‘Young Justice’ Episode Guide: Season 1, Episodes 15 – 16: ‘Humanity’ / ‘Failsafe’
How do you do, fellow teens? Because you demanded it, Young Justice is returning for a third season in 2017, and that means that there's no better time to get caught up on the first two seasons. Elle Collins, who has seen the entire show and likes it a lot, and Chris Sims, who hated the pilot and never went back, are sitting down to watch the entire series before it makes its triumphant return.
This week, it was all a dream! We used to read Word Up magazine! Salt 'n' Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine! "Humanity" was written by Greg Weisman, directed by Matt Youngberg, and originally aired on October 21, 2011. "Failsafe" was written by Nicole Dubuc, directed by Jay Oliva, and originally aired on November 4, 2011.
Chris Sims: We start things off this week with "Humanity," an episode that insists that we care about Red Tornado's Family Problems. To be fair, though, they hedge their bets by giving us something else to be interested in: The first appearance of Zateena: The Adventures of Zatanna, As A Teen!
She's dropped off by Zatara to meet The Team, and since the Justice League has decided that everything's going along just fine without Red Tornado hanging around being sad about things, the kids decide that they might as well "kidnap" Zatanna and go look for their robot buddy themselves.
After interviewing Professor Ivo about the whereabouts of his robot-building rival, they're able to track him down to his headquarters, but not before he finishes waxing nostalgic for the Justice Society, and also building his newest project: Red Volcano.
Rather than Red Tornado's functional tear ducts, Red Volcano has two brand-new defining features: A complete lack of regard for humanity and the ability to create large-scale volcanic eruptions. Taken together, these lead him to almost cover the world in an apocalyptic cloud of volcanic ash, and since he's got all of Red Tornado's memories, he knows everything about the kids. Except Zatanna, who's new, and saves the world before being grounded forever by Zatara.
Elle Collins: I have some questions about all these androids, but honestly why would I even want to talk about them when Zatanna is here? Like you said, she's the worthwhile part of this episode. Making her and Zatara younger for this series was clearly the right choice. She'd be wasted as an adult Justice Leaguer.
Chris: Oh, absolutely. For all of my gripes with YJ, I really do like the weird little DC Universe that's being built around the kids, where Zatara's in the Justice League and — as we find out in this episode — the Justice Society was around back in the '40s for T.O. Morrow to mess with.
The only problem I have is that if Red Tornado's memories include all of the League's tactics and Zatara's in the League, why doesn't that extend to knowing about Zatanna? I guess the easy answer is that a teenage girl doesn't act in the way that her mustachioed father does, but this whole "bad guy gets foiled by the new kid" plot might've worked better with a character who wasn't a legacy.
Elle: As a kid who grew up reading All-Star Squadron (a weird kid, I guess) I have a negative gut reaction to seeing Firebrand retconned into a robot infiltrator, but I also have a positive gut reaction to seeing Firebrand in a TV cartoon, so I guess my guts balance out in the end.
That's a fair point about Zatanna, though. Although they do set up the contrast between father and daughter pretty well. And by the way, I love that Zatanna has three different outfits over the course of the episode. And the spell she casts to change into her superhero outfit translates to "Time to try out the new look!" which is cute because it implies she's been thinking about this for a while.
Chris: Readers of my my Ranger Station recaps might already be familiar with my ongoing difficulties with Netflix's subtitles, but I think maybe the worst thing they have ever done is insist that Zatanna casts her spells by speaking… Latin.
Elle: Yeesh. Even if you don't know the character and it's hard to recognize that it's backwards-talk, "Unknown Language" or something would be more honest than Latin.
Chris: What's especially weird about this is that in the next episode, whoever wrote the subtitles did Zatara's accurately, and then gave him the generic [Speaking Foreign Language] caption later in the same scene. Of course, the captions also say that the kids are going to "bring their powers to bare" on their enemies, so, y'know. Pobody's nerfect.
Elle: Okay, so about those robots. Why are they elementals? That's never discussed at all, is it? And it's particularly weird since Morrow didn't make them all at once. He made a water robot, his plan failed, so he made a fire robot, then a wind robot, and now 70 years later he gets around to an earth robot. It just seems... random.
Chris: It is, but I do kinda dig it. I mentioned a few episodes back that I was leery of Red Torpedo showing up because I'm pretty sure that's a Brad Meltzer Justice League plot and the more I'm reminded of those comics, the worse off I am, but I actually really like "Red Torpedo" as an ersatz Golden Age character name. And while Firebrand is unexpectedly controversial, I really do like the idea that T.O. Morrow's big ideas in the Golden Age were to make Namor and the Human Torch.
Elle: Red Torpedo was a real Golden Age character. He just wasn't a robot and nobody cared about him (even me!) But I hadn't thought about the Marvel Golden Age connection, and that is fun now that you mention it. I enjoy the reveal that T.O. Morrow is just an android copy of himself, and the way that's revealed by Red Volcano tearing his arms off and then being surprised that he doesn't bleed.
Chris: It's not a late 2000s, early 2010s DC Comics project if someone doesn't lose an arm.
Elle: So very true. But since this is kids' TV, it's limited to robots.
Chris: You say that as though we're not just about to talk about 22 minutes of television devoted to superheroes being vaporized into skeletons, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Morrow makes for a really interesting villain here. It's never quite explained why he wants to infiltrate and destroy the heroes, but it's made clear right from the start of things that he's been doing it for 70 years, and the android reveal is a nice answer to the question of, "Wait, why isn't he super old right now?"
Elle: It's fun that he's an old-school villain, and he acts like one. He doesn't need motivation. He's a mad scientist with a gimmicky name, so of course he's going to plot against superheroes. Also, it's very Red Tornado to go visit the real Morrow in the hospital at the end, basically deciding to treat him like his problematic dad, because that's what humans do.
Chris: There's a very similar scene in Aztek where Amazo goes to visit Ivo in the hospital, and as much as I don't want to be reminded of Meltzer JLA, I'm pretty happy to be reminded of Aztek — not that I think Young Justice was looking at Grant Morrison and Mark Millar's most obscure superhero for inspiration. Do you know if Red Tornado did the same in the comics?
Elle: I don't know. Like most people, I'm not exactly a Red Tornado aficionado, but it certainly might have been. The Amazo/Ivo connection makes sense though, whether it's on purpose or not.
Chris: While we're (loosely) on the subject of Ivo, can we talk about his appearance in this episode, and how the kids go to talk to him because Batman has tried every logical route, so they have to go with something illogical to make progress?
Elle: You know what Batman would definitely never do? Show up at a prison to interrogate criminals about the whereabouts of other criminals.
Chris: It's a worse version of that bit in Regular Show where Mordecai tells Rigby that sometimes, you gotta go INsane to OUT-sane the sane.
Elle: I love the bit when Ivo calls Morrow to warn him, with Hugo Strange standing over his shoulder to make it clear this is something he's doing whether he wants to or not.
Chris: Yeah, I'm way more excited about Hugo Strange being an ongoing concern than I am about Red Tornado's family tree. I will say, though, even though it's got that overdramatic "do what you must" from Aqualad, the whole prison interrogation scene is worth it for the fun of Zatanna just hanging out in her pajamas the whole time.
Elle: It's actually really great the way she's way over in the opposite corner from Ivo, leaning against the wall, and then suddenly she's right in his face out of nowhere when she casts her spell. The scene does a great job of selling Zatanna's effectiveness.
Chris: I think she's actually my favorite character on the team.Unfortunately, everything they get right with Zatanna they kind of go backwards on with Captain Marvel, who comes off as extremely dopey and easy to manipulate for a guy with the Wisdom of Solomon. It's a fine line to walk between making him childlike and childish, and as much as his last appearance did it well, I thought this one went pretty far over the line.
Elle: I agree, and it's a shame. It made me glad he's barely around in this episode.
Elle: “Failsafe” begins with aliens invading the Earth. And they’re not Controllers or Thanagarians or any of the usual DC suspects as far as we can tell. In fact, we never see them at all. But nevertheless, they disintegrate the whole Justice League pretty quickly and start laying waste to the Earth. The teens have to step up and take the League’s place in trying to fight off the invaders. Artemis gets disintegrated too, which really upsets Kid Flash, who pretty much gives up on hiding how in love with her he is.
Then Martian Manhunter shows up alive, but he’s really confused about what’s going on. Kid Flash convinces everyone that the disintegrator ray must actually be a teleporter, because it uses Zeta energy, so they break into the mothership to find all the people they thought were dead. But then Martian Manhunter suddenly remembers it’s not a teleporter and everyone is really dead. With the death toll continuing to mount, J’onn suddenly stabs his niece, causing her to wake up in the Cave with everyone alive.
Turns out it was all a simulation, which Megan’s psychic powers screwed up when she reacted to the death of Artemis, causing everyone to forget it was a simulation and become trapped in it, leading J’onn to enter the simulation to save them. So after this incredibly grim, dramatic episode, it turns out that nothing actually happened. Fun.
Chris: Boy oh boy oh boy. Where do we even start with this one? I'll say right up front that I hated it, but it was that kind of gleeful hate where you can't wait to talk about it with someone — I was even texting you as I watched it — and that kind of makes it delightful.
Elle: When we were texting, I described the plot as "They all get Robin-Dies-At-Dawned by the Kobayashi Maru." But here's the important distinction: The main plot of "Robin Dies At Dawn" isn't Batman watching Robin die and then realizing he's in a simulation. And similarly, the Kobayashi Maru only takes up the opening scene of Star Trek II. In both cases, the simulation leads into a real-world story that's affected by what happens in it. This episode has no second act. It's all simulation.
Chris: The best thing this episode does is give you that fakeout teleporter-ray plot twist so that you think you know where it's going. Like, it's possible — not likely, but possible — that this is a universe where Smallville could be crushed by alien invaders but all the superheroes make it out okay and rebuild everything like they do after every other Major Event.
Chris: But at the end of the day, the "it was all a dream!" ending just hurts what is already a pretty rough story to get through. It would've honestly been better if they'd told us it was a simulation going in, and then part of the problem was that nobody could wake up when things started going bad. You know, going “Fistful of Datas” instead. Surely Brent Spiner could've given them a pro-tip when he was there to do the voice.
Elle: That would work a lot better. It would also avoid nitpicky problems like how there are scenes of regular people reacting to the invasion, or watching the Team give an Independence Day speech on a big screen. Those scenes never happened, because those people weren't real, but there they are anyway.
Chris: Elle. Elle. Can we talk about the Independence Day speech and how it has the worst friggin' moment of the entire episode?
Elle: It's real bad.
Chris: When the crowd starts cheering after Robin's speech about how humanity will never surrender, some jabroni — and I think it's supposed to be Alfred — yells "huzzah!" Seriously. Huzzah. Twice.
Elle: That was 100% Alfred, and it was ridiculous. This whole episode felt like it was trying to seem really big and epic, and it never achieved that at all. And you could say that makes sense, because the whole thing is fake, but that doesn't make it good storytelling.
Chris: And don't forget that the solution to get them out of it involves stabbing M'gann in the heart and then doing a close-up on her crying face. That's not a great look either, and we have to look at it twice in five minutes.
Elle: Speaking of bad looks, the whole plot of the episode turns out to be "Everything was fine, until the girliest girl on the team got unnecessarily emotional about something that didn't really matter, and that screwed everything up." Maybe just... don't?
Chris: Yeah, even if the whole point of it is for Martian Manhunter to show up and talk about how she's actually the most powerful telepath ever, having it all go haywire when the other girl on the team gets killed isn't great. I do think there's a better way to do that — Wally's emotions being the trigger point, maybe, since he's the most outwardly emotional kid on the team? — but this episode drops the ball and doesn't pay any of it off.
Elle: Agreed. I've generally been more positive about the series than you have, if not as positive as some of our readers might wish I'd be, but this episode is a disaster.
Chris: Is there anything you do like about it?
Elle: Did you notice that they threw in an origin for Jason Bard, the DC detective who walks with a cane due to an old army injury? It's of course ridiculous because his introduction and his injury both happen in the simulation, but he's there getting injured just the same (except not really).
Chris: They also threw in General Wade Eiling, of Suicide Squad and also Transplanting His Brain Into An Indestructible Sasquatch Body fame. It's a pretty weird way to introduce characters, what with the whole none-of-this-actually-happened thing.
Also, kind of hurt that you had to ask if I noticed a Detective Comics character who used to date Barbara Gordon and once operated as Batman's "Daytime Detective" showed up.
Elle: It's not that I don't think you know who Jason Bard is, it's just that here he's a generic soldier who says his name once, quickly, in an action scene. And the thing about Wade Eiling is that the grumpy military commander in a non-WWII DC story is always Eiling. He's basically the only one. Unless it's a story that comes after the whole Shaggy Man business.
Chris: Hey, that's not fair. It could've also been Sam Lane.
Elle: Okay, true. Every once in a while it's Sam Lane. But it's Eiling a lot of the time.
Chris: For me, I genuinely liked their goofy-ass Arctic Camo outfits.
Elle: It's good to know they can turn their suits white as easily as black.
Chris: Yeah. One of my big problems with the show is that it's dark — literally dark, as in they're always doing stuff at night and they have special variant costumes that are all black except for the parts that are bright red and defeat the point anyway. Admittedly, that might be less of a problem for viewers who aren't also responsible for grabbing screenshots of the action, but it's still nice to see something goofy and toyetic and superhero in a story that's otherwise pretty brutally grim and focused on all your favorite superheroes being Mars Attacks’d.
Elle: Hey, I've been hearing for thirty years that Watchman is the Most Serious Important Comic, and Nite Owl still has a snowsuit, so really everyone should. And Robin with a full white cowl is a weird and wonderful thing to see.
Chris: I think there's one more thing that we need to address before we wrap up, and that's the obvious comparison to "Over The Edge," the episode of Batman: The Animated Series that follows a pretty similar plot.
For anyone who hasn't seen it, the idea there is that when Barbara Gordon is killed while operating as Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon goes after Batman, even going as far as tearing his way through Wayne Manor to the Batcave and freeing Bane to take him out. At the end, it turns out to be a dream — a hallucination of Barbara's greatest fear brought on by the Scarecrow.
For me, that episode works — I'd even go as far as saying it's one of the better episodes of the "New Batman Adventures" era — but "Failsafe" falls flat working with a very similar plot. Any thoughts on why?
Elle: I haven't watched “Over The Edge” in over a decade, but one obvious difference is that Gordon turning on Batman is dramatically interesting in a way that faceless alien invaders who just demolish everything can't possibly be.
Chris: That's definitely a point. I also feel like Alfred being taken down by cops — even violently — is on a different scale than watching the Justice League murdered and then having Kid Flash swear to kill an entire alien army in revenge. I know I have a reputation of Wanting Superheroes To Be A Certain Way, but I do think if you're at the point of Kid Flash and Robin going on a suicide mission to kill aliens, maybe re-evaluate. Unless you're writing "Rock of Ages."
Elle: These are dark, heavy plot points that you really have to earn, and this episode never earns them. "Rock of Ages" and "Over the Edge" do.
Chris: Would it have been better if it hadn't just been faceless aliens? If it had been a reunited Injustice League, or Apokolips invading? Or would that have still just seemed cheap given the ending?
Elle: I think either of those would have felt cheap given the ending. But it would have made it more interesting along the way to have recognizable villains, which might have worked better if the reveal that it's a simulation they're trapped in had also happened earlier, like you mentioned before. Honestly, I feel like if I was in the Young Justice writer's room, my input on this episode would be, "Please don't do this," because I'm having a hard time coming up with ways to make it better.
Chris: Yeah, agreed. At this point I'm just armchair quarterbacking, but like I said: I hated it, but in the way where I don't think I'll ever get tired of talking about this episode. Certainly not before everyone else gets tired of listening.
Elle: While I wouldn't object to listening to you talk about it some more, I'm starting to get tired of talking about it myself, so I think it's probably time to call it a week. But I'm excited for the next episode, when some fun characters we haven't seen before are going to show up.
Chris: I hope they don't get skeletonized like the fun new characters we got this week. Unless Director Bones shows up, I mean.
Elle: Pretty sure that dude was born skeletonized.