[NOTE: Beware spoilers of episode 8, “Night of the Hawk”]
Like many geek parents, I’m a mom who depends on streaming in order to catch shows I otherwise wouldn’t have time to see. As a sucker for underdog heroes, action-adventure, and time travel, one day I decided to check out DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. It seemed like it’d be a pleasant way to wind down since most of my viewing takes place late in the evening. So I started watching it.
If you’re out of the loop, here’s a brief description of the premise:
Time Master Rip Hunter travels back in time to the present day where he brings together a team of heroes and villains in an attempt to prevent Vandal Savage from destroying the world and time itself.
My initial reaction to Legends of Tomorrow was decidedly mixed. I can suspend my disbelief for many things and didn’t raise a brow at the premise, but the production values on this show fall a tad short of the story’s scope. Some elements struck me as awfully juvenile (the villain’s name is “Vandal Savage”? Really?) and the acting came across as strained—uncomfortably so at times. Despite being a general fan of superhero fare, I began wondering if I was anywhere close to being a member of the show’s target audience.
Yet I kept watching Legends of Tomorrow. Why? Good question. The show’s villain certainly wasn’t helping matters. Vandal Savage is a poorly-drawn, bland villain and he eludes the heroes so easily as to make them appear inept at times. Talk about under-baked stakes.
What about the heroes? I appreciate that the actors seem to be taking their roles seriously, but initially there was precious little time spent on character development. That said, I began to take a shine to Hawkgirl and White Canary because—boo-yah!—female superheroes in action. I love that they both had opportunities to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Additionally, Heat Wave and Captain Cold deliver naughty fun and sport cool weapons.
And okay, I kinda dig the theme song.
The main explanation I have for continuing to watch the show despite my misgivings is the scarcity model. There’s nothing else of this show’s type currently on the air, plus everything about it is something I should like given my tastes. So I’ve been more willing to give it the benefit of the doubt than would otherwise be the case.
Another reason I continued watching is the unpredictability—one thing that can be said for Legends of Tomorrow is that each episode offers something different in terms of setting. This was certainly the case for an episode that took me completely by surprise: “Night of the Hawk”, written by Sarah Nicole Jones and Cortney Norris.
Again, beware spoilers.
In this episode, the team visit an Oregon town in 1958. They suspect Savage, who works as a doctor in a psychiatric hospital, of committing various murders. So they investigate. The first clue that this episode was going to tackle more than the usual will-they-or-won’t-they catch Savage routine came during the coffee shop scene.
In this scene, Professor Stein (one half of Firestorm) waxes poetic about the 1950s, himself being old enough to have lived during that time. As I was listening to him go on about this seemingly idyllic period in American history, I rolled my eyes so hard they got lost in the back of my head. Was this show really going to let his damaging, white bread, patriarchal narrative go unchallenged? Would I have to stop watching Legends of Tomorrow right then and there because of his statement’s obliviousness regarding racism and sexism?
And then the unexpected happened: Jax (the other half of Firestorm) and Sara (White Canary) called out Professor Stein about his one-sided view, reminding him that the 1950s were hardly ideal if one was a black man, a woman, or somewhere on the LGBQT spectrum. That’s when I stopped rolling my eyes and started pumping my fist!
“Night of the Hawk” covered a few other issues as well:
- An exploration of the dangers and challenges of being lesbian in that decade
- Further development of the interracial romance between the Atom and Hawkgirl and the resulting challenges faced by such a couple
- Police brutality, racism, and sexism of the 1950s
As a result of this approach, viewers get to watch as Sara reveals she’s attracted to women and provides much-needed validation for a closeted lesbian. We’re able to revel in the glorious spectacle of Kendra (Hawkgirl) kicking Savage’s ass after he repeatedly made sexist overtures and invaded her personal space. We watch in horror as a racist sheriff brutally assaults Jax, demonstrating that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Racism is as pervasive now as it was in 1958.
As “Night of the Hawk” percolated in my brain, I came to realize that the story, starting with the coffee shop scene, deliberately pushed aside the traditional focus on the white guy heroic journey narrative and instead placed the stories of Jax, Kendra, and Sara front and center. The episode belonged to them. Professor Stein talked about the myth of living in the 1950s, while Jax, Kendra, and Sara revealed the reality of how it actually was for anyone not white, male, and straight. It’s an inspired bit of meta storytelling. Hats off to the writers!
Was this episode highly nuanced, emotionally gripping, or the best ever of its kind? Well, there was definitely room for improvement. For instance, the story didn’t address much in the way of intersectionality (e.g., Sara and Nurse Carlisle were both white and virtually identical in appearance). Maybe the writers are saving such issues for future episodes?
Having now seen the show’s potential, I realized I don’t give a fig about Rip Hunter’s team defeating Vandal Savage. Legend of Tomorrow’s main appeal for me are the character interactions and how the various time periods offer ways for the show to explore intriguing and important themes. Let Savage run amok for all of time if it means more episodes like “Night of the Hawk”!