The Price to Pay: Swan Song for Birds of Prey
by R.J. Carter
Published: February 21, 2003
What can be said about Birds of Prey the television series that hasn't already been griped about? It wasn't anything like the comic book. It took liberties with the characters. It was unevenly written, shining with occassional brilliance but overshadowed by the completely lackluster subplotting.
But I've got to hand it to WB. Despite cancelling the show, they didn't leave fans dangling. With the 2-hour season (shouldn't that be "series") finale, the producers gave the show the closure that was needed, culminating in the confrontation with Harley Quinn (Mia Sara) that had been building for so long.
The finale was obviously two episodes shoe-horned together, each half done by a different writing team. The first story actually featured an old Batman villain, Clayface, a first for the show (and something that might have saved it if they had done it a bit earlier and a bit more often.) The action shots were nicely done, even if bringing in Catwoman's murder seemed just a bit too pat.
But just as the viewers are getting sucked into the action, that lackluster subplotting I mentioned had to rear its ugly head. Specifically, the burgeoning romance between Barbara "Oracle" Gordon (Dina Meyer) and her co-worker Waid. Did I say, "burgeoning?" I should say "bludgeoning," because it seemed that the writers were intent on forcing this relationship to happen no matter how much it didn't fit. The scenes with Wade in the Clocktower (a secret Alfred (Ian Abercrombie) took upon himself to reveal, a la Vicki Vale in the Batman movie; hey, Alfred--You're fired!) were stilted and clumsy. He walks in, he says hello, he suddenly gets all confused, then has to exit to "think about this." Meanwhile, he's distracting Barbara from actually doing her job because he thinks that talking to him right at that moment is more important than the lives of Barbara's partners, Helena "Huntress" Kyle and Dinah "No Codename" Redmond (played by Ashley Scott and Rachel Skarsten.) One romance in the series--the one between Detective Reese (Shemar Moore) and Helena--was enough. If the writers wanted more of it, the more logical choice would seemed to have been Dinah, whose character was given such short shrift throughout the series, getting really only two episodes to strut her stuff.
The second half starts the battle with Harley Quinn, who accidentally discovers that her patient, Helena, is actually The Huntress. Not that it was the best kept secret in the world--she didn't exactly wear a mask. In fact, there never seemed to be any separation of identities throughout the entire series. Even Clark Kent puts on a pair of glasses to try to keep people from stumbling onto his identity. Quinn uses this information to extract even more secrets from Helena, who, showing completely uncharacteristically poor judgment, spills the beans on her partners. It's one thing to let someone in on your secrets--it's quite another to let that person in on everyone else's.
And, of course, because every bad guy in the series had to be a metahuman (drawing on the "freak of the week" concept of Smallville, despite that most of the Bat villains aren't metahuman in any way--Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Ventriliquist, Two-Face...), Harley Quinn is given powers of her own by way of a "deus ex machina" power-transfer device. To be fair, her ability to influence other people's thoughts was written fairly well. The scene between her and Gibson--the meta whose capable of remembering everything he's ever encountered--was perhaps one of the more tragic scenes of the entire run. And Harley's sadism doesn't end with Gibson. She pulls Helena and Wade into her thrall as well, and shows off that particular brand of psychosis worthy of her old beau, The Joker, himself.
The fight scene during the climax was a perfectly choreographed ballet. While the majority participate in a melee assault on the Clocktower (to Tatu's "All The Things She Said"), Harley and Helena are engaged in beautifully graceful combat. Things are rocking, fists are flying, the viewer is on the edge of his seat...
And then it's over. And it would be satisfying at that point. But, one can't end a Birds of Prey episode without the ubiquitous "let's all gather on the balcony and soul-search over what we've learned today" scene. And while it was probably okay to do in this final episode (with Tori Amos's "A Sorta Fairytale" lilting in the background), many viewers were already sick of the same ending. This isn't Barney & Friends. We don't need a recap every time.
And then it was truly over. The Birds had sung their swan song. It was an ambitious outing but, in the end, it was a pale shadow of the comic book that just couldn't get the momentum going, couldn't catch onto the coattails of Smallville.
Fans will dicker for many months over how it could have been better: Improved writing, better acting, different time slot. Many have already started petitions to save the show while others are glad to see it gone. Rumors circulate about the hopes of the SciFi channel picking it up, and I imagine there are more than a few deals being tossed about to release the series as a DVD boxed-set.
So long, Birds of Prey. Let's hope the next proposed comics-to-television project can learn something from your run.