It’s astonishing how much this show has improved in its second season, and “Beneath” continues a streak of great episodes. Shifting the focus to some of this season’s new faces, Brandon Vietti balances the spectacular action sequences with the non-costumed drama that we don’t always see on this show. In El Paso, Jaime gets a call from his friend Ty Longshadow, who is running away from home after a fight with his mom’s boyfriend. When Jaime goes to meet up with Ty and talk him out of his decision, Ty is grabbed by a shadowed figure, and Jaime spends the rest of the episode figuring out what happened to his friend.
While Jaime does his best Walker, Texas Ranger, impression, a team of female heroes (Miss Martian, Bumblebee, Batgirl, and Wonder Girl) heads to Bialya to investigate an uptake in boom tube activity. Nightwing is hoping that the boom tubes will lead them to whoever supplied the alien tech that blew up the Kroloteans’ zeta platform, and because of Bialya’s leader Queen Bee’s ability to control the minds of men, he sends a team of women for the job. In a great piece of dialogue, Batgirl asks, “Would you have felt the need to justify an all-male squad for a given mission?” To which Nightwing replies, “There’s no right answer for that, is there? So…” and then cuts off the transmission.
Batgirl takes pride in being able to screw with Nightwing’s head, and the girls all share a laugh over how easy it is to mess with the men on the team. I’ve always liked seeing girl heroes team up because it so rarely happens, and Vietti does a good job establishing distinctive voices for each of the superheroines. Wonder Girl is the newbie, and she’s the most youthful and excited of the group, eager to jump into action but forced to hold back because she hasn’t mastered stealth yet. Batgirl is brainy and independent, Bumblebee is sassy and confident, and Miss Martian is the veteran, eager to help her teammates while hiding the darkness that is growing inside her. When she asks Nightwing if Psimon, Bialya’s resident evil telepath, will pose a threat, Nightwing tells her that he’s still comatose after his last encounter with M’gaan, suggesting that her viciousness has been increasing for a while now.
Jaime goes to Ty’s house to speak to his mother about what happened the night before, and he finds out about the abuse that Ty has had to endure at the hands of Maurice, his mom’s boyfriend. When Maurice sees Jaime in his home, he reacts with aggression and triggers the Scarab’s urge to blast him into a bunch of little bits. We see more of what the Scarab is capable of this week, including the ability to transform into a skeleton key for any lock, but also learn how the little blue bug on Jaime’s spine causes trouble for him in his civilian life. Jaime is constantly forced to subdue the Scarab’s murderous defense protocols, and has to hide the weaponry that forms around his hands whenever he’s threatened.
When Jaime visits Ty’s grandfather, the old man can sense the internal battle going on between Jaime and the Scarab. He knows too much, and the Scarab decides that he must be eliminated. Last week we learned about Ted Kord creating the Scarab, but some of you commenters are convinced that the alien Reach are still involved in its formation. Its reaction to Ty’s grandfather does make it seem like the Scarab has ulterior motives and specific objectives that were given to it by another party. The Scarab is clearly a weapon, but one that controls its wielder. Jaime can’t learn how to control the Scarab, because then it won’t be able to fulfill its mission: to prepare the Earth for a coming invasion. This is all speculation of course, but I like the idea of Blue Beetle being the Silver Surfer to the Reach’s Galactus with Jaime as Norrin Radd, the humanity under the Scarab/Surfer’s surface.
In Bialya, the girls’ mission goes south when the Fearsome Five appears, led by a no longer comatose Psimon. Wonder Girl is able to warn Miss Martian, but she’s captured by Devastation, compromising the team as Psimon shuts down their telepathic link. Bumblebee finds Batgirl in the air ducts and the duo continues the investigation, discovering a stock of human runaways trapped in stasis tubes. Before they can process this new wrinkle in the mystery, Batgirl is ambushed by the Fearsome Five and stuck in a stasis tube of her own, and Bumblebee flies off to get help.
Cassie blames herself for losing Batgirl and Bumblebee, but M’gann reminds her that every mission has an unexpected turn and that it’s their job to adapt to the changes. M’gann has become very good at adapting to the high stakes world of covert superheroing by being as ruthless as those she fights. When Bumblebee finds the pair and enlists their help in saving Batgirl, Miss Martian infiltrates the Fearsome Five with chilling ease. First she shapeshifts into Shimmer, then creeps up behind her and shuts down Shimmer’s mind before storing her body in a metal barrel. Bad ass, yet quite terrifying; it’s very possible that Shimmer is going to die in that barrel.
Back in El Paso, Jaime breaks into Maurice’s shed in hopes of finding more clues to Ty’s disappearance, but only finds pirated games and DVDs. He’s caught in the act and attacked by Maurice, and when Jaime accuses him of getting rid of Ty because he’s jealous of not being tribal chief, Maurice laughs in his face. The tribal chief job offers no money, and he’s interested in a more lucrative career of selling bootlegs. Jaime has no leads in El Paso, but that’s because the answers he’s looking for are in Bialya.
While Wonder Girl and Miss Martian fight off the Fearsome Five, Bumblebee frees Batgirl and gets her to the airplane that is going to fly them out of there. Doug Murphy directs a fantastic action sequence as the team fights to keep Mammoth and Devastation from destroying the plane, and we get to see Wonder Girl cut loose as she tears down hangar doors and uses a lassoed Devastation as a weapon against Mammoth. The final moments as the wingless plane freefalls with Batgirl in the cockpit looks phenomenal, and the dynamic visuals capture the full speed and strength of the plummeting machine.
At the Watchtower, Nightwing congratulates the team on a job well done. Although they didn’t gain any new information about the alien bomb, they saved a bunch of runaways and discovered a new facet of the invasion. Queen Bee has been working as a middleman, delivering abducted humans to an unknown partner, and now they have to discover who and why. It’s another wrinkle to this season’s mystery, and the episode ends with the fairly predictable reveal that Ty Longshadow is the one of the abductees in Queen Bee’s second batch.
It’s notable that Long Shadow was the name of one of the Ultimen on Justice League Unlimited, who was himself a stand-in for Apache Chief from the Super Friends. The last shot of four teens in stasis tubes makes me wonder if these four are going to undergo some sort of experimentation that transforms them into superhumans. The two in the middle could be the Wonder Twins, and while we already have Black Lightning on the Justice League, the kid with the backwards baseball cap could very well be Virgil Hawkins. There have been rumors that Static was going to show up this season, and it would be great to see Icon and Rocket get some support from another Milestone character.
- DC Nation Shorts: It’s the start of a new serialized short as Ray “Atom” Palmer crashes his plane and is stuck at six inches tall in the middle of the jungle. It’s a gorgeous little piece that finds Ray fighting off a giant snake, and it looks like future installments will be taking inspiration from Ray’s Conan-like days in the Sword of Atom comics. The second short was a new installment in “Super Best Friends Forever,” in which our girl trio gets in a fight over their team name while battling Cheetah. Wonder Girl’s “Sbbfs?” comment is fantastic.
- I love that Vietti addresses how cramped an air duct must be when Batgirl struggles to move while crawling through one.
- The Scarab armor transformation looks pretty sweet.
- Great moment when Batgirl grabs WG when Nightwing is congratulating Team Alpha on a job well done. There’s some flirting going on between those two, and Nightwing is Barbara’s man. But she’s bringing her in for a little group woot.
- The butch Devastation is voiced by Diane Delano, who voiced the hermaphroditic Roberta “Bobbi” Glass on Popular. Her deep, brash voice is a perfect fit for the character.
- I’ll never get tired of slow motion shots of Wonder Girl/Woman deflecting a bullet off her silver bracelets. It always looks so cool.
- “Uh-oh is right.”