Batman: The Animated Series, “Perchance to Dream”

11Apr11

Not long after his introduction in the last season, we get another Mad Hatter episode! But the fact that it’s a new season keeps that from feeling too much like an overload. The episode opens with a pretty good car chase, as we get to see Batman actually using the Batmobile on something other than the drive into Gotham or the main city streets. There’s no explanation for why he’s chasing the pair of thugs in the opening, but he follows them into a warehouse. Then there’s a huge flash of light, something descending towards him-and Bruce Wayne wakes up in bed, having apparently dreamt the whole opening.

Right from the start, there’s a sense that something isn’t right. Bruce remembers all the details of what happened, but Alfred seems confused by references to a trap, or Robin being the one to save him. Then we get a confirmation, as he tries to open the clock and enter the Batcave-only to find that it’s a normal clock, with no secrets. As he berates Alfred about this, a somewhat familiar voice is heard…and then we see Thomas and Martha Wayne, older than they ever got to be. Bruce responds with a mix of horror and disbelief before running out of the room.

It’s a weird tone through the first half of the episode, as Bruce Wayne can remember his parents dying, training to avenge them, fighting crime as Batman…and everyone else sees him as a leisurely but genial executive at his dad’s business, who’s suddenly exhibiting some very troubling behavior. And Bruce is torn as well. Part of him remembers his time as Batman too vividly to dismiss it, but the fact that his parents are alive is a powerful temptation. What makes it even stranger is that this isn’t a world without a Batman-in fact, Bruce sees the man fighting crime in broad daylight, looking exactly the same as him. Is a separate Batman proof that Bruce Wayne isn’t the same man, or that something else is happening? Bruce takes reasonable steps-he talks with his fiance about how he doesn’t feel normal, and to Leslie Thompkins about what might be wrong with him. She can even give a very plausible explanation about why he might think he was Batman. He’s even about to accept it all when something stops making sense-he can’t read.

Thinking about it now, it’s strange that he wouldn’t have noticed this issue while he was at work, but it does give us the visual of Bruce Wayne tearing through his family library, trying to find a book that will make sense. And he runs from his parents again, now determined to find some explanation for his apparent insanity. Of course, without someone like Alfred to cover for him, it’s not so easy for Bruce to slip away-his parents call the police on him, and he has to buy the equipment he’d normally have on hand. But he’s able to confront “Batman” directly, and accuses him of being responsible. After a substantial fight (during which they manage to roll over the pit for the bell’s ropes, yet don’t fall in), Bruce manages to unmask the Batman…and it’s Jervis Tetch.

Now revealed, he lays out the rules for the dream Batman has been trapped in. More importantly, he reveals that the dream is tailored to Batman, and that he can’t wake up. But Batman decides to take the only way out left-killing himself. Fortunately for him, he gambles correctly, and it makes him wake up instead of actually killing him. He quickly dispatches the Mad Hatter’s minions, as the Hatter himself looks on in disbelief. But what elevates this scene-in fact, what elevates this entire episode-is the resulting exchange as Batman, voice choked with rages, asks why the Hatter did it…and receives a response that’s just as strong, as Jervis Tetch tells him that Batman ruined his life. Of course, he’s wrong-Jervis Tetch ruined his own life, and Batman just intervened before he could ruin the lives of others as well. But it’s still an amazingly powerful moment, and something that helps cement the Hatter as a villain to me. He doesn’t have the same goals as Batman’s other villains. There’s no quest for control over crime, or a desire to hurt others. But he’ll go to the same lengths for his far more modest desires.

Like “Eternal Youth,” “Perchance to Dream” is a stronger episode than I remembered as a kid. I was expecting it to plod along until it reached the twin confrontations with the Mad Hatter, both his dream representation and the real man. But the time spent in the dream, before it’s fully confirmed that it’s not real, does the story a world of good. It’s a seductive life for any average person; we might wish we could be Batman, but few people would actually give up the things Batman did to reach that point of physical prowess and skill. But being a man with vast wealth, loving parents, and a beautiful fiance? It’s hard to see how anyone would break away from that, especially someone who had most of those things taken away from them. The somewhat middling animation aside, it’s a solid episode, and a damn good opener for Season 2. In fact, this whole opening block of episodes is pretty classic, even if they don’t quite reach as high as the show has in the past.

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