One could be forgiven, based on the promos alone, for expecting the "Legends of Tomorrow" trek into the '50s to be a slightly campy, fun-filled affair. No such luck--well, I suppose the bird-monsters are a bit campy, but any fun with them goes out the window in the episode's back half. Still, that's not a bad thing, per se, although "Legends" does seem to be at its best when it lets up on a the gloom a bit and has a little fun. That's true of this episode as well, and the scenes between Stein and Sara are great examples of this, but with "Night of the Hawk," writers Sarah Nicole Jones and Cortney Norris, along with director Joe Dante (of "Gremlins" fame), aim to do something just a little more ambitious.
It sort of works. The team lands, Rory-free, in the sleepy Oregon town that, thanks to last week's tension-fest, they know now to be the temporary home of Savage. They promptly get to work gathering information and blending in, only some of these folks are maybe not great at time-travel. Worse (and more importantly), the team has landed in an era that's somewhat less than enlightened, as Jax and Sara remind Stein in no uncertain terms. It's a great decade, if you're white, and a man, and straight. Otherwise, not so much.
The legends split into teams, and each group (except for the one that contains only white dudes) has to deal with some of the more backward aspects of the time in different ways. While Jax and Kendra have the worst of it--each confronts the reality of being people of color who dare to approach white people as equals--Sara runs into her share of trouble, too. Hers is the most personal, as her interactions with another nurse (Ali Liebert) at the hospital she and Stein have infiltrated force her to deal with the fears her resurrection have engendered in her. That's both good--tying a plot to a character's own struggles and growth is always a good thing--and bad, as it emphasizes the shortcomings in Kendra and Jax's storylines.
"LoT" is still pushing this Ray/Kendra storyline, and while I have nothing against a little romance with my superheroes, it still feels a bit forced. In their storyline, the couple (because now they're a couple?) settles into a cozy suburban neighborhood as husband and wife, shocking their realtor and a few neighbors in the process. These make for some of the episode's most interesting moments, with Palmer sticking up for Kendra (and she does plenty of sticking up for herself, too). But once their new neighbor shows up at the door bearing a casserole dish full of tuna surprise (perhaps the best line-reading of the series from the otherwise dull Casper Crump), this thread goes out the window and it becomes all about a comically ominous man-cave, and whether or not Ray is cool with Kendra taking down Savage by herself. Both those storylines ultimately come to just about nothing, although after they get stranded (more on that later) it's safe to assume things will get more complicated.
Jax heads out largely on his own, armed only with charm and some "Back to the Future" jokes. He quickly meets Betty, the girlfriend of a boy who, as we see in the episode's opening, gets captured by Savage and turned into a bird monster. Using a meteor that's similar in some ways to the one that transformed Kendra, he injects people with blue space goo and poof, they're terrifying (and a little bit funny) flying taloned creepsters. After rebuffing some (racist) bullies, Betty and Jax head out to lover's lane, where they're promptly attacked by the very bird monster we've met before, and as Jax attempts to get a wounded Betty to the Waverider so that Gideon can fix her up, he gets pulled over by the cops.
Well, as you can probably guess, it doesn't go very well. Of all the cultural blasts from the past on display in "Night of the Hawk," this one's the most effective, for reasons that don't need to be spelled out. To these people, Jax is disposable at best, just another kid no one will look for or defend. They cops take him away and give him to Savage, and quicker than you can say 'space goo,' he's turned into a bird monster. While upsetting, it's actually a development that robs the rest of the episode of its most powerful storyline, given that Jax is then reduced to a piece of CGI trickery and his story then mostly belongs to those tasked with saving him (Stein, Hunter, and a heroic-but-please-don't-call-him-that Snart). By episode's end, they've retrieved him from Savage's asylum, spirited him back to the ship, and restored him to his charming, non-flying self.
Sara's plot, while lacking the overt hatred seen in Jax and Kendra's storylines, proves the most engaging, because it's tied to her directly. She encounters what could generously be called "patriarchal nonsense" at nearly every turn, including from Stein (though she gives as good as she gets, and their banter provides nearly all of the episode's fun--well, that and Hunter and Snart disguised as FBJ agents). But she's got thick skin, and very little fear for the chauvinist doctors, and instead it's a nurse who gets inside her head. It's nice to see the show take a look at Sara's bisexuality, and fun to watch her flirt and cajole Nurse Carlisle into opening up about her own orientation. But when that attraction crosses over the line between harmless and slightly more real, Sara gets spooked. Tying these interactions to her ongoing struggles with the aftermath of the Lazarus pit lends her storyline a touch of the personal, something sadly lacking from most of the rest of the stories.
That's the bummer of "Night of the Hawk"-- while there's a lot of interest and no shortage of good ideas, the episode seems to have bitten off more than it can chew. Big issues, relationship struggles, knife fights, flying birds, meteor injections, and oh yeah, it sure does seem like Snart killed Rory, remember? (Probably not, but the characters certainly think so.) It's a lot for one episode, and the result is a bunch of interesting things that get truncated or under-explored.
The ending, while a bit confusing--Firestorm can't fire up because the ship will explode? They take off with their nemesis on board because of what now?--leaves things in a hell of a dynamic place, however. Sara, Kendra, and Ray are all stuck in that field and that decade, with no way of knowing where their friends have gone, or when, or why. On board, the battle's raging. In the snow, it's just cold. It'll be interesting to see what happens next.