Batman: The Animated Series, “Dreams in Darkness”

06Apr11

We’ve come to the final episode of the first season, and it’s…a Scarecrow one. A bit odd, considering how long he didn’t appear after his introductory episode, and now he’s in two at the back end. Fortunately, this one is still good-a bit unrealistic (relative to Batman), but not so much that it drags things down.

It starts with a rather unusual opening, as we get to see the people in charge of Arkham discussing a patient who’s just come in. It’s quickly revealed that said patient is Batman. The doctor tries to talk with Batman, but his standard platitudes don’t get far with Batman. Then something more unusual than the opening happens-we get a narration from Batman, which will take place for much of the episode. It’s also how we learn how Batman gets into this situation in the first place.

The flashback takes us back to Batman trying to interrupt something being done at a spa. There Batman faces a henchman with what looks like a robot arm, consisting of an acetalyne torch and a drill. As a kid, I thought this was cool, and I was sad that he only appeared for this one episode. Of course, as an adult, I instead wonder why he’d have such an arm with only two attachments, or even if it is his arm…but I think it’s still a neat but wasted visual. I don’t know his real name (he’s called “Torchy” by the voice directing him), but I still wish he’d appeared for more than one scene, at least while coherent. As to what actually happens, there’s a bit of a struggle before Batman removes the device that had been attached to the spa’s water supply. Torchy takes himself out of action when he accidently smashes said device, and gets both electrocuted and exposed to some nasty red gas.

Back in the Batcave, Batman is examining the evidence, when the Joker somehow sneaks up behind him, reflected in the computer monitor. Questions about how the hell he could get inside are answered when Batman springs into action, only to grab Alfred. He downplays what happened, but after examining Torchy’s chart at the hospital, Batman finds out that he’s probably been exposed to the same substance, just to a lower degree. Of course, while he’s willing to grab a helpful doctor’s medication, he’s not willing to take it just yet, since it would put him out for 3 days. On the way to Arkham, Batman has another hallucination, that causes him to drive off the road, to be rescued by the Arkham attendants.

Doctor Bartholomew is nice enough to prevent the attendants from taking off Batman’s mask, but he then proceeds to tell Batman that his warnings about a plot to contaminate Gotham’s water supply is another delusion. Never mind the fact that they are currently housing the Joker, who’s already gassed the entire city in this series. The only real evidence the doctor can give that Batman is wrong is the fact that he saw the Scarecrow in his cell. But considering that the last Scarecrow episode featured him getting out of Arkham unnoticed, this doesn’t prove much, and we even get a short scene of the Scarecrow bragging to a minion that he set up Batman at the spa.

We then see Batman having a truly disturbing hallucination, as he watches his parents walking under a bridge, only for the opening to turn into a giant handgun, the barrel dripping blood before it fires a bullet like an atomic explosion. As he comes out of his delusion, the doctor arrives, to admit that Professor Crane has managed to escape. But he tries to tell Batman that he can’t leave to catch the Scarecrow, because he’s clearly ill, regardless of the fact that he happens to be right. Before he can be sedated by the Doctor, Batman escapes from his cell, and the security that tries to stop him. And then it’s off to the caves below Arkham, the kind of security risk you just need to have at an asylum of dangerous super villains.

While he’s down there, Batman has another delusion, where his biggest enemies appear to attack him. It’s another disturbing sequence-Penguin’s head explodes into Two-Face, who then melts into Poison Ivy, dragging him into an abyss. he recovers, but it’s a great demonstration that his hallucinations really are a liability. Then again, so is the apparent transformation of the Scarecrow’s minions into a cross between Slimer and zombies. But Batman is able to overcome his hallucinations to stop the Scarecrow’s device, and even manages to make it explode. Of course, watching this now, I have to wonder how the Scarecrow managed to get the three story water treatment device into the Arkham caves unnoticed-Batman mentions that it was stolen earlier in the story, but that still raises the question of how it was moved. Finally done with saving the city despite the Arkham doctor, Batman gets home and takes the medicine he was given earlier, now that the Scarecrow has been stopped and caught.

I’ve said before that Scarecrow stories benefit a lot from good animation, and this is probably the best animated one to date. There are some odd artifacts here and there, such as Batman vibrating as he’s driving in the Batmobile, but overall it’s excellent work, and it really brings his hallucinations to life. The episode overall is fairly strong, though the pace drags a little, and the doctor is so obstructionist that it’s kind of bizarre. He acts like Arkham isn’t a crazy revolving door for costumed lunatics-then again, maybe he’s in denial about that so he can function from day to day. The only real knock against the episode in general is that its plot is a lot like Robin’s subplot from “Fear of Victory.” It’s not quite the same-Robin may have had irrational fear, but he wasn’t hallucinating wildly like Batman is here. But it has the same “hero is handicapped, then overcomes it” structure, caused by exposure to the same villain’s chemicals. The only real difference is that the Scarecrow set Batman up, whereas Robin was collateral damage to the gambling scheme.

Still, it’s part of that strong close to Season One I mentioned in “The Clock King.” It’s not quite the grand finale I might have wanted, but even if it’s not one of the most ambitious Animated Series episodes, it’s a good closer. I would definitely recommend watching it.

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