‘BIRDS OF PREY’ TV REWATCH, EPISODE 6: ‘PRIMAL SCREAM’
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 PreyTV 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 producers do their level best to adapt Point Break with Huntress in the Johnny Utah role. For better or worse, it is neither as awesome nor as spectacularly bad as that sounds. "Primal Scream" originally aired on November 13 of 2002, and was written by Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Adam Armus and Kay Foster, and directed by Jim Charleston.
Caleb: Okay, so we start with sexy Shemar Moore's sexy Detective Jesse Reese using the Huntress signal ring he got last episode to summon her and hey, what do you know? It actually lights up when he activates it, making the big, bird-shaped ring on his finger look still more conspicuous.
As soon as Ashley Scott's Huntress arrives, they immediately start talking about "taking it to the next level," "something more hands-on," "no strings," "an experiment"... they sound so much like they are talking about going from friends/crime-fighting allies to lovers that they are almost certainly talking about something else, huh?
Meredith: Helena and Reese’s bad double entendre, sexy banter is my least favorite part of the show. They have no chemistry.
Caleb: That is my favorite part of the show.
Meredith: Yeah, well you have terrible taste in TV. I don’t know why they’re going on a mission together. He’s not even a Bird of Prey, he doesn't even go here. Cut to: A hot, happening night club. Motorcycle-riding goons in animal masks are robbing Club Slippery!
Caleb: They must have remodeled since hyper-aging baby assassin Guy burned it down two episodes ago. The criminals, whose masks all appear to be store-bought rubber animal masks, take wallets, jewelry and watches from the club-goers and put them in sacks. This strikes me as a very old timey kind of crime, of the sort that doesn't seem particularly lucrative.
Given the thematic masks and the joyful swagger with which the guy in the scarier of the two wolf masks talks, this also strikes me as very Point Break-y. And when I say "Point Break" I am of course referring to the 1991 original, and not the 2015 remake, which I have never seen (and, based on its box office performance, you almost certainly haven't either).
Hey, one of them is wearing a pig mask with a fancy top hat and monocle on. I wonder if that is he Birds of Prey-iverse’s Professor Pyg…?
Meredith: A woman with cat-like reflexes wearing a cat mask slides across the bar, kicks a shotgun out of the hands of the bartender, and proceeds to take a shot of liquor while still wearing the mask.
When 30 seconds have elapsed, she jumps on the back of one of the motorcycles, peels off her mask and---
Whaaaa?! That cat masked goon is actually Helena!
Caleb: After the opening credits, Reese and Huntress meet up, and he hands her a folder full of surveillance photos of the robbery we just witnessed. "Is there something you want to tell me?" he asks her while she flips through them.
Her reply? "Yeah, do you think these pants make me look hippy?" See, Meredith? Great banter. As becomes clear, he asked her to go undercover and infiltrate the gang in an effort to help him bust them. So that's what they were talking about with all the innuendo earlier! Not doing it with one another, sexually. So, if this is Point Break and she's Keanu Reeves, I guess that makes Reese Gary Busey.
Anyway, he's concerned she's not taking the case seriously enough, as well as maybe having a little too much fun hanging out with the hard-partying criminal element.
She compares that robbery to a coffee date, in which she and the gang are just getting to know one another.
“Any idea when we’re gonna move on to heavy petting?" Reese asks, and she says that she thinks that she just "made it to second base." Five minutes in, and they are almost out of sexual metaphors.
Meredith: To New Gotham High School, where Dina Meyer's Barbara Gordon is about to start a lesson on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, based on what the blackboard says, and who shows up? Lurky Guidance Counselor! Where you been, man? Babs isn’t really into Shawn Christian's Wade Brixton, but he isn’t having it. So they make out in her classroom.
Caleb: So, do you like their sexy banter better than Helena and Reese's...?
Meredith: I don’t like any of it, actually.
Caleb: Why is Babs talking to this guy at all? I would think that during their off-screen date in episode three, when she said Wade's mom told her she’s not good enough for her son because her legs don’t work would be a deal-breaker.
So their banter involves taking it slow, and the scene ends with Barbara saying "Slow?" and Wade/Lurky responding "Molasses." Cut to:
Meredith: What is happening?! It's the middle of the day! Babs, I thought you were supposed to be at school teaching magical realism to ninth graders!
Caleb: Well, he says “good morning” and she says “it is, isn’t it?” while they spoon shirtless in her bed, so I guess they spent the night together last night, after school. While Helena was out fighting crime and Dinah was doing her homework and Alfred was polishing the silver, Babs just snuck her co-worker into The Clocktower and hung a "do not disturb" sign on her bedroom doorknob.
As sudden as this all seems, I think this plot development is worthwhile, if only because it leads to a scene in which Babs tells Helena about it, and Dina Meyer speaks perhaps my favorite line of the show so far: "Don’t say the word 'sex' in front of Alfred!"
Meredith: I love the fact that Alfred is just in the background arranging flowers. Yeah, okay, Babs’ only concern here are Alfred’s virgin ears. She’s also weirded out by Lurky saying that he wanted "to take care of her."
Caleb: I’m pretty sure he did that last night. Boom!
Meredith: Helena and Babs are talkin’ relationships and apparently we are now watching Sex and New Gotham instead of Birds of Prey.
Dinah (Rachel Skarsten) makes her first appearance of the episode and oh, yeah, her mom just died.
Caleb: That is all very dramatic, but it has nothing to do with sex or romance, Dinah. Go away and let the girls get back to dishing about guys!
Well, the plot eventually must reassert itself, and so Oracle oracles up some info on the leader of The Animals biker gang. He is one Mick Winters, an extreme sports fanatic and the leader of a gang of "adrenaline junkies" who are into crime for the thrill as much as the financial reward. Let the record show, this is also like Point Break, which makes the guy playing Winters (sorry, IMDb can't help identify him) the Patrick Swayze character.
Meredith: Helena, who The Animals simply call "Cat," goes to their clubhouse, and she is rewarded for her actions during the previous robberies with a motorcycle. She and Winters exchange lines of dialogue about crime and motorcycles that sound like they could be talking about sex. Oh my God, this whole episode is a sexual innuendo!
Meredith: Then he monologues a bit about how boring people go to their boring jobs in their boring cars and so on. Okay Tyler Durden, sit down.
Caleb: It's time for another robbery, and Helena has already tipped Reese off that it will be of high-end sushi restaurant Gobu. So he's in position, talking to his "partner" Detective McNally (Brent Sexton), who is only on the show when the plot demands Reese have a partner, via a hidden mic in his jacket.
Reese isn't very good at this stuff. He not-so-subtly picks up his lapel with his hand and holds it to his mouth and ear like he's talking into a phone.
The plan? When he gives the signal to McNally, a bunch of cops will pour in and arrest The Animals. They bust in with the line "Put your sushi down and your hands up!" They've got a convenient, signal-blocking gadget that prevents Reese from calling McNally, so he decides to try to take them all alone. He goes for his gun.
Meredith: Huntress punches out Reese. Again. That’s like her favorite thing to do.
Caleb: Afterwards, Barbara asks Helena what happened after the Gobu job, and she rattles off a list that includes tequila, dancing and strip poker. Jeez, why didn't we get to see any of that?
Again, like Barbara's ill-fated meeting of Wade's parents or how they got from her classroom one morning to her bed the next, the show continues to not show us any of the stuff I'd be most interested in seeing, instead focusing on the crime-fighting.
After a few seconds devoted to showing a sweaty Barbara training a perfectly dry Dinah in the art of fighting people with sticks in the dojo, Alfred enters, still arranging that same vase of flowers. When the subject of Reese and Helena's tense working relationship comes up, Alfred reminds Barbara that Batman didn't always get along with the law.
"You see Batman and Commissioner Gordon," Babs says. "Now that was a team."
This is the very first mention of Commissioner James Gordon, father of Barbara Gordon, just in case you were wondering. I was actually wondering if he even existed in the Birds of Prey-iverse, as he and his fate were never mentioned, and when Reese learned about the rumors of the Batman from Detective Claude Morton in episode three, he thought the very idea of a man dressed as a bat fighting crime in New Gotham was completely bananas. Which sure seemed to rule out there having been a bat-signal mounted on police headquarters a few years back.
Meredith: They compare the Batman/Gordon team with the sexual tension-laden team of Huntress/Reese?
Caleb: Wow, that's a bold choice! Maybe that's where Batman and Gordon are now. They've given up crime-fighting and decided to run away together and start a new life somewhere else, free from their responsibilities to New Gotham, where they can just focus on making their relationship work?
Back to Animals HQ, where Helena (in her "Cat" identity), Wolf (the other girl in the gang) and a few others are playing strip poker. Unfortunately for Ashley Scott fans, Helena is a hell of a poker player, so both she and Wolf are fully-clothed, but there's just like, one shirtless dude.
Meredith: The gang is planning their next heist at Club New Gotham. But the Tyler Durden wannabe says he’s gotta see the bossman first. As it turns out, it’s a bosswoman: Harley Quinn.
I’m confused here, as he presents a suitcase full of cash and loose gold jewelry to her, so why are they robbing clubs and mid-priced restaurants for this stuff?
Caleb: Yeah, this is what I was talking about when I mentioned what an old-school kind of crime it is. A generation or so ago, you'd see this all the time, where a supervillain and their henchmen would show up at some kind of function with bags to collect the money and jewelry of those in attendance. In fact, The Joker pulled something similar off in The Dark Knight, when he robbed all the swells at Bruce Wayne's fundraiser for Harvey Dent.
I think one of the reasons writers used this crime so often was that it was such a good way to get the hero --- be it Bruce Wayne at a fundraiser or Clark Kent or other heroes with day jobs in journalism --- at the scenes of various crimes.
Of course, they tended to be at fancy fundraisers or museum openings or political functions or the like, places with a bunch of rich people and money. And I suppose it's worth noting that as Point Break-like as this episode's A-plot may be, Patrick Swayze and his gang were surfers and adrenaline junkies who were also bank robbers. There is considerably more money to be stolen from banks than sushi restaurants and nightclubs.
Meredith: A handful of diamonds is so small time for Harley, seeing as how two weeks ago she was plotting her takeover of New Gotham with an army of baby assassins.
Caleb: Maybe she’s diversifying? Harley Quinn does like diamonds... or at least their shape.
Meredith: Reese and McNally are on secret stake out outside the Animals' clubhouse, and when McNally goes for a coffee run, Helena appears to share some intel with Reese. She makes her surprise appearance by dangling a doughnut in front of his binoculars.
Caleb: But then the doughnut disappears! No one ate it, she didn't set it down or hand it to Reese, and her leather pants are way too tight to fit a doughnut into their pockets. Where did the doughnut go?
They argue a bit about how to proceed. Reese wants to bust the Animals ASAP, but Helena wants to hold off, in the hopes that they can lead her to their boss, who she assumes must be pretty big time. Perhaps, but how much more can New Gotham's sushi industry take...?
Meredith: Helena comes home later that night, rifling through the kitchen in search of Pop-Tarts. (They’re under the sink, next to the bleach). She then proceeds to argue with Babs, who, like Reese, is concerned that Helena might like partying with these guys a little too much, and doesn't seem to appreciate how dangerous they are.
Caleb: So now they attack Club New Gotham. Which isn't a very good name for a club in New Gotham; it's like naming your restaurant "Restaurant." I hate the names of all the clubs in this show.
Meredith: How dare you besmirch the good name of Club Slippery!
Caleb: Wolf noticed an unmarked van parked near their clubhouse, and rightly assuming it to belong to the cops, she plants a bomb under it. And it totally explodes! With McNally still inside!
He's rushed to the hospital, and it looks like he's going to pull through.
Meredith: McNally survived that massive explosion?! Why is Black Canary the only one who hasn’t survived an explosion so far?
Caleb: Maybe because Black Canary announced her impending retirement prior to being caught in the explosion? Isn’t that a rule in action movies or police procedurals, that as soon as you announce retirement you get killed…?
Meredith: Now things are really tense between Reese and Huntress. This is what happens when you have a mediocre Birds of Prey team assembled. It suddenly becomes the Huntress/Reese show which is not something that I am interested in watching
Caleb: I like when she tells him that this is precisely why she works alone. Except, of course, for Oracle and Dinah. And sometimes Alfred, I guess. Oh, and a hyper-aging child assassin that one time.
Meredith: Reese is giving the ring back! “We’re breaking up! Never call me again! I deserve so much better!” he shouts at her.
Caleb: Or words to that effect.
Meredith: Helena goes back to The Clocktower to work out her aggression over her fight with Reese on the heavy bag. Babs tries to diffuse the situation saying, “You were learning to do things as a team.” Helena shoots back, “We go it alone.”
I’m just gonna interrupt there --- excuse me? They so badly want this to be “The Huntress Show,” I think they forgot this is actually Birds of Prey. You know, the team made up of Barbara and Dinah and sometimes Helena and Zinda? Every episode pulls further and further away from that.
Caleb: Don’t be silly. They wouldn’t call it "The Huntress Show." They would call it "The Huntress."
Meredith: Wow, thanks for that insightful observation.
Dinah reappears reminding everyone she is still on this show by shouting “I am calm!” when Babs attempts to interrupt her yelling and telling her to calm down.
Caleb: Huntress rides her new motorcycle to the club house, climbs off the back and–Woah, does Huntress has a tramp stamp? Is that part of her cover, a fake tramp stamp? Because I can’t believe Alfred would let Batman’s little girl get a tramp stamp...
Aren't you going to take a screenshot of her lower back as she climbs off the motorcycle, so readers can see what I'm talking about?
Meredith: No, Caleb, I don’t want to screenshot a gratuitous picture of her tattoo.
Caleb: Ugh, now she is trading double entendres with Mickey, comparing committing crimes to having sex. She even lets him kiss her. With tongue!
Meredith: Back at The Clocktower, Babs asks Dinah if she wants to sit this mission out, to which she replies, "No way! I, a 16-year-old who just watched my mother die, is totally well-adjusted at the moment and would like it if you left me alone to go unsupervised into a dangerous situation."
Babs shrugs and says, “Eh, go get ‘em”
Caleb: I like how Dinah acknowledges that she's been through a lot, but insists, “I am going to do my job.” Dinah, you do know you’re not actually getting paid for any of this, right?
Meredith: The Animals lead Helena into the back room, where we see that they have Reese chained up! Helena sees him and shouts “Reese!” which is not a great way of keeping your cover, just FYI. They take her down with a half dozen tasers, which also short out her comms.
Caleb: When she awakens, she is hanging up next to Reese, and the disappointed, bargain basement Patrick Swayze asks her, “What’s this...detective here got that I don’t?"
Oh, I don't know, muscles? Perfectly maintained stubble that is never too long and never too short? A killer jawline? Pearly white teeth? Soulful eyes?
Dinah is going in! There's one guy working on his bike out front, and she whips out her collapsible baton. Hey is this Dinah’s first action scene? She’s... not terrible at it.
Meredith: All that training with Babs paid off, I guess.
Caleb: In discussing his plans to torture her to death, Winters says, "It’s like sex, it’s all about getting lost in the moment.” And she replies “Lets skip the foreplay.”
God, this episode is too sex-obsessed, even for me.
Meredith: Helena does a pretty good job beating up goons while tied up. Her eyes go all cat-like and I have to say, I miss that cougar sound effect.
Caleb: It’s a good thing all those guys just straight up run into her feet; it makes kicking them while hanging from the ceiling by her wrists so much easier.
So everyone gets beat up, the leader jumps through the window, Reese chases him down, points a gun at him and contemplates blowing him away for what they did to his partner. The bad guy seems into it, as Huntress says getting shot to death would just be one last thrill for him, but she talks Reese out of it.
And then after Reese decides to just knock him out with the butt of the gun, Huntress whooshes away.
Aw, they don’t even kiss! These two should take a lesson from Barbara and Wade.
Meredith: But she does leave the signal ring for him. Maybe next time.
Caleb: Oh ho! After holding out in the hopes of meeting the Animals' boss, ironically Helena does get that meeting in one of the epilogues, but neither she nor the boss know it!
She's back in therapy with Dr. Quinzel, telling her about how she feels like she learned a lesson about the importance of teamwork or whatever. "But why worry about other people?" the not-so-good doctor tells her patient. "You’ll always have me." Harleena forever!
Meredith: Lurky shows up in Babs' classroom again, because apparently Babs tried to ghost him. According to her chalkboard, they’ve moved on from Marquez to Shakespeare.
And at The Clocktower, Helena and Dinah talk about being sad and momless. Wow, wouldn’t it be cool if maybe, just maybe, Canary didn’t die? Yeah, I know, that’s crazy talk.
Caleb: And that's episode six! We're almost at the halfway point of the season, and thus the series. Final thoughts?
Meredith: So a lot of double entendre-laden conversation between Reese and Helena. The show really wants to make them happen, they’re hitting hard on the whole, cop/vigilante star-crossed lovers thing. In my opinion, it’s not working, which means Birds spends a lot of run time developing their relationship when they are two of the least interesting characters I’ve had the misfortune of watching. It’s really defying all of my expectations (in a bad way) of what I would want to see from a show about Huntress, Oracle and Black Canary. I’d prefer there was more team bonding, so to speak, before they jump into heavy relationship stuff.
Caleb: Well, I'm obviously okay with the relationship stuff, I just kind of wish they struck a better balance with it. Too much of Barbara's relationship seems to happen off-screen, while we could probably do with slightly less Huntress and Reese. And, as usual, the show seemed to have a hard time balancing all three of the characters. It's nice Dinah is finally allowed to, like, fight people, but for the most part she was MIA this episode.
There are so many plates spinning in terms of plot --- the romantic sub-plots, the training of Dinah, Harley Quinn as behind-the-scenes queenpin of crime, whatever the hell happened to Batman --- that the producers seem unable to keep them all going at the same time in a satisfying manner. Which might have something to do with why this lasted but one season.