Batman: The Animated Series, “Cat Scratch Fever”

15May11

Oh, Catwoman. I’m so sorry.

This is another episode where a vague memory of the plot made it sound much better than it actually is. “Daggett tries to manufacture a plague in Gotham!” is a decent plot. “Daggett accidentally steals Catwoman’s pet!” is something for preschoolers. It’s rather sad that this is Catwoman’s second appearance, and it’s actually worse than her lackluster introduction. That’s not to say it’s worthless…there are some interesting elements here. But not enough to really improve the episode as a whole, especially with the shoddy animation.

The episode starts with something exceedingly rare-an acknowledgement of a justice system in Gotham beyond the police, as a judge lectures Selina Kyle about her thefts as Catwoman. She decides to give Selina probation, in recognition of the fact that she helped save the lives of everyone in Gotham. There’s no legal statute for that, of course, but this is another Gotham exception that probably came up after the 5th time Batman was hunted by the police, and then saved everyone’s lives. After finding out that her cat Isis ran off while she was detained, Selina goes looking for her, and just happens to run into some dodgy characters abducting stray animals.

Now, I’ll give the episode this much-this is not an unreasonable setup so far. A bit convenient, yes, but it’s not like someone snatched her cat from her apartment. And anyone, super villain or not, would probably go searching for their cat if they got out and went missing. But while the basic plot is fine, it’s clumsily executed in the dialogue. Of course, Catwoman decides to go against the judge’s order, to find out how the two abductors are connected to Roland Daggett. And she gets exposed to the toxin he’s manufacturing as a plague, requiring Batman to save her, and stop Daggett on his own. There’s a constant “damsel in distress” vibe to Catwoman in the episode, and it’s one of the personal things about it that turns me off. Yes, she’s going out on her own and trying to solve the problem, but it bothers me that Batman has to save her more than once.

Of course, Batman has more success than Selina does, but then, it’s his show. Even if he has to have a very strange fight with a rabid dog to do it. Really, no one comes out looking good in the second half-Batman has to run away from a dog, Catwoman watches the climax from a window, Daggett is clumsy enough to be caught red handed with the people making his plague…and then there’s the question of why he has to manufacture a plague in the first place. He says it would make him a fortune to cure it, but after having to both create the disease and its cure, how much money would he actually make at the end? It’s too much of an “evil for evil’s sake” plot for Daggett, who’s been portrayed as a ruthless capitalist in his previous appearances. One slight silver lining to the episode is actually because of Daggett, as Bruce Wayne makes his opinion of Daggett abundantly clear to both Selina and his right hand man, which is amusing to think about.

Then there are the animation issues. This may be the worst animated episode in the whole series so far. That’s a tall claim, considering some of the episodes that have come before, but a whole set of problems come together. There’s the strange swaying of characters when they don’t need to move, and suddenly speeding up and slowing down. And even when they should be moving, they do it oddly-both Batman and Catwoman pull unnecessary somersaults, as the most obvious example.

“Cat Scratch Fever” is a disaster, to me. It’s a waste of Catwoman, both as a character and of Adrienne Barbeaus fine performance. If it’s not the worst episode (I still give that to “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement”), it’s damn close, and it undermines Catwoman even further. Of course, in some sense, her character was undermined by the Animated Series in general-by making her into a larcenous but pragmatic thief, she becomes less distinct against the other members of his rogue’s gallery. On the other hand, it gives him a gray area to deal with that the others don’t; even somewhat tragic characters like the Mad Hatter, or Mister Freeze, go too far over the line for Batman to have as much sympathy for them as he does for Catwoman. But having said all that, putting her in a situation where she needs Batman to save her repeatedly undermines her character as a strong, independent woman, and that’s only going to get worse in subsequent episodes.

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