‘Birds Of Prey’ TV Rewatch, Episode 5: ‘Sins Of The Mother’
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 most glaring omission from a show based on the Birds Of Prey comics is finally corrected, at least temporarily, when Black Canary makes the scene. What is her connection to the blond girl named Dinah, and just how happy is everyone going to be to see Black Canary? "Sins of the Mother" will provide the answers. The episode originally aired on November 6 of 2002, and was written by Melissa Rosenberg and Hans Tobeason, and directed by Jeff Woolnough.
Meredith: Alright, Alfred, let’s get this show on the road. We open at the New Gotham bus station and Oh my God, it's Lori Loughlin!
She rolls into town like a boss. OK, I don’t even care what else happens on this show, Lori Loughlin is here.
Caleb: Lori Loughlin? Why, that’s Aunt Becky from Full House and, more recently, from Fuller House. I know her best as Mrs. Wilson, from the first few seasons of the 2008 90210 reboot, my second favorite TV show of all time (following the original Beverly Hills, 90210 obvs).
But tell me Meredith, who is this Lori Loughlin person, exactly, and why does she excite you so?
Meredith: Lori Loughlin is the TV mom of my dreams. I want nothing more than Lori Loughlin to hug me and tell me everything is going to be OK. Lori Loughlin would make you a peanut butter sandwich with the crusts cut off after a hard day at school and listen sympathetically to a story about how the mean girl in your chemistry class made fun of your zipper anecdote.
Anyway, you can also catch Lori Loughlin these days on the Hallmark Channel. She co-stars on When Calls the Heart and also has a series of Garage Sale Mysteries, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Caleb: Well at least one of us is.
So after Lori Loughlin puts on her Josie Cool sunglasses and struts out of the bus station like she owns the city, we see a smarmy guy in a dark room taking a phone call. He turns to another guy who is quietly meditating in the lotus position in the corner of the room and says, "Mr. Hawke? You’re not gonna believe this. Black Canary. She’s back."
Whaaat? Well, I guess that explains why they haven’t gotten around to calling Dinah (Rachel Skarsten) "Black Canary" yet. She’s not! The blonde girl on the Birds of Prey team named Dinah is not, in fact, Black Canary. That’s... weird.
Meredith: I didn’t realize I needed Lori Loughlin as Black Canary until this very moment.
She ducks into an alley and coldcocks the goon following her and reporting her arrival to the bad guys.
Why isn't every episode Lori Loughlin beating up dudes in alleys?
Caleb: So is this more action than Lori Loughlin typically performs in When Calls The Heart...?
Meredith: Yeah, she’s not typically karate-kicking people in Hope Valley.
Caleb: In The Clocktower’s secret dojo, which we were never shown until this episode, Helena (Ashley Scott) is finally training Dinah in martial arts and, from the looks of it, Hong Kong-style wirework. Shouldn’t Helena and Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer) have started that a few episodes ago, when they first decided to train Dinah to be a superhero?
During the course of her sparring, Dinah reveals a new power: She’s also telekinetic! I wonder if this psychic, telekinetic teenage girl will get a bird-related superhero codename at some point. Maybe, I don't know, Phoenix…?
The girls get called out by Barbara, and we see Oracle and Black Canary, side by side and, Oh my God why isn't that just the whole show?
Meredith: The perfect show is sitting right there. They’re so close! Lori Loughlin as Black Canary and Dina Meyer as Babs would be the most amazing team-up.
Caleb: Especially since that is what Birds of Prey, the comic book, circa 2002 was. Oracle Barbara Gordon and Black Canary Dinah Lance, teaming up together, with none of this cat-powered daughter-of-Batman-and-Catwoman Huntress business. Fun fact: Huntress wouldn't even join the comic book Birds of Prey team until late 2003, over 50 issues into the series.
So episode five of the TV show Birds of Prey marks the first appearance of the Birds of Prey, I guess. And then things get weird, as Canary says “Dinah?” and Dinah says “Mom?”
Meredith: So Babs and Helena know about the “Black Canary.” Dinah doesn’t? Well, she knows about Black Canary, she just doesn’t know it was her mom. Holla! I’m gonna get to see a canary cry this episode, I think.
Caleb: The dialogue here is worth noting. Dinah is not only surprised to find her birth mother in The Clocktower, but to learn that she was a superhero. "And not just any superhero, you’re The Black Canary!" she shouts. "You’re supposed to be some big role model, a trailblazer, one of the first women to put on crime-fighting cape!"
Fishnets, actually, but she probably meant "cape" metaphorically anyway.
Meredith: She’s apparently some sort of feminist icon in the superhero community.
Caleb: Black Canary is the Susan B. Anthony of superheroes. In your face, Wonder Woman!
Meredith: So, Lori Loughlin's Black Canary gave up Dinah when she was just six years old because she wanted her daughter to have a normal life. She didn’t know that Dinah later developed metahuman powers that would have prevented a "normal" life anyway.
Caleb: And Dinah's foster parents, The Redmonds, tried to beat her superpowers out of her, forcing her to hide who she truly was. They’re doing that whole DC's metahumans = Marvel’s mutants thing again.
Upon being called "Black Canary" again, Loughlin's character responds "I’m just Caroline Lance." Caroline? What kind of name for Black Canary is Caroline? Ugh.
Meredith: Caroline wants to be Dinah’s mom again --- sorry, Lori Loughlin, I think the ship has sailed on that --- and she’s super-pissed that Oracle lets Dinah fight crime. Caroline, stop being a wet blanket. Fighting crime is cool.
Caleb: That's basically what Helena tells Caroline, and the two look like they might come to blows until Babs intervenes. "Canary and your mother never got along," Babs tells Helena. "I think it was some sort of bird/cat thing.”
Meredith: I want everyone to know Caleb just nearly rolled his eyes out of his head from that line.
Caleb: A bird/cat thing? Pfft. I bet it was more of a bird/bat thing, as in Black Canary was probably madly in love with Batman and was jealous of Catwoman. Since we don't know if there is a Green Arrow in the Birds of Prey-verse yet or not, I'm just going to go ahead and imagine Canary and Batman dated at some point, something I've been thinking about ever since I first encountered 1970's The Brave and The Bold #91. You can't stop me.
Meredith: So the shadowy yoga ninjas are tracking Black Canary.
Caleb: For shadowy purposes, yes.
When they're alone, Babs and Caroline argue a bit about whether Dinah should continue to learn to be a superhero or not, and when Caroline alludes to the fact that devoting her life to crime-fighting is what got Babs shot, paralyzed and stuck in her wheelchair, Babs shuts her down.
"Not being able to walk doesn’t affect why I do what I do, it only affects how I do it," she says. Yeah! That is an inspirational message. Good job, Birds of Prey! Not to get into all of that now, but that sort of inspirational message was one of the many, many reasons I preferred Barbara Gordon as Oracle in the current DC Comics universe, rather than the publisher rebooting her back into Batgirl.
Meredith: Barbara’s inspirational words don’t sway Caroline. She doesn’t want bad things to happen to Dinah. She’s going to stop her daughter from being a vigilante because that’s what a good mom does.
Caleb: Meanwhile, Huntress approaches sexy New Gotham Police Detective Jesse Reese (Shemar Moore)! Time for some sexual tension! But what's this? Reese is being oddly defensive and mysterious. He is once again pressing her for a name, address or phone number when she offers to help him solve his latest murder case, this one of the low-level thug who was shadowing Canary on behalf of the yoga ninja/crime boss Al Hawke (Stephen McHattie).
Meredith: Hawke knows Caroline is in town and she wants to bounce ASAP. She tells Dinah to pack, but Dinah insists that she's a big girl and can handle some measly mob boss. They argue, trying to convince Babs to take sides and then Helena gets in on it.
Caleb: Wow, Black Canary is tiny! Well, Lori Loughlin is tiny, anyway. Ashley Scott seems to tower over her when they face off.
So while the grown-ups were arguing over her future, Dinah decided to sneak out of the Clocktower. Where could she have gone to?
Why, the only place in New Gotham she knows besides The Clocktower and school, of course; metahuman bar No Man’s Land. This time it Gibson (Rob Benedict) makes it explicit that he’s offering her non-alcoholic beverages, by saying “fruity soda” and not “fruity drinks.”
Meredith: He also surreptitiously sends an electronic mail message (in 45-point font) to Oracle, letting her know where Dinah is hiding. Then he explains how Black Canary is a legend for taking down the Hawke crime family. But Dinah still has some pent up resentment toward Caroline for abandoning her.
Caleb: Resentment that manifests itself by making the table shake and her fruity soda almost spill. Oh my God, they are turning her into Jean Grey!
At Hawke’s yoga ninja dojo, he gives his smarmy second-in-command a special canary cry-suppressing collar, to help him in abducting the Black Carol-nary. And Huntress and Reese once again flirt/fight over why he’s being so secretive about this particular case involving the Hawke family.
This probably woulda been a good opportunity for a Batman comics callback, using a comic book crime family name instead of Hawke, like Falcone or Maroni or Zucco or Thorne or... oh wait, Hawke! That's the name of a bird of prey with an “E” attached to the end, just like Falcone is. I wonder if that was meant to be an off-brand version of "Falcone," which the TV show couldn't use for some reason…?
Meredith: Caroline felt compelled to give Dinah up when she was a little girl because the Hawke crime guys put a bomb under Dinah’s bed. Chock up another win for New Gotham’s child protective services for giving a kid to an abusive foster family.
Caleb: So after a pretty intense heart-to-heart at No Man's Land, when they are both near tears, Dinah suddenly does a 180, because the plot demands it of her, and is just like, "Pfft, whatevs" and runs out of the joint. Caroline runs after her, calling her name, but Dinah just keeps walking away without looking back. Not even when all these cars full of bad guys arrive.
Meredith: How did Dinah just miss three dozen guys rolling up on Caroline?
Caleb: Well, I guess she didn't hear them? I mean, it's not like she's psychic or anything--- oh wait.
Meredith: Oh man, it’s canary cry time!
Aw man, she got canary-blocked! The goons slap the power suppressing collar around her neck before she could let it rip. That had the makings of an epic cry, too. The bad guys were getting almost knocked off their feet from the sheer power of her inhale.
Caleb: So he just walked up behind her and put it on her? Way to be aware of your surroundings, Caroline. What if he had a knife or gun or something? That would have been the end of the Black Canary.
Meredith: She’s not Spider-Man.
Caleb: Or Batman, apparently. He woulda just slammed his fist into the dude’s face without looking. Or Michelle Yeoh in Wing Chun. She woulda kicked him in the face over her shoulder without even looking.
Meredith: So Caroline is now missing, but Huntress beat the info out of some street thug. Dinah is upset that her mom is in the hands of the Hawke family, but Oracle gives her a pep talk. She takes her glasses off during it, so you know she means business.
Caleb: Across town, in the apparently completely abandoned New Gotham Police Department, Huntress comes to Reese to plead for his help in finding Al Hawke. During their conversation, he confesses his confused feelings about her, mentioning that he doesn't know why he feels her presence before he sees her (Birds of Prey-dar is my guess).
"But what I do know is I don’t want to see anything bad happen to you," he says. Aw, now it feels like they’re actually making progress. Maybe these two crazy kids can find a way to make this relationship work out after all?
Two cops enter the otherwise abandoned set, momentarily distracting Reese, and Huntress manages to whoosh away without a trace when he's not looking. She got that move from her dad.
Meredith: The Birds have the info they need --- Caroline is being kept at an industrial garage by the river.
Caleb: Good thing there’s only one!
So Oracle gives Dinah the keys to the van and sends her off to go help Huntress save Caroline, while Oracle's just gonna... sit at home? C'mon Babs, we saw you beating thugs down with your baton last episode. Go back the girls up!
Meredith: Caroline is in some kind of crazy Saw-type death trap while Hawke monologues at her. It’s got a bunch of ropes that will squeeze her to death. Hawke turns the machine on and then breaks the control lever.
Caleb: As death traps in a TV show based on Batman comics go, this isn’t a terribly inventive one.
Helena and Dinah to the rescue! Huntress starts fighting all the guys, Dinah kicks Hawke and punches him, using all the martial arts knowledge she gleaned during her one training session with Huntress, and then starts trying to figure out how to fix the machine. Just take your mom’s collar off, Dinah!
Meredith: Reese shows up too. They’re struggling to save Black Canary. How about one of the three people in this room use their powers? Just a suggestion.
Caleb: After Dinah finally gets so worried about her mom that her telekinesis activates and she de-activates the collar, Black Carol-nary breaks out the canary cry, and Hawke and Huntress just straight up throw themselves into objects, as if they were thrown by the force of the cry... which, notably, knocks over a drum barrel full of something flammable. That may come into play in the near future.
Meredith: So, should we pause to take a moment and compare live-action canary cries?
Caleb: Okay, so I’ve only seen it in cartoons before. This is the first live-action one I’ve personally seen. Contrasting this to the ones in various animated things, I notice Lori Loughlin purses her lips and that the soundwaves are golden, while there’s an audible sound.
Personally, I think this is one super-power that doesn’t really translate from comics to live-action all that well, since you can imagine a super loud and powerful sound in your head while reading a comic, but it’s difficult to depict it in live-action, since the folks making the show can't actually bombard viewers with a sound that will blow their speakers or hurt their ears or anything. The way things are mixed, it's difficult to even have a dramatic contrast in volumes.
You’ve seen Smallville and all the recent CW super-shows. How does this canary cry compare to those…?
Meredith: The Smallville Black Canary's cry was depicted in slow motion. Sarah and Laurel Lance from Arrow didn’t have a proper canary cry. They were tech-based. Sarah’s was like an EMP mine, and Laurel eventually got a voice activated upgrade from Cisco. The best canary cry actually goes to the Earth-2 Black Siren on The Flash. I think they did the best job translating the power from the comics with Black Siren.
Caleb: So, you like Black Siren’s better than Lori Loughlin’s…?
Meredith: Yeah, the golden rings are weird looking. Anyway, with the gunfire and the screaming and the flammable liquid, the building blows up... with Caroline still inside! Nooooooooo!
Caleb: After the Huntress, Dinah and Reese manage to escape the blown-up building that Caroline and all the bad guys apparently didn't --- so I guess there are a whole crop of more casualties in the Birds of Prey's war on crime, which Barbara keeps insisting doesn't ever involve killing anyone --- we get into a couple of epilogues.
At police HQ, Helena gives Reese a ring with the shape of the Birds of Prey logo from her necklace and the Birds of Prey-arang. Like Jimmy Olsen's signal watch, he can use it to call her for help.
I would say that if he all of a sudden starts wearing a big, metal, bird-shaped ring it might look a little obvious, but then, Hal Jordan wore a Green Lantern ring for years and Barry Allen wore a Flash ring for years in the comics, and no one ever seemed to suspect them of being Green Lantern and the Flash, respectively. So I imagine no one in New Gotham will think Reese's new ring is terribly suspicious, despite the fact that it doesn't go with any of his outfits.
Meredith: He’s an honorary member of the Birds of Prey now.
Caleb: He and Alfred are The Bros of Prey.
Al Hawke survived the explosion, although now he's in the hospital and he’s got more bandages than most mummies do. Reese goes to visit him and tell him off and, on his way out, Hawke says “Jesse, don’t forget to call your mom…”
And Reese replies, “Whatever you say, Dad…”
OMG! Reese’s dad is a mobster!
And, in the final scene, the Birds are mourning the loss of Caroline, as if she’s really dead. But being superheroes, they should know that if there’s no body, there’s no real reason to believe that Black Canary is dead. And even if she is, she can come back, right? Didn't you say that they killed one of the Arrow Black Canaries like three times already?
Meredith: Yeah, Sara Lance alone has fake-died three times.
Caleb: Well, I rather liked this episode, but I found it really frustrating that it temporarily became a "real" Birds of Prey show by introducing Black Canary... and then immediately blew her up and went to the more strained and weird premise, in which the producers borrow Oracle from the BOP comics and a version of the Earth-2 Huntress from the 1970s and then stick them in a future, post-Batman Gotham City that is at least aesthetically in the same universe as some of the live-action Batman movies.
Having Black Canary show up and share scenes with Oracle really just emphasized that this show went really weird and really wrong way back at the point of its inception.
Meredith: I also liked this episode more than the last couple, but a lot of that can be attributed to the Lori Loughlin bump. I would’ve preferred her not to be arguing over whether Dinah was allowed to fight crime the entire time. It’s also really frustrating to watch them so hastily dispose of Black Canary on a show about the Birds of Prey. It’s like they don’t fully understand the characters they’re using. Although, it’s possible my feelings are compounded by how expendable the showrunners treat whoever is calling themselves Canary in the Arrow-verse.
This episode offered some desperately needed context to Dinah’s backstory. Abandoned daughter of a famous superhero has got some story potential, but a lot of it is squandered with Caroline’s death. I wonder if they’ll move Babs closer to being a mother figure to Dinah, which again, is interesting, but not right for Birds of Prey. This unequal dynamic makes me think of something Gail Simone just said during the most recent SDCC about her run on the comic:
“I keep seeing people trying to replicate its success, and their takeaway always seemed to miss the mark in a very specific way. They all seemed to think that the success of BoP was having the women trading quips and being smartasses, which is only part of it. The actual heart of it is simple, that they were friends. They loved each other, it make you want to hang out with them, to be a BoP. For some reason, that was the bit everyone forgets.”
That’s exactly what is wrong with this show. I don’t think they’re friends, I don’t want to hang out with them. I’m impressed by how succinctly Simone is able to articulate that, but I guess she isn’t the most popular BoP author for nothing.
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