Batman: The Animated Series, “Pretty Poison”

26Dec10

I used to think Poison Ivy was the odd person out of Batman’s rogues gallery. She doesn’t want money, power, or even to mess with Batman. She’s an eco-terrorist, and anything she steals is either directly or indirectly related to that-even cash is used for a greater cause. But while the trappings are very unusual for Batman, the root idea makes sense in the “dark reflections of Batman” theory of his villains. She represents his fight for justice taken to an extreme. The cause she fights for is less important than the methods she’s willing to use, and the fanaticism. I don’t think anyone would doubt Batman’s dedication to fighting crime, but in almost every version of the character, there are lines he will not cross, and Poison Ivy doesn’t put such restrictions on herself. And her introductory episode is a fine example of that.

We start with a sepia toned flashback to the founding of a new penitentiary, with Mayor Hill, Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent in attendance to celebrate. Then we see heavy machinery operating on the land during a sunny day. In a rather biting but fleeting piece of satire, the words that Dent uses to describe the prison’s purpose-that it will build “a better, safer Gotham”-reappear under the built penitentiary, under a rather forbidding overcast sky, just before an organized breakout occurs. A small continuity nod-this is the first visual appearance of Officer Montoya, and she does get some small lines as well.

The episode cuts away to show Harvey Dent at a dinner with a redhead, discussing the absent Bruce Wayne. This goes back and forth for a bit with Batman foiling the escape. It’s mostly wasted time, in my opinion, but it does have a nice ending of Alfred demonstrating just how much he helps cover for Batman, so it’s not a complete waste. Still, it feels like it takes up time it doesn’t need to, a fact not helped by the odd ways Harvey goes off model while he and Miss Isley talk. Once Bruce Wayne does show up, Miss Isley leaves soon after-and then after telling Bruce he’s going to propose to her, Harvey collapses at the table.

We get some random medical terms once they get Dent to the hospital (along with one line being repeated in full) before we get any relevant information about his condition-apparently he’s been poisoned with something very nasty. The show is intelligent enough to specifically rule out food poisoning, so at least the doctors aren’t portrayed as morons. Bruce Wayne palms a sample of Harvey’s blood and takes it to the Batcave for testing. While the Batcomputer is able to isolate the source of the poison, it turns out that the plant it’s derived from is extinct…well, except for whatever was used to create the poison, but the point is that he can’t just grab one of the plants from a garden to make an antidote. We also get another time-waster scene with Bullock trying to interrogate the restaurant employees to see if they slipped Dent the poison. In a regular crime procedural, this scene would make sense, or if the person who poisoned Dent was a mob boss trying to get back at him. Here, though, it’s just not important enough to justify including it. Thankfully, it’s at least a short scene.

I have to stop for a minute for a small digression. We’ve previously seen Batman in the Batcave out of costume, in “Nothing to Fear.” But in this episode, he takes the sample to the cave, puts on his costume and gets the results…then changes back into regular clothes to meet Miss Isley at the hospital. I know that the show subscribed to the idea that Bruce Wayne is a disguise for Batman, not the other way around, but unless Alfred enforces a dress code for entering the Batcave, I don’t know why he felt the need to put on his Batman costume just to use the computer.

Bruce meets Miss Isley at the hospital, then takes her to her car, when we get the first clear hint that something’s off about her-she clearly tries to give him a kiss before he turns it into a hug. It’s a quick thing, but still a nice tipoff without being too obvious. Of course, once Batman starts investigating her with Alfred’s help, it turns out that she has a PhD in botany and talks a lot about endangered and extinct plants. No definite proof of her guilt, of course, but it merits investigating. Between Poison Ivy, Man Bat, and the Scarecrow, you have to wonder how many graduate students in Gotham City have to sign letters of intent to not become super villains after they finish their studies.

Batman goes to the greenhouse where Ivy apparently lives, where we see there’s some more evidence of Isley’s guilt, even if there’s no definite proof. And then Batman is caught by Audrey II. Sure, it’s not really the same-no one who made Little Shop of Horrors could sue over the design. But it’s a jarring moment, and it points out that Poison Ivy (who identifies herself as such to the captured Batman) has a very different MO from most of Batman’s regular villains. As bizarre as the Joker’s plans and devices could be, he mostly uses mundane technology, with only his laughing gas as a really unusual tool. But Poison Ivy can somehow command giant plants to eat people other than herself.

Ivy reveals her reason for poisoning Dent-apparently she thinks of him as a murderer for plowing up the wild flowers to make the penitentiary. After an awkwardly cartoonish display of anger, she poisons Batman in the same way….and then things go boom. Despite the fact that he’s now close to dying, Batman chooses now to pull out a knife, cut himself free, and awkwardly fight Poison Ivy. In the process he ends up setting fire to the whole greenhouse, and then blackmailing Poison Ivy with the endangered rose to get the antidote from her. Your hero, everyone! We get a short coda of Bruce making the amazing understatement that Pamela is wrong for Dent, before we see that she’s now in the penitentiary Dent built.

This isn’t the weakest episode of the series, or even of the first season. We get to see clear signs of Poison Ivy’s obsession and dangerous thinking (there’s not even a hint that she protested building the penitentiary or tried to save more than one of the endangered plants before the digging started), and it’s probably the first time we see the Bruce Wayne side of Batman for more than a minute or two. However, it’s an inauspicious introduction for Poison Ivy herself. She’ll get better episodes, and even appear in one of the best of the series. But if this was your introduction to the character, I wouldn’t judge you for being less than enthusiastic about seeing her again.

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