Plot summary: Zeta returns to Gotham and unknowingly gets turned into a walking bomb by Mad Stan, leaving Batman precious little time to track him down.
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: ‘Countdown’
Original Air Date: April 7th, 2001
Directed: Kyung-Won Lim (7)
Written: Rich Fogel (12) & Paul Dini (6)
While this aired second to last and feels far less like a finale, it was the final episode ever produced. Due to how lacklustre both this and ‘Unmasked’ ended up feeling, Bruce Timm made a point of ensuring all future DCAU seasons got bigger finales.
Likewise, an unofficial ‘real’ finale for Batman Beyond was later produced as an episode of Justice League Unlimited, which I will be covering next week.
Stan Berkowitz claims that if he’d been given the final episode he would have killed off Bruce Wayne to let Terry stand on his own going forward, which he absolutely never would have gotten greenlit.
Zeta makes its return with a wildly different design as seen in ‘The Zeta Project’, which was in the midst of its first season.
This is the only episode of the show where Terry is never seen outside of the Batsuit.
Gotham University hosts the World Science Symposium, which Mad Stan of course bombs, claiming technology makes our minds weaker. Batman disagrees, and also takes umbrage with the bombs. They fight, but Stan escapes.
Elsewhere, Zeta (in his human disguise) and his friend Ro arrive in Gotham via train, trying to track down an attendee of the symposium. Agent Bennet and his NSA goons immediately attack and chase them down.
During the ensuing chase, the NSA run in front of Mad Stan’s truck, angering him. He scoops up the injured Zeta, unaware that he’s a robot, telling the feds to go screw, and drives off.
Taking Zeta back to his house(boat), Stan quickly discovers he is a robot thanks to an assist from his little dog, Boom-Boom. Believing Zeta is a government conspiracy designed to entrap him, Stan gets to work tinkering with him.
Ro calls the police, claiming to have seen The Royal Flush Gang and The Jokerz, asking for Batman. While the police hang up on her, Bruce Wayne is obviously listening in on police transmissions.
Lucky thing too, as some very real Jokerz start harassing her, until Terry intervenes. Ro explains what happened to Zeta, who told her earlier that he and Batman are friends.
Mad Stan drives Zeta back into town and reactivates him, giving him Ro’s alleged whereabouts, having also strapped an enormous bomb to him.
Terry raids Stan’s boat after bypassing his security system, finding him heavily sedated. Luckily, he recorded a message to Batman beforehand revealing what he’s done and that he drugged himself to remove the possibility of being interrogated.
Terry and Ro head into the city and split up to try and find Zeta, with Terry attempting to convince Agent Bennet to help. Bennet refuses, stating the bomb going off would mean mission accomplished for him, and having one of his agents bug the Batmobile.
Ro scolds Bats for even trying, while Bruce tries to puzzle out where Stan might have directed Zeta.
The same Jokerz who tried to mug Ro do the same to Zeta… who beats the piss out of them, even throwing one off a bridge to his apparent death… if not for Terry accidentally catching him.
That doesn’t matter though, as Bruce correctly deduced the target Stan gave Zeta was the Department of Health, who want to raise pet licences… cos ya know, Boom-Boom. Sigh.
Bats removes the bomb with seconds to spare, but Bennet’s agents descend on the building. Zeta insists that Terry leave and he complies, with Bennet deciding that’s fine.
Naturally, it was actually Zeta making himself look like Batman, while Terry stayed behind in a janitor’s uniform. They later meet back up to say their farewells, and Ro plants one on Batman’s cheek.
There can only be two real options, so let’s just quickly acknowledge and eliminate Diedrich Bader, who barely speaks after replacing Gary Cole as Zeta for his spinoff show, Kurtwood Smith who took over for Joe Spano as Agent Bennet and Will Friedle who is perfectly fine.
Julie Nathanson immediately endears herself as Ro, making me marginally more interested in watching The Zeta Project. She’s a shit-talker, in a good way, refusing to sit by while Batman does all the work. Plus how on earth did she speak so quickly in that 911 call?
But come on, Henry Rollins is on fire. Mad Stan has been fun every single time, spouting rhetoric that I would pessimistically imagine the writers thought was dunking on hippies, but through a modern lens ends up just being pure unadulterated correctness. He wants to smash the system, hates the feds and wants to help the underclass. Bravo, Mad Stan. Goodbye, sweet prince.
I can see why people prefer ‘Unmasked’ as a season finale in spite of the production order, as it did provide something of a thematic book-end to the rest of the show, whereas this was a run of the mill episode.
Bringing Zeta back after his spin-off was underway makes sense, though it’s a bit of a bummer that he doesn’t really… do anything. Sure, he beats up some Jokerz (and almost kills one!), and uses his disguise tech a couple of times, but it was nowhere near the dynamic impact he made in his debut. Instead he’s just plodding along, gullibly believing Mad Stan that Ro is being held hostage by Bennet at the Department of Health building, blissfully unaware there’s a giant bomb attached to him.
Still, it’s a great appearance for Mad Stan (see below), and sets up a mostly fun dynamic, with Terry teaming up with Ro, who makes a good impression, to try and find Zeta before midnight and even trying to a deal with the devil , Bennet… who ends up truly being the devil. Ro contacting Batman via a frantic 911 phone call and Zeta and Terry’s deception to give Bennet the slip were both fun and clever, and I liked that both Ro and Zeta tangled with the same Jokerz.
But it’s impossible to overlook how contrived a lot of it ends up feeling. Bennet being completely unconcerned by the risk to public safety the bomb poses seems a stretch, while Terry finding Zeta not by following the Jokerz back to him but because Bruce had a hunch about his dog is just lunacy. Why bother with Terry saving the gang member from his death and learning he’d just seen Zeta if you’re not going to use that directly? Why have Zeta throw him off a bridge at all?! It’s also weird to not see Terry unmasked at any point, but I don’t think that is necessarily worth holding against the episode.
So in summary, it’s pretty dumb, but it’s at least dumb fun. Zeta, Ro and even Bennet change up the formula a little, and it creates a decent little multi-sided conflict with Mad Stan.
- Out of the Past
- Final Cut
- Disappearing Inque
- King’s Ransom
- A Touch of Curaré
- Rebirth Part I
- The Call Part I
- Hidden Agenda
- Lost Soul
- Earth Mover
- Black Out
- Dead Man’s Hand
- The Call Part II
- Where’s Terry?
- Sneak Peek
- Rebirth Part II
- Once Burned
- Curse of the Kobra Part I
- Countdown (NEW ENTRY)
- Big Time
- Sentries of the Last Cosmos
- April Moon
- The Eggbaby
- Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot
- Mind Games
- Hooked Up
- The Winning Edge
- Ace in the Hole
- The Last Resort
- Speak No Evil
- Curse of the Kobra Part II
Mad Stan (Henry Rollins) (third appearance)
Look. He’s absolutely right that a reliance on technology has rotted all of our brains AND he takes an anti-government stance, standing up for Zeta’s “basic human rights.” I’m not saying he’s the only one speaking truth the power, but I’m not not saying it either. Plus he has a little dog called Boom-Boom!
One can’t forget he does try and blow up civilians on the regular though, and he of course stops respecting Zeta’s rights when he learns he’s a robot, so we can’t get too carried away with his heroism. That being said, drugging himself unconscious to remove the possibility of being interrogated into revealing Zeta’s whereabouts or how to disarm his bomb is a remarkable stroke of genius… or madness.
This is probably his strongest outing after being a fun little comic relief villain who they likely never intended for people to agree with at the time. Up the list he goes!
Agent Bennet (Kurtwood Smith) (third appearance)
After a brief spell as Batman’s ally in ‘Plague’, Bennet is right back to being a no good government agent stopping at nothing to recapture Zeta, ordering his men to fire at will in a freakin’ train station crawling with innocents. This is just like in his debut episode, though from what I know, he’s a little more careful in The Zeta Project.
He also gives absolutely no fucks about Gotham getting blown up if Zeta explodes, which you’d think might mildly perturb him regardless of his role as the antagonist of TZP.
This is all good villainy though, so he has to move up the list a bit. His second appearance made me wonder about where I’d placed him in the first place, but this solidifies him.
The Jokerz (Bruce Timm) (eighth appearance)
I’m glad the gang got one last appearance, even if the three most recognisable members are missing in favour of the brand new ‘Top Hat Joker’, armed with Mr. Fixx style electrified knuckle dusters.
Just like in ‘Curse of the Kobra Part I’, they’re actually deployed in more everyday chaotic manner, harassing Ro and trying to mug her and Zeta. Using spraypaint on Ro felt like a weirdly violent act, and feels like something that would be done by the street punks they were originally conceived to be, rather than the borderline terrorist cell they drifted into being a few times. Oh hey, Paul Dini wrote their first and last appearances… fancy that…
- Mr. Freeze
- Derek Powers/Blight
- The Royal Flush Gang
- The Jokerz
- Talia/Ra’s al Ghul
- Ian Peek
- Mad Stan
- Willie Watt
- Dr. Cuvier (and pals!)
- Robert Vance
- The Terrific Trio
- Deanna Clay
- Bullwhip’s Gang
- Agent Bennet
- Simon Harper (and the Sentries!)
- The Mayhem Family
- The Brain Trust
- Paxton Powers
- Charlie ‘Big Time’ Bigelow
- Dr. Stephanie Lake
- Howard Hodges & General Norman
- Jackson Chappell
- James Van Dyle
- Mr. Fixx
- The T’s
- Ronny Boxer
- Dr. Wheeler
Following on from our site-wide listicle about The Batman, Mike Thomas and I will be back with a new episode of The Tape Crusaders, which has reviewed every Batman movie including Return of the Joker.
My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, is on hiatus until Moon Knight begins at the end of this month.