This Young Justice: Phantoms review contains spoilers.
Young Justice Season 4 Episode 8
A series that once ended prematurely and was resurrected by fan passion should not spend so much time on maudlin navel gazing. And yet, here we are with Young Justice: Phantoms, where “I Know Why the Caged Cat Sings” spends most of its run time on infodumps that hint at a MUCH more interesting series of events and characters than the ones put on screen.
There are two highlights. The episode picks up more or less where the last left off – with a flashback to Artemis and Jade’s earlier days, and then a cut to Cheshire, Tigress, Onyx, Oracle’s invisible drone, and a still-shackled Orphan surrounded by Light goons. Oracle gives us one excuse for an infodump (Orphan needs more time to break out of her chains), so Tigress gets Shiva and Scandal to recap the last two episodes with a little more MWA-HA-HA villainy added to it before Oracle cuts the lights. What follows is a really well done, disorienting, jumpy fight in total darkness. We keep jumping from pairing to pairing in a well blocked, well choreographed action sequence.
The other high point is at the end. After the team escapes (with Orphan choosing not to kill Shiva), Jade breaks down when Artemis tries to get her to live a normal, hero-ish life, and flees back to Infinity Island to pick a fight with Sensei. Once there, Sensei acts more like a therapist than a deadly martial artist, talking Onyx and Cheshire through their years of trauma and swearing to Artemis that the League’s new purpose is to help these kids they once betrayed. He gets a little backup from Ra’s and a few glares from Talia and Damian. This purported new direction for the League is obviously BS, but at least the mystery of where it might be going is still interesting.
Also interesting: the stories that Superman and Onyx tell us about their pasts. Or at least they would have been interesting had we actually been shown them. The B-plot this week is seven minutes of Kal dancing around telling Jon that Conner is dead, and then telling Lois about all the regrets he had about their relationship that he can’t fix now that Conner’s gone. Onyx tells us how she drifted away from her grandfather, Amazing-Man, and into the arms of the League of Shadows.
But we don’t get to see either of these stories. We get to be told them, and then move on. Which would be annoying but not a deal-breaker had the episode had more redeeming qualities to it. Instead of a Superman/Superboy flashback showing us Kal’s regrets, we’re treated to rehashed Arrowette story beats from season one. Instead of seeing Amazing Man at work, battling the racism of his day along with, I don’t know, Per Degaton or something, we get to watch another two minute motion comic sequence of everyone going back to wherever they’re supposed to go to start the next episode.
Now that I really think about it, this feels like a problem plaguing this entire season. We spent twice as much time being told that Martian society is full of shitty racists as we did actually seeing that. Beast Boy’s story has an even worse ratio: he spent his entire time on Mars freaking out about his team, and then when he gets back we get an episode of him sleeping a lot.
The insistence on telling rather than showing combined with the cheapness of the production quality (these motion comics are driving me up the wall) and the weirdly backward facing perspective of the storytelling makes me wonder if the team creating the show had their budget cut and knows that they’re not being renewed, and this is how they’re building to a goodbye. If it is, it’s still not very good or effective, but it’s excusable. If it’s not…maybe it should be.