‘Birds Of Prey’ TV Rewatch, Episode 7: ‘Split’
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, The Huntress (Ashley Scott) teams with a new metahuman vigilante with whom she has much more in common with than her assigned romantic interest, Detective Jesse Reese. But could the mysterious Darkstrike (Kristoffer Polaha) have a dark and terrible secret? Spoiler alert: Yes, yes he could. "Split" originally aired on November 20 of 2002, and was written by Adam Armus, Kay Foster, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, and was directed by James Marshall.
Caleb: As we open this episode, Reese is trying to apprehend a bad guy in Crime Alley, aka the alley set in which 85% of the show's crimes seem to occur, and chases him onto the Main Street set... and directly into the foot of The Huntress, who is waiting atop a nearby car.
“You have the right to remain silent,” he says, cuffing the dude. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” He then turns to address The Huntress. Now, I’m no legal expert, and nothing I write in the column should be considered legal advice, but I think there may be slightly more to the Miranda rights than that.
Meredith: Oh, great. This episode opens with Reese. And Huntress. Sharing stilted banter. Again.
Caleb: But this time they’re doing it in front of a perp that they caught together. That’s new!
Meredith: And yet, they’re still in the same place.
Reese asks her to come in and make a statement about the crime, and she’s like “Ha ha ha, whatever Reese.” I foresee this dude totally walking.
Meredith: They are still talking about... something.
Caleb: Crime-fighting as a metaphor for their relationship, which still hasn’t yet moved from occasional partners to romance! “What I want... doesn’t matter,” Reese says mournfully. What he wants is to kiss Huntress on the lips and go on dates and get married, I think. But he can’t say that, he can only scold her for her violent, face-kicking ways.
Meredith: Babs consoles Huntress and gives her a location of some bad guys robbing a jewelry store. Good, she’s looking for some heads to bash in.
Caleb: I am 100% sure that she executed a Trinity kick on one of those jewelry store robbers. Well, 99% sure. Now that it’s 2016, I’ve completely forgotten how omnipresent The Matrix was in turn-of-the-millennium action filmmaking (and TV-making, I guess).
Meredith: In the midst of her fighting, a strange man crashes through the window. They are really carefree when it comes to breaking stuff. I hope the store owner has good insurance.
Caleb: Yeah, I’m beginning to wonder if the store would lose less money if they simply got cleaned out of jewels than they will from having to replace every single piece of glass in the joint.
So this guy has short black hair, and a long, flowing black trench coat over his tight black t shirt and tight black pants. I know that, because of the coats, fight music, and wire-work, I mention the Matrix every episode, and I just mentioned it due to the particularly Trinity-like kick Huntress executed on some hapless robber, but man, I did not expect Neo to guest-star in this episode.
“I guess from the outfit and and the moves you’re in the life,” Huntress banters. So I guess in The Birds of Prey-iverse, long black coats are the equivalent of capes.
Meredith: It looks like he’s got sneaky cat powers like Helena. When he leaves, he ghosts her like she’s always doing to Reese. I wonder how she likes it?
Caleb: Cut to a scene from a horror movie. On a lonely road, two kids are in a parked car with steamed-up windows, making out. A big, ugly guy (Brian Thompson, and by "ugly guy," I of course mean "character actor") also wearing a long dark coat appears, rips the car clean off and tosses it over his shoulder, grabbing at them.
Detective Reese investigates the crime scene, and a patrolmen is cynical, even when presented with the fact that a car door was literally torn off and thrown like thirty feet. He asks Reese who they should be looking for: King Kong, Sasquatch, meth heads, or a really big can-opener.
Apparently, this guy has never heard of metahumans or the weird crimes, like people being drowned to death by a water guy, or that janitor who was disintegrated by a fireball, or that corpse that was found encased in a block of ice, etc.
Meredith: Helena busts into the Clocktower, raging to Barbara (Dina Meyer) about the mysterious guy in the coat. She has no interest in sharing this city with any other vigilantes. And who happens to be there as well? Why, that very vigilante! Whose name turns out to be... Darkstrike?
Is Darkstrike a thing? Why isn’t it a thing? Couldn’t they have picked any of the hundreds of characters who are things in DC comics?
Caleb: Well, he’s not a DC superhero I can think of. But “Dark” and “Strike” are two of the most basic superhero name components from the 1990s, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there were, like, 15 characters named "Darkstrike" somewhere among the character catalogs of minor publishers or in the portfolios of aspiring amateur artists.
Meredith: He's in town pursuing a villain named The Crawler, who is also not a thing. Babs wants Helena to team up with Darkstrike to stop The Crawler from abducting women. So she’s gonna be working with him now. A new lunkhead to distract from developing any sort of dynamic between the actual Birds of Prey.
Caleb: The Crawler is kind of a terrible name though, as he doesn’t crawl at all. "The Abductor" or "The Lady-Grabber" are more accurate, I guess, and not any worse than The Crawler.
So Dinah (Rachel Skarsten) is immediately smitten with the new tall, dark and apparently gorgeous guy. I guess her teenage hormones are kicking in. Can we pause here to discuss her assessment? Meredith, what do you think? Darkstrike, hot or not?
Meredith: Very early 2000s dream boat. He’s like a JV Tom Welling.
Caleb: Well, he’s no Shemar Moore.
Meredith: I would assume you’d want to see his torso before you decided.
Caleb: We’re only ten minutes in. Maybe there will be a scene later where the two of them both lose their shirts for, um, some reason. Maybe they have to hide from The Crawler in a steam bath, or the Crawler rips off their shirts in a fight, or they go shopping for tight t-shirts together, or they go do laps at the police pool together or…
Meredith: Alarms go off! But it’s not an alert from Oracle's Delphi system. Nope, Oracle says it's Reese and he's activated "the bat-ring." Wait, no one on this show is a “bat” anything anymore.
Caleb: And the ring doesn’t have a bat-symbol on it, nor is it in the shape of a bat. It is in the shape of a bird. Babs isn’t nearly as good at marketing herself and and brand extension as Batman was.
At Lover’s Lane, which is full of more greenery than we've yet seen on this show, an attractive blonde assistant district attorney of Reese’s acquaintance appears, and he looks her up and down and they exchange loaded dialogue. Say, Huntress has a new attractive partner on the very same night that Reese has a new attractive partner. What are the chances of that?
Meredith: Lurking in the bushes near the crime scene, Darkstrike and Helena decide this is the place to discuss her star-crossed love with Reese.
Caleb: I would just like to point out that as nice at it is to have a crime scene somewhere other than the, like, two streets and one warehouse set all crimes have so far been committed at, this park or wherever looks crazy fake. It seems to be half potted plants, and half fake vines. It seems like the sort of jungle set you would see in a cheap, black-and-white 1950s adventure flick, where in the hero would be wearing a safari outfit, someone would be dressed in a gorilla outfit and there would be rear-projected lions.
I'm not sure what the budget-per-episode was on this show, but based on the production values, I would not be at all surprised to learn that it is less than what Disney and Marvel Studios spent on Sebastian Stan's eyeliner in Civil War.
Anyway, Darkstrike says he’s been tracking The Crawler "for years." Isn’t that just another way of saying he’s a terrible superhero? Can you imagine if Batman were working The Case of the Chemical Syndicate from, like, 1939-1943...?
Meredith: They keep pressing on the point that Helena always works alone, once again completely missing what should be the point of a Birds of Prey show.
The Crawler has the girl he grabbed from Lover’s Lane and he’s feeding her dinner. Well, not really. She’s bound and gagged and he’s planning on killing her. But he's eating dinner at the table in front of her chair.
Meanwhile, Huntress arrives at Darkstrike's hotel room, which is also in the middle of the jungle. It’s trashed, so she switches on her Huntress Vision to get a better look.
Luckily, her Huntress Vision is able to let her know someone is loudly entering the room with their key.
Caleb: Huntress finds it suspicious that The Crawler has been to Darkstrike’s hotel room, ransacked it, and left a mannequin with threatening words written all over it in Darkstrike's bed. Darkstrike explains that Cralwer does this all the time, that it's way of taunting him and daring him to capture him. Kind of like The Riddler does to Batman, only Darkstrike is apparently never smart enough to follow the clues back to the villain the way Batman is.
Actually, I'm suspicious too now, Huntress. I’m beginning to suspect that Darkstrike and The Crawler may be one and the same.
When Huntress pops up out of nowhere to start talking to Reese about the latest Crawler clues, he’s irritated by her sudden appearance. I think that is the most realistic part of this show so far. Who wouldn't be surprised if you had a friend who began every conversation by leaping out of the shadows when you weren't expecting them, and ended every conversation by disappearing when you stopped making eye contact with them?
Anyway, Reese, like us, doesn't think that the new guy has a very good superhero codename. “Darkstrike? Who comes up with these names?" he asks Huntress incredulously.
"He strikes after dark," she shrugs. "It's descriptive." Whatever you say, Coat Woman.
Meredith: Darkstrike is anxious about finding the girl who was kidnapped, so Dinah makes him some tea. They have a heart to heart about being a crime-fighter. She’s not sure she’s ever going to be as good as her mom, who remember was the Black Canary, even if she does learn to handle her telekinetic powers (which I totally forgot she had until she mentioned them just this moment). Darkstrike takes the opportunity to mansplain being a superhero to her. It’s not like she’s been living under the same roof as two other crime-fighters who’ve been mentoring her or anything.
Caleb: Reese goes to Dr. Harleen Quinzel (Mia Sara) for some insight into the psychological profile of The Crawler. So, what is Harley wearing in this scene? Is that a... purse strap... tied around her neck like necklace…?
Meredith: The outfit needed a pop of color and it was all she had on hand.
Caleb: And then Darkstrike has a heart-to-heart with Huntress about how The Crawler killed his girlfriend. So now he's mainsplaining hurt to Huntress. While Mansplainer isn't a very good superhero name, I do like it better than Darkstrike.
I like how Dinah thinks Darkstrike is such a good match for Huntress, and isn't exactly shy about saying it over and over.
Meredith: Dinah’s only purpose in this episode is to ship Huntress and Darkstrike.
Caleb: Putting on her Oracle glasses, which make her smarter, and using her computer kung fu, Barbara was able to trace a bit of hair taken from the mannequin to the abandoned caretaker’s house at the old Gotham Arboretum.
Huntress checks the place out, but forget to uses her Huntress Vision, so Crawler attacks her with a huge 2x4 while heavy metal elevator music plays in the background. She trips on her coat. You know, these long coats that everyone wears look really inconvenient in a fight.
Before he delivers a killing blow, he says to her, "You’re Darkstrike's little bitch."
"We’re just friends," she says. But his misogyny has activated a well of reserve feminist strength in her, and she rallies. "And I’m nobody’s bitch," she says, kicking The Crawler out the window.
And then, suspiciously, Darkstrike enters, breathless and suffering from a blow to the head. Hey, ever notice how they are never in the same place at the same time? Darkstrike and Crawler are totally the same person.
But at least they saved the captured girl. Dinah uses her psychic powers for the first time, in, like, episodes, to see inside the girl's mind, and there’s a brief flash showing Darkstrike at the diner that The Crawler had with her earlier. Aha! They are the same guy.
Unfortunately, all the bad, scary feeelings overwhelm Dinah. Maybe she's right: She's never gonna fill Black Canary’s shoes.
Meredith: While the Birds try to figure out what’s going on with Crawler, I’ll just take a moment to point out that Rachel Skarsten would be a really good Black Canary, but like, now, in 2016. Her show Lost Girl is over, so she’s got some spare time.
Caleb: Agreed! Maybe someone should get to work developing a newer, much more improved Birds of Prey TV show, and cast Skarsten as Dinah Lance/Black Canary. Just not on the CW; they have like five Canaries in the CW-verse already, right?
Written on the walls of Darkstrike's room, apparently by The Crawler? "Your girlfriend is next."
In Oracle's chemistry lab --- the various beakers of colored water she keeps next to her computers --- she shows Dinah the weird thing about The Crawler's DNA, found on the clues left in Darkstrike's room. It changes back and forth, like “it can’t decide what it wants to be.” Everyone is with me now, right? We know what that is?
Just then, the bat-ring alert goes off! Since Huntress is away, Oracle calls Reese back. Hey, this is the first time they've "met," isn't it...?
Meredith: On a payphone.
Caleb: Payphones! I remember those! He tells Oracle, who he recognizes as the mysterious voice Huntress sometimes starts talking to, that he was talking to a friend on the force in Central City, home of The Flash. Could his friend at Central City PD be Barry Allen himself? Let's pretend yes.
Reese reveals some extremely confusing plot point. Apparently, about the time The Crawler started crawling, there was a mysterious killing that they never attached to The Crawler because there were two victims, not one; a young woman of the sort The Crawler generally kills, and another unidentified male. It looked as if the dead man was the one who killed the girl, though.
At this point, Oracle has put two and two and two and two together and correctly come up with eight. Really Oracle, this is Superhero 101 stuff. If two characters in a superhero story are never in the same place at the same time, they are more than likely the same person.
Meredith: Helena actually lives in an apartment over the bar, where she still works, apparently? Oh, snap! There's a weird morphing special effect and it is revealed that The Crawler is Darkstrike. I see we’ve got a Glory/Ben situation here.
Caleb: I have seen more challenging mysteries on Scooby-Doo. Like, any season of any Scooby-Doo show ever. Wait, wait, wait; even if their bodies can somehow morph back and forth, how come their coats morph too...?
Oracle kinda sorta explains what’s going on, but, um, it doesn’t actually make any sense. There’s no comic book science here or anything. Darkstrike didn't get bitten by The Crawler under a full moon, or have a teleporter accident with him; they weren't around anything radioactive at any point, and no one seems to be a demon or anything. He just killed The Crawler, and then became him? Physically. Somehow.
Meredith: And he keeps killing more people because he’s got guilt or something.
Caleb: Okay, so Huntress is stunned by the realization that The Crawler and Darkstrike are the same person, morphing back and forth between two bodies and identities. This is understandable, since it makes little sense. She is then stunned by The Crawler hitting her over the head.
She comes to, bound to a chair in her own apartment, where The Crawler tells her she must die because she's in love. He apparently... smells her love for Reese on her...?
But once again she is saved by the villain repeatedly running into her feet while she is chained up. She then uses the chain to Slave Leia The Crawler into unconsciousness, so he morphs back into Darkstrike. ("Slave Leia" is here a verb, meaning "to throttle a captor from behind with the very chains he was using to imprison you." Update your dictionaries!)
Meredith: And Darkstrike gets tossed into Arkham. But he’s actually in his Crawler form now, and it looks like his attending physician... is Dr. Quinzel. Crawler knows about her other identity as the Joker’s girlfriend, Harley Quinn, and also spills the beans that the person repeatedly thwarting her plans is known as "The Huntress."
Caleb: Yes, he knows who she is and her relationship with The Joker because of his never even vaguely defined love-smelling powers, right…?
This is another great example of just how small of a city New Gotham appears to be, despite all those whooshing, CGI shots of skyscrapers. Dr. Qunizel is like the only mental health professional in the city. She's Helena Kyle's therapist, she helps the police department build psych profiles on wanted criminals, and she also runs the home for the criminally insane.
This episode ends where it began, with Reese in the middle of cuffing another perp he had just chased down and Huntress appearing out of nowhere to flirt with him. They reveal that they were both jealous of one another's team-ups, he of Darkstrike, and she of the assistant ADA she saw him with at the crime scene, although he assures her that she was never anything else than an ADA to him... well that, and a really bad blind date.
Oh God, just kiss already you too! The season's half over!
Well, that was certainly an episode of Birds of Prey, wasn’t it? I think this may surpass episode three, “Prey For The Hunter” --- you know, the one that seemed to be set in a version of the Marvel Universe, where they had simply swapped the word “mutant” for “metahuman” --- as my least favorite of the series so far.
It really had a perfect confluence of all the things I’m not fond of about this series: Non-costume superhero costumes, making up terrible new characters instead of using any from the comics (or even making up good new characters), seemingly leaving out a scene or even a few lines of important dialogue (explaining what the heck was going on, exactly, with Darkstrike/The Crawler) and, of course, being yet another episode about the trust issues between Huntress and the other Birds and their professed difficulties of working with others.
On the other hand, I did like all the Dinah business in this episode; her crushing on Darkstrike and her busting of Helena’s chops regarding her will-they-won’t-they romance with Reese.
But when we get to the end of the series, and review why there might not have been a season two, I imagine this episode is going to be Exhibit B, right behind “Prey For The Hunter.”
Meredith: This is the second episode in a row that has left me cold. The focus on Helena and Reese teaming up to solve crimes is really not my favorite. Once again, I’m left wondering what is the point of making a Birds of Prey show when it’s clear no one was interested in actually focusing on the Huntress/Oracle dynamic. It also doesn’t help that the Darkstrike plot is confusing and half-assed. I ended up spending most of my time trying to figure out what was going on and wondering where Dinah was.
Speaking of Dinah, you may have liked her ragging on Helena, but she was barely in this episode. She only really appeared to use her psychic powers to move the plot forward. That’s pretty much exactly what I was afraid would happen with her. They use her visions to crank the wheels of the story, but they don’t actually involve her in any significant manner or do anything to develop her character further. It’s a shame that “Dinah Lance” still hasn’t gotten the on-screen treatment that she deserves.
Caleb: Well, there's always next episode. But now that we've surpassed the halfway point of the series, I guess I can only use that as an excuse so many more times.