‘Birds of Prey’ TV Rewatch, Episode 11: ‘Reunion’
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. You can watch along on DVD, or digitally on iTunes or Amazon.
In this episode, Helena Kyle (Ashley Scott) is completely uninterested in attending her five-year class reunion... until her former classmates start showing up dead, the apparent victims of a metahuman killer. Meanwhile, Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer) struggles to balance crime-fighting with her relationship with Wade (Shawn Christian), Alfred (Ian Abercrombie) cleans stuff, and Dinah (Rachel Skarsten) wanders around aimlessly, looking for stuff to do.
"Reunion" originally aired on January 8 of 2003, and was written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz and directed by Chris Long.
Meredith: As we open this episode, bros are toasting themselves at the bar where Helena works because it’s time for Helena’s five-year high school reunion! Awesome! I love when shows do high school reunion episodes. One of my favorite episodes of Smallville involves Clark’s reunion.
Caleb: There are certainly a lot more dudes in suits and ties than usual at the bar. Also, Gibson (Rob Benedict) is hanging out and chatting with her while she works, trying to cajole her into going to the reunion with him as her date. I guess that explains how they know one another so well, and how he happens to know her secret identity. They were friends in high school. He is Duckie to her Andie.
And what exactly is Helena wearing this evening? Is that a... half-corset? Or perhaps a girdle, worn over a tank top…?
Meredith: It’s certainly something. I think it has laces up the side. One of the Bros comes up and asks for a beer refill from Helena, but can’t seem to do it without hitting on her. She rebukes his advances and also magically produces a full pitcher of beer from below the counter. The dude was still ordering when she sets it on the bar.
Caleb: I don't think that's how bars work. There is generally some form of pouring involved, right? They don't just store buckets of each drink on shelves below the bar?
The sleazy guy keeps it up, and it looks like Helena is about to go all Dark Knight's Daughter on him when her own high school crush Jack Barrett (Christopher Wiehl) arrives and chivalrously chases his former classmate off. This guy must have had a great personality in high school, because he's not much to look at. I mean not only is he no Detective Jesse Reese, he's not even a Darkstrike. Or a Gibson, for that matter.
Completing the cast of reunion attendees in the bar that night is short, bald Cameron Anderson (J.P. Manoux). The Bros bully him too, calling him "Cam The Klutz," as they did in high school. Apparently, Helena is the only one who was able to grow out of her position in the New Gotham High School social hierarchy in five years, and she mainly did that by being Ashley Scott, I'm guessing.
Cut to the park set, where four of the Bros are violating New Gotham’s open container law and drunkenly singing a school song. It contains the words “New Gotham,” which I guess means whenever old Gotham was destroyed in an earthquake and rebuilt and renamed as New Gotham, it was more than five years ago.
One of the guys, the very same one who was hitting on Helena, falls behind and has his neck broken... by a tree. Or a metahuman who can turn into a tree. Or a metahuman who can turn invisible and happened to be standing in front of a tree.
My money is on Jack Barrett for the murderer, by the way, because wouldn't that just be Helena's luck?
Meredith: OMG! Babs is on a double date with boyfriend Wade’s terrible parents again, having dinner at what appears to be a Christmas tree lot. You would think after the last time, when Mrs. Brixton told her she wasn’t good enough for her son because her legs don't work, she wouldn’t want to have anything to do with them.
Seriously! They are still using the baking business cover story?
Caleb: Yes. Mr. and Mrs. Brixton quiz her on her online gourmet baking business. Which I think is just the weirdest cover imaginable for why she often has to leave in the middle of dates to attend to emergencies. Like, wouldn’t that be really, really easy to check out? If Mrs. Brixton goes to the address --- www.NewGothamMuffinTop.com, probably ---what will she find? Is there a dummy website there? Can you actually order from them? What does Barbara do when someone orders a dozen muffin tops?
Meredith: She must have it routed to some off-brand baking business in China. You get sent 10 morfin tops or whatever.
Caleb: Maybe the Delphi crime monitoring system starts bleeping when an order comes in, and poor Alfred has to whip up a batch of muffin tops, just so Barbara can maintain her cover that allows her to get out of her occasional dates…? Maybe she shoulda just told Wade she gets really bad migraines or something. That seems like it would have been a lot easier on everyone.
Meredith: Mr. Brixton makes some weird, inscrutable joke about computers being called "Big Irons"...? Dinah contacts Babs on her comms and Babs just straight up rolls away. She doesn’t even excuse herself or offer up an excuse about a muffin top emergency.
Caleb: After taking the important call on her earrings behind a Christmas tree --- regarding the bro with the broken neck in the park --- Babs sneaks back toward the table just in time to hear Mrs. Brixton saying that while Barbara is nice and all, “She’s not quite normal.” Presumably she is still harping on the wheelchair, rather than Barbara's terrible table manners.
Meredith: Now who’s lurky!
Caleb: The tables have turned!
Meredith: I’m just gonna say it. Wade’s mom is a huge bitch. She doesn’t think Wade can have a life with Babs because of her disability. That’s nonsense. She can do everything but walk. And she can even do that sometimes when she’s got the right contraption.
Caleb: Yeah. Wade's not good enough for Barbara, and his parents are bad people. Back at the Clocktower, the girls are talking about the crime, while Alfred is in the background... dusting the giant gears of the clock…?
Meredith: You know what they say, "Tidy Clocktower, tidy mind."
Caleb: Helena is telling the gang what she told Gibson; she could care less about her high school reunion. Barbara teases her, revealing to Dinah that Helena was the captain of the pep squad and was voted "the girl most likely to inspire envy."
The reason Helena could care less is because she is ashamed of what she's done with her life, being "just a bartender." She can't tell her former classmates that she is a super-hero who saves New Gotham from lame-ass villains on the reg.
Unmentioned in all this talk of her high school years is the fact that her best friend from school, Sandy, recently tried to murder them all and they had to team up to beat her down in the hallway of said school. I wonder if Sandy having grown up to be an assassin will be the talk of the reunion...?
Meredith: Oh, Alfred has an oil can. He was greasing the giant clock gears. That’s very practical of him. Squeaky gears would probably be very annoying for Babs when she’s concentrating on being a master of the cyber-realms.
Caleb: There's a brief exchange about Batman here, in which Helena refers to her absent (and MIA!) father Bruce Wayne's millions, and Alfred corrects her with a "Billions." He is testy about the size of the Wayne fortune, apparently.
When Dinah asks why she doesn't use any of that money, she simply replies, "I have dad issues," and then they talk a bit more about Jack, who apparently never noticed her back in high school. Was Helena Wayne a geek in school? Was she gawky, with braces and terrible hair? Or I guess it was the late '90s; was she into goth music or Marilyn Manson and dressing funny or something?
Man, I really wish this episode was full of flashbacks to Helena's high school years now...
Meredith: How could Helena be so popular in school, but also think that the popular guy Jack doesn’t know her name? How big was New Gotham High?
Caleb: The next day, Babs is on the street with her nose in a flower when Wade sneaks up behind her. He is so stalking her. He said he checked her classroom but she wasn’t there; she said she called off because she had a lot to do (and yet here she is on the street, literally stopping to smell the flowers). He goes on. Having not seen her in her classroom, he then called her phone... four times. And then apparently tracked her down on the street.
Meredith: Very subtle. Elsewhere, Helena drops in on Reese and they compare notes about the strange murder. No one saw anything, and the victim was in town from Central City for the reunion.
Caleb: Oh man, there's another mention of Central City! This show was never on long enough to introduce us to its version of The Flash. I imagine they would have had him in a big, maroon trenchcoat and leather pants, maybe...? Reese mentions that the victim was at The Dark Horse bar prior to his death. I may have missed it, but I am 99% sure that this is the very first time on the show they have mentioned the name of the bar Helena works at. And this is episode 11. Of 13. Yeesh.
Anyway,Reese asks her if she wants to join him on his investigation there tonight. But she can’t, because she has to work... at the bar! Classic set-up for hijinks!
Meredith: Helena better come up with a plan, because Reese will definitely recognize her. Darn it! If only she wore a mask or something while she was vigilante-ing.
Caleb: And so she decides to... rush to the bar and ask her boss for the night off. Oh man, I wish she would have had to try and work while Reese was investigating, walking back in forth in front of him holding a pitcher of beer or a tray in front of her face, or maybe showing up in disguise and talking in a funny voice. Missed opportunity, People Who Made This Show Like 15 Years Ago!
It's night two of bro night at The Dark Horse. Two guys from school are looking at Helena and talking lewdly about how well she’s grown-up. Cam, the little bald guy who we saw the previous night, approaches Helena and humble brags about having founded a Fortune 500 company. Another a-hole shows up, purposely spills a drink on him, and, as he rushes away to clean up, shouts, "Out of your league anyway, klutz!"
Barrett tries to chase this guy off, too. I like how the bar Helena works at is the official pre-gaming place for the Class of 1999. Of course, I guess all the other clubs in New Gotham are problematic for successful twenty-somethings: No Man's Land is more of a secret metahuman speakeasy, Club Slippery was burned to the ground by the hyper-aging baby assassin in a fit of teen angst, Club New Gotham was attacked and shot up by The Animals biker gang...
Meredith: This new jerk brags about how he's about to close a big deal that will make him a fortune. I didn’t realize New Gotham had such a thriving financial market.
After Barrett deals with him, we see that he does recognize and remember Helena, but she can't stay to chat. Reese shows up at Dark Horse, so Helena has to make a hasty exit. She waltzes into the Clocktower, and we get a great look at her incredible pants. They’re yellow/red/green swirly bellbottoms.
Caleb: "My life is this close to a French farce!" Helena complains to her girls. Oh man, how I wish it was!
"Hey Moliere," Dinah calls to Helena before launching into a diss of Helena's refusal to wear a mask, and how she doesn't even really have a secret identity to protect. Ha ha, a cultural reference!
While I should point out that Dinah's argument that Helena should wear a mask is somewhat undercut by the fact that she doesn't wear one either, I love this whole conversation. Babs implies Helena doesn't wear one because she's too vain (it messes with her mascara), and Alfred waltzes in to remind everyone he knows Batman.
Meredith: I’m with Dinah. Helena, you need a secret identity.
Back to Thompson, which is the name of the jerk from the bar who bullied Cam and hit on Helena. He’s closing his “big deal” over the phone in some abandoned alley near a trash can fire. Actually, I think there are some hobos in the background. Yes, this is where all the best business deals are done.
Caleb: So, is The Dark Horse Bar in, like, the worst part of New Gotham, or did he park in an alley in the worst part of town and walk to the bar? Because he parked his big fancy car behind an abandoned autoparts store around the corner from hobo camp.
Like most of the people we’ve seen get attacked in this show, from Dinah in the very first episode on, this Thompson guy seems to be begging to be a victim of violent crime. He's wearing a nice suit and talking about money loudly into his cell phone in a seedy alley, in which we see shadowy figures literally lurking in the background. Maybe Gotham wouldn't need vigilantes if its citizens and visitors were just a little more aware of their surroundings.
Meredith: The metahuman shows up again and calls Thompson out for being a selfish jerk before putting his head through his own car window.
Caleb: He's dressed in what looks like a druid robe and hood, and apparently appears or disappears or something...? I can't think of a villain from the comics he might be, but then, they pretty much never use villains from the comics.
He's too short to be Barrett, so I guess he's not who I first suspected. Clearly I am not the World's Greatest Detective. I guess it's the only other suspect, then.
Meredith: Oh, in the crime scene investigation that follows, Reese tells Helena that Thompson was in town from Metropolis for the reunion.. Yes, that city seems more likely to be the place for big business deals.
Caleb: Somewhere in an alternate universe, there was a Birds of Prey/Smallville crossover during season two or three of the show, shortly after they introduced The Flash...
So the victims are both New Gotham High grads, they are both in town for the reunion, they both hit on Helena, they both were confronted by Barrett, and they both had their necks snapped in such a way to suggest that someone from Delta Force did it. Barrett was, and is, their number one suspect. They are not the World's Greatest Detectives either, though.
Now Babs and Alfred are both on Helena's case about sharing her secret identity with Reese. That's rich, considering Babs is still maintaining that she’s an online baker with Wade.
Meredith: Ha! I think New Gotham High left the decorations from big dance in episode 8 up for the reunion. Babs, Dinah, and Helena are getting ready for another metahuman attack and are using Gibson as bait. The plan is for him to accompany her to the reunion, hit on her in front of Barrett, and see if Barrett attempts to murder him.
For some inexplicable reason, Babs has set up a mobile command unit in her classroom. I thought her whole shtick was that she was a master of the cyber-realms. Doesn’t that mean she can communicate from anywhere? What a hassle to lug all of her equipment to the school.
Caleb: Oh, well, I guess she does teach here. Maybe she wanted to get ahead on her lesson plan or write some notes on the chalkboard while they're trying to trap the murderer?
Meredith: Back at the festivities, Gibson thinks he sees a shimmer of some sort, but Helena isn’t convinced. Also, Babs narrows down the suspect list and Barrett can’t be the metahuman.
Caleb: Another city name gets thrown out, and apparently the writing team has used all of the DC Universe cities they now, as it is the name of a real city in the real world: Akron.
Hmm. No comic book superheros come from Akron. Oh, unless you count LeBron James, and I do because he totally starred in a DC comic book. Actually, he starred in two, 2004's King James Starring LeBron James and 2006's King James: Long Live The King, both written by Gary Phillips. I got the first one, and it was worth it for the great Damion Scott art. Never read the second though, which was drawn by Shawn Moll.
Back to the show, Gibson and Barbara talk science to one another, and they are thus able to determine that the killer must be Cam, and that his next target is either Gibson or Jack, as Jack was the last guy Helena was talking to.
Meredith: Oh, dang. Reese is here, too! How is Helena gonna keep her identity a secret now?
Caleb: Cam attacks Jack, but before he can break the big lug's neck, Helena intervenes. Cam appears and disappears around her, explaining his motivation. Apparently he has had a crush on her since high school, and has spent the last five years trying to become more perfect for her, and is now killing off any and all suitors, from the sleazy drunk guys to the nice guys.
His homicidal rage seems to stem from not just the fact that Helena never seemed to notice him in school, but the fact that he was bullied by so many of his classmates.
Kids, be nice to one another in school, okay? If not, well, you may inadvertently create a serial killer who will snap your neck some day.
While Helena destroys a school hallway trying to hit a guy she can't see, Reese finds the drunkest guy at the reunion and interviews him. He gets an important clue: A New Gotham alum works at the bar they were both drinking at prior to their murders. Her name? "Helena shhhmomething... Kyle, that's it."
Meredith: Ha! Babs has determined that Cam has the proportional strength and speed of a chameleon. Does that actually work? I thought that was just a spider/ant thing.
Caleb: Oh! Cam! Cam-eleon! I get it.
Well, it’s certainly phrased in such a way to suggest Spider-Man.
Um, bit wait, are chameleons really known for their strength and/or speed…? I know they can shoot their tongues out very fast, but he’s not using his tongue as a weapon or anything. (Thank God.)
Of course, cats aren’t really known for their super-strength or invulnerability either, and Helena’s got those super-powers, so maybe it’s best not to think too much about how metahuman powers work in the Birds of Prey-iverse.
Meredith: Dinah is tasked with keeping tabs on Barrett. He goes into the men’s room and when Dinah asks Babs what to do, she says to follow him, of course. I don’t understand how she snuck in and out of the men’s room without him noticing. She was only like, one step behind him.
Caleb: Dang, she must be hella stealthy.
Meredith: Reese is attempting to figure out who “Helena Kyle” is. He finds a yearbook, but as it turns out, Helena didn’t feel like showing up for picture day that year.
Caleb: Babs and Gibson are working on a device to de-chameleonize Cam. Maybe that's why the mobile command center...? Just in case any gadgets needed to be invented?
Huntress wanders aimlessly about, never using her Huntress-vision power that she used to look for The Crawler back in episode seven.
Meredith: There's a sign that says 'Big Dance' on the wall! OK, obviously they dressed one high school set festively and shot both this episode and episode eight.
Caleb: Well, I guess I shouldn't have mentioned his tongue earlier. Because Cam appears next to Helena and... licks her and then runs down the hall, leading her to his endgame...a potion bomb!
Meredith: Classic potion bombs. Cam says the liquid will create an aggressively corrosive toxin and they will both die. That’s very Romeo and Juliet of him.
Caleb: Suddenly Dinah runs in and slides... a ghost trap into the room... which turns Cam visible. Selina kicks him across the room and shuts the door, leaving him to die in his own bomb. It releases a gas that turns him into a little human-shaped pile of ash. So, yet again, one of their foes dies horribly, despite Barbara’s regular lecturing of Helena about how they can’t kill bad guys.
Meredith: Also, as Dinah and Helena watch Cam writhe in pain, they are unconcerned about the “aggressively corrosive toxin” escaping under the door or into the ventilation system.
Caleb: Gibson shakes his head slowly and says, “He just wanted to be seen. Ironic for a meta-chameleon.” Shut up, Birds of Prey!
Ugh, and the hits keep on coming. “Do you really care what those people think?" Barbara asks Helena, regarding whether she wants to go enjoy the rest of her reunion or not. "It’s hard not to...when you know what they think is wrong."
Helena isn't too cool for her high school reunion after all; she's still 15 at heart.
Meredith: Oh, boy! Helena approaches Reese to explain how she has taken care of the metahuman, but even better --- she reveals her identity to him!!
Caleb: When he asks why she decided to reveal herself just then, she answers, "Because for some reason, when you say 'nice work', it means something to me. And I realize that your opinion is the only one here that matters." Awww...
The sentiment is somewhat tainted by the fact that he was closing in on her secret identity, and seemed poised to eventually discover it, but that scene was a pretty sweet one, and the only thing that could have improved it would have been if they kissed. Or if he at least asked her to dance...
So Dina Meyer, Ashley Scott, Shemar Moore, super-kung fu fights, potion bombs... is this typical of high school reunions? I am starting to regret skipping all of mine.
Meredith: If this was Smallville, they would be playing Lifehouse during the reunion and not whatever generic alt-rock song they picked.
Caleb: Speaking of, you began this episode noting how much you enjoyed the later Smallville one where Clark went to his high school reunion. Interestingly, Smallville was on air long enough that it essentially happened in real time --- viewers saw Clark complete school and, five years or so later, in-show, return for his reunion. How did this compare? Did Clark have similar issues about attending his, or…?
Meredith: Yeah, it's interesting because, as you note, Smallville was on so long, they could have Clark’s five-year reunion actually happen five years later. The episodes couldn't be more different however.
Helena’s reunion functioned as little more than window dressing for another metahuman villain of the week. Clark’s occurred near the beginning of Smallville’s final season and offered an opportunity to be reminded of how much his character had developed. They even went as far as using clips from some of the earlier seasons. As Smallville neared its finale, they worked to tie up some of the major storylines. The most pressing being the fact that Lois Lane still didn't know Clark’s secret (well, at that point, she technically did know, but not because Clark had told her).
That’s the one similarity between the episode; faced with an event specifically designed to celebrate the passing of time, both Helena and Clark are bolstered to make some big decisions regarding their romantic relationships. Helena reveals her true self to Reese, while Clark finally tells Lois he loves her. (Admitting his secret identity as The Blur to her would come in the following episode.)
Like the episode with Dinah and the Big Dance, using events that are recognizable to the audience should be an opportunity to mess with tropes and subvert our expectations. They did that a little in episode eight, with Dinah using her powers to get a guy to like her. They basically did nothing with the reunion. They didn't even give us a glimpse of this pep rally, spirit girl that Helen supposedly was.
C’mon, guys! This was your chance to give us some hilarious Helena in high school flashbacks! Once again, it's the show completely squandering any potential --- instead putting up another generic 45 minutes featuring a no name villain and every scene taking place in one of three sets. (Clocktower, alley, school.)
Caleb: There were a lot of stupid things in this episode, but I think it was pretty much all worth it for the Reese and Helena bit at the end. Even though they totally should have kissed! Weird to think that we’re down to the last two episodes now, and while they keep moving various plots forward, they seem to have completely forgotten that whole thing about Harley Quinn trying to take over the city or whatever.
I feel one of us says it almost as often as "What is Helena wearing?", but one of the most frustrating aspects of the show is the way in which it suggests interesting scenes or directions, and then doesn't do anything with them.
I feel like the Birds of Prey show that Birds of Prey suggests, rather than the one it is, would be infinitely better. There are two pretty great scenes in this episode though, and they are the ones where Alfred, former Batgirl Barbara Gordon, Helena and Dinah all talk about superhero tropes like masks and secret identities.
I'm not saying there are any great insights offered during those scenes, but they were among the relatively rare moments where the show remembered it was of the still-emerging superhero genre of television drama, and attempted to address, if not comment on, the genre. These scenes also made a bigger deal about the fact that this show is kinda sorta Batman-derived, which is easy to forget given how little Batman and his various supporting characters and villains ever actually come up. Abercrombie's Alfred is a perfect, necessary bridge between what viewers knew of Batman, and the show's sometimes confused attitude of, "This ain't your daddy's Batman!"
I am starting to worry about the end of the series, though. While this episode and the last few did move various ongoing plotlines forward --- Barbara and Wade's relationship, Helena and Reese's romantic tension, Dinah's graduation into a full-fledge teen crimefighter --- they really do seem to have just forgotten Harley Quinn. This was the fourth consecutive episode, which is nearly a third of the entire series, in which Mia Sara's Harley fails to appear. And we've only got two more left to go. If she's gonna take over Gotham, she's going to have a lot of catching up to do.