Saturday, January 21, 2012

Young Justice - "Fail Safe"

sg
Episode Sixteen: "Fail Safe" - Airdate 11/4/11

It's Young Justice Saturday!

by Andy Luckett

sg
A giant ship shadows the moon's surface as it makes its way toward Earth. Rushing out to meet it are Green Lanterns Hal Jordan and John Stewart, backed up by Batman and his Brother Eye satellites. After fair warning by the Justice League members, the ship fires upon the Lanterns, destroying their ring-created shields and vaporizing them. Batman calls on the second wave of the League; Superman, Captain Atom, J'onn J'onzz, and Captain Marvel, but they too (along with Batman)are destroyed one-by-one.
sg
sg
sg
The alien ship continues to Earth, sending out smaller warships that decimate our cities. In Central City, the Flash and Zatara rescue Iris West, but soon all three meet a grisly fate. In Taipei, the Hawks, Green Arrow and Black Canary also succumb to the invaders. Among the other heroes reported dead include Aquaman, Icon, and the Atom. Wonder Woman and Red Tornado die defending Smallville, Kansas as the alien mothership lands there. This, of course, leaves the Young Justice team shocked but ready to do their best to defend the planet. Using satellite imagery, they determine that one scout ship has broken off from the pack and landed in the Arctic, presumably drawn by the power signature of Superman's Fortress of Solitude. The team decides to attack this ship and find its weaknesses.
sg
sg
sg
In the Arctic and wearing white camouflage uniforms, Young Justice engages the craft, disabling its defenses. Superboy climbs on top to tear off the main cannon, but as it powers up Wolf jumps in to save Superboy's life. Soldiering on, Superboy and Miss Martian program the bioship to integrate the new cannon into itself, which leaves the team vulnerable to the new alien warships approaching. Artemis, running back to the bioship, tries to hold them off but is hit and vaporized before the team's horrified eyes.
sg
Heartbroken, the remaining members travel back to the Hall of Justice to make their stand. After Superboy and the bioship destroy three alien warcraft outside the Hall, Aqualad meets with General Eiling, the man running the military resistance in the area. Aqualad plans to take a bunch of the alien's cannons and then strike using them. Once the team gets inside the Hall, Miss Martian senses a familiar presence. When she moves part of the broken statue of J'onn J'onzz, she finds…J'onn J'onzz, alive but disoriented. The others theorize that perhaps J'onn was phasing and in an immaterial state when the alien beam hit him, passing through his body but confusing his mind. J'onn can only remember a vague notion that he has something very important to tell the team.
sg
sg
Kid Flash and Robin examine the alien cannon attached to the bioship and discover the beam it emits is made of Zeta radiation, meaning that it could be a teleportation beam rather than a disintegrator, which in turn could mean that the victims are alive and being held by the invaders. As another wave of ships attacks, the bioship is hit and disappears, causing the team and the soldiers to fall back.

With nowhere else to go inside the Hall, Aqualad decides to transport the survivors to the Cave HQ at Happy Harbor. J'onn can authorize the transfers, but only one person at a time. Aqualad wants the soldiers to go first, but Eiling asserts that the six YJers are too valuable to endanger. As J'onn starts the process, the aliens breach the Hall and begin firing. As soldiers fall around them, including Eiling, Superboy goes back and saves a soldier, then makes the teleport himself. Aqualad gets J'onn through, and as he turns to jump, is hit by the beam as well.
sg
Back at Happy Harbor but down to only four members, Young Justice decides that if the victims of the alien cannons have been teleported and are still alive, then they must be held inside the mothership in Smallville. Robin wants to use Superboy as a diversion to allow the others to get inside the ship, but Miss Martian hates the idea, saying Robin is sending him on a suicide mission. Superboy, however, realizes his ability to provoke the aliens, so he agrees, saying "It's what Superman would do."
sg
Before they begin, the team sends out an inspiring message across the world, mobilizing other young heroes; such as Tula, Garth, Red Arrow, and Zatanna, to take up the fight. At the mothership, J'onn and M'Gann take first position and phase inside, as Superboy begins his assault outside. As he stirs up the ants nest, Robin and Kid Flash make it inside and begin searching the complex. Sadly, Superboy is hit. Kid Flash reminds M'Gann that he was probably only teleported but J'onn, his mind clearer, states that he knows the alien beam is a disintegrator and not a teleporter. The others are dead. Kid Flash has trouble believing this, saying that the Zeta radiation must mean teleportation, but Robin tells him his scans of the ship find no signs of human life. The plan now is to destroy the mothership.

The four make their way to the power core, where Robin makes his way in and drops a payload of grenades into the core. As they turn to leave, the doors close, sealing them in. Miss Martian and J'onn phase outside the ship under command from Robin, and he and Kid Flash are killed in the explosion as the mothership is destroyed. Outside, a terrified and exhausted M'Gann looks on as another mothership descends out of the night sky to Earth. "We have to get out of here now", she says. To which her Uncle replies, "No, we have to end this now", before driving his fist through her chest.
sg
At this latest shock, M'Gann awakes within the Happy Harbor team HQ. All of her teammates are alive and well, recently awakened also. Batman and J'onn are present as well, wondering what happened with "the exercise". Batman explains that the events of the alien invasion were an immersive psychic training exercise designed to test the team's reaction to failure. It was designed so that no matter how well they did, the scenario would continually get harder and more tragic.

However, the member's minds knew that what they were experiencing wasn't real, which is why they were able to roll with the deaths of the League and of Wolf. When Artemis was "killed", however, Miss Martian's subconscious mind reacted too strongly and tried to take control of the program. M'Gann's psychic influence was so strong that when each member "died", they actually began to slip into comas rather than wake up as intended. At this point J'onn realized he would have to step in and end the exercise before Artemis or one of the others slipped into irreversible territory. When he projected his mind inside, the psychic noise of the others; i.e., their grief, pain, rage, etc, confused him and made him forget his purpose. Once Aqualad, Superboy, Robin, and Kid Flash "died" he was able to regain his place and stop his niece by shocking her awake.
sg
Naturally, each member of the team is mentally and emotionally strained and exhausted by this ordeal, but M'Gann is truly devastated, feeling guilt over her subconscious mind forcing the others into comas. J'onn is also surprised at the power of M'Gann's mind, saying that it dwarfs the power of his own or any other he has ever known. We leave the team shaken and damaged.
sg

Let's get the big potential criticism of this episode out of the way. Yes, this is a variation on the "nightmare scenario, it was all a dream" storytelling device that we've seen before. That said, it carried enough different ideas and details that I can easily overlook the familiarity of the premise. More than anything, it reminds me of The New Batman Adventures episode "Over the Edge", in which (Spoiler Alert!) Batgirl, under the influence of the Scarecrow's Fear Toxin, hallucinates the Bat-team's identities being exposed, her own death, and the deaths of Batman and her father Commissioner Gordon.

That episode carried a "new status quo/what's happening here/hit you in the gut" feeling to it, and so does "Failsafe". We break right into the carnage with the deaths of Hal Jordan and John Stewart, two of the most powerful League members but taken out with almost no effort. Then four more of the heavy hitters (Supes, Captain Marvel, J'onn J'onzz, and Captain Atom) drop like dominos and we move on to the rest of the League getting taken down. Things keep getting worse as Artemis and Wolf buy the farm, and then false hope comes with the teleportation theory, and on and on.

I always appreciate in stories when characters act reasonably intelligent in harsh situations, and that's what the Young Justice team does here. You could argue that this is only a simulation, but the "participants" are still the mental projections of the team members, and the choices they make must to some degree parallel the ones they would make in a real life situation. Aqualad really steps up to the plate, keeping the team's spirits up through the deaths of their mentors, coming up with solutions for problems, and coordinating the team's talents effectively. But the biggest show of his character has to be the moment when he demands that the soldiers go before himself and the team into the teleporter. Not only that, but he also pushes Superboy and J'onn in ahead of himself, at the cost of his "life".

This may be my favorite episode of this show since "Downtime", the Aqua-centric one from earlier this season. Call me a sucker for "worst case scenario" adventure storytelling, but I just find exploring the what-ifs to be a great way to really get to the heart of the characters and the concept.

4 comments:

Russell said...

This is the first and only episode of YOUNG JUSTICE I ever saw. I enjoyed your reviews and thought I would try the show. Well, as soon as Green Lanterns died I thought, "Something is wrong here." Then I could not get into it AT ALL. Basically, as a new viewer I hated it and was totally confused. Then for it to be another one of those "just a dreams" clunkers...blah. :-(

I didn't like Aqualad's sacrifice, either. He saved the soldiers but "died" himself. Heroic, but not really well thought out, ya know.

Andy Luckett said...

I hear what you're saying, Russell. Aqualad's sacrifice was, as he puts it in the next episode, the actions of a soldier, not a general. I can definitely see how trying this as your first episode would be kind of like being thrown into the deep end. This is the kind of show in which each episode builds on the ones before. Glad you gave it a shot though, thanks for the kind words man!

Tempest127 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tempest127 said...

Unfortunately, I have to agree with Russell and I've seen every episode. This series' screenplays are just so darn morose--dark, tense and annoyingly solemn. The joy of the original Teen Titans was that they were kids who happily served humanity because, despite being largely comprised of orphans, they were full of teenage enthusiasm, glee and charm. With this "Young Justice" tandem, the heroes are all flat-out miserable; the kids are written with no sense of personality and are nearly devoid of character development. Other than Wally West (who here acts more like a youthful Roy Harper) and Miss Martian (written as overly-cloying and simpering), they are pretty much cut from a single block of wood. Heaven help you if you are coming into this with even a smattering of DC Comics history under your belt---then things REALLY get confusing. None of the ages or affiliations of the kids (or costuming, in Robin's case) make any sense when compared to their comic book counterparts, adding to the conundrum.

When I saw the first style sheet, I remember posting, "If the superhero gig makes these kids look this miserable, they need to stick to high school and leave the hero bit to their mentors." I was right.

The only saving grace of the series is Speedy; he deserves a reprieve, a graduation to his adult name Arsenal and his own series (teamed with Nightwing and Tempest, in my dreams). Now THAT I would watch with pleasure.