Batman: The Animated Series, “Babydoll”


For the most part, when I’ve come back to an episode I had negative opinions on before, I either find myself revising them upward or finding something to like about them. There are exceptions-“Moon of the Wolf” and “Batman in my Basement” remain particularly bad-but it’s nice to come back and see things in a better light. “Babydoll” is a whole other case. It’s not terrible, but an ending that seemed powerful when I was younger doesn’t hold up, because the story preceding it doesn’t earn the ending.

The villain is another original character for the series, and in concept she’s a perfect one-off villain. She has one motivation, one goal, and there’s no need to bring her back after this. She also makes for a very distinctive visual, since it’s not often that a 5 year old girl is the antagonist in a Batman story. Unfortunately, she doesn’t work because we get too much time watching her act like the “cute” character she’s pretending to be, and not enough seeing the damage that makes her go off the deep end. This is someone who decided that since she couldn’t find another career after her acting one sputtered out, she had to kidnap her old coworkers and force them to relive their roles just for her. Having this peddled as “Oh, I just miss the spotlight!” makes her sound awfully slight in motivation, since it’s too weak and too rational.

She also has the issue of plans that work because the plot said they will, until they don’t. When she sends her henchmen to collect the second to last hostage, they do so with a giant truck that can knock back police cars. There’s no explanation of where they got this, or how she can afford to pay for this kind of help. In the case of an established villain, we don’t need to see how they got their crazy devices…and obviously we don’t need full documentation on Babydoll’s credit rating before and after the episode. But it’s strange that she would be able to put something like this together, and couldn’t use that money or talent to other uses beforehand. It might even had made for a stronger episode if Babydoll had been going down a criminal path before she had started to gather her old “family.”

But the part that most sinks the ending is the final chase between Batman and Babydoll. This is an antagonist who has mostly gotten her way with the help of her subordinates. Sure, she has a doll that can shoot bullets, but she’s up against Batman, who regards disarming 3 thugs with submachine guns as a slow night. The image of Batman running after a 5 year old girl to haul her in, even one with a gun, is kind of sad. It’s even worse when the episode briefly makes it seem like she’s got him on the ropes by shooting tennis balls at him, or when Batman tries to reason with her, as though she wasn’t aware of what she had done.

So for all of those issues, why isn’t this a terrible episode? The first reason is the animation. It’s beautifully done, and it helps to sell a lot of the visual here. Batman being pelted with tennis balls might be a very goofy story moment, but it still looks great. They’re even good enough that you can pick up on the appearance of the non-speaking henchmen, who look a lot like Gilligan and the Skipper. Another is the fact that Robin is in the episode, and this is another one that uses him well, making him a real partner to Batman instead of just a sidekick. It also (perhaps inadvertently) makes the Gotham PD look good; Gordon calls Batman in to let them know about the pattern of disappearances they’ve spotted, their likely suspect, and that they’ve got police protection around the remaining target. So for once Batman doesn’t come in and make them all look like morons, especially since he isn’t able to keep the kidnapping from going down either.

In the end, the biggest disappointment about “Babydoll” isn’t the fact that it’s not a great episode. It’s the fact that the ending spells out all of the potential that got lost. The character is a little girl who literally can’t grow up, thanks to her rare medical condition; she wants to retreat into a fake childhood since her real one is hellish and never-ending. For a minute, the episode manages to touch on that point and turn her into a tragic figure, in the way Batman’s best villains are. But it couldn’t get the balance right beforehand, so it never works well as a whole, which is a shame.


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