A vigilante targets the people who harass teenagers.
Written by Robert Goodman
Directed by Kyoung-Won Lim
Music by Michael McCuistion
Animation by Koko/Dong Yang
Will Friedle as Terry McGinnis
Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Bill Fagerbakke as Payback
Curtis Armstrong as Warren
Max Brooks as Drew
Mark Jonathan Davis as News Announcer
Bill Fagerbakke as Howard Lewis
Mitch Pileggi as Dr. Stanton
Rebecca Gilchrist as Receptionist
Tia Texada as Trina
Adam Wyle as Kenny Stanton
"Bad poets borrow," T. S. Eliot asserted. "Good poets steal." Of course, Eliot picked his metaphor carefully: What a bad poet is unable to disguise as belonging to someone else, the good poet makes his own. But not all great fortunes are built on robbery, as was argued by the populists with regard to finance and Eliot with regard to poetry. It is a truth of both economics and aesthetics that a tidy bit, duly borrowed and diligently invested, can amply pay for itself if given half a chance. It is only required to repay interest.
One look at the villain in "Payback," for instance, and we know that they're once again borrowing from Mask of the Phantasm (they did it before in "Judgement Day"). And the borrowing is amply justified. The Phantasm was so incontestably cool that you had to cry when they wrote him (or heror itwhatever) out of the series. To have that character back, however thinly disguised and truncated, is a pleasure that should not be denied.
This is also one of the few episodes structured explicitly as a whodunit. Someone is dressing up in scary togs and terrorizing folks, but Terry's going to figure out who it is before he springs the trap. Recognize the borrowed pattern? Scooby-Doo has been acting out this little plot for thirty years, and, like Fred and Velma, Terry has the unfortunate tendency to latch onto the wrong suspect(s) before he finally gets it right. When the villain's mask comes off Terry even gives the same shocked exclamation the Mysteries Inc. gang used to give when they discovered that the ghost of Hyde washold onto your hats nowDr. Jekyll! And not since an arthritic midget hobbled about on stilts as the Miner Forty-niner has the physiognomy of the perpetrator been at such variance with the construction of the disguise. If "Payback" seems to play this creaky old plot out straight, there's more than enough humor at the margins to make us realize it's got its tongue planted pretty firmly in its cheek.
Most of all, the episode draws on the enormous banked reserves of Bruce Wayne's iconic stature. In his confrontations with both McGinnis and Payback, there's no doubt who will win. Arguing with Wayne is like biting on granite, and in his hands that cane is more deadly than the light saber Payback pilfered from the Jedi store. These scenes wouldn't even begin to be believable if we didn't already know all about this powerful old man, and "Payback" is not only artful in the way it draws on that past in the service of its story, it is also one of the few episodes that gives Bruce Wayne something to do.
Among the virtues that are entirely those of the episode itself, special mention should go to Payback's dialogue. His lines are not so puerile that first-time viewers will immediately guess his true identity, and yet they are instantly plausible once the mask is off. Such fake-outs are hard to pull off. Also of note is its ingenious handling of Max: She plays a key role here yet never appears on screen or on the soundtrack. Would that other episodes had made more use of the same tactic.
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Out of the Past