“The Once and Future Thing”
“The Once and Future Thing”
“The Once and Future Thing” is simultaneously a disappointing mid-season two-parter (one that I had always assumed was the first season finale, because owning the DVDs/Wikipedia disabused me of this notion) and a balls-to-the-wall crazyfest. On the one hand, a lame villain with an even lamer backstory makes some parts of the episode hard to swallow. On the other hand, Wonder Woman dressed like Calamity Jane and puts a choke hold on a Velociraptor… and that’s among the least insane things to happen.
Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern wind up in 1879 after a brief encounter with David Clinton, aka Chronos, and are immediately set upon by muggers. This goes roughly as well for the muggers as you would expect it to as the League members knock them out, strip them, and steal their clothes. Upon arriving in a nearby town, they witness DC Western hero Bat Lash get imprisoned by a man with fantastic future technology. After breaking Bat Lash and David Clinton out of prison, they meat their back-up: Pow-Wow Smith, El Diablo, and Jonah Hex, officially making DC’s superteam from 130 years ago the most diverse superteam they have. Together, they storm the compound of Tobias Manning, but when Clinton betrays them, time is sent even further afield, and our heroes wind up in the Batman Beyond timeline, fighting an insane cadre of futuristic villains.
It’s simple stuff, but they make it work. It’s an episode that goes off the rails more than once, and that’s its saving grace. From John Stewart making a Scooby Doo-esque ghost to scare off a jail cell guard all the way through Hal Jordan temporarily replacing John Stewart in a Batman Beyond future where Bruce meets himself and his protege, the episode does whatever it takes to please fans. No reference is too low, not corner of DC continuity too obscure. Still, excellent voice acting, solid fight animation, and a willingness to throw whatever comes to mind on the screen makes for some engaging viewing. Not big enough to be a season finale, “The Once and Future Thing” is nonetheless larger in scope than most episodes, spanning centuries and introducing dozens of heroes and villains.
There are a number of missteps. I hate hate hate the portrayal of David’s wife. She’s stupid, mean-spirited, bitter, and greedy. She’s every shrill sitcom harridan rolled into one, and the gleeful revenge Chronos takes on her is both mean-spirited and deserved. For a series that wrote a number of female characters exceptionally well, it’s disappointing to note that often, their portrayal of housewives (see also “This Little Piggy’s” joke about a housewife) are juvenile, nasty, and bitter. Here, Enid literally nags her well-meaning, genius husband into destroying the fabric of space and time. Maybe they were going for comedy, but an uncomfortable amount of very real anger seems to have slipped in.
Similarly, the time travel logic of JLU is beyond simplistic, as is its characterization of Chronos. Clinton, smart enough to invent time travel, stole countless priceless artifacts from the past, but when it is suggested that he simply go to the future and get information about the stock market, he bleats, “We can’t use the suit to do anything that might change history.” Ignoring the fact that traveling to the future to get stock information would not, in fact, be changing history, the opening scenes set Clinton up to be a smart, well-intentioned man in a bad situation. A few terse words from his wife, however, destroy literally every conviction he ever had, promptly sending him to the past. Gone is the sensible genius – off screen, he becomes a raving, cackling madman. It’s clumsy and insulting, and what’s more, it’s not even terribly fun. The entire subplot with Enid is not only bad because of her characterization, but because it introduces David… and then promptly, severely changes him with little to no reason.
“The Once and Future Thing” is a clumsy, cramped episode that tries to do too many things, and ends up not doing most of them very well. It’s fun, it’s well animated, and it definitely makes me want to see Batman Beyond, but it isn’t very coherent. Still, as I said: Wonder Woman dressed like Calamity Jane and puts a choke hold on a Velociraptor. It may not be enough, but it’s definitely worth something.
Quotes & Notes
Hawkgirl is returned quietly, and at first to little purpose. Later revelation: she and John Stewart will have a kid.
I love how, in time travel stories, people always end up – even if it’s a complete accident – in an ‘iconic’ point in time. The Old West, ancient Rome, WWII.
“I have mentioned how much I hate time travel, haven’t I?” – John Stewart, speaking for most characters.
“Batman, Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne, Batman. Or have you met?”
(simultaneously) “Not now!” – Batman, Batman, and Batman. Oh, time travel.
“Hal Jordan. Another time shift. I’m up to speed – carry on.” – Hal Jordan, in literally the greatest portrayal of him ever.
– Cal Cleary
Justice League Unlimited S1 E9-11
Justice League Unlimited S1 E7-8
Coming Up July 19th: A mid-season break!