Batman: The Animated Series – “House & Garden”

house and garden title cardEpisode Number:  70

Original Air Date:  May 2, 1994

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

It’s taken a few episodes, but we’ve finally arrived at our first “special” episode of the second season. That’s not to say the first five have been bad, they’ve just been a tad underwhelming. “House & Garden” puts the show back into a role it’s best suited for in which it takes a villain and applies a sympathetic edge to the character. Sounds simple, right? It’s not so easy though as the villain does need to earn our sympathy and it’s on the writers and animators to pull that off. Good thing then we have Paul Dini on this one, who has written some of the show’s best thus far. And the subject this time around, and the title probably gives it away, is Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) once again. In her final appearance in the original series as a featured villain, Ivy demonstrates that the old adage “save the best for last” still applies. And that’s no small statement, as I’m a big fan of her debut episode “Pretty Poison” and her team-up with Harley Quinn was one of the most entertaining episodes of season one. She’s basically played the part of small-time eco-terrorist without much of a relatable aspect to her personality making her the perfect candidate for an episode like this one.

The episode opens on a giant creature infiltrating an apartment building. He’s shadowed, but it’s obvious he’s pretty imposing and probably not human. It’s obviously fairly smart as it knows where to locate a safe in the residence, and when the creature is interrupted by the presumed owner of this dwelling, it takes him out quickly and flees with the loot. At the police department sometime later, Gordon and a police scientist are examining the facts on the crime we just witnessed. Some green residue was left behind that the scientist identifies as a plant-based poison. Batman emerges from the shadows to name the one suspect we’re all thinking:  Poison Ivy. Normally, Gordon is one to go with Batman’s hunch, but this time he tells the Dark Knight to think again. Apparently Poison Ivy, real name Pamela Isley, was recently released from Arkham. She was able to complete her post-release therapy and even ended up marrying her therapist, Steven Carlyle (Peter Strauss).

mr and mrs carlyle

The happy couple.

This is probably the episode’s lone weak point as it’s hard to believe that Batman would not be up to date on the whereabouts of one of his famous adversaries. The guy prides himself on being up to date with the criminal underworld, and him not knowing that Ivy not only was released, but married, stretches belief. Nonetheless, Batman needs to see for himself so he and Gordon pay the new Mrs. Carlyle a visit. There they meet Steven, as well as Pamela’s step sons Chris (Scott McAfee) and Kelly (Christopher Pickering). She expresses an understanding that she would naturally be a suspect in these crimes given the circumstances, but insists she’s innocent and is quite content with her new life as a wife and mother. Steven stands up for his wife as well, and with Gordon convinced, Batman is forced to concede it’s possible the former villain has reformed.

Our setting then shifts to Gotham University where Dick Grayson (Loren Lester) is putting the moves on a co-ed by the name of Cindy (Megan Mulally). As one assumes happens to Dick often, his potential romance is put on hold by a phone call from Batman. It would seem that Dr. Carlyle is a professor at Gotham U and Batman wants some info on him. Dick knows him, and even had a class with him, and he agrees to keep an eye on him. When the call is over, Dick notices a shadow in his room. He at first thinks it’s Cindy and he’s probably ready to turn back on that old Grayson charm, but it turns out to be the creature from before. He trashes the room and batters Dick, who didn’t see it coming.

bruce attacked

Damn backseat drivers.

The police are called to Dick’s dorm as the ward of Bruce Wayne has been kidnapped. Cindy is there speaking with the police in hysterics and Bruce is there as well. Gordon tells Wayne he worries this may be an extortion scheme, which Bruce seems to take seriously. Later, he’s shown driving in his car when the creature (Jim Cummings) that abducted Dick pops up from behind him. He was hiding out in the backseat of Bruce’s car, and we get a good look at him. He resembles a human cactus with spikes for fingers which are placed perilously close to Bruce’s neck. He demands five million dollars and instructs Bruce to meet him at the docks at midnight or Dick’s life is forfeit.

batman caught in the act

This seems to happen to Batman a lot when he messes with Ivy.

The creature escapes, and Bruce is left to return to his home. It’s early in the day, so he has some time to kill and chooses to essentially stalk Pamela Carlyle as Batman. He follows her all day and observes her doing boring, housewife, stuff. Shopping, picking up the kids from school, nothing incriminating. His last stop is the Carlyle residence and as he observes from the roof some sentient vines take hold of him. They drop Batman to ground level, where Pamela confronts him. She reminds him that trespassing is a crime, and again insists she’s clean. Batman actually seems to believe her this time.

Bruce arrives at the docks with the money, seeing no alternative to getting Dick back safely. True to its word, the creature shows up, but like any true villain it doesn’t hand over Dick even after Bruce produces the money instead choosing to attack. Bruce dodges and lets the monster force him off the dock, so that he can emerge from the waters as Batman! It’s a bit dramatic, but Batman does enjoy the theatrics. Dick is tied up and still in danger when Batman attacks severing the creature’s claws with a Batarang. The creature appears unnerved by the loss of its claws and panics a bit, but is able to knock Batman into some crates giving him an opening to escape.

plant monster attacks

He’s a big boy.

Batman lets the creature go, instead turning his attention to Dick who is bound. They then are shown in the Batmobile and Dick is in his Robin costume. Batman explains he’s already checked out Poison Ivy and believes her when she says she’s found happiness with her new husband and sons. Robin is surprised to hear this, as he mentions that while attending one of Carlyle’s lectures his ex-wife brought their children by for a visit revealing that Chris and Kelly were girls.

The Dynamic Duo head for the Carlyle residence. It’s after midnight, and Robin observes that everyone appears to be asleep except Pam. Batman noses around, and eventually the two stumble upon a hidden laboratory. Inside they find Steven Carlyle – the real Steven Carlyle. He’s in a tub of goo and when he’s awakened he says that he was fooled by Ivy. Before they can talk further, some plants start to move around and in one of the creepiest events in this show some babies emerge.

Batman The Animated Series CR: Warner Bros. Animation

Unsettling, but not really threatening. Yet.

The three soon find themselves entangled in vines, and Poison Ivy makes her dramatic entrance. She goes into the typical villain routine and explains her actions and what’s been going on. She’s uncovered a formula that allows her to make plant creatures. Unable to conceive children herself due to her unusual toxicity, these plant creatures are like her babies. She needed the DNA of Carlyle to complete the process, and reveals that the plant babies are actually short-lived. The creature Batman has been tangling with returns, and it’s apparently about to expire. Ivy feeds some of her babies a formula that will hasten their development. They grow and resemble Carlyle before mutating into hideous cactus creatures as well. Ivy was doing all of this because her new life needed money if it was ever able to get off the ground, hence why her creatures are thieves.

Batman and Robin are forced to do battle with them with Robin’s attention mostly diverted to keeping Carlyle safe. The creatures force them into the main house as they stick and move. Batman is apparently just trying to lure them into a trap as he had planted herbicide in Ivy’s sprinkler system when they first arrived. Once activated, the children of Ivy are destroyed leaving the villainess to ponder where she went wrong. As Batman approaches her, she begins to melt herself. She had created a plant-clone of herself allowing an easy escape. The police and Batman are unable to catch her, but Batman suspects these events have been hard on her. She’s shown leaving Gotham on an airplane, looking at a photo album. He suspects she was telling the truth when she told him that she was happy with her new life, and he’s apparently right as the tears well up in Isley’s eyes as the episode comes to a close.

ivy copy

She’s a slippery one.

“House & Garden” is an excellent example of this show finding a way to incorporate some sci-fi elements without losing its core. The previous episode, “Avatar,” was not successful at the same and it was my main point of criticism there. This one works because it introduces a human element. Poison Ivy, in creating these plant-monsters that start life as human-like babies, is compensating for her inability to conceive children. It’s something many women struggle with and I’m sure most people know someone in that boat, if they aren’t themselves. Her motivations for wanting a new life are honest, she just doesn’t really know any other way to get what she wants without breaking the law. The plant-babies are unsettling making this one of the creepier episodes in the series. It’s a good kind of unsettling, and helps this episode stand out and really feel like a true sci-fi story. The slow reveal of the plot is also handled well, and I do love how Batman discovers she’s been playing him via Robin’s revelation. Before that though, the viewer is also like Batman and left to wonder if she’s telling the truth, and I think like Batman, we want to believe her.

This is another Dong Yang episode and it’s another good showing for the studio. I like the design of the plant monster, who’s pretty fearsome and even a tad gross. The whole sequence in the lab though is the stand-out moment as the plant babies are made to be as cute and lovable as possible. It really helps sell their transformation as something awful. The subtle animation of Poison Ivy beginning to weep at the episode’s end is also a moment of beauty. She looks truly pained, and it’s the shot that was needed to really bring this one home.

ivy cries.jpgAs I mentioned before, “House & Garden” is Poison Ivy’s last featured episode. She’ll make a cameo in a future episode, but this is essentially her finale before returning in The New Batman Adventures. It’s a great way to go out, and since it is essentially her finale it makes it easier on the writing staff as they don’t really need to figure out where to take her next. Presumably this has no true lasting effect on her. She’s defeated and sad in the moment, but likely is forced to carry on. After all, this is a woman who weeps when someone steps on a pretty flower so maybe I’m making too much of her demeanor on that airplane. Regardless, this is quietly one of the better episodes in the series, and Poison Ivy is one of its best characters.


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