay!
Meredith: Dinah asks about Babs' wheelchair (running the risk of Babs being late for her date). She "techno-babbles" about high tech spine implants, which allows her to move the chair with thought, and might conceivably allow her to walk again someday. Hmm, that sounds an awful lot like the New 52 Barbara.
Caleb: And now it's date time! Handsome Guidance Counselor pushes Barbara's high-tech, thought-powered wheelchair to... a candlelight dinner he laid out in a public park, I think? And decorated it with Christmas lights? I would have probably just asked her to get coffee for a first date, but then, maybe that’s why I’m not dating Barbara Gordon.
Meredith: Whatever, I'm sure Dick would've taken her to some romantic rooftop. This guidance counselor’s got nothing.
Caleb: Oh, ish! Just when the guidance counselor had asked about Barbara's heart and moved in to touch her hand, the beeper of prey went off! She tries to ignore it, but it goes off again! She sighs heavily, probably preparing to say something lame about muffin tops, while Dinah and Helena talk about trust at the bar whereHelena works.
Meredith: A bar where they just let 16-year-olds in, apparently.
Caleb: Harley and Slick have a second meeting, this time fully clothed, dry and in her office. He catches her reading an article about a patient who killed someone, and remarks how weird it is that she’s a supervillain with a day job. She explains that she enjoys driving people insane and into acts of crime through her therapy sessions, and it’s more a hobby than a day job, like golf. They go-over their plan: Slick kills all three of the cops who thwarted his earlier attempt to hijack a truck, and then he tries to hijack it again.
Meredith: Babs is starting to figure out that the murderer is someone who has the ability to transform themselves into a fluid of some kind, and Dinah says they should call him "Liquid Guy."
Aww, she tried to name the metahuman just like Cisco does on The Flash! But he is much better at it.
Caleb: Naming the villains was Johnny Storm’s self-appointed job on the 2006 Fantastic Four cartoon. And Michelangelo's self-appointed job on the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, too. Johnny was awesome at it, and Michelangelo is as bad at it as Dinah is, but he’s terrible at it in a funnier way.
So where is the third police officer, Sexy Detective Jesse Reese (Shemar Moore)? Why, he is swimming in a pool.
This is a good news/bad news thing. Good news? He’s shirtless, and has a torso that could put Steve Amell’s to shame. Bad news? He’s being stalked by a villain who can turn himself into water.
Huntress goes to warn Moore that he is in danger of being drowned by a guy who can turn himself into water, which is their second meeting. Do note that she’s now wearing a solid black coat, rather than the sheer one from last episode. He thinks she’s crazy, but their conversation reveals Slick’s surname is, no lie, "Waters."
For the record, "Slick Waters" is an even worse name for a supervillain who can turn himself into water than "Liquid Guy."
Speaking of whom, look out Shemar!
Meredith: I don’t even know where to begin with this fight scene. Slick Waters (really?) makes an appearance in the swimming pool and Huntress proceeds to roundhouse kick Shemar Moore in the face.
Caleb: To save him! Apparently, that is the most efficient way to remove him from danger; kick him across the room, keeping her hands free to... fight the guy... made of water…?
Oracle coaches Helena through the attack, while the policeman lays on the floor, looking shocked. After she solidifies him with a nearby fire extinguisher, she attacks him with the same sort of kicks she used on her friend.
Slick jumps into the pool to revive himself, and is ready for Round Two. Huntress and Moore retreat to the safety of the sauna, which is hot enough that Mr. Waters can’t enter without turning into steam.
This leads to a bonding scene between the two. During which they both take off their shirts. Because it’s hot in there. In more ways than one, now!
With two of the three cops working in New Gotham City in this episode dead and the other stuck in a sauna flirting with a shirtless vigilante, Slick and his gang are able to successfully hijack the truck, which is full of surface-to-air missiles, plastic explosive and flamethrowers.
Meredith: Not if the Birds of Prey have anything to say about it! Huntress crashes their party by literally crashing through a warehouse skylight and starts beating up goons to the sound of some sweet guitar shredding.
Caleb: Wow, broken glass, a bunch of wire-work in Huntress' entrance and kung fu action... this single scene probably cost more than the rest of the episode to produce.
Meredith: I just realized that they haven’t used that cougar roar sound effect when Huntress fights at all in this episode.
Caleb: After getting their asses kicked hand-to-hand by Huntress and Reese, two of Slick's thugs decide maybe they should use some of those weapons on Huntress. Unfortunately, one of them breaks out a flamethrower... which is perfect for saving Reese from Liquid Guy, who is in the process of trying to drown him by shoving himself down his throat ! Huntress turns the flamethrower on Liquid Guy and... evaporates him. Or, in other words, kills him. Which is exactly what she was telling Harley she couldn’t do in the first scene.
Meredith: Don’t forget that Dinah showed up with an Oracle-arang to cover Huntress’ back, but also now she’s out past curfew so she’s grounded.
Caleb: Reese and Helena have a post-fight chat. "You don’t trust me?" "You’re asking for more than I can give." "It’s complicated." "Sometimes you just have to make the leap." Wow, their discussion is built entirely out of outtakes from a relationship conversation.
And then the Birds have their own post-climax debriefing, during which Dinah tearfully confesses that she’s been lying to them. "My mother left me with foster parents when I was six, and they taught me to be ashamed of what I was," she says, and by "what I was" she means psychic/metahuman.
Meredith: I wonder who her mother could be? Another metahuman, perhaps?
Caleb: Ugh, at school, Barbara has recreated the dumb candlelight picnic on her desk at school for the guidance counselor. Meanwhile, Helena compares her first team-up with Reese to a "first date." That was an awful lot of semi-nudity for a first date, if you ask me.
Meredith: Why is Barbara never teaching students?
Caleb: The school year hasn’t started yet, Meredith.
Meredith: Well, OK, Caleb. I hope her class ends up being the reverse of Indiana Jones’ --- a bunch of teen guys swooning over their hot English teacher.
Anyway Babs muses as to why Slick wanted to steal something that wasn’t easy to get. Could he be working for someone else? Cut to: Dr. Quinzel’s office where she is casually looking out her window, holding some kind of orb, like you do.
Caleb: Forget what Harley is doing and what she’s holding, what on earth is Helena wearing?
Meredith: It is a modest sweater-sleeve, leather-bra thing. She’s come to see Harley to continue their therapy sessions. Dramatic irony!
Caleb: Is it? Because Harley is wearing a red vinyl dress, Helena just told Barbara that guys don’t get to her and then she showed up in Harley’s office dressed like she was going to a late '90s rave... Is that enough for us to ship them? Can we ship them? Is that how shipping works? I’ve never had a ship before! Harlena forever!
Meredith: Yeah, I think you’ve basically got shipping down.
So I’m trying to figure out why this show wasn’t as successful as Smallville. I think because, although Smallville relied heavily on the meteor freak of the week structure, there were parts of it that were relatable to its audience. Clark went to school, he had nice parents, he did homework and went to football games. Eventually, Smallville resembled what Birds looks like at this point (which is not that different from the general set-ups of Arrow and The Flash), the idea of a "found" family coming together to fight super-villains. So I think there’s some merit to your suspicion that Birds was just ahead of its time.
Caleb: I wonder if the key to its lack of success wasn't the whole Batman thing, the way the show raises certain expectations, showing us Batman, The Joker, Catwoman and Batgirl for like thirty seconds at the beginning of the episode, only to dash them over the course of the rest of the episode? I guess we’ll see as the show progresses, but it at least has attractive people in goofy "comedy" scenes and passable action, with lots of winks and nods to comic book source material, so I still don’t see how it’s that much worse than your average TV superhero show.
Except, of course, for the fact that they made up a new villain whose real name is Slick Waters instead of using, I don’t know, any of the 53,000 Batman villains.
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