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Jan 6 2013 1:00pm
Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: “Dreams in Darkness” & “Eternal Youth”

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: “Dreams in Darkness” & “Eternal Youth”

“Dreams in Darkness”
Written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Directed by Dick Sebast
Episode #028
Supervising Composer Shirley Walker
Music Composed by Todd Hayen
Animation Services by Studio Junio Inc.
Original Airdate—November 3rd, 1992

Plot: Batman is an inmate of Arkham Asylum. Exposed to fear gas, he must escape his cell and his horrific hallucinations before the Scarecrow drives all of Gotham mad with fear.

“Dreams in Darkness” is a fascinating study of Batman’s greatest flaw: he fundamentally believes only he can save Gotham. Dr. Wu (Takayo Fischer) gives Batman a clear choice, rest and recover or go out and suffer, and rather than ask someone, anyone else to deal with the Scarecrow, Batman opts to trip balls for forty eight hours and drives to Arkham Asylum where he promptly crashes the Batmobile.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: “Dreams in Darkness” & “Eternal Youth”

Batman’s first line is demanding his jailor Dr. Bartholomew (Richard Dysart) contact Commissioner Gordon, ignoring that Batman himself should have called Gordon the second he learned of Scarecrow’s plan, whether or not he had been affected by fear gas. Similarly, Robin is seen in nightmares but not in reality, leaving it implicit that Batman should have called in his understudy when he was disabled.

From the vivid hallucinations themselves we see that Batman is literally afraid that his allies, specifically Robin and Alfred, cannot or will not help him in his neverending battle against a series of villains that blur into each other. And he’s afraid that if he doesn’t do everything he can, he’ll see his parents murdered again. These dual fears lead to scenes like the one in “Appointment in Crime Alley,” where Batman crashes a police hostage negotiation because he believes the police cannot be trusted to do their jobs. Of course Batman’s wrong, other people can and do help him, and by the end he learns his lesson and actually thanks Alfred for giving him Dr. Wu’s cure and the security of a safe home (presumably after calling Commissioner Gordon and Robin to cover the city for the weekend). Going forward, Robin, Alfred, and Gordon will start to play a bigger role, and new allies like Batgirl and Zatanna will step up to help out.

This is director Dick Sebast’s best effort so far. He does a great job balancing his own Hitchcockian suspense style for the flashbacks with a more Kevin Alitieri-esque vertigo-inducing take on the crazy hallucinations. Similarly, Todd Hayen delivers a great score, especially blending the villains’s collective themes into one disturbing symphony of terror.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: And this is probably the best Scarecrow episode of the whole series, as it’s an interesting peek into Batman’s head while making the Scarecrow an actually effective villain. Henry Polic II has the voice of melodramatic menace down, and the design is improved even from “Fear of Victory” by the addition of a badass pocket watch. His plan is much more worthy of a supervillain, poisoning everyone in Gotham as a “controlled experiment in mass madness.” Running the show from underneath Arkham is itself a stroke of genius, since he never has to escape and give away that he's planning anything until the moment he strikes. And he’s started setting traps specifically for Batman, marking the transition from a one time criminal to a reoccurring antagonist.

For such a psychologically interesting episode, it takes a dim view of psychologists, as does the series. At worst, they’re sadists like Dr. Jonathan Crane, but at best they’re incompetents like Dr. Bartholomew, who coddle the dangerous lunatics Batman fights while ignoring Batman himself. Bartholomew's security is lax, his methods arcane, and his reasoning why an orderly shouldn’t take off Batman’s mask ludicrous. Of course he should take off the mask, so that the Arkham staff can inform any kin of what happened to Batman, and also to make sure it’s not some other crazy person wearing a Batman costume. Also, his assurance that the Scarecrow couldn’t have escaped rings a little hollow as the Scarecrow broke loose not four episodes ago (and, again, the first time we ever see Arkham Asylum is watching the Joker fly out of it on a rocket tree).

In fact, the biggest flaw of “Dreams in Darkness” is that the much inferior “Fear of Victory” aired first. This should have been the first episode that really explored the insides of Arkham. This should have been the episode where Batman begins to rely more on his allies. And this should have been the episode that marked the end of the “Year One” period of meeting the rogues and the beginning of “Year Two,” where they are now recurring threats aiming straight at Batman. Certainly the nightmares imply there's been a time jump and that Batman has now fought Two-Face and Poison Ivy as often as he has the Joker, Penguin, and Scarecrow, even if we haven’t seen it.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch:

Created in 1976 by Batman legend Dennis O’Neil, and named after the setting of many a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, Arkham Asylum quickly became a fixture of the Batman mythos, because it’s very existence is something of a threat. Instead of being an isolated incident, each Batman villain placed in Arkham becomes one more piece of a terrible pattern, another link in the chain of monsters that starts with the Joker. Not only are these bad guys becoming fixtures of Gotham’s power structure, but through the Asylum itself they will meet and then team up. And then Batman will be in for a world of hurt.

Speaking of....

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch:

“Eternal Youth”
Written by Beth Bornstein
Directed by Kevin Altieri
Episode #029
Music Composed by Lolita Ritmanis
Animation by Dong Yang Animation Co., LTD.
Original Airdate—September 23rd, 1992

Plot: Bruce Wayne sends Alfred and Alfred’s lady friend to a spa promising eternal youth. But the spa is actually a trap laid by Poison Ivy for wealthy industrialists, and Alfred is her latest victim.

Though he’s been in nearly every episode so far, giving emotional support, providing the witty rejoinder, occasionally playing the hero or the victim, this is the first episode that’s really about Alfred Pennyworth. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. always portrays Alfred’s dry wit, on display in spades in this episode, and we get to see a few other sides of his character: he’s as dedicated to his job as Bruce is; he’s as uncomfortable with outdoor living as he is with aggressive women; and he can kiss a woman’s cheek so passionately she moans with delight. And he’s surprisingly cut when he takes off his shirt.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch:

This episode also implies that Alfred is starting to feel old, and that the promise of eternal youth has a strong pull on him beyond the chemical dependency. A pull that leads him and Maggie (Paddi Edwards) back to the spa and to their doom. He certainly seems affectionate with Maggie after the treatments at the spa (with the not-so-subtle implication that they spent most of their weekend doinking) while he is absolutely resistant to her at the beginning. Was his discomfort adolescent fear of girls, or an older man’s fear of not being up to physical intimacy?

We also get to see a bit more into Bruce and Alfred’s relationship. We’ve seen Alfred be a father to Bruce before, so it’s nice to see Bruce taking care of Alfred here, both caring for him when he’s sick, and also playing wingman for Alfred with Maggie, doing for Alfred what Alfred tries to do for Bruce, making him have a life outside his job. Bruce can also snark Alfred as well as Alfred does, “accidentally” showing up at Alfred’s hospital room with a plant.

Beyond the insights into Batman’s butler, “Eternal Youth” is also a pretty good second episode for Poison Ivy. She’s moved on from her focused vendetta against Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne to a more general eco-terrorism, and expanded her methods of seduction from the immediately sexual to more general, abstract enticement of youthfulness and life (though, as with Maggie and Alfred, and her two bouncy assistants played by Julie Brown and Lynne Marie Stewart, the sexual aspect is still present).

Following up on “Dreams in Darkness,” Ivy also explicitly states a few themes of the show, that Batman has a Gallery of Rogues and that the rogues aren’t very different from the hero in seeking justice outside the law. Beth Bornstein establishes early that Bruce Wayne agrees with Ivy’s goals of stopping environmental destruction, but he cannot condone her methods.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch:

Kevin Altieri does another fine directorial job. Not as bravura as “Feat of Clay: Part 2,” but still a tense, moody piece ending in the horrific vision of the forest of trees made out of people. The final fight is great cartoon action, with arrows coming from nowhere and a giant tree slamming Ivy into the roof before destroying her spa (a neat inversion of the end of “Pretty Poison,” where Ivy destroys her own greenhouse, here the greenhouse destroys her.) The only odd bit of the direction is that Ivy’s face is hidden for two thirds of the episode, as if Batman might have a different redhaired plant themed eco-terrorist villain who is played by Diane Pershing.

The giant tree does present a couple of Fridge Logic problems. If the tree was big enough to destroy the whole spa, how did the tree people survive? And the enzyme only created trees when it interacted with human plasma. How did spilling it make a giant tree unless the ground was covered in blood?

Unless... she could have... oh. Um.

Igh.


Steven Padnick is a freelance writer and editor. By day. You can find more of his writing and funny pictures at padnick.tumblr.com.

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