Plot summary: Wealthy people begin to suffer from hallucinations that force them to hand over their riches to the mysterious Spellbinder.
After completing the original run of Batman The Animated Series, Matt Waters looks to the future each Saturday and Sunday with recaps of every episode of Batman Beyond, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!
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Episode Title: ‘Spellbound’
Original Air Date: May 1st, 1999
Directed: Butch Lukic (3)
Written: Robert Goodman (2)
The jacket Terry borrows presumably belonged to Dick Grayson.
Jim Tate, the new stepfather of Terry’s friend, Jared, will reappear in Season 2 as the villain Armory.
Reference is made to the ‘Princess Audrey’ collection. This is almost certainly a nod to the princess of the same name from the Justice League episode ‘Maid of Honor’, in which Wonder Woman is convinced to take a walk on the wild side. Innuendo very much intended.
Chelsea (Dana’s best friend, she’s been in about half of the episodes so far but rarely speaks) walks home from her boyfriend’s house and immediately regrets declining his offer to walk her home, as a mysterious costumed figure shows her his orb…
She hallucinates a Raiders of the Last Ark-style sequence, hacking her way through a jungle, entering a temple, retrieving an idol and then dropping it into a volcano. Her father snaps her out of it, and it turns out she dropped an $80k statue in a river, where Spellbinder casually scooped it up.
The next day, Terry talks to his friend, Jared, about his mother’s upcoming wedding, but is distracted when Commissioner Barbara Gordon walks into the office of Ira Billings, the school psychologist. Score for teen mental healthcare in the future!
Terry eavesdrops on their conversation about Chelsea, in which Billings claims she’s an attention seeker. Oh. Bummer for teen mental healthcare in the future!
At an auction house, the mystery man strikes again, causing the manager to have a Vietnam War hallucination, dragging a mannequin wearing an expensive dress to the roof thinking it’s a wounded ally needing medical evac.
Batman steps in and snaps the man out of it, but ‘Spellbinder’ (as a news report labels him) gets away with the priceless dress.
Attending Jared’s mother’s wedding, Terry notes the bride’s fancy jewellery… as does Spellbinder, who uses one of the wedding cameras to conceal his magic eye, causing Mrs. Tate to hallucinate that she’s surrounded by alien insect monsters!
Terrified, she sheds her jewellery (thinking it’s bugs crawling all over her) and Spellbinder scoops it up while Terry prevents her from leaping off a building. Bats tries to give chase, but gets exposed to the magic eye and believes he’s jumping off a waterfall, only avoiding plummeting to his death by a second thanks to Bruce screaming in his ear.
Ira Billings calls Terry into his office to talk about his mental state following his father’s passing… and his work with Bruce Wayne. Hours later, Terry begins ransacking Wayne Manor, believing he’s on Supermarket Sweep.
Bruce forcibly snaps Terry out of it with a slap and shares his findings: Ira Billings had counselled all the victims’ children. Conveniently, he’s waiting casually outside for Terry, blissfully unaware he’s Batman, allowing our hero to get the drop on him and disable his glider.
Chasing Spellbinder into the nearby forest, Terry is again exposed to the eye, hallucinating zombies attacking him from all angles, making him an easy target to Billings’ assault.
Thankfully Bruce can see the truth via the cowl cameras and is able to guide Terry to safety. Spellbinder’s magic eye is disabled in the chaos and he’s easily captured. Barbara Gordon gives Terry and Bruce a knowing look after they take Billings in, telling Terry to stay out of trouble.
Everybody put in a good shift here, making it a tricky call. I generally default to Batman in such situations, so Will Friedle, come on down! Get it? Because he thought he was on a gameshow…
Yvette Lowenthal, Richard Sanders and Vernee Watson-Johnson all did a good job as terrified, panicky victims of Spellbinder, but Friedle managed that and more, from trying to cheer up his friend Jared (Omar Gooding is decent too!), to sassing Bruce and insisting Chelsea is telling the truth, to his fight banter against Spellbinder. It’s just a nice, complete performance.
Batman the Animated Series featured a number of Scarecrow episodes based around hallucinations, and in my (perhaps controversial) opinion, they never made a very good one… unless you count that entire episode that was a Barbara Gordon nightmare and Scarecrow was only in for 10 seconds…
By contrast, the Spellbinder hallucinations are immediately excellent, interspersing the dreams/nightmares with real world events to show us the danger the victims are almost walking into. They’re diverse and psychologically interesting too, from rich popular Chelsea’s Indiana Jones fantasy, to the meek Mr. Deakins wanting to save lives in Vietnam, and even our troubled, broody protagonist wanting to peacefully dive off a serene tropical waterfall or go on a light entertainment gameshow. There’s also Mrs. Tate’s alien bug nightmare, which I’m sure would reveal something about her psyche if we knew more about her!
It’s no coincidence that the best episodes so far have featured Bruce in a more active role, this time coaching Terry through his hallucinations via video link, which I honestly wish they took just a little bit further by having Terry close his eyes (assuming the cowl cameras keep running) and fully entrust himself to his mentor’s instructions. The key to this dynamic is making it a symbiotic relationship, with Terry offering a perspective Bruce lacks – he has often been right about things Bruce dismisses, including Chelsea – and the former Batman’s decades of experience allowing him to remain effective as a detective/strategist even at his advanced age. Episodes that portray the new protagonist as a useless kid who is little more than a warm body to act as Bruce’s proxy must be avoided at all costs, as must ones where Bruce basically gets one stern line where he states the obvious and the teenager does everything alone.
Apropos of nothing, it absolutely ruled to see the exposed wiring of Terry’s Batsuit when he took his plunge into incoming traffic. Just a gnarly visual that they’ll use every so often, but never better than here.
- Spellbound (NEW ENTRY)
- Rebirth Part I
- Black Out
- Rebirth Part II
- Dead Man’s Hand
- The Winning Edge
Spellbinder (Jon Cypher) (first appearance)
There is a comics Spellbinder who has basically nothing but a surname in common with this version, which is more of an amalgam of Scarecrow and Mad Hatter, making him delightfully creepy.
From his faceless design with an eye in his palm (Labyrinth could never), to his habit of stalking his victims (which the animators have fun with, blending him into the setting) before and after exposing them to the magic eye, and then silently waiting on his little hovering vehicle for them to bring him things, they just perfectly nailed the pitch here.
There is a brief attempt at the end to give him some pathos, complaining about how poorly he is paid to fix the problems of rich kids, and I do think that’s a good starting point for a villain because honestly, pay teachers better and eat the rich, but it feels a little tacked on due to time constraints. Luckily, he’s got such a strong design and abilities, letting him power through.
- Mr. Freeze
- Spellbinder (NEW ENTRY)
- Derek Powers/Blight
- The Terrific Trio
- The Jokerz
- The Royal Flush Gang
- Willie Watt
- Dr. Stephanie Lake
- Howard Hodges & General Norman
- Jackson Chappell
- Mr. Fixx
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 including Return of the Joker.
My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, continues its coverage with the final episode of What If…?
There Will Be Movies continues Ben & Matt’s look back at the 90s each Wednesday. This week the movie that launched a thousand bank robberies and movie imitations, Heat.