‘Birds of Prey’ TV Rewatch, Episode 9: ‘Nature Of The Beast’
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 gangster who killed Dinah's mother, Caroline "Black Canary" Lance, returns, and Detective Reese and the Birds find themselves forced to protect him from a weirdo metahuman assassin. "Nature of the Beast" originally aired on December 18 of 2002, and was written by Melissa Rosenberg and directed by Shawn Levy.
Meredith: Back to New Gotham! As this episode starts, some Russian (or also possibly Scottish) mobsters are having a chit chat about Al Hawke --- last seen swaddled in bandages in a hospital bed at the end of episode five --- in a restaurant after hours. And in walks Hawke's smarmy lieutenant Frankie Spitz (Kristofer McNeeley) and Hawke himself. Uh, I guess after surviving that explosion he got some massive plastic surgery. He looks like a completely different person now.
Caleb: Based on their indeterminate accents, I think the Russian/Scottish gangsters are actually from whatever country Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch was supposed to be from in Age of Ultron. As to his appearance, Huntress (Ashley Scott), watching from the skylight above the Italian restaurant they are meeting in --- because they are gangsters ---says he “pulled a total Michael Jackson.” In fact, he is a different person, because he has been re-cast as Mitch Pileggi. I wonder if they had to re-cast the actor, or if they just wanted him to look completely different for some reason?
I wonder, but I don’t care.
The camera lingers briefly on his wedding ring and a bit of badly burned skin on his wrist to remind us that he was the guy we saw in the hospital bed.
Meredith: Helena is scoping out the scene, while Barbara (Dina Meyer) is directing her over comms. She’s back at the Clocktower working out in some sort of upside down sit-up contraption, which I will call the Reverse Salmon Ladder.
So the plan is for Helena to snatch Al Hawke and send him back to jail. But the meeting is all a set up!
Caleb: They realize that neither party called the meeting just as guns start blasting. Oh my God, it is Netflix’s The Punisher! No, it’s just two guys in slouch hats and trenchcoats with machine guns. They are not as accurate as the Punisher, as both Spitz and Hawke totally survive the hail of gunfire. No way Jon Bernthal's Punisher would have missed 50% of the criminals in a room like that.
Meredith: Detective Jesse Reese (Shermar Moore) shows up just as Huntress is surveying the damage. Now, we the audience knows that Al Hawke is actually Reese’s dad, but none of the Birds do. He’s relieved that Hawke survived the shooting, and his reaction makes Helena suspicious.
She expresses this sentiment to Babs later when they are using the computer to do a police sketch. They both want to get Al Hawke arrested and off the street as quickly and quietly as possible, because he was responsible for killing Black Canary, the mother of Dinah (Rachel Skarsten).
Speaking of whom, Dinah wanders in wondering what’s up. Not wanting to upset her, they make up some story about the guy they're running a facial recognition program on being a shoplifter. Who specializes in expensive shoes. Because it is a slow night. Guys, I thought muffintops were your go-to excuse?
Caleb: Hey, Dinah has a necklace that matches Helena’s now! She’s all official-like!
Meanwhile, in his office, Hawke Family Number Two Frankie Spitz is yelling at the would-be assassins over the phone! Apparently he wants Hawke dead so he can take over. While he’s still yelling at the first hired guns, in walks a new assassin (Neil Hopkins), this one highly creepy in his demeanor.
“You must be the specialist,” Spitz says. Proving just how special he is, he leaves the room, and then re-enters. Through the wall.
He’s obviously a metahuman. Is he a Martian? Based on this show’s track record, I’ll just go ahead and assume that he is not, in fact, a Martian. And that he’s not any pre-established character from DC Comics, because, really, there’s only a dozen or three assassins from the comics they could use.
Meredith: Reese goes to meet his father outside of “Noodle House,” and some no-name goons take his gun and drive him to a second location. Helena and Babs, trying to hide stuff from Dinah, don’t do a very good job. Dinah wanders into all of Babs' computer screens running a facial recognition program.
Caleb: For gals with secret identities, Helena and Babs are both terrible at keeping secrets. As for the Hawke family reunion, Al says he's thinking about retiring, and so he agrees to turn himself in, turn state's evidence, and help dismantle all organized crime in New Gotham in exchange for protection from whoever is trying to kill him. Reese is in the middle of striking up this deal when the creepy guy who is definitely not a Martian or any of the many assassins from DC Comics walks through a wall in the lobby.
Bug out, guys!
Meredith: Reese activates "the bat-ring" and Helena shows up at the next hotel where Reese is stashing his dad at.
Caleb: So, how do you think Huntress gets around the city? I mean, I know they keep repeating that one sequence of a CGI Ashley Scott running across roof tops and flipping over alleys using her metahuman “cat” powers, but it’s still supposedly a pretty big city, right?
Meredith: Does she have some sort of Huntress-mobile or a bus pass?
Caleb: If so, they never show it to us. I think I'm just going to go ahead and pretend she has one of her dad's old whirly-bats stashed on the roof of the Clocktower that she uses to get around town.
Meredith: Reese wants Helena’s help protecting Hawke, and she is not having it. ("What say we break that new face in?" she says upon seeing him.) She doesn’t understand why Reese is adamant about not sending him back to jail. Man, I really think Reese should’ve had this conversation with Helena before right now. Their argument escalates and Reese admits Hawke is his father.
Caleb: That is apparently a lot for Helena to process, so she goes back to the Clocktower to confer with Babs and Dinah, who of course has by this point figured out that it wasn't a shoe thief they were hunting after all. They argue about how to proceed until Dinah gets so mad that her psychic powers begin to shake all of Barbara’s potions.
Meredith: They’re not even science beakers. It’s just a collection of colored liquids in Harry Potter jars!
This argument between the three of them is a perfect distillation of what’s wrong with the dynamics of this group. They should be able to have a discussion about what their next move should be, but instead we’ve got Dinah the irrational teen, Helena the quip machine, and Babs being always right. So no matter what they talk about, they end up doing what Babs proposes anyway.
Caleb: And Babs proposes they protect Hawke from the metahuman assassin. He tells Reese and Huntress that only Spitz knew where he was both times he was attacked, and so the pair of them head to Club New Gotham to have a word with Spitz.
While they wait outside, Spitz tells Huntress his secret origin, about how at the age of 16 he could no longer pretend his father wasn't a crime boss and how he dedicated himself to law enforcement.
Aw, look at them with their matching leather jackets. Don’t they make a cute couple…?
Meredith: I’m sorry, I’m too distracted by the yellow smoke spewing from the sewer grate behind them.
Caleb: That's Gotham City for you!
Dinah and Barbara have a heart-to-heart about vengeance versus justice. This is the third heart-to-heart conversation in as many scenes now, I think. Dinah decides to “go for a walk” to “clear her head” ... but she’s left her comms behind! I think by “go for a walk” she means “go look for Hawke” and by “clear her head” she means “kill Hawke.”
When Spitz meets Huntress and Reese in the alley, he looks them over and says, "What is this, some kind of crime-fighting date?" Hell yeah it is!
Meredith: Helena and Reese try to shake some info loose from Frankie --- and oh, snap! Dinah found Hawke in his hotel room. I think she’s about to go all Carrie on him.
Caleb: So it turns out that Reese and Huntress’ dumb plan is to provide Hawke with protection because he says he plans to turn himself in shortly. The best way to do this, they decide, is to go to the guy who has hired people to kill Hawke, and convince him to tell the guy he hired to kill Hawke not to kill Hawke. That's... not really how any of this works, is it? Doesn't Hawke have to get arrested first, and then ask for a plea deal? Can't Reese, a police detective, just arrest Spitz, a criminal, rather than grabbing him by the lapels and telling him to cancel his hit?
Apparently Reese is very convincing though, because Spitz calls the ghost guy and asks him to forget about the contract. But the creepy assassin doesn't believe in indecision and always gets his man, so he snaps Spitz's neck for suggesting he stop pursuing Hawke.
See kids? Crime doesn’t pay. If you don't get arrested, you might just get your neck snapped by a metahuman. Whatever happens, it will be bad.
Huntress and Reese jump out too late to help Spitz, but not too late to go a few rounds with the assassin, who they discover can't pass through living things. He manages to escape from them both when Huntress throws him through a wall... like, through a wall.
Meanwhile, Oracle notices that Dinah went for her walk without her comms, and warns Huntress what’s what.
Meredith: Helena arrives just in time to stop Dinah from killing Hawke, who escapes during their confrontation, but Dinah doesn’t care what Helena says. She will have blood. In her anger, Dinah flings a knife across the room with her mind, and it grazes Helena a bit.
Caleb: Oracle calls the metahuman assassin “The Wall-Walker." That is a terrible name. Which is par for the course for the show that previously gave us Liquid Guy and The Crawler.
Meredith: That’s the worst name. That doesn’t even accurately describe his powers.
Caleb: Using a blood sample scraped from the ring on Huntress' punching fist, plus her computers and, one imagines, her shelf of magic potions, Oracle is able to determine how The Wall-Walk-Througher's powers work. He spreads his molecules out or some such superhero nonsense.
While she's doing this, Reese and Huntress have a heart-to-heart conversation number nine or so. She tells him that her mom was "a pretty notorious cat burglar," but quit crime altogether the day she was born. The moral of her story is that people, even lifelong criminals, can change.
Then Hawke calls Reese to tell him where he's at, and Reese hops in his car while Huntress runs the other way, rather than just riding there with him. She's off to the whirly-bat, I guess.
And, because the show is almost over, everyone convenes in one place. First Dinah confronts Hawke, then the killer with the loose molecules appears. He gives Dinah an ultimatum: "You can step aside, or you can die."
She does step aside, and as the killer passes her and reaches for Hawke, she kicks him in the butt. Dinah is a master strategist.
Meredith: Dinah and Hawke take off down the street while Babs directs them to an abandoned hospital. Babs is able to help them get away from blueprints she pulled up on her computer.
Caleb: Yeah, this scene is pretty much exactly what the Birds of Prey comics of the time would have been like: Oracle feeding a blonde person named Dinah information she gleans from the computer in real-time to help her complete missions.
Meredith: Huntress and Reese arrive for the final showdown with The Wall-Walker. Babs, still on comms, corrects Helena’s sassy remark with science.
Caleb: Reese and Huntress are so close now they even finish each other’s... fights.
Huntress throws the super-assassin into the door of the radiology room, which is apparently a substance he can't phase through, and he ends up embedded in the door, doing some kind of Han Solo impression.
Finally safe, Hawke immediately starts walking back his promise to turn state’s evidence, saying he needs some time to think, and, “How about we see what happens?” See, this is why you usually get arrested and give up the information before you get police protection.
Reese arrests him. But doesn't Mirandize him, so like most of Reese's arrests, I think Hawke has a pretty good chance of walking.
Meredith: Dinah and Helena have one last heart-to-heart about being momless as well as teasing each other about snoring and boys. Aw, they’re really starting to become a family.
Caleb: The end. So is it just me, or was there a lot of acting in this episode? Rachel Skarsten had a lot of emotional scenes here, in which she was called on to go pretty big. Unfortunately, it was all less operatic and more soap-operatic, but I imagine it was still fun for her to stretch those acting muscles, given how little she sometimes has to do in episodes of this show.
Shemar Moore got a some more down-to-earth dramatic scenes --- like, he just had to talk about tortured emotions, and not act like those emotions were linked to psychic poltergeist powers or anything --- and he got something new to do besides A) look sexy and B) flirt with Huntress. And it looks like the Reese/Huntress relationship is finally moving forward a step or two. Like, they're beyond surreptitiously checking one another out and exchanging loaded double entendres.
Meredith: No, I think you’re right. And this might be the Stockholm Syndrome talking, but I think Ashley Scott’s acting is getting better.
Also, this episode just seemed paced better than the others. Conversations that were dialog heavy were in service of developing the characters’ relationships with each other or revealing back stories, as opposed to being plot info dumps. It made the episode lighter and more streamlined, which in turn made the whole thing more enjoyable to watch.
Caleb: So that makes two fairly strong episodes in a row. Maybe Birds of Prey is finally finding it's groove... with just four episodes left to go.