Birds of Prey is available now on DVD and digital. The series can be streaming on DC Universe in North America.
Helena investigates when several female metas are abducted and forced to participate in an underground fighting club, but she risks becoming the perp’s next victim. Also, Dinah struggles to prove her mettle as a superheroine sidekick.
When I think back on the Birds of Prey TV series this episode is not one which springs to mind. Plenty of episodes I could have reviewed without the need to go back and re-watch, but “Gladiatrix” required a number of additional viewings to help commit it to memory.
But to my surprise there was more to “Gladiatrix” then the seventeen year-old me realised when it first aired.
You can be forgiven for writing off “Gladiatrix” purely from its synopsis which pits kidnapped, drugged female metas against each other in a fight club brawl to-the-death.
If it sounds chauvinistic it’s because it is. But as soon as the episode gets down to the nitty gritty it disposes with plenty of tropes which you would expect it to capitalise on. At no point are the brawling metas scantily clad, at not point is it represented as overtly sexual.
The undertones still exist, as with much of Birds of Prey there’s a palpable sense of network executives pulling the show in certain directions. But there’s an equally palpable sense that the creative team behind the show were pulling in the opposite direction.
As such there are plenty of nice character moments mixed in with the usual action. This episode marks another turning point for Helena (Ashley Scott) as she accepts some of her own anger management issues alongside recognising that Dinah (Rachel is growing in to a genuine side-kick.
I’m not sure if the creative team knew the series had been cancelled or whether it was just incredibly likely at this stage but there’s a sense of the shackles coming off at this point in the season. The storytelling feels at its most comfortable and the actors and characters are really at their peak.
It’s nice to see that in the back half of the season the writers put more effort in to Dinah. Although it feels at times like she suddenly comes on leaps and bounds it still represents the fact the writers had a plan for her and understood the trajectory the character was travelling in.
With both characters in the field it was important that the show put more focus on the relationship between them and this episode does just that but in very real fashion. There’s no miracle solution to the tension between them, instead they reach a mutual understanding from which they can begin to work together.
“Gladiatrix” also features some inspired set design as the team goes underground to infiltrate the fight club. As with many aspects of the show it suffers from looking and feeling a little dated but really this show was striving to create an aesthetic which was cinematic in style and incredibly difficult to replicate on the small screen.
Whilst “Gladiatrix” could have gone down in history as a chauvinistic episode fo the cult series, in actual fact it stands as an early of network television attempting to move beyond the narrow minded ideals of suppressive white male executives.
Birds of Prey stars Ashley Scott as Helena Kyle/Huntress, Dina Meyer are Barbara Gordon/Oracle, Rachel Skarsten as Dinah Redmond, Shemar Moore as Detective Jessie Reese, Mia Sara as Dr Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn and Ian Abercombie as Alfred Pennyworth.