The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Failsafe



Well, this one kept me guessing. Mostly between dream and simulation. I know that teleporting beams were a possibility, but one I dismissed. Story structure wise, you don't do something this, well... apocalyptic, early in a series. I knew a twist was coming, but I had no idea which of the two it would be. Surprise, surprise it was both.

I've already seen people compare it to "Over the Edge," an episode of "The New Adventures of Batman" I always thought was severely overrated. In that episode, Barbara Gordon falls off a building and dies, Gordon blames Batman and swears vengeance; Batman is publicly unmasked, becomes a fugitive; Gordon is kicked off the case and then hires Bane to help him take down Batman; Bane betrays Gordon; Gordon and Batman die; and then Barbara wakes up and it was a nightmare induced by Scarecrow's fear toxin. She then vows to tell her father the truth to prevent something like that from actually happening and then doesn't. And then I throw my remote control at the TV. What a crock! Not only is there no internal logic to the nightmare, I mean... who has a dream or nightmare where they are dead and their mind is playing this? And then she decides to do something that would result in character development and change the status quo in an interesting way and doesn't? Really! Then I got on the internet and found out this was one of the most revered episodes of the series.

I've seen "Failsafe" get compared to "Over the Edge" several times already, and while "Failsafe" isn't perfect, it doesn't cheat anywhere near as much as "Over the Edge" did. If it did, the entire Team would have been killed in the first two minutes and this still would have been their simulation and dream. That, and the outcome of what happened here will likely have lasting consequences as opposed to Barbara deciding to tell and then not tell her dad she was Batgirl. I'm a firm believer in continuity and actions having consequences, and while I loved "Batman the Animated Series" and its spin-offs quite a bit, it tended to shrug off long term consequences to keep a certain status quo.

I think a closer comparison would be to the "Gargoyles" episode, "Future Tense." Like "Failsafe," that episode was both a dream and an illusion. Apocalyptic things happen, and you keep waiting to find out what the twist is going to be, but it also throws so much at you, you're distracted from thinking about it... you just know that something is wrong. Overall, I thought "Future Tense" was far more effective at distracting you on that first viewing. I also felt that it played fair more than "Failsafe." In "Future Tense," we never left Goliath. He was in every scene, and we saw everything he was seeing, and nothing else. While "Failsafe" was cutting to civilians hiding in bunkers, and other moments that no one on The Team was witnessing. And if they weren't witnessing it, why was it part of the simulation and their dream?

"Failsafe" was better than "Over the Edge" but not as good as "Future Tense." But then, few things are. It may be a little unfair of me to make the comparisons either way, but that's where my mind went and those were the comparisons that I drew. A comparison to a similar premise in a DC animated production and in another Greg Weisman production.

I really enjoyed seeing General Wade Eiling make his animated debut, at last. And with his proper design and the correct pronunciation of his name. Eiling appeared in "Justice League Unlimited" but with a different look, since General Hardcastle's design was pretty close to Eiling's comic design, and back in 2007, when Greg Weisman and I were having lunch together at a Taco Bell near the Sony studio he was producing "Spectacular Spider-Man" at, we briefly discussed Captain Atom, and I pronounced Eiling the way JLU did, and he corrected me. Since he co-created the character with Cary Bates, I think he'd know. Just like Dennis O'Neil knows the proper pronunciation of Ra's al Ghul even if Christopher Nolan does not.

I hope to see more of Eiling. I've read some of Greg and Cary's Captain Atom run, and he's a terrific character.

The ending of the episode opens a lot of possibilities and lasting consequences. M'Gann is more powerful than previously thought. I have some theories on where this will lead, but I am not well versed in DC lore, so I intend to keep them to myself... except for one. I am convinced she is a White Martian. And hey, this episode has plenty to make both people who love and hate the character happy. People who like her get a great episode that focused on her. While the people who hate her can make an animated gif of her getting stabbed by Martian Manhunter. Everybody wins.

Great episode, and if you will indulge me one more comparison to "Future Tense," well was it a dream or a prophesy? With the second season being titled "Invasion," that's something to ponder.

17 comments:

  1. Just out of curiousity have you watched the episode commentary on TNBA Volume 4? Bruce Timm and company pretty much confirm that Gordon's wink was supposed to confirm that he knows that Barbara is Batgirl. So her telling him is pretty immaterial. Though yeah, it had no consequences outside of possibly him keeping it Joker's death a secret in ROTJ.

    Also I find it baffling for criticizing the episode for the dream not having internal logic. Most dreams never have internal logic. Hell when I was eight years old I once dreamed that I was driving a car off of one roof top to another, even though I never knew how to drive at that age. Hell I've had dreams where I'm a totally different person.

    One thing that bothered me about this episode were the cheesy stuff that mentioned over at toonzone. Like the members speeches and us being reminded about KF's being worried about Artemis one too many times.
    But yeah, Miss Martian's ominous ending will definitely have some impact down the road.

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  2. I have not listened to the audio commentary on "Over the Edge." Mostly because that would involve sitting through that episode again. And while I appreciate subtlety, you still need to get your point across. But here's the thing, if they wanted Gordon to know... either pull the trigger on it, or don't. And if you do it, then DO IT! I think Timm and Burnett wanted to have their cake and eat it to. And that was a true cop-out.

    But that goes in with the nature of how the DCAU was written until JL and JLU... continuity was minimal to non-existent.

    As for dreams, every time I've died in a dream, regardless of who I was, I usually woke up.

    As for KF, well... we know why he was worried about Artemis. And when a teenager is in like with a girl and something happens, a teenager will obsess over it. And as for the speeches, they were trying to give the world hope.

    Aw well, better than "Over the Edge" but no where near "Future Tense."

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  3. Sorry. I wrote all that stuff over on toonzone after you wrote this.

    First on dreams, the vibe I got from OTE was that Barbara's dream was about her as different people (Batman, Gordon, etc.) and what she fears they would do (rational or not), though when they were about to die she woke up. Anyways thats just my take on it.

    As far as the stuff with Over The Edge, this is one of the cases where we're just going to have to agree to disagree. Much like us disagreeing on the stuff between Peter & Eddie over on Spectacular Spider-Man.

    Also, I said I felt Wally was in character. I just felt from a writing standpoint we were reminded about it to the point where it felt like overkill, when the point was made long ago.

    Also I know what the speeches were designed to do, I just felt the execution was too sappy IMO, the background music didn't help that either. It was like that scene in Peter's mind in SSM's "Nature vs. Nurture" that we both didn't like. Yes we knew the intentions but it didn't stop it from feeling too sappy for it's own good.

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  4. The logic of the dream is something that can be debated forever and wasn't my big problem with the episode. My big problem was the ending, and Timm's explanation makes the whole thing even worse. They wanted to have their cake and eat it too.

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  5. I'm not sure I follow on how his explanation makes it worse.

    I guess it depends on whether one is willing to take Timm's statements about "the reveal" at face value.

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  6. It makes it worse because they have this scene that could and should result in terrific character development that was years coming, and then to preserve the damn status quo they don't do a damn thing with it. In fact, it's blink and you'll miss it. Having their cake and eating it too.

    I really hate the Status Quo is God trope. With a passion.

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  7. Well first of all, gordon did wink at barbra, which did tell us that gordon has known of Barbra's outings. That's called subtly and is frankly more clever writing than what you call as "pulling the trigger." I for one loved that because it showed that gordon has trusted his daughter's decisions all along, and that he loves her regardless of what she does. That to me, makes it a really great episode.

    I can frankly forgive btas because its clear throughout the series that the emphasis is not on continuity (though there is some), the focus was on keeping it episodic and contained episodes. Shows like Young Justice etc, coming after btas, now have the advantage of foresight to write better stories than btas, so there should be no excuse. Btas on the other hand, was doing something quite new in terms of cartoon storytelling.

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  8. "It makes it worse because they have this scene that could and should result in terrific character development that was years coming, and then to preserve the damn status quo they don't do a damn thing with it. In fact, it's blink and you'll miss it. Having their cake and eating it too."

    But that's the thing, they DID do something with it, just in THAT episode. Though to be honest one of the only things they could've done after that, was have Gordon talk with Barbara casually while she's on the job. Though did Gordon EVER have a scene with her after that? The vibe I'm getting is that you wanted the moment to be more obvious than what it was.

    Anyways most loved the episode for moments like Gordon's phone call to Bruce, the siege of the bat cave, what Gordon resorted to afterwards. All the what if moments, more than the moment afterwards.

    Though I somewhat get why you don't like the episode. I never understood the love fans had for the episode "Mudslide". Batman comes across like an absolute jerk in that episode, destroying the machine that would've helped save Clayfaces life. Who cares if he stole what would've helped him, let him get cured than you can deal with him and have him arrested afterwards. Instead he destroyed thus allegedly costing Clayface his life. THAT is not the Batman I know.

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  9. No, nygma. I wanted it to matter! It didn't. And if you're going to do that, do it!

    "Over the Edge" was overrated crap. I despise the episode, and always have. Maybe if I hadn't already seen "Future Tense" I would have hated it less. But here's the thing, "Future Tense" mattered. "Over the Edge" did not.

    And maybe there should have been another episode about Gordon and the consequences of his knowledge. I would have happily cut a crap episode like "Critters" for it.

    I know "Over the Edge" is a geek sacred cow, but that doesn't mean I won't pick it apart. Actions should have consequences, even in cartoons.

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  10. Ill repeat again that btas was episodic and stories were meant to be self contained. It was not meant to be serialized!

    Also Ill also repeat that even doing stories that showed complexity and humanity to the series' villains was relatively new for its time in cartoons. That was there main focus. To understand the villain within that episode as a mini story. I would say btas was extremely successful in doing that and you seriously discredit btas much more than it deserves.

    Also, its only happened within the last decade that tv writers for series and cartoons have been trying to create series that are both serialized and episodic. Writers today have also had the advantage of foresight of seeing how shows like btas told their stories. You make the mistake of comparing btas with contemporary shows like btas was made today! Wall it wasnt, it was made nearly practically 2 decades ago! Why you continue to slander and berate btas really baffles me. Yet you continue to act like your greg wesiman's cheer leading squad just because you know him. Clearly you have no biases...

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  11. Greg absolutely hates B:TAS. I've known this for some time. After all, he doesn't recognize it as the absolute pinnacle of all things Western Animation, so what other conclusion could be made?

    Ah, Fan Dumb.

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  12. "Critters" was an episode I originally didn't care for much, but I ended up liking it more as I got older and read stories by Steve Gerber and Joe Lansdale who plotted and wrote the episode, respectively. I also have to give the Batman crew credit for doing a self-deprecating commentary on "Critters", including the amusing anecdote about how Peter Breck, who played Farmer Brown, drove down all the way from Canada to LA because his flight was canceled and he didn't want to hold up recording. Bruce Timm laughs about it on the commentary, "He drove all the way down to appear in the WORST episode of Batman!"

    I think Family Guy pointed it out the best in their 100th episode about dream sequence episodes. You have to make sure the audience enjoyed the ride. "Future Tense"...helluva ride. "Over the Edge" was okay. Not the best scipt Paul Dini delivered, but it was better than most of the New Batman Adventures episodes they did. "Failsafe"...I'd like reserve judgment until the season's over. I feel like once we get more revelations from Miss Martian that "Failsafe" will be one of those episodes that we'll be re-watching and saying "Why didn't I see that?!"

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  13. Look, I won't deny BTAS was groundbreaking, but there's no way anyone should be so grateful for BTAS to think it immune from all criticism.

    Furthermore, animation might have been relatively slow to adopt certain storytelling traits, but that's no reason not to criticize an animated work for lacking those same traits. Character development wasn't invented in the 1990s.

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  14. AJ> What do you mean? Character development wasn't invented in the in 1990s? Gargoyles had excellent character development.

    I was disappointed in the first season of Justice League that they didn't get into the character development of the League members much. Bruce Timm gave an interview where he said they purposely eschewed it, because they were feeling daunted just taking on the superhero personas. So we never saw Flash, Wonder Woman or Hawkgirl in their civilian life (if the latter two had it). I remember Timm saying "Flash sleeps in his costume".

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  15. What I meant was that character development has been a trope of fiction for centuries, and therefore to say that Batman: The Animated series shouldn't be criticized for not having it, simply because it was less common in American TV animation, is baloney. A work of art shouldn't just be held to the standards of its medium.

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  16. "No, nygma. I wanted it to matter! It didn't. And if you're going to do that, do it!"

    Well I'd argue that we got a revelation out of it; but that you didn't like the way they did it.

    ""Over the Edge" was overrated crap. I despise the episode, and always have. Maybe if I hadn't already seen "Future Tense" I would have hated it less. But here's the thing, "Future Tense" mattered. "Over the Edge" did not."

    This feels like were going in to fanrage mode here (something I'm pretty familiar with *cough* Tombstone *cough*), so I'll just say I agree with what you said (except for the overrated crap part); though I still don't see that as a detriment to Over The Edge in the grand scheme of things. I still like it as a what if episode, but thats just me.

    "And maybe there should have been another episode about Gordon and the consequences of his knowledge. I would have happily cut a crap episode like "Critters" for it."

    While were in the realm of what could of been, how about we cut another crap episode like "Love is a croc", because a croc is all that episode was.

    "I know "Over the Edge" is a geek sacred cow, but that doesn't mean I won't pick it apart. Actions should have consequences, even in cartoons."

    Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder (and I ain't talking Odin's eye).

    Look were just arguing in circles, so we'll just say I and many other people like it, and that you don't like it (though to be fair, there are some out there who don't like it).

    Though I'll say one of the things I enjoy about your opinions on this blog (and other sites), is that you're not pressured by outside factors when having an opinion. You usually stick with a viewpoint regardless of if it's popular or not. And I'd rather read about what your real opinions are on something like Young Justice, Batman TAS, etc. (regardless of whether I agree with it or not), than you liking something just because everyone else does.
    So thanks, and stay marching to the beat of your own drum Greg.

    To get back to Failsafe, who voiced General Wade Eiling? I thought he did a pretty good job.

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  17. That was the magnificent Jeff Bennett as Wade Eiling.

    And thank you for the rest of your post. I don't mind people disagreeing with me, you always converse well. You stick to the subject at hand, and you don't make it personal.

    Anonymous there could learn a lot from you.

    And yes, "Love Is a Croc" sucks.

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