‘Birds of Prey’ TV Rewatch, Episode 3: ‘Prey For The Hunter’
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, Detective Jesse Reese (Shemar Moore) gets a new partner with a sinister agenda, both Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer) and Helena Kyle (Ashley Scott) face roadblocks in their respective romantic relationships, Harley Quinn takes an episode off, and we find out that the show's producers apparently had difficulty determining the difference between DC's metahumans and Marvel's mutants. "Prey For The Hunter" originally aired on October 23 of 2002, and was written by Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Adam Armus and Kay Foster and was directed by Chris Long.
Caleb: We begin, as always, with Ian Abercromie's classy Alfred Pennyworth narrating over the same flashbacks of Batman, Catwoman, The Joker and Batgirl. I really like how Danny Elfman-ish the music over the premise-establishment opening is, which further suggests this is a sequel of sorts to Batman '89 and Batman Returns... but British accent or not, I still think it’s weird it ends with, “My name is Alfred Pennyworth, and this is their story.”
Meredith: Gotta love that they begin every episode with a guy mansplaining the Birds of Prey to viewers. As I listen to this opening narration, I wonder why weren’t any of the Robins caught in the crossfire of the war between Batman and the Joker? Especially since after the name-drops last episode, we now know they exist in this universe.
Caleb: This episode begins with Helena complaining about her lack of a “normal” life or any kind of social life over her two-way radio necklace and earring set, while beating up some non-descript would-be muggers in what appears to be the same alley she saved Dinah (Rachel Skarsten) from in the first episode.
Meredith: I already dislike this set-up of Huntress basically bantering to herself. Ashley Scott isn’t a strong enough actress to sell the sarcastic one-liner and convince me she’s not just shouting these lines back to whichever harried production assistant is reading Babs' part from the script aloud.
Caleb: One such non-descript bad guy sticks his super-long tongue out like Ray Park's Toad, and then he spits acid at her, and while her cat-like reflexes allow her to dodge it, it does singe a hole in her leather jacket.
"Oh no, you don’t mess with the outfit," she says. Yeah, we don’t want her to go back to that nasty see-through coat from the pilot episode!
Meredith: Let's call him "Acid Guy"!
Caleb: Wait, Helena's not done talking about her outfit with her attacker. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to find clothes that look sexy?"
Um, did she only read half a line there? Like did she leave out a part about clothes that look sexy and are functional or superhero appropriate or something? Shouldn't there be a punchline of some kind, if that was meant to be a joke? Because finding clothes that look sexy really isn’t that hard, is it? Where is New Gotham, Saudi Arabia?
Meredith: Weird, Acid Guy appears to have been killed by acid from an unseen attacker.
Caleb: At dimly-lit New Gotham Police Headquarters, we find Detective Jesse Reese doing paperwork, sexily. He is approached by a Detective Claude Morton (Joe Flanigan), who introduces himself as his new partner and says that he “just transferred from Bludhaven.” So, Bludhaven exists in the Birds Of Prey-iverse. Maybe that’s where Dick Grayson is now, instead of fighting crime in Gotham and/or courting Barbara Gordon.
Meredith: On the street outside, Huntress drops from the sky to have a chat with Reese about the metahuman who was seemingly just killed by someone with the same super-power off-screen during her fight. She says, “What do you say, cup of coffee, loser buys?” Which is a weirdly nonsensical way to phrase that question and also sounds like another half-written joke missing the punchline. It’s like Ashley Scott is only reading every other line from the script.
Caleb: She basically just asked him out though, right?
Meredith: Yeah, she wants a “normal” life, remember?
Caleb: Impossible! They are both abnormally attractive. He doesn't want to get coffee with her, since he doesn't even know her name, and she replies, "If this name thing is such a big deal for you, you can call me Huntress," and then, when he's not looking, she completely disappears. This is called "pulling a Batman."
Meredith: Babs’ research establishes that Acid Guy was killed by the exact same kind of acid that he himself used. What are the odds of that? Babs is stumped! It's a metahuman mystery!
Caleb: "We need to put an ear to the metahuman street,” Oracle tells Helena. I lost count of how many times they have said "metahuman" in this scene, but it’s gotta be close to like 50. And we’re only minutes into the episode! The word “metahuman” is this episode’s “muffin tops.”
Meredith: Babs sends Helena to a club called... No Man’s Land! There’s a name I recognize. That’s the crossover storyline where Cassandra Cain gets the mantle of Batgirl after Huntress.
Caleb: While Helena is off to put her ear to the metahuman street, it's finally the first day of school at New Gotham High, where Barbara teaches English and Dinah has just enrolled. That means the students are coming back, and that means Barbara and handsome guidance counselor Wade Brixton (Shawn Christian) can’t spend all day flirting in the dimly-lit school and--- oh my God, what is Barbara wearing?!
Meredith: It’s day one, which means Barbara has got to don her finest white necktie.
Caleb: Dinah is pretty concerned about fitting in at her new school, and whether or not the other teenagers will accept her. I can’t imagine why. If they are willing to accept Barbara Gordon’s sweater vest and white tie ensemble, they’ll accept anything.
Meredith: A nightmare situation; Dinah’s teacher makes her tell the class facts about herself (she chooses an anecdote about zippers) before she’ll let them get back to chemistry class.
Caleb: And speaking of chemistry...
Meredith: Here is Handsome Guidance Counselor again. My God! Does this man do nothing but lurk outside of Babs’ classroom all day long? And he wants her to meet his parents? After one date? Babs, that is a red flag, you need to pump the brakes on this relationship.
Caleb: Did they even have a full date yet? I thought it was more like two half-dates. Which I guess does add up to one whole date.
He’s wearing a terrible tie too, and he's wearing his over a button-down denim shirt. Maybe he and Barbara really are a good match; they have equally terrible taste in neckwear.
Elsewhere, Reese and The New Guy compare notes about various metahuman perps, and Reese asks his new partner if he’s ever heard of a guy who could turn into water.
"You mean, like a Liquid Guy?" Morton asks, referring to Dinah's dumb nickname for last episode's villain, Mr. Slick Water. Man, they sure are enamored with that joke.
During the course of their conversation, Morton calls metahumans "creatures," to Reese's discomfort. It's pretty clear he is racist against metahumans, which is pretty weird since I don't think we've established what "metahuman" even means in the context of this show yet. In terms of the DC Universe, it just means "a person with superpowers."
And then Morton asks his visibly squirming partner, "What if I could make all this make sense to you, Reese? What if I could gtive you the answer to all the crazy things you’ve seen?” I... I think he’s about to present Reese with the choice of taking either a red pill or a blue pill!
Meredith: Suddenly, Morton develops a terrible migraine. He gets headaches when he’s near metahumans. He excuses himself and goes off to confront a janitor, who then lobs a fireball at him. Sweet, that custodian has some decent fire power. But Morton is a metahuman too! He can mimic powers, and proceeds to burn the janitor to a crisp with a fireball of his own.
Caleb: Actually, I think it would be more accurate to say that he burned him into a terrible CGI rendering of a skeleton...
Okay this is getting pretty Marvel-ous now. In the DC Universe, if you have super-powers, you are either a superhero or a super-villain, end of story. If you can throw fireballs, you don’t sweep floors for a living. It seems like they’re really repurposing the Marvel conception of mutants, wherein ordinary people are randomly born with extraordinary powers and then many try to live normal lives while tolerating prejudice from non-mutants, and then search-and-replacing it with “metahuman” here.
Now we check in on Helena's investigation, which takes her to No Man’s Land Collectables, a comic book/nerd paraphernalia shop. It's proprietor is the improbably-named Gibson Kafka (Rob Benedict) who, upon seeing Helena, reaches for a bust of Shakespeare, and a sliding bookcase reveals a secret passage. Shakespeare bust? Sliding bookcase hiding a secret passage? Why, it's just like that other show that Barbara Gordon was in!
The passage leads not to the Bat-Poles, but Kafka's secret, metahumans-only bar. Hey, this guy and the bartender, ice-powered Frosty, seem to know that our girl is both Helena and The Huntress. What happened to her secret identity?
Meredith: This metahuman hangout reminds me too much of the demon karaoke bar from Angel, which I also think is stupid.
Caleb: When Kafka refers to Helena as metahuman, she corrects him, pointing out that she's only half-metahuman. That's true! Afred tells us that she's half-metahuman at the beginning of every episode, right after he tells us how she is the product of Batman and Catwoman's "passion"! (That's a euphemism for sex, by the way).
I am now pretty lost on this whole metahuman thing. If you have metahuman powers, doesn’t that make you a metahuman…? They keep using “metahuman” for a stand in for, like, race or ethnicity or something here, which implies that everyone is born with their powers. Over on Smallville, would Clark be a metahuman, or would the fact that he's alien mean he's just Kryptonian, not metahuman? Would A.C. be only half-metahuman? What about the meteor-freaks and other characters who get super-powers after birth, like The Flash and Cyborg?
And, if metahuman refers only to someone born with power, why say “metahuman” and not mutant--- oh, wait, I think that’s copyrighted.
Wait though, Helena is "half-metahuman" on her mom's side, so I guess you're not randomly born with super-powers, but you're born with super-powers from parents with super-powers? I... think I'm going to stop trying to understand what the hell a metahuman is. Hopefully it won't be key to the entirety of this episode! (Spoiler: It will be.)
Meredith: Back to school. Dinah’s at lunch and some of the girls who were in her Chemistry class earlier tease her about her zipper comment. That’s the first and last straw for Dinah, who leaves her lunch tray and peaces out. Who needs tenth grade anyway?
Caleb: Yeah, she doesn’t need this kiddy stuff, not when she can go to a bar during her lunch period.
Meredith: Huntress isn’t happy to see that Dinah's cutting class when she shows up at No Man's Land. Dinah says she’s not fitting in, and Huntress accurately points out it’s hard to fit in if you’re not actually there. Dinah, you need to suck it up and learn algebra.
Caleb: Ugh. Someone actually uses the phrase "meta pride parade."
Back at NGPD HQ, Morton is telling Reese all about metahumans. Reese is skeptical. And then it gets weird. Like, jump up, yell at the TV and either throw it out the window or jump out the window yourself weird. Morton launches into a story about how, "a generation ago," there was a vigilante who prowled the Gotham night, saying that he was fighting for justice, but “all the while, and I’m not kidding about this, he was dressed as a bat.”
Reese is incredulous: "A grown man? Fights crime? And he does it dressed as a giant flying rodent?"
Oh my God, Meredith, Gotham City Police Detectiive Reese has never heard of Batman?
Meredith: So "The Bat-Man" is nothing more than an urban legend that only conspiracy theorists whisper about. That explains why Reese was so surprised about all the strange murders happening in New Gotham back in the pilot.
Caleb: But as a police detective with a reputation for the weirdest crimes in Gotham, as was re-established in his first scene this episode, how has he not heard of Batman? Alfred starts the show with "Legend tells..." Even if Reese doesn't believe there was a Batman, surely he's heard those legends, right?
Now I really want to know if this version of Barbara Gordon has a dad named Jim who was also the police commissioner, and whether or not there was ever a bat-signal on top of Gotham City police headquarters. It kind of boggles my mind that a Gotham City Police Detective avowedly interested in the weirdest cases in Gotham City had never, ever, ever heard even heard a rumor of “The Bat-Man.” Or Batgirl. Or any of the three Robins mentioned last episode.
I wonder if this was the point at which Birds of Prey's audience all quit watching the show...?
The show unfortunately doesn't give us time to make sense of this bombshell, but plows ahead. The racial undertones of Morton's discussion of metahumans are getting pretty obvious here, as he tells Reese how some metas married regular people and had kids, "and you don’t want to know how messed up they are." Hey, he’s talking about our Helena now!
It's at this point that Reese finally spills about his association with Helena, the mysterious metahuman he keeps meeting over dead bodies.
Meredith: Frost, or "Ice Guy" as Dinah would probably call him, is found dead. Frozen in a block of ice.
Caleb: When Helena shows up to help him investigate, Reese is a real jerk to her. His new partner has poisoned him against her. “You’re one of those meta-things, aren’t you?" he says.
"'Things'?" she spits back. "You think I’m a thing?"
Oh man, this relationship just took two huge steps back.
Meredith: Morton's sudden splitting headache leads him to Helena, in an abandoned warehouse, where he threatens to kill her. "I don’t kill easily," she quips. He’s got her cat-eye powers and they have a ninja fight, which ends with Martin getting hit by a car and Helena disappearing into the night.
Caleb: But sadly, there were no cat yowling sound-effects when they used their cat-powers during the fight. I know we made fun of those a lot in the pilot, but now I kind of miss it.
Back at the Clocktower, Oracle and Helena are comparing notes about the fight with Morton, the metahuman mimic, and when Helena says, “You don’t understand! You’re not like us!” to Babs, she drops the bombshell about her date.
Meredith: She went on a date? It turns out that Handsome Guidance Counselor’s mother thinks Babs isn’t good enough for her son because she doesn’t have "legs that work". Damn, that’s one cold mama.
Caleb: They went on the date off-screen? Why is the show not showing us the stuff I really want to see? I'd trade three fight scenes for a scene of Babs on an awkward, meet-the-parents date.
Also, WTF, Guidance Counselor's Mom? Barbara Gordon is way out of your son’s league! He’s damn lucky she even talks to him. Hey, in addition to being a genius and model-hot, did you know she also invented a mind-controlled wheelchair?
Meredith: Even so, Helena is totally convinced that her problems are way worse than Barbara’s.
Caleb: Of course. As she puts it, “Someone’s murdering my people!”
Meredith: Yikes, this whole “my people” thing is not a good look for a show this white.
Caleb: Helena is the Moses of metahumans.
Meanwhile, Dinah is at the No Man's Land bar again, and Gibson offers her “a fruity drink.” I do hope by "fruity drink" he means fruit juice, because she is, remember, 16-years-old.
Meredith: Busted! Babs is here to drag Dinah back to Clocktower by her ear.
Elsewhere, Helena attacks Morton in the middle of the street with Reese watching. She wants to stop him from killing metahumans, but Morton is smart and won’t use his powers in front of Reese. It makes Huntress look like the aggressor. Huh, this is the same stupid plan Jessica Jones attempted with Kilgrave in the recent Netflix series.
Caleb: It's not working any better for Helena than it did for Jessica, as Reese pulls his gun on her. Oh man, Reese is choosing to side with the smarmy-looking guy he just met instead of the super-hot crime-fighter lady who saved his life, repeatedly?
Luckily for everyone, Morton does something dumb and then reveals himself to be the metahuman killer of other metahumans. He shoots Reese and then books on out of there.
Meredith: Huntress' next plan involves sacrificing herself in a fight to the death against Morton for the greater good. How noble. Marton, in his motivation reveal, explains that he blames metahumans for his suffering. He’s convinced if he kills them all, he’ll finally be normal.
So he and Helena meet again, this time on a rooftop. I’m starting to get the sense that they only have three sets: warehouse, rooftop, alley. But Babs, Dinah, and a bunch of other metahumans from the bar show up to overwhelm Morton's powers.
Caleb: Wow, it only took Dinah, Babs and everyone in No Man’s Land, like, minutes to track Helena down and then get to the rooftop? I’m amazed at how fast and how stealthy Barbara is in her wheelchair. This is the second time in three episodes that she's just appeared suddenly behind a bad guy (which is known as "a reverse-Batman"). Maybe she equipped her chair with a stealth mode…?
When Helena attempts to press her advantage against the migraine-downed Morton, Barbara warns Helena not to kill him, as that’s not what they do.
Instead, Morton decides to throw himself off the roof to his own death, rather than living in a world with so many gross metahumans.
Not to nitpick Babs, but, “not preventing people from committing suicide right in front of you" isn’t that far removed from killing them yourself. You know Batman would have caught that dude with a batarang around the ankle, even if he was, like, The Joker and not just some no-name shmoe with a paltry handful of murders to his name.
At any rate, that’s two new metahuman villains they’ve encountered in two consecutive episodes, and they’re both dead now. So far the only villain they haven’t killed is the psychic real-estate developer form the first episode, who they simply left in a vegetative state instead. Justice!
Next to the hospital, where Reese is in bed recovering from his non-fatal gunshot would and hey, why is Reese wearing a tanktop? Shouldn’t he be shirtless?
Meredith: This has been another entry in Caleb’s “Shemar Moore Bare Torso Watch.”
Caleb: But the torsos are among the best part of this show!
Helena was faithfully watching over him from the shadows of his hospital room, waiting for him to wake up. When he does, she tells him off for pulling a gun on him, and for all his anti-metahuman comments over the last few days.
If they end up together, it’s gonna be at least a few more episodes.
Meredith: The Birds wrap up another week with some bonding at the Clocktower. Dinah suggest they all go get drunk at Gibson's. Babs thinks that’s an excellent idea from the 16-year-old she is responsible for. I guess when you party with a teenager, you’ve got a guaranteed designated driver. You know, despite repeatedly busting her, I don’t think anyone got Dinah back to school.
Caleb: No, but they did introduce her to the local metahuman bar scene. Great job being role models for young heroes-in-training, Birds!
Meredith: I really don’t have much to say in regards to my final thoughts. This episode was... not very good. Did this episode feel really long to you? I think I zoned out there for a minute during our second viewing.
Caleb: I think if we go back and count how many words you wrote and when, we can pinpoint the exact points during which you zoned out. Me, I was kept actively engaged by my confusion and occasional anger about the weird use of metahuman as a stand in for mutant as a stand in for minorities of any kind.
But yes, this episode did indeed seem very long, which I think I'd put down to how many scenes it had and how talky so many of those scenes were. There was a lot of exposition in this episode,
Meredith: The choice to make Huntress the solo crime-fighter is starting to look more and more ill-conceived as we go on. There’s no team synergy, besides Babs sniping at Helena through their comms and Helena ignoring everything she says. They’ve rendered the Black Canary role to basically nothing --- no offense to Babs or Helena, but they are terrible mentors to Dinah, and they haven’t made a compelling argument for why Dinah needs to just be a teenager.
Caleb: Well, I kind of like the idea of her as a high school student/crime fighter, although so far she hasn't done too much in the way of actual crime-fighting. I think it might work better if Helena were also a student at the school where Dinah attends and Barbara teaches, and they were heroes in training under the former Batgirl, their crime-fighting a sort of extra-curricular activity. But right now, it's still pretty nebulous, like there are a couple different conceptions of the show that aren't quit synched up.
I definitely missed Mia Sara's Harley Quinn here, and without her or any further exploration of Dinah's mysterious past, this episode seemed like a detour from the storyline established in the first two episodes. More than anything though, I'm just kinda disappointed that we didn't get to see Babs' super-terrible date. I'm at least as interested in the personal lives and comedic potential as I am the action.
I imagine we'll get some of that comedy in the next episode, however, as it's entitled "Three Birds and a Baby," and deals with our heroes finding and attempting to care for... a baby.