CREDITS: Written by Robert Goodman; directed by Dan Riba.
REVIEW: I know there is such a thing as The Zeta Project because it's a show I have to watch and review for this series, and I know it spun out of Batman Beyond, so I was curious to see an episode titled "Zeta". Well, turns out it's nothing I haven't seen before, Short Circuit perhaps being the readiest example. A robot - sorry, synthoid - designed for infiltration and murder gains some measure of sentience and refuses to fulfill its imperative, runs away, is chased by the military (in this case, the NSA), finds friends, becomes an individual, escapes. I do like Zeta's back story, and what made him realize kill was wrong is truly sweet. I also like how he still had a lot to learn and only through Max becoming his conscience does he go all the way, rejecting lethal action and violence. The power to project a holographic identity is a necessary wrinkle to bring the character to series in a team setting, but also well used to fake his death at the end.
The episode toys with the theme of programming in its first scene, as Terry and Max attend a genetics class taught by Miss Martel, who is acting suspiciously (because she's a murderbot in disguise, that's why). Can you overcome your programming, whether that's biological or technological? The episode says yes, though also acts as foreshadowing for a revelation that has yet to drop on the series (more on that much later). When Max gets a touch of Stockholm syndrome, one should see another form of programming, in keeping with that theme.
Sadly, Zeta doesn't have a good villain to fight. The NSA as presented here are just gun jockeys that fire away with no thought to possible civilian casualties. Terry keeps switching sides, but there's no way he can end up on their for long. This makes for rather dull sequences, piew piew piew, rinse repeat. Terry at least gets to play detective, spots the fakes, etc. without Bruce Wayne's help (it's one of the few episodes he's not in), but the action isn't particularly memorable. So am I excited about a Zeta Project series? I don't really know what that would be like. There's no indication here that this would or could go to series.
IN THE COMICS: Two cities are mentioned in the train station scene - Central City (home of the Flash), and for the first time in the DCAU, Dakota (home of Static). Indeed, it's the first time Dakota has been shown to be in any version of the DC Universe; originally, the city was featured only in Milestone Comics, a DC imprint showcasing non-white creative teams and superheroes, a DC Comics imprint set in a different universe.
SOUNDS LIKE: Gary Cole (Crusade, The West Wing, Office Space) is the voice of Zeta in this episode alone, while another Zeta Project regular, Agent Bennett, is played by Joe Spano (Hill Street Blues, NCIS), but only on Batman Beyond. Miss Martel is played by Edie McClurg (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Planes Trains and Automobiles, and tons more).
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - We've seen the murderbot turns to good story before; this one's decent enough. If it didn't lead into a spin-off, I don't think I'd rate it quite so highly.