"Babel" is the twelfth episode of the second season of Batman Beyond. It depicts the return of Shriek. Finding a way to blanket Gotham City with his sound vibrating technology, Shriek alters the sound waves carrying human speech to make it seem as if people are speaking gibberish. The city is threatened with chaos, and Shriek demands that Batman surrender himself to him. Now Batman must decide whether to sacrifice himself for an ungrateful population or to find a way to stop Shriek himself.
Within the Batcave, Terry and Bruce are busy repairing the Batsuit after a battle with Mad Stan while Bruce reminisces about some of his old adventures. Bruce tells Terry about how he once walked into a trap, knowing it may be fatal, and taking on faith that Robin would arrive in time to save him. When Terry asks how he knew, Bruce is evasive. When Terry presses, Bruce admits the truth: he didn't. Terry is shocked, but Bruce admits that being Batman meant that he had to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. However, Ace suddenly starts barking and violently attacks Terry and Bruce, forcing them to tranquilize him.
Terry takes Ace to the vet, and finds the entire place is filled with animals acting in the same violent manner. Max is there with her cat, and makes an offhand remark about what things must be like at the zoo. Realizing that she's right, Terry immediately goes to investigate as Batman.
Upon arriving at the zoo, Terry sees the elephants trying to escape from their enclosure. While Batman manages to stop one of the elephants, the others attack him. Furthermore, a gorilla escapes from its cage and also goes on a rampage. Batman fights the gorilla and finally manages to subdue it. Just as soon as he stops the gorilla, one of the elephants starts charging him. Fortunately, the elephant suddenly stops and becomes docile.
In the Batcave, Bruce tells Terry how at the time the disturbances were starting, the military was experiencing interference on their sonar frequencies. As these events mainly have to do with sound, Bruce and Terry deduce that Shriek is behind all this.
Elsewhere, Shriek shuts off his equipment and explains to his new assistant, Ollie, that his test was a success. Ollie believes Shriek's plan is to hold Gotham for ransom, but Shriek says that he wants revenge on Batman, whom Shriek blames for his hearing loss. He'll force Batman to surrender his life rather than let the city be destroyed – and if Batman doesn't, his reputation as a hero will be destroyed. As opposed to money, Shriek awards Ollie with use of "the Fork", an electronic device that uses sound to directly stimulate the human brain's pleasure center.
Later, Terry and Bruce try to figure out how Shriek is doing this. However, in the middle of their conversation their speech becomes incomprehensible to each other. Terry immediately heads out as Batman. Through typing, Bruce and Terry communicate over the Batmobile's computer, and Bruce theorizes that Shriek has altered the vibration frequency of air molecules carrying human speech.
The interference is happening all around the city and people are getting violent with one another. Worse, a lift operator can no longer understand the spoken instructions of a landing director and crashes into a crane. Batman only barely manages to avert disaster.
After a time, Shriek turns off the interference and then calls Commissioner Gordon. He demands that Batman surrenders himself to him. Barbara protests that she can't deliver Batman, but Shriek refuses to listen. She contacts Bruce, who refuses to give up Terry or offer him as a bargaining chip, angry that some are talking about using Terry in such a manner.
Terry faces a dilemma, and goes to talk to Max. It seems that the right thing to do is to give himself up, but she reminds him that he will be hurting both his family and friends. It doesn't help that word of Shriek's demands has gotten around, and several citizens are appearing on the news and saying that Batman should give himself up rather than cause them to suffer. Some of these include the zookeepers and the construction worker that Batman saved earlier. Seeing all this, Bruce is disgusted at how ungrateful the city is after all that Batman has done for them. Still trying to make his decision, Terry goes back to his old home and remembers the incident that inspired him to become Batman in the first place.
Having made his decision, Terry returns to a surprised Bruce, who says he wouldn't blame him for refusing to sacrifice himself for such an ungrateful citizenry. Terry notes that like Bruce, he did not become Batman for gratitude, but will meet Shriek to try to avoid loss of life. Terry's plan, however, is to meet Shriek at the arranged spot, not to surrender, but to fight. Neither of them had figured out how Shriek was managing to project his interference over such a wide area of the city, but Terry points to something on the Batcomputer, suddenly understanding. Bruce is perplexed, but Terry takes the Batmobile, unable to explain because the interference has started again. Bruce looks back at the computer, and suddenly realizes: he sees a twin-towered building remarkably similar in shape to a tuning fork.
As soon as Batman arrives, Shriek attacks him. The two seem evenly matched until Shriek creates an extremely painful ultrasound tone with the towers that incapacitates Batman. To protect himself from the tone while he is outside the towers, Shriek removes his helmet and hearing aids, restoring his normal deafness. Fortunately, Batman manages to distract Shriek long enough to get to the tower's controls but Ollie attacks him and the controls are destroyed. Now overloaded, the frequency causes the towers to fall. Shriek, still deaf, is unable to hear either the sound of their collapsing behind him or Batman's warning, and disappears under the falling building. Emergency crews respond on the scene to search for survivors, only for Batman to excavate himself from the debris. They attempt to help Batman, who treats them coldly, remembering that hours before, they were willing to sacrifice him.
Terry returns to the Batcave and works to repair the suit. Bruce thanks Terry for reminding him why he first became Batman. He also asks if Terry would have given himself up to Shriek, but Terry, evasive, refuses to answer.
- Terry McGinnis and Bruce Wayne are repairing the suit after an off-screen brawl with Mad Stan.
- Shriek didn't recover his hearing after losing it in "Shriek", but has managed to compensate for it with special headphones, thus wanting to get revenge on Batman for his handicap.
- "Rebirth, Part I" is alluded when Max Gibson alludes to Terry's father's death, and Terry remembering the moment when he arrived home to find his father dead.
- Shriek and Ollie manages to survive the collapse, and reappear in "Where's Terry?".
Home video releases
- When Barbara Gordon calls Bruce Wayne at the cave the camera shows her on the side screen from two perspectives. The one up close shows Barbara talking with the Bat-computer behind her.
- When Terry McGinnis returns to the Batcave after making his decision, he is standing at the top of the stairs wearing his Batsuit. But it is also shown inside the glass case in the bottom left of the same shot.
- The title is a reference to the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel, in which the king of the human race, Nimrod, builds a giant tower to prove his greatness, and God punishes his arrogance by causing all his people to speak in unintelligible gibberish, which in turn causes these people to scatter far and wide (the Bible's explanation for the number and diversity of languages and nationalities in the world).
- Unlike the Biblical story, it seems that what Shriek causes to happen is people speak in garbled voices, rather than another language that could eventually be learned and understood.
- A similar scheme to Shriek's to make humans unable to communicate with each other was used by Ra's al Ghul in the comics story Justice League: Tower of Babel published four months after this episode.
- First appearance of Ollie.
- During the repairing the suit, Bruce also recalls a past experience where he was in a life-threatening situation where only Robin could save him. It's unknown when exactly Bruce's experience took place or which "Robin" was the one in the story. The story either took place during Batman: The Animated Series with Dick Grayson or during The New Batman Adventures with Tim Drake. However, there were at least two instances where the original Robin saved Batman's life. One was in "Night of the Ninja", where he saved Batman from Kyodai Ken, and in "Second Chance", where he stopped Two-Face's thugs from killing him, though this could also be an off-screen confrontation.
- The flashback of Terry arriving home to find his father dead is reused footage of "Rebirth, Part I".
- Shriek's plan of holding Gotham ransom and demanding Batman (Terry McGinnis) in exchange for the city's safety is repeated by the Joker in the Christopher Nolan film The Dark Knight. While Shriek threatens to make humans unable to communicate with each other, the Joker (played by the late Heath Ledger) threatens to kill important city officials each day until Batman (Bruce Wayne) reveals his secret identity, and the Gotham citizenry is as ungrateful as in this episode, still demanding that Batman surrender, labeling him as an "unimportant outlaw vigilante", even though he saved the entire city from Ra's al Ghul in Batman Begins. Again, in The Dark Knight, Bruce comes very close to revealing himself as Batman, but Harvey Dent, determined to catch Joker without sacrificing Batman, passes himself as Batman at a press conference. Also, just like in The Dark Knight, Batman also fights the main villain in a skyscraper at the climax of the story.
|Will Friedle||Terry McGinnis / Batman|
|Kevin Conroy||Bruce Wayne|
|Stockard Channing||Barbara Gordon|
|Sean Donnellan||Virtual Announcer|
|T'Keyah Keymáh||Old Woman|
|Jeff Bennett|| Zookeeper|
|Cree Summer||Maxine Gibson|
(While using the "Fork".)
Barbara: He wants Batman. That's his price.
(Watching the ungrateful citizens demand that Batman surrender himself to Shriek on the news.)
Shriek: This isn't how I wanted it! You were supposed to give yourself up to me!
Bruce: I wouldn't blame you if you stayed home. Not after what all those ingrates have been saying.
Bruce: Tell me, what if you hadn't figured out how Shriek was using the towers? Would you have handed yourself over to him at midnight?