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Original Airdate: September 10, 2005
Writer: Steven Melching
Director: Brandon Vietti
And once again, ladies and gents, we come to the end of an era. The end of a status quo. And the end of certain beloved cast members.
Ah-pa-pap. Let’s leave that little surprise for later, Eddie.
As my esteemed co-reviewer observed last time, Batman really shouldn’t have recovered that quick from a last-second shot of antidote. Well, apparently Steven Melching agrees, because this episode starts with Joker and Penguin out and about, presumably because Batman keeled over from delayed-action vomiting five seconds after last episode’s credits rolled.
So with no one in their way, our fearsome felons immediately bury Gotham… under lots of spray-paint.
Okay, I know the script tries to play it off as the supervillain equivalent to gang tags, but it’s still less than impressive, especially considering these two have never been that interested in “turf” before. Still, we do get a mildly diverting fight scene out of it, including confirmation that Kabuki Twins > Punch and Judy.
Then Robert Englund steps in to show them all how a real villain makes his entrance.
When I first rewatched this episode, I was a bit worried that the Riddler would lose his mystique now that he had to share screentime with two other villains, but I’m proud to say that’s not the case. Putting him together with the overexposed likes of Joker and Penguin actually highlights how different he is, from the way he sets his own “tag” (hijacking a skyscraper’s lights instead of bothering with clumsy, manual paint) to the cool, condescending manner he puts up against his hot-blooded rivals.
And as if that’s not enough, it’s Riddler who sets up our plot: whoever unmasks Batman first gets undisputed run of Gotham.
Sounds like a story any one of us could bang out in ten seconds, doesn’t it? But that’s without taking this gentleman into account.
In all seriousness, my feelings about Jim Gordon jumping onboard this show are a bit… mixed. I know he’s one of the most iconic members of Batman’s supporting cast, and literally the only one who’s as old as Batman himself, but to be honest, I was kind of enjoying The Batman‘s experimentation with Canon Foreigner cops. In a show reputed – and not without reason – to be a mindless, effortless toy commercial, they often felt like the one bit of proof the writers were actually trying (not always successfully, I’ll admit) to make a genuinely interesting story and go places That Other Show didn’t.
And despite this being the good Commissioner’s debut, the episode is strangely half-assed about it. He’s new to the job, so neither the villains nor the other cops are really familiar with him, but Bruce apparently is, to the point where both he and Alfred already know Gordon’s pro-Batman! All this, when Gordon’s previous screen-time amounted to a three-second flashback in “Traction”.*
Over at GCPD Headquarters, Chief Rojas is pulling out all the stops to nab all the costumed crazies, Batman included. For some reason, Yin decides that this time he means real business, so she goes off to warn Batman, which of course directly leads to her getting busted.
I remember being fairly shocked by this as a kid, and even at this age, there’s something distressing about seeing Rojas casually crushing the Bat-Wave under his shoe. For the first
and last time, Rojas actually gets some teeth as an antagonist. Hell, depending on how much you want to fan-wank the events leading up to this, maybe he finally solved the little riddle that Riddler dropped him last time.
Either way, it comes down to the same thing: Yin gets kicked off the force, and Rojas and the rest of the GCPD are off to ambush themselves a vigilante.
Lest you think the GCPD suddenly looks too competent now, plot convenience then dictates that all the supervillains be even better at detective work. Rojas needed to eavesdrop to find out where Batman’s going next, but these guys just know.
But for some reason, the police get first crack anyways.
To be honest, I’m not sure what to think about the GCPD’s new guns. I suppose they look slightly less dumb now, and their ammunition being electric pod… things instead of bullets means they can be fired willy-nilly, but is it really worth it when Rojas is now spouting lines like “Unless you want the shock of a lifetime” and practically twirling his mustache? To say nothing of bringing Yin to the scene, apparently solely so he can gloat while she makes kicked-puppy faces.
I mean, okay, you can argue that nothing Rojas does here is morally worse than his behavior in the Season 1 finale, but it still feels like a step down. Like so many antagonists before him, he’s crossed that line between everyday villainy and cartoon supervillainy. And, uh, this episode already has three of those.
God damn, is there anything Robert Englund can’t make better? It’s both creepy as hell and pretty true to the character – Riddler might be a sociopathic, egotistical ass, but when he starts a game, nothing short of a full-body beating will get him to pull the plug.
(In fact, more might be made of Joker’s and Penguin’s defeatism. Are they so used to Batman slipping out of their clutches that they’ve adopted a “what’s one more?” attitude to the whole thing, unlike the comparative newcomer?)
True to his words, Riddler cuts all the lights at the ambush site so his
husbando and waifu two worthiest adversaries can make a break for it. The police response basically looks like a giant game of laser tag instead of anything remotely threatening to our heroes, so let’s just move on.
I joke, but if I have one major complaint about this episode, it’s that there’s so much plot that no thread really gets its due. I’ve already talked about Commissioner Gordon’s half-assed introduction, but the Batman/Yin stuff has it much worse. For a woman who’s seen her partner turned into a homicidal supervillain, seen said partner backslide into supervillainy after flirting with recovery, been forced to reverse her entire stance on vigilantism, looked death in the face about a billion times, and has now lost her job, it’s nothing short of amazing that Yin’s holding herself together. Or that she’ll still give Batman the time of day.
And as for Batman – what exactly was he thinking when he took Yin along? Sure, she’s helped him in the past, and three villains on the loose calls for that help more than ever, but I’m rather curious as to what his afterplan would’ve been. Thanks to him, she’s a fugitive from the law, so… would he have thrown a huge stack o’ cash at her and/or tried to set her up a new identity? And even if the GCPD does take her back, that doesn’t solve the problem of Rojas or the other Batman-haters on the force.
But silly me, expecting a single episode to delve into this much. I mean, surely these threads will be picked back up in Season 3!
So let’s get back to the villain stuff. Y’know, this episode might be billed a Joker-Penguin-Riddler piece, but it feels much more like a Riddler episode that just happens to guest-star Joker and Penguin. The gruesome twosome
as usual aren’t given much more characterization than “we hate Batman and each other”, but Riddler gets far more chances to make his mark, so to speak.
Not only does the whole “game” aspect suit Riddler’s character best, but his playing guardian angel for Batman and Yin (to keep the cops and his competitors away, natch) means that the ghost-story atmosphere of “Riddled” is back with a vengeance. In fact, it might be even more intimidating here, showing just how outclassed not just the GCPD, but even Joker and Penguin are against the guy who can string the whole city along on a laptop.
Granted, your tastes may vary depending on how much Hollywood Hacking you can stomach in one sitting. I mean, even I think Riddler hacking a drawbridge open is kinda pushing it.
To make things worse, this is how both Punch & Judy and the Kabuki Twins get taken out, leaving only their bosses eligible for the third-act showdown. Another casualty of the plot-to-runtime ratio, I suppose, but they seriously deserved better than this.
Riddler lures all parties to a standard-issue abandoned warehouse, where he tries to nab Batman and Yin with a starship escape pod, of all things. What a nerd. Oh, and his targeting computer seriously needs work.
Fortunately, he was kind enough to drop Batman a riddle beforehand, so off Batman and Yin go to his latest hideout: an abandoned oil rig. But what’s this? Seems someone else wants in on that action.
Having long mastered the art of
avoiding delegating responsibilities, Commissioner Gordon tells the Chief to hold back for now and let Batman take care of the supervillains. Rojas’ protests actually make sense on paper, but since they’re coming out of Rojas’ mouth, the amount of shits I give hangs somewhere between zero and negative ten.
Meanwhile, having arrived at Riddler’s hideyhole, Batman heroically tells Yin to stay back while he takes care of the Man’s Work.
Yin is less than amused, which leads to this totally subtle piece of foreshadowing.
“I’m your partner!”
“But you’re not my sidekick.
Aren’t you sorry now you passed up those booty shorts?”
Okay, we’ve got about five minutes left in the episode, which is juuust enough time for the free-for-all between Batman and the Terrifying Three. Make no mistake – it’s superbly animated, but I’ve always enjoyed the “opening act” of Joker and Penguin beating up Riddler’s henchmen more.
Alright, I’m biased since this is the closest the show ever gets to my ideal Joker/Penguin bromance, but even disregarding that, it demonstrates that Riddler, despite outclassing them in many ways, isn’t a Villain Sue who’s best at everything. Despite their cool designs, the Riddlemen come in a distant third to Punch & Judy and the Kabuki Twins when it comes to enforcing the boss’s will, and Riddler himself should’ve really known better than to send a bunch of disgruntled IT people against two guys who can not only give Batman a decent fight but don’t have a pesky moral code holding them back.**
That said, the main event is a hell of a show too, featuring bad puns, exploding chickens, and property damage galore. Oh, and Yin screwing Riddler over yet again.
And then she… somehow… splashes a different symbol across Gotham’s buildings – a symbol of hope.
I suppose it’s a fitting callback to the Season 2 premiere, but I’m sorry – it just raises way more questions than it answers, and that’s not even getting into Yin’s nonsensical reasoning (it’s supposed to boost Bats’ PR… or something).
Anyways, the GCPD drop by the rig to find the thievish triad wrapped up nice and neat, with Yin, ever the upstanding hero, there to peacefully surrender herself. All very commendable, but the law’s the law, and so…
And so the old order changeth, with two minorities getting dropped for a white guy. As is the American Way.
… okay, fair enough, I’ve made the Commish look like a bigger douchebag than he actually is, but I’m not sure the in-show version is that much of an improvement. Now that all the action-packed distractions are done with, the runtime shortage comes back with a vengeance, and the Commissioner, still lacking any proper buildup, ends up looking like a giant deus ex machina whose sole purpose is to ensure the good guys get a super-happy ending. I mean, yeah, I cheered when he made Rojas return Yin’s badge, but the in-story reasons he gives are weak at best and verging on outright bullshit at worst.
“Detective Yin helped to bring in Gotham’s three most wanted.”
One, you weren’t at the fight, Jim. Two, even if you were, all Yin did was pull out a bunch of plugs, and while that was awesome in its own right, I’m fairly sure Batman would’ve kicked the crap out of Riddler either way.
“Seems to me the Department’s had its share of bad press lately. Do you really think it’s wise to arrest a hero?”
The second half of this line loops right back into the previous one, so that’s no good. The first half has a bit more teeth to it, but I’m really not sure Batman and his backers have any room to gloat. After all, in both this episode and the last one, the villains were pretty much stirring shit up just to troll him. I really hate to say this, but Rojas isn’t wrong when he pegs Batman as a trouble magnet. At least, he has no reason to back down so easily and give Yin her badge back.
So maybe Rojas just doesn’t want to play hardball with his new boss right now, and all these conflicts will keep simmering offscreen, but it’s still a pretty awful note to send him and Detective Yin off with. And speaking of Yin, “wasted” doesn’t begin to cover her status in this episode – hell, for the whole show in general. Her ten-minute suspension, while dramatic, doesn’t really say anything new or expand on previous characterization. She’s pushed around by the plot a whole bunch, but reacts precious little to it.
That just breaks my heart, because you know what? Yin had all the ingredients to be one of the most interesting characters in the series, and perhaps Batman in general. A principled newcomer who shows us just how bad a city has to be to need a nut in a Dracula costume; who never quite approves of Batman but is multi-dimensional enough to accept his existence as necessary; who can function as exposition box, sounding board, foil, and possibly even love interest, all at once. Part Janet van Dorn, part Harvey Bullock… God…
Okay, that’s enough bitching about our dearly departed deputies of the law. Time to bitch about the epilogue.
First off, that headline is worth at least three Pinocchios. For a whiz-bang season finale featuring three all-out menaces to society, surprisingly little society got menaced, and even less needed saving. Entertaining as they were, Joker, Penguin, and Riddler pretty much spent this episode on a glorified game of tag, which is not the kind of situation you want when a big part of the episode hinges on Gotham City (with the Commissioner as its spokesman) finally accepting it needs Batman.
I suppose it’s only a big issue if you look at this episode as a standalone story, since the rest of Season 2 is filled with episodes where all Gotham is at stake (even without counting The Batman vs. Dracula), and one in particular explicitly marked a shift in public opinion towards Batman. But that just makes me wonder: wouldn’t this season have ended on a far stronger note if the finale had incorporated that kind of plot (perhaps structured as a two-parter like Season 1’s finale), and left the “first one to unmask Batman wins, whee!” plot to some mid-season filler episode?
The rest of the epilogue isn’t much better. Gordon talks a whole bunch about “taking our alliance to the next level” (never mind this is the first time that he and Batman are even in the same shot), and more or less deputizes Batman to do whatever the hell he wants without worrying about Five-0. As long as he promises to make the city a safe place for the Commish’s daughter to grow up in.
Uh… quick question, Jim. Does your definition of “safe” include “seduced into a life of unarmed combat against vicious criminals twice one’s size”? No reason. Just curious.
And to probably no one’s surprise, the epilogue’s centerpiece is the official Bat-Signal, the original wonderful toy which of course pops up with no explanation whatsoever. How many taxpayer dollars did you blow on that thing, Commish?***
To make a long story short, this episode is easy enough to be entertained by, but it doesn’t really work as the big-boy season finale and game-changer it so desperately wants to be. Its most entertaining parts distract – if not outright detract – from that goal, and when it tries to focus on its characters and their changing world head-on, its length (or lack thereof) lets it down again and again.
You might’ve noticed that I haven’t really drawn any comparisons with That Other Show or the comics in this review, and I think that may be a direct symptom of the above. This episode is simply so slapdash that not a lot of meaningful parallels exist, and those that do tend to get undercut by contradictions in the script moments later.
So, yeah, it’s a step down from the Season 1 finale, and that makes me one sad vulcanized flower. But surely something convinced WB to greenlight three more seasons, right?
Something besides that. PLEASE.
* I suppose you could say the show was counting on viewers to fill in the blanks with Batman Begins, but I hate that kind of loosey-goosey continuity meshing even more.
** Come to think of it, ever notice how these kinds of henchmen never show up in later Riddler appearances?
*** In the comics, at least circa Ed Brubaker’s The Man Who Laughs, the Signal was actually the Mayor’s idea. Nothing says that that isn’t the case here, but that just makes me sad we couldn’t get another Adam West appearance out of this ep.