The Matt Signal – Episode 28: Dreams In Darkness

Plot summary: Scarecrow is trying to tamper with Gotham’s water supply, but Batman has bigger problems as he finds himself an unwitting patient of Arkham Asylum!

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

Notes

Episode Title: ‘Dreams In Darkness’

Original Air Date: November 3rd, 1992

Directed: Dick Seabast (6)

Written: Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens (1)

The first of three episodes penned by the husband and wife duo of Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, best known for their work on the Star Trek franchise (mostly novels)

Loosely based on ‘Batman: The Last Arkham’, albeit with some character substitutions, but it began life as an adaptation of Garfield Reeves-Steven’s Batman short story ‘Masks’.

Dr. Bartholomew may be a nod to ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ and Dr. Bartholomew Wolper, a psychiatrist who falsely declares Joker and Two-Face to be cured.

Recap

We open in Arkham Asylum with Doctor Bartholomew talking to a pair of orderlies about their newest patient. Who could it be? Mad Hatter? Scarecrow? The Joker? No! It’s Batman, of course! Strap in.

Bats does himself no favours by fervently ranting about how little time they have, demanding they contact Commissioner Gordon and “Dr. Wu”. Bartholomew shakes his head and leaves Batman to it, who narrates – a first for the series – about how there truly is no time left for Gotham and all he can do is remember the beginning while waiting for the end. Damn bro.

Flashing back, Batman investigates a suspected robbery at a luxury spa resort that instead turns out to be a hired goon named “Torchy” tampering with the facility’s drinking water. A scuffle of course ensures, with Batman getting the better of it and then shutting down the device attached to the pipes, gassing him in the process.

Believing he had suffered no ill effects, Batman takes the machine back to the Batcave for study when he spots the Joker creeping up on him in the reflection of his monitor! Only when he turns around it’s just Alfred…

Apologising, he relates his limited findings and then departs to interrogate Torchy, who is suffering from the effects of Fear Toxin.

He expresses anxiety about potentially being effected too, allowing a doctor to test his blood aaaaaand, I’m sorry, but we’ve surely just solved the mystery of who the Batman is.

Anyway, Doctor Wu states he will begin to show effects within 24 hours, offering him an antidote that will put him into a 2-day coma. Bats being Bats, he takes the antidote and splits, feeling that he can’t afford to give what he knows to Gordon and entrust the police to figure it out.

Realising Scarecrow is behind the caper (we heard his voice over Torchy’s radio but Batman didn’t), Bruce races towards Arkham in the Batmobile but hallucinates Robin standing in the middle of the road and crashes trying to avoid him.

Waking up strapped to a gurney, Batman’s incoherent ramblings see him locked up in Arkham. An orderly attempts to remove his mask but Dr. Bartholomew warns that it is tied into his delusions and to forcibly remove it might harm his psyche at this stage. A cute way around a glaring issue.

Bartholomew interviews him later about the Scarecrow’s plot, dubious that such a complex scheme could be enacted without anybody noticing. My dude, I have 27 episode recaps you may want to read.

Dr. Bart declares him delusional, questioning why he’d come to Arkham if not to be committed. He reasons that a patient couldn’t possibly run an operation while safely locked up, and that he saw Dr. Crane in his cell that very morning…

FOUR episodes ago, Batman visited the Asylum and found Scarecrow had escaped without the staff noticing.

Sure enough, Scarecrow oversees his cronies as they fiddle with tanker trucks and pipes, swapping lines of exposition with one of them about how getting Batman locked up was all part of the plan.

The door to Bats’ cell swings open and he is bathed in red light. Standing, he walks into the light and finds himself no longer straight-jacketed, but instead in Crime Alley chasing after his parents but unable to catch them. A flash of light causes the ground to crumble beneath him and the tunnel the Waynes walked into becomes the barrel of a gun that cocks and fires at him. Gnarly.

Bartholomew returns, apologetic as it turns out Crane is indeed missing. He also confirms that a cavern below Arkham contains an underground river that feeds Gotham’s reservoir. While showing concern, he won’t allow Batman to leave.

Scarecrow activates a five minute timer on his pump system, keen to enact the largest fear experiment in history. If you’re that excited, why even put a timer on it, my guy?

Batman fights off the orderlies attempting to sedate him, frees himself from the straightjacket and demands a guard take him down to the basement where he’s able to make his way into the cavern below.

He’s very much NOT out of the woods yet though, suffering from multiple hallucinations of varying sizes of Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Robin, Alfred and Scarecrow himself, reducing him to a screaming wreck.

Poetically, a bat snaps him out of it and he is able to confront Scarecrow and his henchmen, who are initially reluctant to fight him, but Scarecrow points out he’s been gassed. Sure enough, when they advance Batman instead sees hideous monsters, and as he’s afraid to fight them, he instead grabs a nearby microphone and whistles loudly into it, deafening them. Weird beat!

Scarecrow flees and Batman is hesitant to give chase, having developed a new fear of heights. When he does eventually pluck up the courage he begins seeing a pipe from the mechanism as a snake and needs a few seconds to get over, conveniently leaving the timer at 1 second when he does disable the machine. Who saw that coming?

The machine explodes and Scarecrow himself gets gassed, mumbling to himself as he’s put back in his cell above. Dr. Bartholomew gives the orderlies some lip about keeping him locked up this time.

Alfred administers Dr. Wu’s antidote as Bruce begins his two-day recovery in the cave, rather than upstairs in one of the many bedrooms. A bat poses in front of one of the lights, casting a huge shadow of his logo over him. A tad much.

Best Performance

Kevin Conroy wins this in a walk. Not only is he excellent as always, having to sound terrified when under the influence of Scarecrow, but he is also entrusted with some new territory such as narration and the delirious ramblings that get him locked up in Arkham. His ability to play in all these lanes and deliver perfectly distinct Bruce and Batman voices in a range of emotions is why to me he is the irrefutable best Batman.

It certainly helps that he isn’t getting much competition as he dominates the script, with Henry Polic II barely being in it despite being the feature villain, Takayo Fishcer’s Dr. Wu having only a single scene and Loren Lester essentially doing a cameo as Robin (and subbing in as Joker, weirdly enough).

The only other person with a look in is Richard Dysart as Dr. Bartholomew, but I just don’t think he’s compelling enough in the well-trodden ground of a doctor who think they’re being reasonable, but still act as an obstacle to the protagonist and draw the ire of the audience.

Ranking

I appreciate what this was going for, with Batman falling victim to gaslighting thanks to Scarecrow’s latest strain of fear toxin, and starting things off with him as a patient of Arkham is a great way to build intrigue right from the jump. It’s just that the show is going to take both of those elements and do them much better in the future, and we’ve seen Scarecrow hallucinations twice already.

They’re always appreciated of course, and they lend themselves to some of the most compelling visuals to date, including Crime Alley turning into a giant gun and a parade of enormous villains transforming into each other and towering over Bruce. A lovely touch with the latter is Two-Face tossing a buzzsaw at him, and though he ducks, we see nothing fly past him, giving a contrast between what he sees and what is actually happening.

It’s also not the most compelling argument on the part of the Arkham staff, whose assertions against him can be dispelled with minimal effort, so it doesn’t manage to get the most fun part of this story trope right. Plus the enormous plot hole of a doctor having Batman’s blood on file.

When all is said and done we have had a trio of Scarecrow episodes now, and I think I like this one the least. I want to reward the excellent hallucinations, which are getting better each time out, but for me there are diminishing returns when the episode around them isn’t doing enough to support them. And I’m also knocking points off for that incredibly on the nose final shot.

  1. Heart of Ice
  2. Two-Face Part I
  3. Joker’s Favor
  4. Feat of Clay Part II
  5. Beware the Gray Ghost
  6. Mad as a Hatter
  7. Vendetta
  8. Appointment In Crime Alley
  9. Feat of Clay Part I
  10. On Leather Wings
  11. Pretty Poison
  12. Two-Face Part II
  13. It’s Never Too Late
  14. See No Evil
  15. The Clock King
  16. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  17. P.O.V.
  18. Christmas with the Joker
  19. Fear of Victory
  20. Be a Clown
  21. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  22. Nothing to Fear
  23. Prophecy of Doom
  24. Dreams In Darkness
  25. The Last Laugh
  26. The Under-Dwellers
  27. The Forgotten
  28. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Scarecrow (Henry Polic II) (third appearance)

I’m in two minds about bumping Scarecrow down the list given his minimal involvement in this episode, watching on from afar and delivering some clumsy exposition before ultimately getting hit with his own gas, AGAIN. There’s not much for Polic to do, and it could honestly have been assembled with rejected lines from his other appearances. The mask has been slightly changed again, but not in a meaningful way.

BUT, Dr. Crane has escaped Arkham twice now, something only the Joker can match, which I suppose is enough to keep him in place.

Luckily he went on to try and administer his fear toxin to Gotham via the water supply in a pretty successful movie that some people have called the best Batman film ever. Me. I’m some people.

  1. Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Two-Face
  4. Clayface
  5. Mad Hatter
  6. Poison Ivy
  7. Catwoman
  8. Clock King
  9. Killer Croc
  10. Rupert Thorne
  11. Lloyd Ventrix
  12. Scarecrow
  13. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  14. Red Claw
  15. Arnold Stromwell
  16. Mad Bomber
  17. Man-Bat
  18. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  19. Harley Quinn
  20. Penguin
  21. Sewer King
  22. Boss Biggis

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

Speaking of my podcasts, There Will Be Movies continues tomorrow with Handmaiden.

Kevin Ford’s Flooping the Pig, our Adventure Time podcast, is at last coming to a temporary end this coming Thursday. Another milestone achieved!

Jerome & Brian’s Pantheon Plus begins its Apocalyptic Autumn with Escape from New York this Tuesday.

Speaking of Jerome, he will be bringing you his 100 favourite movies of all time, posting between 3 and 4 per week.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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