Plot summary: Shriek returns and robs Gotham of its ability to understand spoken words, publicly demanding Batman turn himself in or the effects will be permanent.
After completing the original run of Batman The Animated Series, Matt Waters looks to the future each Saturday and Sunday with recaps of every episode of Batman Beyond, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!
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Episode Title: ‘Babel’
Original Air Date: January 8th, 2000
Directed: Curt Geda (9)
Written: Stan Berkowitz (9)
The episode’s title refers to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, in which God punishes King Nimrod’s arrogance by cursing his people to speak unintelligible gibberish and scatter in all directions.
If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because DC published the comic ‘JLA: Tower of Babel’ four months before the episode aired, which saw Ra’s al Ghul attempt to rob humanity of the ability to communicate.
While Bruce’s comment about only Robin being able to save him could be applied to an infinite number of unseen adventures, the most likely BTAS candidates are either ‘Night of the Ninja’ or ‘Second Chance’.
Bruce and Terry talk about the former’s past as Batman as they repair the Batsuit together after an off-screen skirmish with Mad Stan. Suddenly, Ace the Bat Hound attacks them, forcing Terry to use a tranquiliser dart.
Taking Ace to the vet, Terry finds the waiting room crawling with pets gone wild. Max remarks on how crazy things must be at the zoo, so Terry heads down to try and pacify elephants and a gorilla but takes a tremendous beating before they suddenly calm down.
Bruce relays that the military reported sonar frequency interference during the time of the incident, putting them on the trail of Shriek, who they learn was ‘cured’ following a hospital visit.
Sure enough, Shriek yells at his new assistant, Ollie, following the successful test, revealing he can only hear when inside his suit, something for which he still holds an intense grudge against Batman. He gives Ollie a special tuning fork that basically makes him have a big gushy orgasm.
Our heroes plot their next move when they suddenly start interpreting each other’s words as total nonsense. Terry heads out to save as many lives as he can, as the whole city is suffering from the same affliction, creating total pandemonium.
The effects are temporarily lifted as Shriek telephones Barbara Gordon stating he’ll leave it switched off in exchange for Batman’s life!
Barbara tells Bruce, who passionately refuses the deal, feeling the Mayor would sell Terry out despite everything he’s done for Gotham. Terry slips out to seek Max’s advice and is disheartened to see public sentiment overwhelmingly resents him.
Remembering the night that he discovered his father had been murdered; Terry suits up and deduces a building featuring twin towers is acting as a giant tuning fork for Shriek, so heads off to fight him.
Shriek unleashes a painful ultrasonic frequency and removes his helmet, making him deaf again so that he remains unaffected. Terry manages to get to the tower controls and deactivate the signal, but inadvertently triggers them to collapse.
Shriek, still deaf, doesn’t notice and the building comes down on top of him despite Terry trying to warn him. Rescue workers try to assist Batman after, but he walks away. Bruce later asks if he would have made the deal but Terry evades the question.
I was tempted to give Will Friedle his third straight nod in this category, which would definitely be a first. He has fully mastered the art of making Terry determined to save the day in an entirely different, more compassionate way than Bruce’s stubborn willpower. While Bruce tells the people of Gotham to go spit, Terry rises above the hate and just gets the job done because he is a Good Boy.
However, Kevin Conroy truly shone, starting out crotchety and reluctant to tell stories about his past as he scolds Terry for being unable to avoid a grenade. A little of this goes a long way in my opinion. But where he really rises above is in his response to Shriek’s ransom demands, vehemently insisting Terry not be sacrificed after doing so much good for Gotham. The venom with which he chastises the citizens who criticise Batman is outstanding, with an obvious bit of projection back to his own glory days. He’d already won at that point, but sealed the deal with his rare vulnerability as has no choice but to admire Terry’s resolve, sincerely thanking him for reminding him why he became Batman in the first place. You love to
see hear it.
Series regulars Stockard Channing and Cree Summer are excellent in a short amount of time and Michael Rosenbaum’s… spirited work as Ollie stands out too. All of this and Chris Mulkey remains solid as Shriek. Everybody excelled at moving seamlessly from regular speech to nonsense and back.
This might be the best episode for voice acting so far.
Season two has put a lot of effort into giving Terry some fantastic moments to prove he’s worthy of the Batman mantel, and this episode was about as strong as that push gets. For one thing he solved the puzzle before Bruce, which is particularly nice as the company line is that some of his instincts are equal to his predecessor, but he’s a bit of a dumb-dumb so needs Bruce to solve all the mysteries for him.
More than that, we get a bit of a Dark Knight dilemma, as a villain holds the city hostage and demands Batman’s life. Despite several Gothamites throwing him under the bus, including ones he saved earlier in this same episode, Terry finds a way to save the city and then forgoes praise, telling Bruce he doesn’t do this for gratitude. I doubt you will find a moment in this show where Bruce is prouder of Terry. They bookend this plot thread nicely with a discussion about Bruce being forced to put his life in Robin’s hands at times and why both of them fight. I’m a sucker for endings that mirror their openings.
While these are the most narratively rich parts of the episode, the central hook is fun too, with Shriek using his sonic expertise to render everyone unable to understand each other, something that is immediately devastating, first in the test where animals rampage through the zoo, and then when a single crane incident requires an exciting multi-level rescue. Heck, Batman can’t even get to everyone in time, and a little old lady has to help a crossing guard avoid certain death. They potentially could have taken this concept even further, but it was still entertaining in the limited time it lasted.
On top of all of THAT, they paid off the consequences of Shriek’s debut episode, with his deafness creating a strong grudge and also acting first as a shield against his own sonic attacks, and then ultimately his own undoing. It’s the little things, you know?
- Babel (NEW ENTRY)
- Disappearing Inque
- A Touch of Curaré
- Rebirth Part I
- Hidden Agenda
- Lost Soul
- Earth Mover
- Black Out
- Dead Man’s Hand
- Rebirth Part II
- Once Burned
- Mind Games
- Hooked Up
- The Winning Edge
Shriek (Chris Mulkey) (second appearance)
What a fantastic character. They’ve found ways to slightly remix the Big Four in their second appearances, starting with Inque and Spellbinder, and now Shriek too, who tweaks his ‘no sound in a concentrated area’ plan by instead robbing the entire city of its ability to comprehend language. While the former made for an eerie fight scene, this was fun in a different way, and demonstrated his genius level intellect.
His primary weapon was still soundwaves, but he took things to a new level with the ear-piercing frequency to give him even more raw power. That’s wisely countered by his newly-acquired weak spot, a calling card of most good villains.
Giving him a dumbass assistant was a nice touch as he’s a cerebral character who benefits from having someone to talk to, and I hope to learn more about their dynamic in the future.
I’m moving him above Mr. Freeze, but it should be noted that’s purely based on the events of Batman Beyond, not Victor’s many excellent BTAS outings.
- Mr. Freeze
- The Jokerz
- Derek Powers/Blight
- The Royal Flush Gang
- Dr. Cuvier (and pals!)
- Willie Watt
- Mad Stan
- Robert Vance
- The Terrific Trio
- The Brain Trust
- Dr. Stephanie Lake
- Howard Hodges & General Norman
- Paxton Powers
- Jackson Chappell
- Mr. Fixx
Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie including Return of the Joker.
My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, continues coverage of Hawkeye.
There Will Be Movies continues Ben & Matt’s look back at the 90s each Wednesday. This week it’s the criminally under-awarded The Truman Show.