Episode title: Hooked Up
Original air date: November 13, 1999
It’s time for another Batman Beyond episode with an added morality lesson as this week the show takes on the issue of addiction as the local teens are getting hooked on a new VR video game, which seemingly has the ability for the players to live out their fantasies only to soon find themselves addicted, a plot its soon revealed to be masterminded by super villain Spellbinder who here makes a much welcomed return.
It’s almost too fitting that this episode would be the one that they choose to make the addiction episode, especially having grown up in a time when video games in the arcades came with the now classic “Winner’s Don’t Use Drugs” screen which seems to have disappeared, more than likely due to the amount of things the public censors don’t want you doing these days, it would be hard to fit them on one title screen.
Of course this isn’t the first time the show has attempted one of these episodes, having already tackled bullying (Golem) and drug abuse (The Winning Edge) in previous episodes, but despite dealing with a heavy message, the episode itself is kept pretty simple while still having a fair amount of surprisingly adult / darker moments scattered throughout. Here we get to see those addicted to Spellbinder’s VR machines being forced to commit crimes to fund their VR habit as he keeps them in a vicious circle of crime and addiction until their bodies collapse under the elevated serotonin levels the machines cause. Interestingly these side effects are actually caused by psychedelic drugs such as ecstasy which can lead to coma as seen in the episode in one of the many touches of reality scattered throughout.
As Terry investigates these addicted kids we get to see the broken homes they come from including rather shockingly scenes of the parents of one of the kids which is played with worrying tones of domestic abuse something you’d not really expect to see in what is essentially a show for kids. Rather than just keep those with the issues as characters detached from Terry as seen in the previous episodes, here Max is also caught up in Spellbinder’s scheme as the machine for fills her fantasy of having a loving and supporting family something that’s certainly missing we discover after Terry catches her breaking into cars for credits to fund her next VR hit.
While the VR element is handled well, sadly the action this week seriously jumps the shark with scenes of Donny, one of the addicted kids performing a leap onto a moving elevator that it would be impressive to see a superhero perform let alone a supposedly normal individual. This same scene also sees Donny falling from height onto a moving truck and not being affected in the slightest. The best part though is trying to figure out how Terry does have his arms pulled off when he stops a pair of truck trailers using a batarang and cable! True these scenes can be looked past, but when you notice them it’s hard to not feel let down by them…..so sorry everyone for ruining this part of the episode.
In the climax Terry does get a brief brawl with Spellbinder which includes a scene where he zaps Terry with his power glove, which would appear to give him an insight into Terry’s memories, judging by the slideshow of snapshots from the previous episodes we see flashed on the screen. Sadly this plot point would never be picked up which seems like something of a missed opportunity, especially when a villain who knew Terry’s secrets would have made for a great challenge. One of the better moral themed episodes it largely works despite a few issues in the action sections, while Spellbinder remains as great a villain as he was the first time we saw him, especially as he continues to establish himself as the type of villain whose at his strongest when pulling the strings rather than having to face Terry head on. Thankfully he the show runners also felt the same as he would get one more episode before the shows cancellation, making the wait for his next appearance all the more anticipated.
Next Episode: Rats