After spending some time in a dystopian future Star City and marooned in deep space, DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow returns to the past for an episode in the ’50s inspired by retro horror films. “Night Of The Hawk” welcomes Rip Hunter and his team to the Oregon suburb of Pleasant Falls in 1958, a town of white picket fences, perfect little houses, and deeply ingrained sexism, racism, and homophobia. It’s also the location of Vandal Savage, who is currently disguised as a doctor that says he’s treating the town’s psychotic patients when he’s actually experimenting on local youth by injecting them with mutagenic meteorite fluid.

While Casper Crump continues to be a very cartoonish villain, his Vandal Savage works better in the context of this episode’s old-school Hollywood horror approach. Crump’s slimy characterization is a better fit for Savage as a mad scientist than as an immortal dictator, and he brings a deeper sense of menace this week that makes up for the lack of authority in his general presence. Savage is still not a compelling character, but he’s not quite as grating this week, although a few more mentions of fate and destiny would have brought him up to his usual level of obnoxious.

From the beginning, writers Sarah Nicole Jones and Cortney Norris establish that the ’50s are only an idyllic time for straight white men like Martin Stein, and Jax, Kendra, and Sara are quickly confronted by the intense prejudices off the time. As a black man flirting with a white woman to learn more about Savage’s victims, Jax gets the most aggressive response from the townspeople, and he ends up becoming one of Savage’s test subjects after an attack from the Hawk-teens Savage is creating in the restricted hall of the local hospital.

As the team member that immediately suspects they’ve stumbled into a classic “suburb with a secret” horror narrative, it’s fitting that Jax is the character most affected by Savage’s plot, but there are some uncomfortable racial politics in turning the show’s one black male character into a literal monster during an episode that is trying to combat the racist ideology of the time. Jax’s transformation plays an integral part in the subplot involving Jax’s feelings about Mick’s sudden disappearance, and he’s angry that Snart would betray his friend and fellow team member. When Snart doesn’t hurt Jax’s vicious new hawk-self, Jax realizes that his chilly colleague is truly committed to being a team player and his betrayal of Mick was done for the good of the group. Mick was taken out because he was a threat—although given the lack of a body, I’m guessing Mick was temporarily put on ice—and Jax doesn’t understand that until he becomes a threat himself.

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Kendra also has to deal with racism in this small, white town, but it’s not as violent as what Jax encounters. She is constantly confused for the help and has to confirm that Ray is her husband, much to the shock of those around them. The Kendra and Ray romance continues to be forced and it’s unfortunate that this series refuses to let Kendra develop without a romantic attachment, but Ciara Renee and Brandon Routh’s chemistry is steadily growing. The scene where they dance in their new ’50s dream house is adorable, and it’s refreshing to see the characters lighten up and have some fun with their time travel adventure.

Unlike Kendra, Sara hasn’t been saddled to any romantic plots in this series, and this week we find out why. Since returning from the dead, Sara has experienced a limited range of emotions, and romantic affection isn’t one of them. That changes when she goes undercover as a nurse and meets Lindsey, a closeted lesbian that is afraid of expressing her sexuality in a repressed culture. It’s great to see Sara’s bisexuality get more attention on this series, and Sara’s pride is the thing that helps Lindsey embrace her romantic feelings for other women. Martin argues that it’s irresponsible for Sara to guide Lindsey out of the closet when she lives in such a sexually repressed time period, but Sara understands the inspirational value of knowing that things will get better in the future. That doesn’t solve the problem of Lindsey living as a lesbian in the late ’50s, but hopefully Lindsey and Sara’s romance will get more attention now that Sara, Ray, and Kendra are trapped in the past without the Waverider.

Director Joe Dante of Gremlins fame is a great pick for this episode, and he smoothly transitions from fantasy horror to comic banter to dramatic character moments over the course of the episode. Aided by a design team that is given a lot to work with in the script, Dante creates a convincing ’50s world that has a lived-in feel, closer to this show’s lush interpretation of the ’70s than its cold vision of the ’80s. The music also plays a big part in that, and using songs from the period helps immerse the audience in the setting. After a few episodes that relied on composer Blake Neely’s overwrought score, it’s a welcome change to get less intense, era-appropriate music in this episode, and it helps give the story a lighter tone even as it tackles heavy material. “Night Of The Hawk” is a chapter that remembers a show about time-traveling superheroes should be fun, and while it still has its flaws, it’s another step in the right direction for the series.

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Stray observations

  • It bugs me that the CGI wings on this show disappear when it becomes difficult to animate them, like when winged characters are thrown to the ground. I understand why the wings are only there sometimes, but it’s still an inconsistency that becomes more apparent as more winged people appear.
  • The banter between characters is getting stronger with every episode, and I love the moment where Jax gives Martin attitude for the way he speaks, to which Martin responds by switching to more casual, but extremely condescending language.
  • So many fun ’50s dresses in this episode! Parties are a great opportunity to show off a range of period costume designs.
  • Kendra gets to kick Savage’s ass for a little bit this week. I would like to see even more of that.
  • I wonder if Jax’s exposure to that meteorite will have any side effects down the road.
  • Martin: “Even someone as jaded as yourself can’t deny how idyllic this time was.” Jax: “Yeah. If you’re white.” Sara: “And a man. And straight. And…” Martin: “I get the point.”
  • “Just so you know: Ra’s Al Ghul taught me how to kill someone slowly. Over the course of days.”
  • Martin: “I could also go for a cup of coffee.” Sara: “Me too. Black. No sugars.”
  • “Tuna surprise. So many surprises.”
  • “I’m pretty sure he’s not going to kill me next to the canapés, Ray.”
  • Martin: “While I’ve been busy working, you’ve been busy seducing that young woman!” Sara: “Actually, I was liberating her. With an option to seduce her later.”

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