Terry puts a child in jeopardy by revealing his true identity.
  Original Airdate: December 18, 2001
  Episode # 47
  Rating: * 1/2

Credits Cast

Written by Hilary J. Bader
Directed by Kyoung-Won Lim
Music by Kristopher Carter
Animation by Koko/Dong Yang

Will Friedle as Terry McGinnis
Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Cree Summer as Max Gibson
Corey Burton as Kobra Op #1
Seth Green as Nelson Nash
Kerrigan Mahan as Main Kobra Op

Sean Marquette as Miguel Diaz
Pat Musick as Busybody
Victor Rivers as Guard
Theresa Saldana as Mother
Keith Szaragajka as Bracelet Kobra

Batman and Bruce Wayne. Who's the mask and who's the man? It's a question that is asked rather often—oddly so, since the same answer is usually given over and over again. Batman is the real man, and "Bruce Wayne" is the alias. But perhaps the question is asked so often because it is bound up with many others. What sort of person is our hero? What are his ideals? How will he and his pursuit of justice fare in the end? It is bound up with these because they all touch on the identity of our hero: Who is he, really?

Bruce Wayne's dual identity and his recourse to the mask, then, are not merely plot devices but an integral element of his universe; the cowl does not simply hide a non-heroic identity but creates and projects another. That is why the removal of the mask is for him never a light matter. In "The Cape & Cowl Conspiracy," for instance, he is cornered and forced to remove it. Beneath, however, he still wears a hood that effectively covers his face. Without that mask, Wormwood might conclude that Batman is "really" Bruce Wayne. With it Batman not only blocks that inference, he implicitly asserts that even without the mask he is still "really" Batman. He clutches the mask so tightly because it doesn't just hide his true self, it might actually be his true self.

Terry's relation to the cowl, however, is more equivocal. He created neither the "Batman" persona nor the costume but borrowed them in "Rebirth" and has since gone into training to live up to another’s ideal of the role. This physical and psychological disconnect between McGinnis and the mask was further emphasized in "Lost Soul," when the Batsuit was possessed by a renegade software program. And in "Unmasked" Terry blithely rips the mask off to reassure a child in danger that he is "really" just an ordinary guy.

Now, despite this equivocal relation, most of these episodes go a long way toward integrating the identities of Terry McGinnis and Batman. Even Bruce Wayne had to consciously choose to turn himself into the kind of warrior-hero that his Batman became, and his spirit was (and is still) on display even outside the suit. So, too, Terry chooses to adopt the role of Batman and shows that his Batman lives in the spirit, not the spandex. After 51 other episodes and a direct-to-video movie, Terry had become a more-than-merely-plausible successor to Wayne. And that is why "Unmasked," with its callow and horribly calculated plot contrivances, is such a brutal betrayal of all that came before. This episode really does make him look like a regular guy wearing a mask.

On the simplest level, for instance, he shows an almost blasé indifference to revealing his face. When Miguel, perched on a flaming tower, shrinks from Batman’s terrifying aspect, Terry says "Slag it!" and pulls the mask aside. "Slag it," of course, is one of the show’s euphemisms, and whether it stands for a blasphemy or a scatology—whether he is cursing or merely execrating it—the thought is clear. Terry is treating the mask as a hindrance, something to be cast aside when inconvenient. Impossible, however, to imagine Wayne similarly responding, and for a simple reason. He designed the mask to frighten the guilty (you know, criminals being a superstitious, cowardly lot), and it would hit him as a tragic irony and flaw in his conception to find it frightening the innocent. Nor could he curse it as he pulled it aside, as that would be a form of cursing himself. "There’s always another way," Wayne rebukes Terry, and for Wayne there must be another way—Terry’s solution could never be his. As starkly as possible, in this one scene Terry is made to look frivolous, uncomprehending, and (compared to Wayne) shallow.

Of course, one might try to excuse these revelations by pointing out that this scene takes place in a flashback, presumably to a point in time when Terry was still immature. That these scenes are forced into a flashback suggests just how uneasy the writers may have felt about Terry’s behavior and its implications for his character. But in fact the whole episode is grotesquely contorted in its efforts to make a plot point.

The flashback, you see, is a story Terry tells Max in order to impress upon her his reasons for not letting Dana in on his double life. In other words: If that cautionary lesson didn’t need to be made, this entire episode could have been dispensed with. So why is it at such pains to teach it?

Max shouldn’t need this lesson, and the fact that she does—here she is shown making stupid and dangerous jokes about Terry’s extracurricular activities—suggests that it was a bad mistake to introduce her. Her gleeful "Let’s go tell Dana!" is a particularly damning X-ray into her character: She apparently thinks that Terry’s secret is a bit of juicy gossip and is dying to spread it around.

Toward the deeper dilemma itself—"To tell or not to tell Dana?"—the episode has an uneasy, rationalizing air. Strange that it should wrestle with this question when Terry himself barely does; surely he should be the one with a guilty conscience about not telling his girlfriend?

Unlike Wayne, Terry takes up the Dark Knight’s mantle while still encumbered by familial and romantic obligations. That’s an important difference and one with a great potential to define his version of Batman. If Terry tells Dana, he becomes like a married cop. If he doesn’t, he becomes like a secret agent under deep cover. Those are very different kinds of roles. And what if (heaven forbid!) he were forced to choose between acting as Batman and saving a loved one—a choice it was Wayne’s grim good fortune never to face. In other words, the question "To tell Dana or not?" is the kind whose answer could stamp Terry deeply and indelibly. It deserves a thorough airing and exploration.

It doesn’t get it. Terry’s decision to keep his identity a secret proves to be a function of his encounter with the one-shot character Miguel, not the result of a crisis with Dana. Worse, his reasons are merely prudential: it would be "dangerous" for her to know. Never mind what it would mean for their relationship, or for Terry’s sense of who he is (loving companion or nocturnal vigilante): these are reasons that would develop his character more fully by defining him vis-à-vis she who is (or who should be) the most important person in his life. And it is an insult to Dana that she remains ignorant while Max is in on the secret. Granted, Terry did not willingly disclose himself to Max, but if Max is in no danger why should Dana be? As is shown here, the danger only comes when the bad guys know that someone knows Batman’s secret identity.

It’s not Terry who has a bad conscience about keeping his other self a secret from Dana, it’s the series—it compromised Dana’s relationship with Terry when it replaced her with Max as his privileged confidante, and here it retrospectively tries to justify the change. And in trying to justify its neglect of Dana it only more nakedly displays its betrayal of both her and Terry.

Lots of people get unmasked in "Unmasked": Dana, whose brooding presence is neatly defined by her total absence. Max, who is bared as a petty and thoughtless gossip. Terry, who is stripped of much of his accumulated dignity as Batman. And the series itself, which goes skinny-dipping in the shallow end of the pool and winds up losing most of its clothes.

Related Episodes
   * Plague
   * Curse of the Kobra
   * Be a Clown
   * I've Got Batman in My Basement
   * The Eggbaby

What Others Are Saying ...
"... not one of the better Batman Beyond episodes."World's Finest

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