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Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 53: “Unity”

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Written by: Paul Dini and Rich Fogel
Directed by: Shin-Ichi Tsuji
Originally Aired: May 15, 1999
DVD: Superman: TAS, Volume 3

Summary: After a trip to Metropolis, Supergirl returns home to find that Smallville’s come under the spell of a mysterious preacher with a dark secret.

Arc Notes: The Kents apparently know that Babs is Batgirl.

Debuting Characters: No one of consequence.

Returning Characters: Volcana makes a quick cameo.

Background:

You just got 3500 words on Crisis on Two Earths, you don’t get a background piece on an episode with no villains of significance. I might throw something out there on the Kents this weekend, though.

Thoughts on the Episode:

One of the bigger changes in the post-Man of Steel Superman was that Superman was the last Kryptonian – the various others like Superboy and Supergirl were eliminated. While DC first bent that rule and later broke it into hundreds of thousands of pieces, the spirit was successfully maintained for a while, and was in effect at the time Superman TAS went into production. As a result, the production team needed to find a solution to keep Supergirl away for most of the episodes, and they hit on the same solution that DC did when they brought back their first version of Supergirl: stick her on the Kent farm.

This opened the doors for Supergirl-starring episodes set in Smallville, but this is the only one that made the screen (perhaps if the second half of Superman not turned into DC Comics Presents: The Animated Series, there would have been more room for these). It boasts a very effective thematic hook, as Supergirl, upon further exposure to Metropolis (which is two days away… take note, idiotic Smallville producers), feels cooped up in the small town. It’s a natural plot point to use, because it’s logical to assume that someone who had some memories of their home planet would find growing up in a town in the middle of nowhere a little less appealing than Clark did.

Given the tone of the rest of the episode, the first section being focused on a bit of light comedy and action is probably a good thing. We so rarely see Metropolis from an outsider’s perspective – like Kara here – and it’s interesting to see all the other things going on in the city that don’t have anything to do with the main plot. Although it is a bit odd for Lois to be doing local colour stories like the ones she takes Kara along to, it’s a nice sequence, and the quick cameo by Volcana is appreciated. The sequence is capped off by a good gag on the bus back to Kansas before, well… the episode takes an entirely different turn.

There’s been creepy episodes in the DCAU before this, but “Unity” takes everything to a whole new level. This is an episode that delivers some genuine horror, disturbing imagery, and overall is something that I’m amazed they managed to sneak a PG rating out of. Sure, it’s easy to say that it’s a generic alien invasion plot… but generic alien invasion plots don’t normally have tentacles writhing from Ma Kent’s mouth, a tentacle being thrust into a giant alien creature’s… groinal area… and then seeing… fluid… spurt back along it… or Supergirl tied up with alien tentacles in a scene that looks like it sprung from the mind of the a perverted Japanese manga artist.

*shudder*

While the whole bit about the aliens being hurt by x-ray vision is a bit weak, what this episode does do – beyond causing my skin to crawl – is keep up a high sense of urgency. Supergirl is first put up against the ropes, then when Superman gets involved they’re both confronted with the idea of a possessed Ma Kent. And when that problem is dealt with, the stakes are raised with the appearance of a second alien super-entity, which proves remarkably tough to put down, especially when, upon being split in half, sprouts further tentacles to…

Look, I can’t do this anymore. Just typing this stuff is giving me the willies. It’s a good enough episode, with good vocal performances and a heck of a fight scene at the end. Just don’t watch it if you share any of the same phobias I do.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to take a shower.

Grade: B. So creepy. Bleargh.

Random Thoughts:

  • Peri Gilpin’s a trooper – she not only did Volcana’s brief cameo, but also provided the voice of the woman on the bus.
  • For that matter, there’s a lot of TV talent on the voice cast for this one – Dennis ‘President Palmer’ Haysbert, Stephen Root and Miguel Sandoval are all around in various parts, and of course Nichole Tom was a main character on The Nanny for years. And, yes, I’m a little ashamed that I knew that last one without having to check IMDB.
  • On the list of “little things done right”, the Kents’ last lines refer to the Langs as owning the next farm over. Great touch, one of those little throwaway bits of universe-building that brings this show to a higher level.
  • I want to say there’s something weird with Supergirl’s secret identity, but I put my finger on it.
  • I’m done with the hentai jokes. Life was so much better when I hadn’t been exposed to Japanese perversity. I blame Topless Robot.

Line of the Episode: “Good thing I didn’t ask her to milk the cow.” An easy joke, but a good one.

Next Justice League: The tour of creepy crawlies continues, with “The Terror Beyond.”

Next Side Story: I’m actually out of range of my DVDs when I’m typing this, but I suspect it’ll be “The Late Mr. Kent” one of the best Superman: TAS episodes, and a neat combination of a hard boiled detective tale and The Outer Limits, with the best ending in DCAU history.

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  1. Red Hedgehog
    March 14, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    “I want to say there’s something weird with”

    What?

    WHAT?!?

    What is there something weird with? I MUST KNOW!!!

    • March 14, 2010 at 6:02 pm

      *slams head into desk*

      This is what I write like whenever I don’t have those little blue placeholder dots in Word that remind me to pick up a thought before hitting print.

      Anyway, it’s just a bit about the strangeness of Supergirl’s “secret identity”, but I forgot that Jimmy never met her as Kara in “Little Girl Lost.”

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