The Matt Signal – Episode 77: The Lion and the Unicorn

Plot summary: Red Claw kidnaps Alfred in order to obtain his half of a missile launch code from his days as a member of the British Secret Service.

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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!

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Notes

Episode Title: ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’

Original Air Date: September 15st, 1995

Directed: Boyd Kirkland (19)

Written: Diane Duane (1), Peter Morwood (1) and Steve Perry (7)

This was the final episode of the series to be aired.

Diane Duane wrote a lot of children’s television, but was primarily a fantasy and sci-fi novelist, much like her husband, Peter Morwood (who was erroneously credited as Philip Morwood.)

Alfred quotes two different works of Tennyson while under the effects of truth syrum: ‘The Brook’ and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’.

Recap

Alfred bothers Bruce about the cleanliness of his costume and Dick for performing an insane gymnastics routine in a dank cave without a shirt on. Both respond sarcastically, but Robin wonders what they’d do without him.

They get to find out the hard way, as Alfred receives a phone call from an old acquaintance, Frederick, a prisoner of The Red Claw! Frederick requests a meeting, and Alfred departs immediately, leaving his employer an apologetic note.

In London, Alfred awaits Frederick but is instead greeted by a dodgy pair by the name of… Bert and Ernie. Alfred sees straight through the deception and evades capture, but shortly after telephoning Bruce the pair succeed in a second kidnapping attempt.

They take him to Castle Blairquhan in west Scotland, where he’s reunited with Frederick. Red Claw reveals herself and makes vague threats against his life.

Bruce fills Dick in on Alfred’s past as a member of the British Secret Service during their flight to London, where the pair pick up the trail. Bert & Ernie make the mistake of trying to attack them, leading to a dramatic bus hijacking.

One crash later, and the Dynamic Duo have their men. Robin quickly discovers a Red Claw tattoo on one of their arms. Remember, Red Claw is both the name of the villain, and the organisation she leads. It’s needlessly confusing.

Speaking of Red Claw, she interrogates the two Freds, revealing they each know half of the code required to launch a nuclear missile that she intends to use to obtain a ransom of £5million. Cue that scene from Austin Powers where Dr. Evil learns a million dollars isn’t much money these days.

Anyway, Red Claw shoots them both up with truth serum. Frederick cracks, but Alfred deliriously recites Tennyson in defiance, prompting Red Claw to dunk on Britain. Deserved.

Batman & Robin infiltrate the castle from below, having obtained its location from the government in exchange for the villain’s capture. Fighting their way through scores of armed guards, the pair find themselves locked in a deathtrap.

Red Claw makes another Austin Powers faux pas and elects to switch off the security camera rather than making sure they’re dead, and they of course escape.

She apparently learned her lesson from earlier though, as she delivers her ransom message and instead asks for £5billion, at last gaining Alfred’s half of the code amidst his half-conscious babbling. Realising her men cannot hold Batman back, she launches the missile early.

Bruce takes to the sky in the Batwing and chases down the missile, but fails to notice Red Claw in the cockpit with him and the pair struggle until she’s ejected (possibly to her death!). With seconds to spare Bats destroys the missile, which apparently had a sufficient payload to destroy the city, but detonates harmlessly right next to Big Ben…

Best Performance

At long last, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. gets his day in the sun. For the most part he’s not doing anything new, but rather benefitting from getting more lines. The interrogation scenes are the highlight, with Alfred effortlessly reeling of poetry in the face of torture. It’s a shame we don’t get the emotional work heard in Mask of the Phantasm, and it might have been nice to give him more old acquaintances to talk to.

Kate Mulgrew is decent, and I did get a kick out of her saying nobody takes Britain seriously anymore. Finally we got fun little peripheral performances from Adam Ant and Roy Dotrice, and some attempts were made at British accents by American actors.

Ranking

In theory it’s always fun to get a window into Alfred’s life before he was a billionaire’s obedient manservant. In practice, it can often be bad. I hated Sean Pertwee in Gotham and I refuse to believe Pennyworth is a real show. This wasn’t as bad as those, but it does kind of suck that Alfred ends up handing over a nuclear launch code to a terrorist, truth serum or no. By no means did he have to take on a legion of bad guys and save the world single handed, but there’s got to be a happy medium.

The strength of the episode is taking the story beyond Gotham, which is always nice, though as usual it’s a rather stereotypical take on the locale, with barely a civilian in sight and the very first location our heroes visit leads them directly to where they need to go. Spy games would be a little generous, but I did enjoy the cloak and dagger stuff, with a shadowy branch of the government presiding over a secret nuclear missile solo housed within a Scottish castle.

But fundamentally the episode misses the mark thanks to some inconsistent writing. Your mileage may vary depending on how charming/whimsical you find a range of British accents, which is obviously not a novelty to yours truly.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Mask of the Phantasm
  3. Almost Got ‘im
  4. Heart of Ice
  5. Harlequinade
  6. The Trial
  7. Shadow of the Bat Part I
  8. I Am the Night
  9. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  10. Baby-Doll
  11. The Man Who Killed Batman
  12. Perchance to Dream
  13. Two-Face Part I
  14. Bane
  15. A Bullet For Bullock
  16. Joker’s Favor
  17. Read My Lips
  18. Feat of Clay Part II
  19. Catwalk
  20. The Demon’s Quest Part II
  21. Harley and Ivy
  22. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  23. House & Garden
  24. Beware the Gray Ghost
  25. Mad as a Hatter
  26. Heart of Steel Part II
  27. Appointment In Crime Alley
  28. Two-Face Part II
  29. Pretty Poison
  30. Shadow of the Bat Part II
  31. Feat of Clay Part I
  32. His Silicon Soul
  33. Off Balance
  34. Vendetta
  35. Birds of a Feather
  36. Heart of Steel Part I
  37. On Leather Wings
  38. See No Evil
  39. The Clock King
  40. It’s Never Too Late
  41. Joker’s Wild
  42. Eternal Youth
  43. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  44. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  45. Zatanna
  46. Day of the Samurai
  47. Avatar
  48. The Demon’s Quest Part I
  49. The Mechanic
  50. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  51. Terror in the Sky
  52. P.O.V.
  53. Christmas with the Joker
  54. Fear of Victory
  55. Be a Clown
  56. The Worry Men
  57. What is Reality?
  58. Fire From Olympus
  59. Night of the Ninja
  60. Mudslide
  61. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  62. Nothing to Fear
  63. The Lion and the Unicorn (NEW ENTRY)
  64. Prophecy of Doom
  65. Tyger, Tyger
  66. Blind as a Bat
  67. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  68. Dreams In Darkness
  69. The Last Laugh
  70. Cat Scratch Fever
  71. Moon of the Wolf
  72. Paging the Crime Doctor
  73. Time Out of Joint
  74. Sideshow
  75. The Under-Dwellers
  76. The Forgotten
  77. The Terrible Trio
  78. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Red Claw (Kate Mulgrew) (third appearance)

This is the final appearance of Red Claw, who enjoys a weird little following among fans of the show despite not really amounting to much. It’s possible she’s intended to have drowned in the climax, as not only does she learn Batman’s identity, but I’ve recently read over 100 tie-in comics and if she made a cameo at any point I’ve already forgotten it.  

I wonder if she never took off because she’s written as a full-on terrorist who tries to destroy entire cities, compared to the outlandish villains who engage Batman on a more personal level. Maybe her stories were harder to break. Maybe she’s just mediocre.

  1. The Joker
  2. Poison Ivy
  3. Harley Quinn
  4. Mr. Freeze
  5. Two-Face
  6. The Ventriloquist
  7. Catwoman
  8. The Phantasm
  9. Baby-Doll
  10. Bane
  11. Mad Hatter
  12. Penguin
  13. HARDAC (and Randa Duane)
  14. Clayface
  15. Ra’s al Ghul
  16. The Riddler
  17. Lloyd Ventrix
  18. Killer Croc
  19. Count Vertigo
  20. Clock King
  21. Rupert Thorne
  22. Nivens
  23. Josiah Wormwood
  24. Scarecrow
  25. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  26. Talia al Ghul
  27. Sid the Squid
  28. Queen Thoth Khepera
  29. Maxie Zeus
  30. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  31. Tony Zucco
  32. Man-Bat
  33. Hugo Strange
  34. Red Claw
  35. Arnold Stromwell
  36. Mad Bomber
  37. Tygrus
  38. Rhino, Mugsy and Ratso
  39. Kyodai Ken
  40. Gil Mason
  41. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  42. Cameron Kaiser
  43. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  44. Mad Dog
  45. Ubu
  46. Professor Milo
  47. Romulus
  48. Sewer King
  49. Boss Biggis
  50. Montague Kane
  51. The Terrible Trio

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.

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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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