Episode Number: 27
Original Air Date: October 12, 1992
Directed by: Frank Paur
Written by: Paul Dini
First Appearance(s): The Mad Hatter
Our fourth Paul Dini episode contains yet another lesser foe from Batman’s rogues gallery for him to enrich. After elevating Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze (his other episode was a Joker one) Dini is going to try to bring the same touch to The Mad Hatter. As you can probably guess from the villain’s name, he’s a take on the same character from the famous Lewis Carroll novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which seems like a pretty silly source of inspiration for a villain (and rather lazy, since he even goes by the same name). He sounds like a villain more appropriate for the 1960’s series, and lo and behold he was a part of that, though not a well remembered part. He appeared in a handful of episodes and was played by David Wayne. In that series, he was less a man with a fondness for Lewis Carroll and instead just a guy obsessed with hats, and in particular, Batman’s cowl. He wore his signature top hat which would sprout two eyes and hypnotize people. Really, he might have a bone to pick with Mario’s Cappy. It’s kind of amusing though that he was featured in that series, because his voice actor for this show is a veteran of that program as well: Roddy McDowall. I don’t know if they ever entertained the notice of hiring Wayne (he may have been retired since his last credits date back to the late 80s, he’d die in 1995 at the age of 81), but McDowall previously played The Book Worm in the 1960’s Batman television show.
For Batman: The Animated Series a more serious take on The Mad Hatter was needed. Just how does one make him a villain with the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland affinity without making him too silly? Well, for one they make him a scientist researching mind control. Jervis Tetch works for Wayne Corporations as a researcher and has discovered a way to control the minds of laboratory rats, which is depicted at the start of the episode by showing Tetch command the rats to have an adorable little tea party. He has a secretary named Alice (Kimmy Robertson), because of course he does, and he’s pretty smitten with her. The problem is, she has a boyfriend. Also of problem is Tetch’s boss, Marcia Cates (Loretta Swift), who is constantly on his case. She brings Wayne by to get an update on the research Tetch is working on. Wayne refers to his research as being aimed at unlocking the potential of the human mind, leading the viewer to conclude that mind control isn’t exactly what Tetch is being paid to research. He also plays coy and doesn’t reveal the device to Cates or Wayne. While Cates seems like she’d prefer to terminate him, Wayne is far more sympathetic and assures Tetch that he’s a valued employee. When Alice steps out for lunch later and returns in tears after a fight with her boyfriend, Billy (David Haskell), Tetch sees an opening for himself. After monologuing the pros and cons of just simply controlling her, this sudden break-up gives him the confidence tot ry and win her over and use his device and circuit cards to aid him. Outfitting a top hat with his mind control device and dressing lavishly as The Mad Hatter, he treats Alice to a night out. Utilizing the hat and little playing cards outfitted with his tech, he’s able to control the minds of those they encounter and come across as a big shot. Unfortunately for Jervis, after dropping Alice off at her home Billy is there waiting and the two reconcile.
When Jervis shows up for work the next day, still in costume and with a bundle of roses, he hears the “good news.” Not only did Alice and Billy make-up, but he also proposed and Alice is over the moon and totally oblivious to how this will make Jervis feel. Not that she’s responsible for his feelings, she even fails to notice the roses and that Jervis is squeezing them so tightly his hand bleeds on account of the thorns and a single drop lands on the photo of Alice and Billy on her desk. Jervis retreats to the lab where he is now determined to win her love. Emboldened by how well his mind control device had worked the night before, he now feels he can use it to win her over, and as a last resort, he could always just control her as well. He starts by taking control of Billy so he can break up with Alice once more. And when Alice returns home from work to find dozens of flowers in her apartment, Jervis is there to console her. By now she’s a little freaked out, forcing Jervis to utilize his last resort.
Unfortunately for Jervis, Bruce Wayne was in the office earlier that day and noticed Alice’s crying. During their date, Jervis had utilized his mind control cards when the two were mugged to command the would-be muggers to jump in the river. Batman was there to thwart the apparent suicide and also uncover the cards Tetch uses to control the minds of others. Since he’s familiar with his work as a scientist, and the likeness of the cards to the Carroll character depicted in Tetch’s office, he goes to pay Tetch a visit and is intrigued further by the unusual behavior of Alice’s boyfriend. He decided to pay Alice a visit at her home later as Batman, and is there to confront The Mad Hatter who makes off with Alice.
As an actual foe, The Mad Hatter presents little opposition for Batman, but he’s able to utilize his “powers” to quickly gather a following. This is challenging for Batman since he’s confronted with adversaries, who are apparently made stronger by the mind control, who aren’t actually trying to harm him since they’re being controlled. It’s a moral dilemma, but Batman doesn’t seem to mind too much as he beats the Walrus and the Carpenter unconscious. Of course, The Mad Hatter ends up holed up in a Storybook Land amusement park in the Wonderland section. He orders his mind controlled henchman, which include Billy and Cates, to kill Batman, but all Batman has to do is free one. Since the other henchman are only focused on Batman, freeing Billy means Billy can just walk up and remove the cards from the other possessed individuals which seems like a pretty big hole in The Mad Hatter’s plan. Alice is still under The Mad Hatter’s control, and she’s now in full Alice in Wonderland attire, which is kind of gross because it implies Jervis made her change and who knows what kind of liberties he took. Once Tetch is isolated against only Batman it’s not much of a contest putting at least a temporary end to his plans. He does spout the classic villain line, “You made me do this,” at Batman, which feels kind of forced. I know most of the villains place blame on Batman for their crimes, but Batman really entered this arc kind of late.
I will give Dini credit, I don’t hate The Mad Hatter. While he’s kind of a gross sort of character, interested in mind controlling a woman to love him, he’s at least believable and not too over the top with his gimmick. It’s always going to be inherently silly, but he definitely could have been a lot worse. Even still, he’s kind of hard to take seriously because his motivations are rather small making it seem kind of odd that he’d bother to return again as a villain (and he will). This is a tight, simple story and there is at least some degree of sympathy to be found in Jervis Tetch. Most people can understand what it means to lack confidence in dealing with a potential mate, though Tetch goes from sweet to creepy almost too fast basically quashing any sympathy the viewer could have built up. I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that I find this episode good without being sold on The Mad Hatter, which is different from how I felt about Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze. Though in looking ahead, The Mad Hatter will inexplicably be the main villain of one of my favorite episodes, so perhaps this episode has zero baring on the long-term relevance of The Mad Hatter.
January 24th, 2020 at 1:14 am
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