Ultimatum | Episode 9 (61)
Aired: December 4, 2004
Heroes: Aquaman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Hawk, Crimson Fox, Shining Knight, Nemesis, Aztek, Starman, Ice, Steel, Supergirl, J'onn Jonzz, Gypsy, Dove, Dr. Light, Ray, Elongated Man, Atom Smasher, Fire, Booster Gold and Obsidian
Supporting: The Ultimen (Wind Dragon, Longshadow, Juice, Downpour and Shifter), Sroya Bashir, Professor Hamilton and Amanda Waller
Villains: Maxwell Lord, Giganta and Bizarro
Objects: Aquaman's Harpoon, Justice League Communication Link, Invisible Jet, Batwing, Utility Belt (Electric Batarang), Lasso of Truth, and Batcopter
Places: Bermuda Platform, Justice League Unlimited Watchtower, Metropolis, and Striker's Island
Beasts: Fire Trolls
Story By: Dwayne McDuffie
Teleplay By: J M DeMatteis
Directed By: Joaquim Dos Santos
ReviewReview written by Alex Weitzman
The title of Ultimatum serves as both a pun and a threat, and this accurately reflects the episode as well. That, primarily, is this episode's greatest failing. For its punny side, it has taken the group of young upstart superheroes entitled the Ultimen and used them as clear parodies/updates of the most reviled and/or forgotten of the superheroes made (in)famous from the so-called League animated adaptation SuperFriends. The correlation is not shyed away from by the episode, with the sincere lameness of the powers (most of which are accurately represented, and also portrayed as easily overpowered by the real Justice League). Because of this, it is not merely a reference, but the biggest of winks and even mockery of the aforementioned characters. Certainly, if Justice League is going to touch so much of the DC history, such a target was unavoidable, and so I suppose there is a place for such parody. I am, however, disappointed that they never found a match for El Dorado, or that Long Shadow never spilled coffee on his lap and lost his powers.
With the group-on-group action of this episode, I also felt like Ultimatum was harkening back to one of the key original and possibly unintended themes of the first season of Justice League. Practically all of those first season episodes (save perhaps Metamorphosis and A Knight of Shadows) made clear-cut comparisons between the League and whatever group or society they were encountering - and, consequently, why the League always looked the better for it afterwards. This was already pretty hammered home after the first season, and so the revisitation of it isn't really advancing anything. Let's face it: we're used to seeing the League as a great society, even against its own worst urges (A Better World). That doesn't need to be clarified any further.
What Ultimatum does have on the ball, though, is the advancing of the conspiracy subplot. The subplot seems to be getting some mixed reactions these days, but I'm all for it. At first, I was worried that putting the human face of Waller on the conspiracy would drain the mystery from it that Fearful Symmetry worked so hard to develop. However, when Maxwell Lord made reference to how big "it" was, I realized it's way too early to get disappointed like that. Waller's one of those characters who gets introduced with plenty of authority and then her position immediately changes when we see how far it goes above her, like Kanto in Tools of the Trade. And Waller's last line sends chills down my spine. It's been obvious that Batman has many, many ways of protecting his civilian identity, or everybody would've guessed by now that the rich playboy is absent just a little too often. If this power, whatever it is (I'm still convinced that it goes way beyond simply being the U.S. government, given how unhelpful the foreign general in Initiation was), knows that much about the League and its members, the danger has been ratcheted up further than I expected.
So where does this leave Ultimatum itself, as an episode? Somewhere a little below the middle ground, sadly. All this subplot development is fine and dandy, but now I know it, and there it is. Ultimatum isn't really ABOUT the series-wide subplot, like Fearful Symmetry was. It's about the Ultimen, which is this episode's biggest problem. These Ultimen have a place in the subplot, as minute as it is, but whatever they can offer is sorely muted by the constant winks to the audience about their SuperFriends origins. The episode has something great to say about the further mystery that Unlimited sports, but it's all being skewed by parody in an episode that really didn't need it. Two half-baked episode ideas (SuperFriends-outcasts joke episode, couple more revelations about conspiracy), when put together, just seem like two half-baked episode ideas put together. I'm glad I saw Ultimatum; I learned more about what I wanted to learn about, and what I learned was satisfying enough. But there's no need to watch it again, because now I know, and the episode doesn't present a good enough mystery on its own to justify its own length. This episode benefits the series, but it cannot benefit itself.