September 5 marks the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest shows ever – Batman: The Animated Series. BTAS introduced a generation to the world of the Dark Knight. The series marked the beginning of “The Timmverse.” To celebrate this historic occassion, the DKN staff will review our favorite episodes.
Perchance to Dream
Director: Boyd Kirkland
Writer: Story – Laren Bright and Michael Reaves, Teleplay – Joe R. Lansdale
Actors: Kevin Conroy (Batman/Bruce Wayne/Thomas Wayne), Adrienne Barbeau (Selina Kyle/Martha Wayne), Roddy McDowall (Mad Hatter), Bob Hastings (Commissioner Gordon), Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Alfred Pennyworth), Diana Muldaur (Dr. Leslie Thompkins)
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to watch Batman: The Animated Series when I was a child. Instead, I discovered it in my early 20s and thus began my love of the DC Animated Universe. Though there wasn’t the nostalgia factor to cling onto, I was able to fully appreciate the complex thematic elements, beautiful three-dimensional characters, and the strong performances therein. “Perchance to Dream” was one of those episodes that had all three and quickly became my favorite episode.
The title is an obvious reference to the famous soliloquy spoken by the titular character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The character longs for a dreamless sleep, wishing for peace from his anguish. The episode instead finds Bruce slipping into a false sense of solace in peaceful dreams.
The episode begins with a riveting car chase, as Batman attempts to capture some goons. They eventually flee into a factory warehouse. Batman climbs up and traverses the catwalk. The lights flicker brightly, blinding him temporarily before a large spotlight overhead falls on him. Before he is flattened, Bruce wakes up suddenly. It seems like it was all a dream.
Bruce later attempts to enter the Batcave via his grandfather clock. He finds no entrance there and Alfred does not know of what he speaks. Something is clearly wrong… which becomes obvious when he sees his parents. In this newfound reality, he discovers that his parents are alive and well, he is engaged to Selina Kyle, and he is not the Batman. Bruce cannot seem to accept what’s happening in front of him and nearly unravels at the sight of Batman foiling a robbery.
Unable to fully comprehend what’s happening, the audience is treated to a cameo by Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who convinces Bruce that he has created a delusion that he was the Batman to compensate for a life he didn’t feel he deserved because he didn’t earn it. Bruce finally submits to this beautiful life that he’s always wanted until he decides to pick up a newspaper and finds it is a jumbled mess. Nothing, as it turns out, is readable, which causes Bruce to completely unravel and discover that this life is a lie.
Seemingly completely unhinged, Bruce blames Batman for all his trouble. Bruce makes it to a bell tower in the middle of a cemetery, a fixture in his nightly patrol There, Bruce faces off against Batman, assured that he was the answer to this deception, deducting that this was all simply a dream. (Discovered when he attempted to read, a function dictated by the right side of the brain, while dreaming comes from the opposite side.) He unmasks the Batman to find the Mad Hatter, who explains that he was placed in an induced coma, capable of living out this beautiful dream with no escape in sight. Knowing the only way out was death, Bruce leaps out of the bell tower and wakes up to find himself strapped to a contraption of Jervis Tetch’s design. Livid, Batman demands answers, to which the Hatter wails that Batman had ruined his life and simply wanted to be rid of him. The Hatter submits and is arrested.
After three viewings of this episode in the past, I adored it. It was far and wide my favorite episode of the series. Unfortunately, my most recent viewing did not elicit quite the same adoration.
Scripted by known horror and science fiction writer, Joe R. Lansdale, it seemed like one of the best written episodes upon the first few viewings. Despite wanting to love it, I found the script to be a little disjointed, suffering from a severe plot hole and a few pieces of dialogue that didn’t quite make sense or were out of place. I found myself wincing at certain parts as it pained me to dislike something that I had loved for so long.
One of the largest gripes I had about this episode was Bruce’s “feeling” that the Batman was the cause of everything. With an episode heavy on logical explanation to balance out the fantasy, it was jarring to see Bruce’s inexplicable quest for vengeance against this faux Batman. An enraged Bruce set out to confront this Batman, but really couldn’t explain why. Bruce himself even addressed that he couldn’t explain it in the episode and that was the end of it.
I’ll see you in your nightmares!
From this point on, you may accuse me of nitpicking, but I couldn’t shake the frustration upon hearing lines of dialogue that simply didn’t make sense. For instance, during the climax of the episode, this exchange occurs:
Hatter: But what if you’re wrong?
Bruce: Then, I’ll see you in your nightmares!
I was stumped. What exactly does he mean? Is he implying that if he died, he’d come back to haunt Hatter’s nightmares? What? This line and the very last line of the episode are the most egregious offenses, as they were cliches that were forced into the script for nothing more than dramatic effect.
There’s, however, still a lot to love about this episode. As mentioned above, I loved the show for three key reasons: the themes, the well-written characters, and the insanely good performances. This episode had all three.
Though I took issue with the script, the themes were conveyed clearly. If given a chance, would you give up your own life in order to live out your best fantasies? Bruce struggled with that dilemma, but ultimately, couldn’t live a lie. It’s extremely relatable and Bruce’s humanity is on full display, which of course, is what makes us admire him so much.
It’s more than obvious that Bruce is the most developed character in the series, as we watch him attempt to overcome this new conflict, but what surprised me was the empathy I felt for the Hatter. He had a few minutes of screen time, but in those few minutes, he showed how much he suffered and the lengths to which he was willing to go to end that suffering. Hatter was the villain in this episode, with about 3 minutes of screen time and the show found a way to make me feel sorry for him. To establish a sympathetic villain in such a limited time is pretty impressive.
And lastly, what captivates me most in this episode is the exceptional performances of the cast. Special kudos goes out to Roddy McDowall for portraying an extremely sympathetic Mad Hatter. However, it’s Kevin Conroy’s performance that deserve most of the praise. The script suffered from nonsensical lines, but delivered by the golden voice of Conroy, made it all much more palatable. Conroy’s choice to change to a much lighter tone as Bruce always made sense than to run his vocal cords through gravel as Batman. It’s smart and very welcome. By far, the best part of his performance was during Bruce’s confrontation with faux Batman/ dream Hatter. You can literally feel all the pain, the anguish, the hurt, the anger, and all the grief for being forced into this lie. Conroy’s performance just felt so genuine and real. It brings me to tears every time.
Here’s the skinny: This episode suffered from a script with an undeveloped plot point and heavy-handed, cliched dialogue. However, it makes up for those flaws with three things that made this show so wonderful: deep exploration of very rich themes, well-written and sympathetic characters, and stellar performances by the cast, most notably Kevin Conroy. However, that’s just one man’s opinion.