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Original Airdate: November 26, 2005
Writer: David Slack
Director: Anthony Chun
The year is 1857.
Hugo is seven years in exile, and the Bonapartes’ second wind is in full swing. Russia has been soundly whipped for its insolence in the Crimea, but who has the time to celebrate? The whole of France – the whole of the Continent – buzzes with news that America is headed for a split, and Victoria’s Empire may not be far behind. Into this harrowing pit strode a most unimpressive figure, an unreliable little dandy of a man by the name of Charles-
Okay, fuck it. I don’t know the first thing about Second Empire poetry, and neither do you. I’m really sorry, guys – I wanted this blog’s first anniversary to be marked by a review of Something Special, but my work ethic roughly matches that of M. Baudelaire’s, and you can see how that’s worked out.
In any case, the link between today’s episode and Baudelaire’s most (in)famous work are probably skin-deep at best. Still, it’s the classiest reference this show’s done so far, and a worthy welcome for David Slahominahominahomina…
Excepting Greg Weisman, Slack is the most high-powered writer this show’s tapped so far, having already masterminded five whole seasons of Teen Titans back when that name still brought cheers instead of retching from Cartoon Network’s faithful. Lest you still have any doubts, here’s just a small selection of what he can do in the writer’s seat.
So seeing his name on this episode is heartening, to say the least, but can his talents pull him through a show even Weisman couldn’t crack on the first try? We shall see.
Well, we’re hitting the ground running. Poor Mayor Grange is actually mayoring for once, which tragically involves paving over Gotham Park in the name of a new hospital. Fortunately, Poison Ivy’s new face-eating flowers are here to save him from the horrors of executive power.
Yeah, spoiler alert – this is an Ivy episode. Moreover, it’s the last real Ivy episode of the entire show, which pisses me off to degrees “The Laughing Cats” can barely dream of. I know Ivy gets slightly better treatment in the cameo department than Selina, but seriously, it took you guys half a season to get bored with her? The character your season premiere kicked off as Batgirl’s big archenemy?
Slack takes his time teasing out Ivy’s evil plot, but most older viewers can probably figure it out a few minutes in. It’s “Heart of Steel” by way of “House & Garden”, with Ivy trying to build a better Gotham by moving all that “free will” bullshit off the premises. Sure enough, by the next scene there’s a pod-Mayor raving about how he’s going to “green up Gotham”.
Wow, he’s only half-wrong for once! Someone get him a cookie.
Anyways, the pod-Mayor has some really unsettling animations to get his inhumanity across, though Adam West doesn’t sound one iota different. On the one hand, that probably doesn’t speak well of his versatility as an actor, but on the other, you can hardly argue it’s inappropriate for a body-snatcher plot.
(But on a third, given how quickly Ivy’s pod-people overtake Gotham, is stealth really any kind of concern…?)
Cut to GCPD Headquarters, where Barbara and Jim are having another utterly forgettable father-daughter moment. Well, except for the part where Barbara admits she ships her old man with the Mayor.
So the Commish has gotten a couple of Ivy’s facehuggers too, but to keep the “mystery” going a bit longer, they don’t attack until Barbara’s left. Meanwhile, Penguin’s out stealing a shipment of silver iodide (fairly impressive research on Slack’s part) to fuel a weather machine that’s 50% hot-air balloon, 50% autogyro, and 0% safe for kung-fu battles.
Naturally, Batman baits Penguin into the propeller the first chance he gets.
If Slack wanted this to look like an accident, he really should’ve made it clearer to Chun, because not only does Batman go out of his way to take the fight near the propeller, but Penguin does a freaking interpretative dance before he falls in. And this is how Batman learns about Ivy’s pod-people plot, which seriously makes me wonder what he would’ve done had the propeller coughed up red instead of green.
Oh yeah, did I forget to mention? Penguin’s a pod, too.
This part doesn’t really make sense continuity-wise since there’s no way pod-Penguin should’ve hit the ground intact – apparently, even the implication of a plant-person getting chopped up is too much for S&P now. Still, it gives the episode two Family-Unfriendly Deaths for the price of one, so I can’t ding it too hard.*
We’ll leave that to the Commissioner.
Batman getting hauled in for “homicide” of a plant is a hell of an angle for the first-act break, but again, I can’t help but wonder if it could’ve been more streamlined. Pod-Gordon here isn’t arresting him for killing pod-Penguin, but for crushing a flowerbed – and while I suppose the sheer absurdity of the latter is a great way to trigger the viewer’s “WTF” detector, the idea that Ivy’s pod-people all look out for one another in an immaculate, citywide conspiracy feels like it would have a bigger impact still. Hell, it would lend some decent teeth to Ivy’s delusion that she’s building a better Gotham.
For similar reasons, I can’t bring myself to wholeheartedly love the smackdown that Batman lays as soon as pod-Gordon leaves. Make no mistake, it’s a marvelous action sequence, but how much freakier would it have been if the pod-GCPD had mostly retained human form instead of… well, this?
After mowing down the faux GCPD, Batman finally puts all the dots together, just in time to warn Alfred that the new florist on the block is up to no good. One good kick, plus a roaring fireplace, and Wayne Manor is safe.
Sadly, not everyone has a direct comm-link to the World’s Greatest Detective.
All due respect to the folks who made The Batman vs. Dracula, but this scene evokes more chills in a minute than that movie managed in an hour and a half. Unlike West and Tom Kenny, Mitch Pileggi puts some effort into sounding as inhuman as possible, and you don’t have to be a parent to realize there’s a boatload of subtext here, every piece more fucked-up than the last (contrast with the pod-Gordon from “Heart of Steel”, who contented himself with smacking around Barbara’s teddy bear). And Chun’s direction is as relentless as the script, turning the Gordons’ cozy little kitchen into something claustrophobic as all hell.
The kicker? This isn’t close to the worst Slack has squeezed past a Y7 rating.
Still, Slack probably understood he couldn’t push his luck too far, and after Babs boils her “present” in the dinner stew, pod-Gordon belts out a narmtastic “Daddy’s angry” and instantly turns into another technicolor boogeyman for Batman to toss out the closest window.
We’re a little past the halfway mark now, so Bruce and Barbara immediately get a handle on the whole body-snatcher epidemic and decide only Ivy could be responsible. Y’know, this episode has quite a few disappointing spots, but I’d have happily swallowed every single one if Slack had written something – anything – acknowledging that Ivy’s not just another super-crook to Batgirl. I mean, I know “Batgirl Begins” didn’t exactly end with them on good terms, but there’s not even the streak of bitterness you’d expect Babs to show a former friend who tried to murder her old man. No shit, I think this ep has her showing more interest in Penguin than she ever shows Pam.
Then again, maybe she’s just embarrassed at how bad Pam is at the whole “cover your tracks” aspect of supervillainy. Seriously, I’m not even convinced Pam needed to hunker down at a single florist in the first place (surely it wouldn’t have been that hard to smuggle her facehuggers into multiple stores?), but leaving a freaking nametag on every flowerpot? Even the ’66 rogues knew better than that!
Batman and Batgirl head down to the florist in question and okay, I admit it. There’s one reason this ep might deserve the first-anniversary spot, and it’s right here.
453,000 views, 1500 comments. Titan Joker may be this show’s biggest legacy, but where actual footage is concerned, there’s probably no clip that’s penetrated the Web as deeply as this one, a fact that depresses me a lot less than it probably should.
With Granny Baudelaire taken care of, our heroes descend in the shop’s basement, where a garden of unearthly delights awaits.
This place doesn’t get a whole lot of screentime, but I still have to applaud whoever designed it. It takes no small amount of talent to make pink look threatening, even if that’s the only thing here not swiped from The Matrix.
But come to think of it, Ivy never quite explains why she’s got this whole pod-farm set up instead of just using the Filthy Meatbags™ to feed her piranha plants or something. As we’ll see later, the veggie duplicates can function just fine without the originals podded up, so it’s not a matter of bio-electricity or memory access. Ivy not having the stomach to kill them all sounds only slightly more plausible – remember, her regard for meatbags was pretty damn low back when she was 100% meatbag. This is the closest Ivy herself gets to discussing her motives:
“They’ve never been happier… they’ll love plant life just as much as I do, for the rest of their unwaking days.”
Sound like boilerplate environmentalist-gone-mad stuff? Slack would probably agree with you. And yet, there might be something about it worth unpacking…
But first, fight scene!
… or not.
If there’s one perk about Ivy’s tiny shelf-life, it’s that villain decay doesn’t really have a chance to sink in like it did on the more prolific rogues. Indeed, Pam seems to have learned from her maiden voyage – not that she was a pushover there, but this time she barely makes a pretense of playing with her food before going for the
kill cocooning. And yeah, maybe it would’ve been smarter to just cut their throats, but relying on your own creations instead of gravity is still a step in the right direction.
And once the Bats are all nice and plugged in… then the fun starts.
I said earlier that this episode was pretty much “Heart of Steel” by way of “House & Garden”, but it’s only now that the latter’s influences start to shine. It’s only now that Ivy’s veggie-clones feel like they have the potential to be something more than mindless little soldiers. Why else would Ivy bother to talk to them, when she could control multiple plants with just a thought seconds after her “birth”? Granted, their “interaction” is literally three lines, but that’s all it takes to open up a whole new can of worms.
The Ivy of “Batgirl Begins” was definitely a violent misanthrope, and yet there was something perversely human about her brute-force approach to “cleansing” Gotham. However much she hated the meatbags, she at least respected them enough to be honest about it. But the Ivy here doesn’t regard meatbags as opponents. Hell, they barely register as vermin. Her powers have advanced to the point where she can sweep them all off the board without ever confronting them face-to-face, and even the “they’ve never been happier” talk sounds like nothing but an afterthought, like an alien conqueror saving a little of the local wildlife for her private zoo.**
And why shouldn’t she? She was already a walking natural disaster back in “Batgirl Begins”, but now she can raise sapient life – or a reasonable imitation thereof – in seconds. Forget Ethan Bennett – if anyone’s got the right to a god(dess) complex, it’s Pam. Who needs humanity when all it takes is a little sun, water, and seeds to build your own servants, worshipers, advisers, friends…
This, more than anything else, is why I’m cheesed off at there being zero mention of the Barbara-Pam bond. You want Ivy to stay a black-hat without any hope of redemption, fine, but how powerful would it have been for Babs to try reaching out to her former friend, only for Ivy to sneer that she can now make as many Barbaras as she likes? Ones who’ll obey her every whim, no less?
In place of that, we get several peeks at the communal dream forced upon all of the pod victims. Which is certainly less interesting in itself, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s immune to some good old-fashioned
There’s nothing too elaborate to the dream-world – it’s basically just a bunch of folks lazing around and enjoying nature, like modern-day lotus eaters. Still, there’s a certain appeal to the undertone that its victims can’t break free because deep down, they don’t want to. 99% of them – and I’m including the Bats – are in positions of high responsibility, self-imposed or otherwise, and it’s easy to argue they could be swayed by the idea of a world with no need for that responsibility, with only a minimum of chemical mindfuckery involved.
But then you remember that the other 1% consists of the Penguin, who… yeah, there’s no way he’d ever give up supervillainy without some industrial-strength brainwashing. And in any case, we don’t stay in the faux-Eden for long, because the sight of Penguin playing Maria von Trapp is horrifying enough to shock Bruce and Barbara back to the real world in a matter of seconds.
(Look, the real escape method isn’t a whole lot better than what I just wrote, so just roll with it.)
After freeing the Commish and saddling him with opening all the remaining pods (this is the most action you’ll get all season, Jimbo, so savor it), our heroes head off to the park, where Ivy’s pod people have already sown plenty of facehugger seeds. All that’s missing is a little water and, hey, why wait when there’s a perfectly good weather machine lying around?
The real meat of the third act, though, is the inevitable mirror match between the Bats and their veggie counterparts. It’s nicely animated and all that jazz, but there’s none of the energy or creativity one might’ve found in, say, “The Laughing Bat”. Well, unless you count how gruesomely our heroes dispose of their dance partners.
And if you think that’s bad, wait till Batman deals with the weather machine. And by deal, I mean tamper with the payload so it starts raining Agent Orange instead.
Don’t get me wrong – it kills Ivy’s army and evil plot just fine. But as hundreds of ‘nam veterans would attest, there’s a 0% chance of it stopping there (and the stuff kills some of Ivy’s other plants, so it’s not tailor-made for the facehuggers). Best case scenario – thousands if not millions of dollars in landscaping and property down the drain. Worst case scenario… well, y’all can Google that for yourselves.***
Even from a purely storytelling standpoint, this is pretty weaksauce. Most of this episode takes place on a single night, and Batman’s had precious few opportunities to pick up that big a load of herbicide, let alone fine-tune it to perfectly hijack the weather machine. It’s like Slack ran out of room in the third act for a resolution that had actual foreshadowing. And, y’know, didn’t paint Batman as a short-sighted sociopath.
Half of me wants to accuse Slack of phoning it in on this one (which he’s certainly got every right to do – especially since this was a freelance job). The other wants to believe he genuinely tried, only he came up with so many interesting ideas that none of them had room to breathe. In the end, I suppose they come down to the same thing – there are parts that work, and marvelously so, but as a whole it’s another stunning pile of mediocrity. Far from the note that Ms. Isley deserved to go out on.
Next: Does a Warburton-Oswalt ticket sound too good to be true? That’s because it probably is.
* I’m somewhat reminded of that old rumor about how Dini and Timm would twist around S&P requests to make episodes of That Other Show ten times worse, though I’m not sure even they tried to make this much lemonade out of a lemon.
** One has to wonder – would That Other Show’s Ivy have taken a similar route in “House & Garden”, had she been able to create plant-people so quickly and efficiently? That Ivy is older, and her corresponding maturity probably made the idea of domestic anonymity more appealing, but still…
*** What makes this especially hilarious is that just a few years prior, Greg Rucka had done an Ivy story stressing exactly how dangerous this was, even as a last resort. Keep in mind, Rucka’s Batman was the guy who left one woman to fight off two hundred thugs during the dark days of No Man’s Land, so if even that guy thinks you’re going too far…