Batman: The Animated Series, “See No Evil”

19Feb11

You think you know a series, and then it pulls the rug out from under you.

When I was a kid, I didn’t get to see the B:TAS episodes as they were ordered on the DVDs. I don’t know if they were doled out as they were completed, or just at random (I suspect the latter), but the only real continuity were two part episodes. And that’s fine-even episodes like “Two-Face,” with its build on Harvey Dent’s previous appearances, works fine if it’s out of order. But it means that sometimes, I don’t quite realize where an episode is supposed to be, in a rough chronological order. In many ways, I still don’t-just because “See No Evil” is number 17 in the DVD order doesn’t mean it was the 17nth episode completed, or would be put after “Two-Face” and “Heart of Ice” in the show’s internal timeline. And for the purposes of this retrospective/review series, I don’t want to go too deeply into such minutiae.

What I’m leading up to is that while I’d seen “See No Evil” before, I hadn’t really thought about it much. It doesn’t feature any of Batman’s regular villains, and it doesn’t even have much of an original villain here. But it’s probably one of the best episodes to date, coming close to “Heart of Ice” in its quality, and I didn’t expect that at all. Mind you, I’m glad for the surprise, but it still hit me that I might not know this show as well as I thought.

The basic plot is a well done set of parallel storylines. It starts with our antagonist visiting his daughter (disguised as her invisible friend, named Mojo), where he learns that she and his ex-wife will be moving soon. Immediately afterwards, he ends up confronting Batman, and manages to knock Batman out and escape. This sets up the two storylines, as the antagonist tries to convince his ex-wife to let him back into her life and see his daughter, then planning to abduct Kimberly when she refuses. Meanwhile, Batman investigates how someone could turn themselves invisible, leading him to both how the technology works and who’s stolen it, culminating in Batman interrupting Kimberly’s abduction for the finale, including a car chase with an invisible car.

One of the reasons why this episode is so good is that it doesn’t try to misdirect us more than it needs to. The opening scene is a good example, where a little girl is talking to thin air, and we hear a voice responding. That could be written off as an imaginary friend, but when it puts a necklace around her neck and picks up her teddy bear, it’s clearly something real. And yet, there’s no attempt to mislead the audience into thinking it’s supernatural-this is about establishing the relationships and characters important to the story arc, not tricking the viewer. In the very next scene, we not only see the man who’s turning himself invisible, but how he does it, and how he uses it to stage brazen-in fact, downright arrogant-robberies. This is clearly not a criminal mastermind at work. Of course, that creates the mystery of how he got his hands on an invisible suit, but that’s a far more interesting question than “What’s this invisible thing that’s robbing people?” It also does a good job of giving us enough information to follow what’s happening-we learn that the suit is based on a plastic that bends light when it’s electrified, but there’s a design flaw that would prevent mass production. And rather than any of the developers deciding to make a quick buck, it’s an errand boy who didn’t understand the risks. Simple to explain, interesting to consider, and keeps well within the Batman world-not all that realistic, but close enough to fit.

Then there’s the welcome fact that no one is stupid for the purpose of the plot. The criminal who stole the suit and uses it to commit crimes isn’t that bright, but he’s smart enough to realize what he could do with the technology, even if he doesn’t plan very well. Batman can’t really fight someone he can’t see here, but he pursues the case both to catch the criminal, and to make sure it’s not some kind of Wayne corporation technology that’s gotten into the wrong hands. And when Batman talks to the antagonist’s ex-wife to find him, she puts the information about the suit together with her daughter’s invisible friend, Mojo, and instantly realizes the implications. Heck, even the daughter, who is perfectly willing to follow Mojo out of the house, starts hearing alarm bells when her invisible friend asks her to get in a strange car, asking the sensible question of how people will react when they see a car being driven by thin air. Turns out there’s a reason that’s not a problem, but she’s not written as stupid just because she’s not an adult.

Finally, there’s the underlying solid writing. The plot is accessible without being stupid-heck, the only plot hole I can think of is wondering how the villain got enough plastic to cover his car for the final part, and even that’s just a question of how much he stole, rather than an actual issue. But there’s also the fact that what kicks off the plot isn’t Batman getting involved, or this person thinking to take Batman on for some ill-defined reason…it’s the threat of losing his daughter. He’s a unpleasant person who doesn’t deserve to have custody of his kid, but it’s also the kind of problem that could easily drive someone to irrational actions. There’s some implication that the suit’s toxicity when active could be affecting his mind, but it’s never seriously proven.

It also helps that this is probably the funniest episode of Batman to date, even if it’s not a comedic one. It’s a nice thing to poke a few holes in the absurdity of the situation, such as Batman bursting into an empty area and yelling for someone to show themselves. Or when he’s on the hood of an invisible car, rocketing through the Gotham streets, and one bum tells another “I didn’t know he could fly, too.”

Like I said in the beginning, I hadn’t expected this to be such a good episode, but I highly recommend it. I don’t know if I’d say it’s the best of the series, but this is an example of the show firing on all cylinders, and not having to rely on one particular character to be interesting. I might rate “Heart of Ice” above this thanks to the excellent performances there, but “See No Evil” is just rock solid quality, even if it doesn’t quite hit the high notes other stories do.

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