"Night of the Hawk" accomplishes great storytelling that left me surprised and excited at each turn. Eight episodes in, it seems like Legends of Tomorrow has finally found its groove.
For this week's mission, the team travels to Harmony Falls, Oregon, circa 1958. On the surface, it's a charming small town, which leads Professor Stein to wax nostalgic about his own childhood. But lurking beneath, this place isn't all that idyllic — especially, as Jax and Sara point out, if you aren't a straight white man. I've been very curious to see if the writers would accurately comment on how trips to the past would pose a problem for some members of the team. Would Legends of Tomorrow shy away from the racism, sexism, and homophobia to focus on the usual fantastical trappings? No. In a surprising move, "Night of the Hawk" addresses these issues with depth and grace.
At first glance, the episode is about the team grappling with culture shock while trying to understand what Savage is up to. (They must solve a series of mysterious murders and abductions in the town, which they believe involve him.) Savage actually feels threatening here, perhaps because he is maintaining cover as a married psychiatrist named Dr. Curtis Knox. The act means he's dialing down on the usual cartoonish theatrics. Dr. Knox throws soirées for his neighbors, bakes tuna casseroles, and even seems respectable. But if you look closely enough, his true nature glimmers beneath that charming exterior.
Every team member has a role to play. Kendra and Ray play house as a married couple. Jax is the new kid in town, who cozies up to Betty (Melissa Roxburgh), a young girl whose boyfriend is missing. Professor Stein takes on a position as a doctor at a mental hospital, where Sara joins him as a nurse. This just happens to be the same hospital that Savage moonlights at, which Sara first discovers when she sees his picture on the wall. Leonard and Rip Hunter pretend to be FBI agents to get information from the local sheriff, although they don't figure heavily into the episode.
It becomes apparent that Savage isn't directly killing anyone; mutated creatures are involved, and they have something to do with a meteor seen at the beginning of the episode. Still, that doesn't mean Savage's hands are clean. He has been using his restricted wing in the hospital to carry out experiments, injecting a compound from the meteor into unwilling test subjects, which turns them into hideous, hawklike monsters. It isn't the outcome he hoped for, but he sees an opportunity to use these mutated beings as his own personal army. There is a bit of uncomfortable body horror here, evoking some of my favorite moments from shows like The X-Files and Fringe that played with the idea of people's bodies being turned against them. It's a pretty great plotline, especially when Jax gets abducted by a dirty cop and ends up being experimented on by Savage. (Reminder: The Savage we see in 1958 hasn't met Jax yet, so he doesn't know him as Firestorm.)
Before that happens, Betty pretty much throws herself at Jax, but he's not so interested in making out. He wants to find out what happened. Before he can learn anything, though, Betty's mutated boyfriend attacks. Betty suffers brutal wounds on her neck. Although Jax is unable to get her to The Waverider, Leonard and Rip Hunter find her while tracking Jax's last known location. She's able to give them a lot of the information they need, and finally, they piece together what's really happening.
There is a lot of romance in the air throughout "Night of the Hawk," but the relationship that feels most authentic happens between Sara and Nurse Carlisle (Ali Liebert). It takes Nurse Carlisle a bit of time to open up to Sara. After all, she's a lesbian stuck in a small town in 1958. Any mistake could have devastating consequences. Their chemistry is apparent early on, but Nurse Carlisle isn't the one who shies away after their first kiss — Sara does. Later in the episode, she opens up to Professor Stein about why she shut down. Her connection with Nurse Carlisle is the first time she's felt emotional since being resurrected by the Lazarus Pit. Much of Sara's arc concerns her search for humanity and struggle with the bloodlust that the Lazarus Pit engenders. I like that she gets a somewhat happy ending here, including a good-bye kiss with Nurse Carlisle. Considering that time travel is the central premise of the show, I won't count out seeing more of this couple in the future.
"Night of the Hawk" truly shines in another way: Kendra is finally an interesting character. She seems more confident, whip-smart, and even funny. On a more superficial note, her wardrobe is amazing — particularly the black dresses she wears in her major confrontations with Savage. And though I still think this new relationship with Ray feels forced, I was surprised to find Ciara Renée and Brandon Routh actually have a lot of chemistry. Or maybe it just feels like a lot compared to Kendra's relationship with Carter. This fling definitely feels like it has an expiration date, but Kendra and Ray are fun to watch as a married couple. And more important, she actually proves to be a valuable member of the team.
When Savage knocks on their door with a wife in tow, he's pretending not to recognize Kendra, of course. He won't kill her until she discovers her powers, but that doesn't mean he isn't a full-blown creep when they show up to the Knox-family shindig. While Ray checks out his home for anything suspicious, Savage starts asking her about past lives and gets way too close for comfort. I was struck by something Kendra said to him: "Fate is a prison. When free will is gone, what's left?" I like that Kendra is finally starting to think for herself, rather than be pulled in every direction by the men in her life.
Later, Ray sneaks into Savage's home — man, that Atom suit comes in handy, doesn't it? — while Kendra watches from a distance. He doesn't find any of the usual trappings you'd expect in a madman's secret lair, but he does find the ancient Egyptian blade that Kendra can use to kill him. Ray isn't all too fond of Kendra facing Savage alone, which feels less like a caring teammate and more like an overprotective boyfriend. Of course, the show proves Ray right; Kendra can't take down Savage on her own. Not yet, at least.
With the rest of the team in place at the mental hospital, Kendra faces off with Savage in his office. At first, they keep up the pretense of not knowing each other. Kendra plays flirty. Savage kisses her passionately, which she uses as an opportunity to pop open her purse to get the blade. But somehow, he got to it without her noticing. I love that she doesn't back down and proceeds to give as good as she's getting in the fight. For the first time, Kendra feels like a real person. She's a pleasure to watch in ways we haven't seen. Unfortunately, Savage gets the upper hand and she has to be saved by Ray. Nevertheless, her confrontations with Savage are the episode's best, most tense scenes.
Savage's test subjects are wreaking havoc in the hospital. This puts Professor Stein and Leonard face-to-face with the mutated Jax. Leonard has an opportunity to kill Jax, but instead creates a diversion, which allows them to escape. After concocting a theory, Professor Stein uses gene therapy to reverse the effects of Savage's experiment. Everyone says their good-byes to 1958, and honestly, it seems like they've grown quite a bit.
Curiously, the episode doesn't give us any straight answers about Mick's fate. Did Leonard kill him? Jax apologizes about an earlier dig about him killing Mick, but we don't really know if he did. I can't imagine Leonard killing Mick, given their history and how important the character is to the show.
For a minute there, I thought we were going to get the most heartfelt ending in the show's short history. Kendra and Ray's relationship is stronger. Sara's romance has a sweet conclusion. Leonard is slowly embracing his role as a hero. And then things get ugly: While Professor Stein, Jax, Hunter, and Leonard are aboard The Waverider, Cronos attacks with much more powerful firepower than they're used to. He even manages to get onboard. Meanwhile, outside, as Ray, Kendra, and Sara walk up to the ship, it suddenly takes off without them. They're stranded. It's a strong cliffhanger to end on before Legends of Tomorrow takes a short hiatus. When the show returns on March 31, let's hope subsequent episodes build off of this one.