Plot summary: Bruce finds himself confronted with the notion that he is not Batman, his parents are alive and he’s engaged to Selina Kyle. Surely everything can’t be as it seems…
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!
Episode Title: ‘Perchance to Dream’
Original Air Date: October 19th, 1992
Directed: Boyd Kirkland (8)
Written: Laren Bright (3) & Michael Reaves (5) (story), Joe R. Lansdale (1) (teleplay)
Mad Hatter’s theme is heard over the title card, as well as in a remixed fashion throughout the episode, hinting at the big reveal to anyone who remembers that.
Episode writer Joe R. Lansdale has authored 45 novels, most famously Bubba Ho-Tep.
The favourite episode of Kevin Conroy as well as the current king of voice acting, Troy Baker, who has played both Batman and Joker in different projects.
We begin in-media-res with a car chase! The Batmobile, sounding like a damn jet engine, proves more durable than the criminals’ car, forcing them to bail out and flee on foot into a storage facility. Bats enters the building via grappling hook, seeking a height advantage… or just because he’s extra.
Cautiously navigating a gantry, a brilliant flash of light takes Batman by surprise. Things go from bad to worse when he looks up a little too late as a huge piece of machinery falls on him…
Bruce suddenly springs out of bread panting and expresses to Alfred how lucky he is to be alive after falling for such an obvious trap. He wonders how he made it home, asking Alfred if Robin was responsible.
But Alfred has no idea who Robin is… Oh we’re doing a ‘What If?’ episode, baby! Trying and failing to enter the Bat Cave via the secret grandfather clock entrance, Bruce demands an explanation from Alfred.
But before Alfred can offer one the voice of Thomas Wayne interrupts to ask what’s wrong and Bruce is flabbergasted to be met by his very much alive, elderly parents. He runs out of the room in an understandable panic.
Calming down after splashing some water on his face, Bruce tells his father that he’s fine and downplays his behaviour as the result of a heavy night of partying. Thomas makes a joke about golf. Ah, to be rich.
Bruce asks Alfred to deliver some exposition and he of course obliges. Thomas retired and handed Wayne Enterprises over to Bruce, but Lucius Fox is the one who actually runs the business… also as of a week ago he’s engaged to Selina Kyle!
Bored to tears by having to do a single day of office work, Bruce continues to be troubled. Selina arrives to check on him and he tells her he can’t shake the feeling that he is someone else.
Right on cue, Selina remarks “Batman!” and we see the Caped Crusader swing past the window, shocking Bruce and the viewing audience alike.
Giving chase to “Batman”, Bruce and Selina witness him take down some hapless jewel thieves in impressive fashion. Bruce asks Selina about the hero but she confirms nobody knows his real identity. She has also never heard of a ‘Catwoman’.
Forgoing a licensed mental health professional, Bruce seeks out his old friend Leslie Thompkins to try and help him clear his brain fog. Leslie asserts that his silver spoon lifestyle has left him unfulfilled and caused him to latch onto Batman as an escapist fantasy. Bruce at last accepts it.
Feeling on top of the world after embracing ‘reality’, Bruce jokes around with his father and Alfred, apologising for his earlier behaviour. But things take a surreal turn as he picks up a newspaper and discovers all the words to be jumbled and illegible.
Trying random books from the mansion’s library he finds he can’t read any of them either, snapping at his parents and smashing a TV in frustration at the mention of Batman.
Speeding into the city in one of his expensive non-Bat-themed vehicles, Bruce buys rope, a grappling hook and other ‘supplies’. The police attempt to talk to him but he gives them the slip with his sick climbing skills.
Scaling an enormous church amidst a thunderstorm, he screams at the sky “Here I am! I’ve been waiting for you! You did this to me” After a few moments the unmistakable shadow of Batman swoops out of the sky to confront Bruce!
The two alter-egos do battle and Bruce asserts this is all a dream, which he figured out because reading is a function of the right-brain, while dreams are the product of the left-brain, making it impossible to read in a dream. Clever, but not actually true.
The police surround the church and implore Bruce come quietly, but he’s far too busy wrestling with his subconscious… only it turns out it’s Mad-Hatter under the cowl!
Jervis Tetch assures us that as this is all in Bruce’s head, his real-world counterpart doesn’t know any of his secrets. Phew. Good thing yet another villain has no interest in Batman’s secret identity.
Dream Tetch argues Bruce has everything he could ever want and as there’s no way to wake up either way, he might as well accept it.
But Bruce being Bruce, he defies impossibility and hurls himself off the tower just as the police arrive!
Waking up back in the storage facility, Batman fights off Mad Hatter’s henchmen, removes the dream apparatus and captures Tetch, who claims the vigilante ruined his life.
The GCPD walk Tetch away in handcuffs while Gordon examines the helmet. He asks what it is, to which Batman replies “the stuff that dreams are made of.”
This is easily Kevin Conroy’s best performance to date.
It’s been well established by now that I heavily reward voice actors who play multiple roles in the same episode, and Conroy trots out FOUR different voices here. In addition to Bruce and Batman, Conroy portrays Thomas Wayne and Dream Batman, who does have a distinct voice from the normal version.
But even without the variety, Conroy’s acting is on another level here. He crushes the exasperation and anxiety Bruce feels as the dream slowly unfolds, descending into depression and eventually outright self-destructive mania in the final set-piece. He even gets to sound happier than ever before (and likely ever again) to offset this when he briefly buys into the dream world, and that’s nice to hear.
Conroy is best known for how different he is able to make himself sound, and that’s on display more than ever here, but this episode more than perhaps any other also shows he’s just a damn fine actor.
‘Dreams In Darkness’ plays in a vaguely similar space, but drops the illusion pretty quickly, so this is the first proper ‘What If?’ episode of the show in my opinion. Batman has an incredibly strong history of alternate world stories, and this absolutely holds its own amongst any of them.
Asking the question ‘What if Bruce never became Batman?’ is a good one, because people LOVE to write think-pieces about how redistributing his vast wealth could do more good for society than hoarding it to fund his punch-based agenda. And while it doesn’t directly engage with that side of things, it is interesting that even in his perfect life there is still a Batman, it just isn’t him. Because the people who write those think-pieces are overlooking the fact that their premise is demonstrated to be profoundly wrong within the fiction, and the only way to assert an opinion to the contrary is to deliberately refuse to engage with the material.
Anyway, that’s a rant for another time. The more relevant point is that this is a fascinating window into Bruce’s psych; almost a decade before Agent Smith told Morpheus that humanity rejected the first Matrix because it was too perfect, Bruce Wayne’s mind is unable to accept a world where he is happy. That’s the whole character in 23 minutes (with credits).
Bruce also puts his detective hat on to deduce the situation, and the dialogue, animation and acting are good. The only thing stopping me from putting it at the very top is that ‘Heart of Ice’ exhibited every single positive attribute of the series, not just the main character.
- Heart of Ice
- Perchance to Dream
- Two-Face Part I
- Joker’s Favor
- Feat of Clay Part II
- Beware the Gray Ghost
- Mad as a Hatter
- Appointment In Crime Alley
- Feat of Clay Part I
- Two-Face Part II
- On Leather Wings
- Pretty Poison
- It’s Never Too Late
- See No Evil
- The Clock King
- Eternal Youth
- The Cat and the Claw Part I
- Christmas with the Joker
- Fear of Victory
- Be a Clown
- The Cat and the Claw Part II
- Nothing to Fear
- Prophecy of Doom
- Dreams In Darkness
- The Last Laugh
- The Under-Dwellers
- The Forgotten
- I’ve Got Batman in My Basement
Mad Hatter (Di) (second appearance)
While he’s only in the episode for the last two minutes, Tetch makes every bit as much impact as he did in ‘Mad As a Hatter’. His mind control gimmick has evolved into dream manipulation, unlocking a monster of a ‘What If?’ episode. If I’m giving Scarecrow credit for the fear hallucinations, I’m giving Hatter credit for this.
An interesting little beat is that Tetch states he was genuinely trying to give Batman a nice dream, willing to do absolutely anything to keep him away. This is highly questionable because if you have Batman unconscious and strapped to a table, why not kill him? Or unmask him. Or any number of things. But I still found it interesting Tetch wasn’t trying to mess with him and actively tried to give him a perfect life.
But do the brevity of his appearance and the plot holes cancel out the positives and leave him exactly where he is? For me they do not, and I’m bumping him up one space to overtake Poison Ivy, but I’d fully understand if you think otherwise.
- Mr. Freeze
- Mad Hatter
- Poison Ivy
- Clock King
- Killer Croc
- Rupert Thorne
- Lloyd Ventrix
- Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
- Red Claw
- Arnold Stromwell
- Mad Bomber
- Nostromos (and Lucas!)
- Harley Quinn
- Sewer King
- Boss Biggis
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 Monday with Get Out.
Kevin Ford’s Flooping the Pig, our Adventure Time podcast, has at last come to a temporary end with Episode 80. Another landmark episode count.
Jerome & Brian’s Pantheon Plus continues its Autumn Apocalypse with a double-bill of Snowpiercer and Train to Busan this Tuesday.
Speaking of Jerome, he continues to bring you his 100 favourite movies of all time, posting between 3 and 4 per week.