Breaking Down ‘Failsafe’: How One Episode Traumatized a Fandom

How One Episode Traumatized a Fandom

Happy Wednesday, everyone! We’re inching closer and closer to our July haven, but in the meantime, I hope y’all are keeping yourselves occupied. Game of Thrones is here for its final season, She Ra’s second season is arriving, and there are always Young Justice reruns to entertain my restless mind. You know, in between work and, uh, adult things. The usual.

I know I promised drabbles this week, and you’ll get them! Probably closer to Friday, as a Passover gift. That’s a good enough excuse, right? Anyway, this week I’d like to do something a little different on the website. I thought it might be fun to go on a more serious note and do a deep-dive into ‘Failsafe’ to try and analyze the resonance it still carries within the Young Justice fandom. Enjoy, y’all!


If I were to ask any member of the Young Justice fandom which episode most stood out to them throughout its run, there is a high likelihood they would pick ‘Failsafe’. The high-stakes, emotionally fraught episode remains one of the series’ glittering jewels, wreaking havoc to its viewers’ emotions. Many are unable to go back and rewatch this episode, and often skip it in binges, due to the emotional distress it caused upon initial viewing.

The episode opens with a faceless enemy. Within moments, several members of the Justice League are decimated, all while Red Tornado and the team watch. Despite the sudden loss of many of their members, their faces remain blank, even accepting.

As the episode goes on, more and more members of the Justice League are eliminated, until only our young heroes remain. They remain cool and collected, and for the majority, their plan of attack works. And then, everything goes to hell. Artemis is terminated trying to buy her team time, and M’gann’s shrill scream is seared into the viewer’s memories.

Unfortunately, Artemis isn’t the only sacrifice. Though Martian Manhunter reappears, every member of the team falls victim to the enemy’s beams, ceasing in the process. Each death is worse than the last; Kaldur perishes while saving J’onn, Superboy is eliminated in a distraction, and Robin and Kid Flash give their lives to save the world. M’gann is left to deal with her friends’ deaths and the impending doom of their enemy until J’onn stabs her.

She then wakes up.

Unfortunately, I was one of the rare few who knew the entire episode was a simulation, so I managed to escape the mind-numbing shock and betrayal that many people felt from the episode. During the episode, fans were devastated, watching as their favorite characters were picked off, one by one. While many could have suspected it was a ruse, a dream, or a simulation, the staggering realization that the show would go there with such young heroes was starting to set in. On a side note, viewers would be left feeling this way again after the conclusion of Season 2’s ‘Endgame’.

Young Justice isn’t the first episode to tackle the ‘it was all a dream’ scenario. Many television shows have used this trope, and yet ‘Failsafe’ sticks out. Why is it that three seasons later, viewers are still mourning the fake deaths of the team members they’ve grown to love?

The emotional impact from this episode comes from a destruction of the storytelling framework set up in the preceding fifteen episodes. Namely, by killing the one character unique to ‘Young Justice’ and then forcing not just the audience to see through M’gann’s eyes, but her team as well. I’ll explain.

Artemis’ death strikes such a lasting blow because of her unique lack of backstory in DC history. In the comics, Artemis Crock was a minor villainess, much unlike her current incarnation. She is as unique to Young Justice as could be, and escapes many of the standard superhero tropes because they had not previously applied to her. When the leaguers are eliminated at the beginning of the episode, the viewers can accept it much more readily, given how many times heroes die and then reincarnate in comics with little to no consequences. Artemis’ death hits the worst because we know there will be consequences; M’gann and Kid Flash’s reactions attest to that.

Then we have M’gann.

When M’gann was first introduced at the end of ‘Welcome to Happy Harbor’, she’s the new girl on the team, and the viewers’ lens into the new world of the Young Justice universe. By ‘Failsafe’, the viewers trust her enough as a narrator that by the time she’s screaming Artemis’ name, we’re sucked into the reality that her teammate is gone. What’s fascinating about this transition is that not only do the viewers experience the simulation through M’gann’s eyes, but her teammates start to do so as well. Her emotions controlled the rest of the simulation to the point where every character’s experience could be attributed to her doing.

However, instead of being blamed for the traumas she inadvertently caused for her teammates, she is regarded as strong. The image of M’gann, sobbing in Captain Marvel’s arms as Martian Manhunter concludes how much power she possesses, is one seared into my mind as one of the most memorable moments of the series.

Unlike many cartoons, where heavy emotional episodes are standalones without future repercussions, ‘Failsafe’ has its consequences for both the characters and the viewers. Despite learning that it is a situation, many viewers were unable to shake what they’d just seen. The following episode, ‘Disordered’, serves as the perfect antidote. It takes the time to address the effect the simulation has had on the team, leading them into a quasi-therapy session where they can talk about their issues, giving a chance not only to the characters to process, but the viewers as well. I could go on about the beauty of ‘Disordered’ as a response to ‘Failsafe’, but I’ll save that for another analysis.

The consequences of ‘Failsafe’ are still felt, three seasons after the fact. The episode introduced the sheer importance of M’gann’s powers, slowly planting the seeds for Season 2. As a result of Artemis’ death in ‘Failsafe’, viewers were ever wary about her death in ‘Depths’. Sadly, the consequences ring even further at Wally’s ceasing in ‘Endgame’. Viewers are still left hoping for a way out, an explanation to how such a beloved character could still possibly be alive.

As for that scenario, I wish I had an answer for you. I may not have anything definitive, but you know what they say. Let hope always burn bright.

Ariel Horn
Author: Ariel HornWebsite: https://youngjustice.tvEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Lead Writer
About the Author
Ariel is's lead writer. She has been obsessed with the show since its early days, and looks forward to cover this exciting new season with everyone. May hope burn bright!


#1 Oh Failsafetaytay9@ 2019-04-17 14:37
Yeah Failsafe was a not so fun episode lol. I mean I still go back and watch it every once in a while but it’s definitely not often.

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