“Eternal Youth” (Season 1, Episode 29)
Those Phantasm 3-D credits were fun and all, but it sure feels nice to have that Warner Bros. logo fading back onto a GCPD blimp. After 28 episodes, Batman: The Animated Series has most of the big villain introductions out of the way, forcing the writers to explore new ways of incorporating the rogues’ specific themes and skills into their stories. Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) returns in “Eternal Youth,” punishing Gotham’s elite for their crimes against nature by inviting them to her therapeutic spa, then turning them into trees. Writing credits belong to Beth Bornstein, but Paul Dini’s influence runs deep throughout the script, with sexy themed henchgirls, corporate villains, and a story that directly impacts Bruce Wayne. When Bruce receives an invitation to the Eternal Youth Spa and offers it to Alfred and his lady friend Maggie Page (Paddy Edwards) for a romantic weekend, he unknowingly makes them Ivy’s latest victims. And when he connects the spa to a string of industrialist disappearances, he must race to save another friend that has fallen into Poison Ivy’s trap. Despite the implausibility, it's one of the more terrifying plots of the series, emphasized by a suspenseful opening chase sequence and a disturbing last act reveal of Ivy’s grove of petrified humans.
Dr. Pamela Isley was last seen cowering in an Arkham cell, and despite no concrete facts surrounding her release/escape, her adaptability makes me believe she most likely manipulated her way out of the asylum. When she’s Poison Ivy, she can use her chemicals to influence her victims, but in Arkham she needs to rely on her wits, so she puts on a damaged, fearful persona that is more likely to gain her sympathy with a review board. Pamela is an expert at camouflaging her true intentions—feigning affection for Harvey Dent to seduce him, luring Gotham’s aging upper crust to her spa with the promise of youth—and she uses her beauty and intellect to hide her homicidal fanaticism. As Dr. Daphne Demeter, she uses a plant enzyme called Demetrite to make her spa guests look and feel younger by slowly turning their bodies into lumber. The best part is that it’s addictive, and when they come back for more, Poison Ivy is waiting with a hose pumping heavily concentrated doses of Demetrite that begin the transformation into tree immediately.
This episode is a rare Alfred spotlight, and Bornstein tries to flesh out his personal life by introducing a love interest in Maggie Page. She only makes this one appearance, and I’m not sure if that’s because kids aren’t interested in vague allusions to senior sex or if Edwards’ voice is to the blame. This is the woman that voiced Ursula’s eels Flotsam and Jetsam in The Little Mermaid. Occasionally, she has a matronly, Lansburyesque quality, while at other times, she sounds like a gremlin. It is nice to see Alfred loosen up, though, and I would have liked to see more of Maggie. The show could use more strong female characters, and it would be nice to have one that’s eccentric without being evil. This episode also introduces us to Violet (Always Sunny’s “Charlie’s Mom,” Lynne Marie Stewart) and Lily (Julie Brown), Poison Ivy’s henchwomen. The actresses give similarly ridiculous vocal performances as Edwards, but they’re up in a ditzy register that gives them a Harley Quinn quality, whereas Edwards’ low purr is just plain creepy.
The combination of Sunrise animation with Kevin Altieri directing means this is one beautiful episode, and the wide establishing shot of the Eternal Youth Spa is a stunning way to start. The opening chase sequence has great direction from Altieri, using long shots to show the closing distance between Poison Ivy and her prey, then zooming in on their feet to show how quickly they’re moving. It creates a sense of urgency that amplifies the suspense, and when Poison Ivy gasses Mrs. Thomas, the lead-up has been so great that Ivy seems a much more threatening presence. It helps that there’s some ominous shadows going down in that scene (see screencap) that really lend to the Hitchcockian vibe when combined with Lolita Ritmanis’ score. Sunrise probably does the best work of any studio after TMS, and their attention to detail elevates the average storyline. The character anatomy is perfect, the fight choreography is smooth, and the studio really knows how to animate people covered in green goo. When everything looks great, the small flourishes like reflections on the glass Batman cuts through and the wind in Alfred’s hair can be appreciated even more.
Maybe it’s this episode’s focus on horny old people, but Demetrite reminds me of Viagra. Poison Ivy is a villain that uses sexuality as a weapon, and what better way to get the attention of a playboy billionaire like Bruce Wayne than with two buxom women in mini-skirt togas? After their first trip, Alfred and Maggie are both feeling much friskier, and when Alfred ingests too much Demetrite, his body collapses because it can’t handle the stress of going wood. After some rest, Alfred is ready for more Demetrite, and Maggie is eagerly waiting for him. When Poison Ivy reveals her grove to Batman, most of the human trees are frozen in terror, but some of those huge, gaping mouths could very well be O-faces.
“Perchance To Dream” (Season 1, Episode 30)
“Then the nightmare is over.” Sitting in Dr. Leslie Thompkins’ (Diana Muldaur) office, Bruce Wayne utters these words with a shocked sense of relief, finally accepting his life as the son of the happily retired Thomas and Martha Wayne—a life without Batman. I’m a sucker for seeing heroes get their hearts’ desires (House of M? I totally dug it), and “Perchance to Dream” shows Bruce Wayne’s perfect world, one where his parents are still alive and he’s engaged to Selina Kyle (Adrienne Barbeau). It’s basically the B:TAS version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Superman classic “For The Man Who Has Everything,” replacing Mongul with Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowall) and the Black Mercy with a mind control device. The major difference is that Bruce remembers his past life as Batman, whereas Kal-El has no recollection of Superman, so Bruce has the added struggle of reconciling his memories with the ideal fantasy he’s living.
The episode begins with a fairly typical car chase, capably animated by Dong Yang but featuring some particularly spectacular sound editing. The roar of the Batmobile’s engine, screeching of tires, walls crunching and scratching against the sides of the cars: The sound is what really sells the opening sequence. Batman follows the criminals into a warehouse, where they ambush him by dropping a giant piece of machinery that prompts Bruce to wake up suddenly in his Wayne Manor bedroom. Confused, he asks Alfred if Robin got him home, which Alfred misinterprets as infidelity on his master’s part. Bruce gets out of bed to enter the Batcave, but the secret entrance behind the grandfather clock no longer exists. As he starts to lose it, his parents show up to comfort him, and he flees in disbelief. We rarely see Bruce or Batman in fear without some sort of gas or serum as the catalyst, and the early scenes in this episode reveal the vulnerable, sentimental side of Bruce Wayne that hides behind the Batman.
Kevin Conroy is a beast this episode, voicing three characters—Bruce Wayne, Batman, and Thomas Wayne—and oftentimes having full conversations with just himself. There are so many heartbreaking moments in Laren Bright and Michael Reaves’ story (teleplay by Joe R. Lansdale), and Conroy really sells them, especially his scenes with Alfred and Leslie. When Bruce asks Alfred to tell him about his life, Conroy is clearly trying to hide his character’s true curiosity, but there’s a sense of desperation in his voice that reveals just how much these facts mean to him. When Selina visits him at the office, Bruce sees Batman outside his window, prompting a second breakdown that lands him in Dr. Thompkins’ office for one of the series most telling scenes. Leslie explains that Bruce created a fantasy life as Batman to compensate for his privileged lifestyle: “You’ve identified with someone whose every deed has great value… Once you find pride in your own existence, then these delusions will vanish.” I love episodes like “Perchance to Dream” because I love the “what if?” What if the Waynes were never killed, and someone else became Batman? Would an unstable Bruce attach himself to a fantasy life, and kill himself when his real world wasn’t satisfying enough? What if this episode ended with a shot of Bruce at the bottom of that bell tower, instead of Batman walking away from his latest victory?
Bruce’s moment of acceptance in Leslie’s office, and the following scenes that show a finally happy Bruce with his family, are a mix of tension and relief, as the title card music spoils Mad Hatter’s involvement early on. Watching Bruce come to terms with his new life while knowing it’s all a plot by Mad Hatter builds the tension up to the cathartic bell tower climax, culminating in a final battle with Batman before dream Bruce’s suicide. The reason I really love stories like “Perchance To Dream” is for that moment when the curtain is finally pulled back and the character realizes that their perfect world is just a fantasy. Is there anything more torturous than getting your heart’s desire and losing it? Bruce’s world starts falling apart when he tries to read a newspaper, but the letters on the page don’t make any sense. The detective kicks in, and Bruce concludes that he must be dreaming, as dreaming is a function of the left side of the brain, while reading is a function of the right. He climbs to the top of the bell tower, calling out his alter ego for answers, before unmasking him to reveal Mad Hatter.
Hatter’s plot is never revealed, but if it’s revenge for Batman destroying his fleeting fantasy with Alice, then Jervis succeeds magnificently. Having learned nothing since his last appearance, he still believes that artificial happiness is the same as the real thing. Bruce isn’t insane, so he refuses to accept the perfect world that Jervis has created for him, and when he awakens in the real world, the memory of his ideal life drives him into a rage. Hatter doesn’t even put up a fight. In an episode full of depressing moments, Hatter’s surrender gets the pity prize as he puts in zero fight. Screaming, “You ruined my life! I was willing to give you whatever life you wanted just to keep you out of mine!” before collapsing on his knees, we begin to see how Batman’s presence creates a criminal presence while attempting to subdue it. For most of these criminals, the appeal of crime is the possibility of exacting vengeance on Batman for stopping them the first time. At least Mad Hatter was going to do it peacefully.
- Bat/Bruce Beatdown: That bell tower fight is brutal. They roll around in the rain, throw each other around, and generally do lots of punching. And they’re the same person. Trippy.
- “Oh, look, it says here you've just won $10 million.”
- “Oh my, they even speak in unison.”
- Gordon says that his men search Mrs. Thomas’ place, but they apparently missed the HUGE HONKING CLUE videocassette from the Eternal Youth Spa sitting right in front of her TV. Gotham Central, this ain’t.
- “What a relaxing thought.”
- “Hey, a high school graduate.”
- “She slaughtered an ancient forest to produce cardboard. Cardboard!”
- “Keep spraying!”
- “Joan of Bark.” Pretty lame, Alfred.
- Thomas Wayne gives his son a quick check-up after his initial blowup. Doctor first, dad second.
- The timing of Selina taking off her glove with the line, “Who better for the job than the woman you’re marrying next week?” is all kinds of inappropriate.
- “It's a beautiful story. You have love, wealth, a family, all you ever wanted, your own private Wonderland!”
- “Then I'll see you in your nightmares!”
- Whole lot of Bathamlet going on in “Perchance To Dream.” Of course.