Young Justice - "Failsafe" Recap
Young Justice is still a relatively young series, but I’ll venture to predict that “Failsafe” will ultimately go down as its most divisive episode. The opening act is certainly an effective hook; in a very short amount
of time the heroes of the Justice League are dispatched by a full-scale alien invasion; the invaders’ seemingly countless vessels vaporize anyone on sight. The team steps up to fill in for Earth’s greatest champions as best as they can, taking the fight to the enemy from one locale to the next: Superman’s
Fortress of Solitude, Washington DC and the Hall of Justice, and last
but not least the enemy’s mothership. Through it all they devise a means to use the aliens’ weaponry against them, and gather what intelligence they can on their foe.
This crisis once again aptly demonstrates how well this
group has come to work together as a team, but there’s no mistaking that
theirs is a losing battle. One by one team members and allies get
zapped, all of them sacrificing to enable their comrades to go on and complete the mission. The already desperate situation is made all the more tense by lingering doubt about the fate of the victims. The team assumes the aliens shoot to kill, then entertain the idea that their beams are actually capturing their victims, and then suffer having that uncertain hope seemingly snatched away. Yet however bad things get and however bleak our heroes believe the situation to be, they keep on fighting the good fight even as the number of good guys keeps shrinking. At a time where there seems to be little or no hope, we see the team do its best and inspire Earth’s denizens to believe that there can be hope of surviving and rebuilding if they can but hold onto the will to persevere.
It is necessary to delve into complete spoilers to fully discuss the merits of “Failsafe.”
In short, say hello to version 2.0 of “Over the Edge” from The New Batman Adventures. Just as that was an episode where Barbara Gordon dreamt a mortifying worst-case scenario for the entire Bat-family, her father, and for Gotham City, “Failsafe” turns out to be a grueling ordeal that only happened in everybody’s head. A psychic training exercise designed to escalate the problem in response to anything the team did, a test that became dangerous and was believed to be real due to M’Gann having an unexpected subconscious reaction to the team’s first casualty.
I can see how this episode’s outcome would annoy some folks. Yes,
“Failsafe” built up this intense, serious situation and then sucker
punched us with the it-was-all-a-dream cliche, rendering major events moot in contrast to an episode like “Homefront.” The team doesn’t save anyone or rescue anything, there are no lasting consequences for the Earth.
However, that being said, it’s worth thinking through why that gimmick
is disliked. I can think of two major reasons. The first is the way a plot
like this messes around with the viewer, doing shocking things that really aren’t shocking because we intellectually know they won’t stick. Even a child probably doesn’t take the Justice League’s demise at face
value, and if half the team were to perish there wouldn’t be much of a
show left. This is a
legitimate and fundamentally emotional gripe that I don’t think I can reason anyone out of; it’s a very personal judgement whether one minds one’s feelings being messed with like this. Still, I’d at least point out that viewers minding such manipulation demonstrate the series’ success at making people care about the characters it’s putting up there on the screen.
The second critique is the idea that this kind of a story is a “cop out” that amounts to an irrelevant what-if tale where nothing substantial really happens. When it comes to “Failsafe”, I think this criticism is obviously unfair and untrue.
Why? For starters we have this surprising plot point about M’Gann’s mental strength, which we’re told clearly indicates potential far surpassing the mind of Martian Manhunter. That’s a big deal and a fresh new mystery in a series that never, ever wastes one. In the short term, M’Gann has suffered severe emotional trauma that she will now have to work through as best she can. How will she cope and how will this affect her relationship with Superboy and the rest of the team?
Beyond that, the fact that the invasion didn’t actually happen doesn’t alter the fact that, for the team, it might as well have been real. For most of the episode they took the situation at face value and genuinely believed they were Earth’s last line of defense, aptly demonstrating their capacity for heroism, leadership and sound judgement with the weight of the world on their shoulders. We saw them address the world and give people hope, we saw Aqualad’s unrelenting courage, we saw Robin step up to be the leader that we’ve been told he can and will be, we saw Superboy mount a one-man offensive to distract the enemy because “…it’s what Superman would do”. This episode did more than any other to demonstrate that the younger generation has what it takes to be heroes. All this is anything but inconsequential.
Ultimately, “Failsafe” is what it is. If this is the sort of thing you just dislike out of principle, fair enough. But for a story of this type let’s admit that Young Justice has taken it on as well as any other animated series ever has, and perhaps better than all the rest. It explored this show’s characters and did something with the plot, just as other episodes have done.