Legends of Tomorrow: 108 “Night of the Hawk” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
We’re exactly halfway through Legends of Tomorrow’s first (but, thankfully, not last, as confirmed today) season, and it’s been a bumpy yet consistently entertaining ride so far. One of the sticking points of this season, undoubtedly, has been the central villain Vandal Savage, who had taken a couple of episodes off while the Legends travelled to Star City in 2046 and fought time pirates in space, and it’s arguable that those two Savage-less episodes were the strongest Legends had put out thus far. Did this week’s episode, featuring the immortal conqueror’s return to the fray, lose that momentum?
Night of the Hawk doesn’t fix Legends’ Savage problem, continuing to expose the critical flaws within the season’s central plotline and its villain alongside the return of one of the show’s particularly annoying bad habits. Nonetheless, Night of the Hawk works very well indeed as the 50s creature feature homage it sets out to be, and it’s more or less another satisfying and entertaining instalment taken on its own merits. In fact, as a standalone, this was just about as well rounded and balanced as Legends has been, even if the typical problems with serialisation continue to creep in and spoil the enjoyable standalone material.
This was promoted as a homage to old-school monster movies, and Night of the Hawk certainly ticked that box. It’s directed by creature-feature veteran Joe Dante, who imbues the episode with a gently spooky atmosphere in the monster scenes and a kitsch (to the point of sickly), quaint visual style in the daytime to enhance the unique monster movie feel. Neither the design nor the visual effects for the hawk creatures are particularly spectacular, but their unique, striking look ensures that Night of the Hawk has a classic monster to match the atmosphere, and the action scenes involving their attacks on citizens are appropriately distinctive, taking place inside confined, claustrophobic locations that are atypical for Legends. This show has often missed out on the opportunity to give each era its own distinctive atmosphere and design, so it’s great to see Night of the Hawk rectify that flaw, as it’s an episode that really feels rooted in the influences and culture of the time period as opposed to feeling generic and vaguely defined.
There’s also an admirable attempt here to dig beneath the idyllic façade of the time period in order to explore and challenge the deeply ingrained prejudices that existed within society. Night of the Hawk doesn’t really have time for a deep and nuanced take on these prejudices and how they came to exist as a societal norm, but comic books have always tackled social issues in broad strokes, so the lack of subtlety wasn’t much of a problem here. A lot of time travel shows and films skirt over and sugar-coat the prejudices of certain historical periods, so the very fact these issues were confronted here is certainly something to be applauded, especially the way Night of the Hawk confronts a wide variety of issues such as racism and homophobia, and actively comments on how the picturesque version of small-town America in the 50s was only really accessible for a certain section of society.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of this exploration of the prejudices of the 50s was Sara’s brief romance with a closeted nurse. It’s certainly the most thoughtful part of the episode, ruminating on the damaging effects of the era’s heteronormativity with a sensitivity that this big, brash show rarely displays. Most of all, their romance feels like a complete and satisfying story despite the fact that it only takes up a handful of scenes, allowing Sara to make a little difference by chipping away at the homophobic prejudices of the period while finally confronting her own emotions for the first time since her resurrection. It’s rare that these kind of standalone romances that wrap up within the episode don’t feel rushed – the completeness of this particular story is a testament to the way that Night of the Hawk efficiently covers the ground it needs to, character-wise, while still having time to deliver some intriguing and thoughtful commentary on the experiences of LGBT people in a time when society as a whole was deeply suspicious of other sexualities.
It’s notable how focused the episode feels despite the fragmented nature of the narrative as the team split up – there’s a definite sense that every plotline is contributing to the overarching goal of the episode, so it all feels a great deal more cohesive than some of Legends’ jittery, piecemeal early episodes. Despite all these strengths as its own individual episode, however, the problems begin to crop up when Night of the Hawk has to turn its attention to the season’s overarching storyline.
I’ve said time and time again how Legends keeps letting itself down with the Vandal Savage storyline, and it simply doesn’t seem to be coming any closer to fixing the flaws that were apparent from the start – Night of the Hawk simply continues to display those problems, and in some cases, actually exacerbates them. Perhaps the central problem with the hunt for Savage as a storyline is that it’s little more than a premise; an elevator pitch that Legends of Tomorrow hasn’t really progressed past or fleshed out. Vandal Savage has had plenty of nefarious plans for the team to thwart, but none of those plans have really had anything to do with each other and have only been nebulously linked to his takeover of the world by Rip’s time, and they certainly haven’t added much to the season’s arc plot in the long run. Likewise, we haven’t learned much more about Savage as a character as the season has progressed – Night of the Hawk’s iteration of Savage, in terms of character depth and motivations, isn’t particularly far removed from the Savage that first appeared in The Flash; he’s still motivated by a creepy crush on Kendra, and his plans once again revolve around an item from the origin of the Hawks (the staff in the crossover, the meteorite here). Both The Flash and Arrow have explored and deepened their central villains as the season has progressed, with a steady drip-feed of information and back-story that has gradually changed our perception of these foes. That’s simply not the case with Savage, whose back-story has been so front-loaded towards his first appearances in the universe that there’s more or less nothing more that Legends of Tomorrow can reveal, leaving a villain whose psychological state after years of immortality is ripe for exploration feeling inert and unexciting.
There’s also the issue of how Savage exits the episodes he appears in – just about every time, he’s been ‘killed’ in a non-permanent, quick-fix way that leaves the door open for a re-appearance. That narrative trick wore thin fast, especially considering that Savage has frequently been put in positions where he could easily be taken out – this is just as much of an issue with Night of the Hawk, in which the special dagger (the only weapon that, for some reason, can kill Savage) crops up only for Savage to have magically swiped it off-screen during Kendra’s badly-planned trap. Legends has been remarkably up-front with its villain, pitting him against our heroes from very early on (especially considering Arrow and The Flash usually hold off confrontations with the Big Bad until mid-season, Damien Dahrk being the rare exception), but that strategy has come with the side effect of Savage rapidly losing his fearsomeness with every appearance to the point where he’s about as intimidating as a regular villain of the week. It’s hard to really buy into the perception of Savage as someone who quietly controls events and rules from the shadows when he appears in most episodes – but perhaps more critically, the arc plot of hunting and killing Savage is hard to invest in as a difficult challenge because he’s never been that hard for the Legends to thwart. It’s a lot of telling and not showing – informing us of Savage’s supposed fearsomeness, but then failing to adequately display that in his on-screen appearances. These problems aren’t specific to Night of the Hawk, an episode that is, on the whole, very enjoyable, but they’re all clear to see nonetheless considering this episode dips into the Savage mythology more than recent weeks have done.
At the midway point of the season, Legends is rapidly becoming an unwieldy show that’s difficult to quantify. On a week-by-week level, it’s continuously coming up trumps with fun, silly comic-book storylines such as time pirates, future Star City or hawk monsters, and the show’s character arcs are, on the whole, rewarding and something that can really be invested in. On a macro level, however, the season arc is a calamity of errors that seems badly thought-out and haphazardly structured, possessing the illusion of narrative progress with a bunch of standalone evil plans cooked up by Savage. Ultimately, however, it’s hard to tell what’s actually happened with the plot to stop Savage’s future takeover since Hawkman’s death in episode two. This narrative inertia with the arc plot is more acceptable now, but as the season heads into its second half in three weeks, Legends is going to have to fix some critical issues to provide a satisfying endgame.
Night of the Hawk, on its own, is a very fun and well-balanced episode that takes good advantage of its 50s setting, mixing creature-feature action with social commentary with aplomb. It’s weighed down, however, by recurring bad habits stemming from the overall arc plot, and suffers from adding very little to the narrative of the season despite Savage’s substantial involvement.
Legends is off for three weeks now, but it’s back on March 31 with the remaining eight episodes. For Ray, Sara and Kendra, who were abandoned in 1958 at the end of the episode, it’s going to be a longer wait than expected…