Episode Number: 47
Original Air Date: February 8, 1993
Directed by: Frank Paur
Written by: Chuck Menville, Brynne Stephens
First Appearance(s): Veronica Vreeland, The Duck Boat
It would seem the writers of Batman: The Animated Series had the hardest time with the two primary antagonists from the then recently released Batman Returns: Catwoman and The Penguin. We’ve seen Catwoman portrayed as a cat burglar with a heart of gold, but following her debut she’s been in flux relegated to damsel in distress and sometimes vigilante. With The Penguin, he debuted in the divisive “I’ve Got Batman in my Basement” in which he’s outwitted by a bunch of kids. Because it was so obviously pandering to its young audience, that episode is often cited as one of the worst in the series, but since it was effective at that pandering, there seem to be an equal amount of folks who really enjoyed it. Since that episode though, The Penguin has been more of a side character as he was in “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” and “Almost Got ‘Im.” We haven’t seen The Penguin in another solo outing, until now that is. And even here, we have an atypical episode as it’s not focused on Penguin’s next scheme, but on his reform. In that, it is somewhat similar to Batman Returns because we’re going to see Penguin engage with high society and try to find social acceptance among the elite, only to be humiliated and lash out in only a way a super villain can.
The episode opens with Penguin (Paul Williams) robbing a museum. In a bid to remain classy, he probably dilly-dallies too long trying to impress the guards giving Batman time to show up and put a stop to the robbery. Penguin is sent off to prison, since he’s not considered insane and thus not bound for Arkham Asylum, and it’s there he serves out his sentence to the end. At which point he declares himself reformed, and whether or not he’s sincere is unknown. He expects his old entourage to arrive with a limo to pick him up, but when no one shows he’s forced to ride the bus in disgrace. He has the bus drop him off at his penthouse where he walks in expecting to find a party celebrating his release. He even indicates he expects the other various rogues to be present like Joker and Two-Face, but instead he finds an empty home with sheets draped over the furniture. Penguin isn’t alone though as Batman is there to remind him that he’ll be keeping an eye on him. Penguin asserts that he’s reformed, but Batman doesn’t seem convinced, though he leaves him be.
Elsewhere, socialite Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) is bemoaning her plummeting social status to her associate Pierce (Sam McMurray) who suggests she throw a party to improve her reputation. She seems skeptical, but when he reminds her how another individual saw their reputation skyrocket following The Joker crashing her party, she starts to warm to the idea of a party. Pierce waves the front page of the local newspaper to her declaring The Penguin has been released, and we have our plot.
The Penguin is more than enthusiastic about dinner with Vreeland, who takes him to a fancy restaurant where he dines on sardines or whole fish of some kind. His presence is found to be a major turn-off for the other patrons, partly because of his grotesque eating habits and probably also because he’s a known criminal. Penguin is enjoying the dinner regardless, but he’s suspicious of Vreeland who insists she just wants to get to know him. Satisfied, he requests the check but the waiter tells him the meal is free if he leaves now. Thinking this is an acknowledgement of his high society status, Penguin happily leaves with Vreeland on his arm. Outside the restaurant, the two are accosted by a trio of muggers. Penguin looks the part of hero as he fights them off, but Batman shows up to clean up the mess. He grabs Penguin and assumes he was robbing Vreeland, but she steps in to correct him giving Penguin a moment to admonish Batman which he seems to enjoy. Just before the mugging, Penguin was invited to the party Vreeland is planning and he accepted, making this quite the night for the portly little fellow.
Veronica and Pierce are then shown discussing the events of the evening. Pierce finds The Penguin laughable and seems to think this party will be a huge hit at Penguin’s expense. Veronica though demonstrates that she may be warming to the former criminal as she found his behaviour with the thugs charming and sweet. Bruce Wayne interrupts their conversation and asks whom they’re discussing. Pierce spills the beans that Veronica is dating The Penguin as a publicity stunt, which concerns Bruce, naturally. He leaves them with a warning about The Penguin, but it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll actually take it to heart. That night, she and Penguin attend an opera and she’s obviously not taken by his horrid singing. She still doesn’t let her revulsion seem obvious when he turns to her and even permits him to lay a smooch on her hand. Bruce is there as well, being kind of a creeper, but he seems to notice that Penguin is genuinely showing affection for Veronica which only worries him more.
Presumably the next night, Veronica’s party is underway. The Penguin feels he’s in his own element schmoozing with Gotham’s wealthy socialites, cracking witty jokes and attempting charming behaviour. He’s oblivious to the fact that everyone else is seemingly appalled by his appearance and is making jokes at his expense whenever he moves onto another conversation. Pierce is especially enjoying this, while Veronica is clearly feeling guilty. When Penguin steps out onto a balcony for a few quiet moments, he’s joined by Bruce Wayne. Penguin shows him a special brooch he plans to gift Veronica, and Bruce looks nearly distraught as he knows what’s going on. When Penguin heads back inside, he overhears Pierce and Veronica talking about what’s going on. Realizing he’s been played a fool, he lashes out blasting them in the face with knock-out gas from his umbrella (apparently he wasn’t reformed enough to cease carrying armed umbrellas). Bruce tries to intervene, but he’s unable to stop Penguin from kidnapping Vreeland.
Pierce is forced to head to the police where our always right Commissioner Gordon is correct in placing much of the blame for the current circumstances on he and Vreeland. Even so, it doesn’t excuse the fact that The Penguin has unlawfully abducted a woman ending his short-lived reform. Pierce is also a total jerk to Gordon, which is what prompted Gordon’s dressing him down. They soon receive a ransome note from The Penguin, and it demands that Pierce has to deliver the ransom of one million dollars personally. When the police bring Pierce to the drop-off location they find a pay phone and Penguin promptly calls him on it instructing him to head to a new spot without company. The new spot is a trap, of course, and Pierce finds himself dumped into the sewers where he lands on a big, yellow, duck boat! Yes, the very same one from Batman Returns, though this one looks a bit angrier.
The boat takes Pierce to a new location, and upon ascending some stairs, he finds himself in an opera house. There he finds Veronica chained to a chandelier. She pleads with Penguin to free her, and even confesses she was growing fond of him, but he doesn’t believe her. He’s too far gone now. Pierce is chained to a platform below the chandelier, and Penguin rummages threw the money and discovers a Bat-tracer (really, Batman, be more discrete). Enraged, Penguin goes to cut the rope on the chandelier which will surely kill both Vreeland and Pierce. She tries to talk him out of it, once more claiming to have grown fond of him, but it’s no good. Batman shows up to prevent the double homicide. Since Penguin can’t go one on one with Batman, he hops on a dragon prop that also apparently breathes fire. In what is possibly the most ludicrous visual we’ve seen on this show, Penguin flies around on this dragon with a viking helmet and sword. Batman has seen worse, and he takes the bird-boy down and frees the two wealthy jerks.
As the cops lead Penguin away, Veronica once again approaches him and tells him that she was really growing fond of him. Penguin, with perhaps a touch of sadness, rebuffs her once more, “I suppose it’s true what they say; society is to blame. High society.” Batman also looks on with no indication of satisfaction over what he’s seen. This one has no happy ending for anyone.
“Birds of a Feather” is a pretty weird episode for what is ostensibly a kid’s show. A reformed criminal trying to ingratiate himself into a wealthy circle, only to find he can never hope to fit in where he feels he belongs most. Thus, he turns back to crime and is reformed no more. It’s a very mature storyline, which I suppose he was owed after his debut. Kids are capable of empathy though, and I think this episode successfully makes Penguin out to be a sympathetic figure similar to what happened with The Riddler. Only in this case, The Penguin doesn’t get to escape in the end. He’s returned to jail, and the next time we see him he’s back to his old ways as he’s apparently abandoned all notions of reform. Vreeland will return as well as mostly the same character we see here, so she has apparently learned nothing in the end.
This episode is one of the few that seems to successfully merge the classic portrayal of The Penguin, as an odd-looking but refined criminal, with the grotesque one from Batman Returns. He’s always been deformed in this show, but it’s never been a focal point as he mostly embodies the characteristics of the comic book character. In the restaurant scene we get a glimpse at the more monstrous side and Veronica is obviously grossed out by his appearance. The other wealthy characters poke fun at his appearance as well behind his back. There is humor though in seeing him try to fit in, especially when he, at the party, advises the manager of a bank he knocked off in the past to bolster security. His speech patterns and mannerisms embody the role he’s trying to play, but the subject matter is obviously inappropriate for the setting. Those little bits of humor play well and are needed since most of the episode is uncomfrotable to watch. We know The Penguin is being played, and he seems genuine in his attempt at reforming, but he’s also bound to find out he’s being made fun of and won’t respond well. The duck boat is a nice callback to the movie as well, and I can’t remember if it makes another appearance or not.
“Birds of a Feather” is an overlooked episode, but it’s also probably the best Penguin episode. I never count it among the show’s best, but whenever I sit down to watch it I’m entertained and pulled in by the story. It’s light on action, but the character development and setup is well done. It helps that it doesn’t need a lot of screentime to develop a character like Vreeland or Pierce, and they’re not short-shrifted at all. It’s a dense episode and it makes good use of what time it has. There’s not a lot of Batman, but the episode doesn’t need it and his presence is still felt throughout. I really like how the episode is able to get the audience to turn on Batman in some respects, as I recall watching this as a kid and being irritated with Batman for going after Penguin when he had done nothing wrong. Then I ultimately felt conflicts when Penguin did do something wrong, but still felt like he was justified in his actions. The episode needed to have him basically attempt murder in order to make it acceptable to see him sent off to jail in the end. If this is an episode you’ve either slept on or forgotten about, give it a look. And if it’s one you may not have liked much as a kid, you may find it more enjoyable as an adult. This isn’t the last we’ll see of The Penguin bringing Batman Returns to the small screen, but it was the most well done.