Batman: The Animated Series – “Batgirl Returns”

batgirl returns cardEpisode Number:  85

Original Air Date:  November 12, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Michael Reaves and Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  None

We have reached the end of the series. Episode 85 is the last produced episode of Batman:  The Animated Series, though it aired as the 8th episode of the third season. It’s not surprising then that this wasn’t aired as the series finale since it’s missing a pretty important ingredient:  Batman. Yes, that’s right. For the first time in this show Batman is going to sit on the sidelines. There have been episodes with smaller doses of Batman in the past, but none where he was absent. Bruce Wayne has a brief appearance to explain his absence, but that’s it. There is some screen time for Batman, but it’s right at the beginning and is part of a dream sequence, so technically he’s in it, but technically he’s not at the same time.

This last episode of production season two brings us another fairly major return, and it’s Batgirl. We last saw Batgirl in the two-parter “Shadow of the Bat” in which she helped to clear her father, Commissioner Gordon, of criminal charges. She’s kept quiet since as Barbara returned to her life as a college student. The ending of the episode made me wonder if Bruce and Dick knew who was under the cowl of Batgirl, and if they did, they sure don’t act like it here. In fairness, Bruce doesn’t get to react much to her presence, but Robin will. It seems hard to believe that Batman, who is pretty damn good at this sort of thing, couldn’t figure out who Batgirl is. On the other hand, we’ve seen a lot of Robin in this season and he hasn’t always looked too sharp so I am able to at least go along with him not knowing, and Bruce is under no obligation to share. I am not at all surprised we’re getting another Batgirl episode as her first appearance was well received, as far as I know. It’s just a little surprising it was reserved for the last episode in the production schedule.

batman batgirl steamy

It makes sense that she wouldn’t be into Robin.

The episode begins in a darkened museum. Someone has their eyes set on stealing a jade cat statue, but Batman is there to stop them. He’s soon struck with a laser of some kind, and we see it’s being fired by The Penguin! Batman is pressed up against a wall as a playing card comes flying in. In comes Joker followed by Two-Face. Given the events of past episodes, it seems odd for these three to be working together again, but when you have a common foe I guess it’s easy to look past old grudges. When all hope appears lost, help arrives. It’s Batgirl! She drives the crooks away and races over to check on Batman. He’s injured as she helps him up. He says her name, but appears too groggy to say much more. Their eyes meet as their capes billow in the wind. From afar, we see their silhouettes in the moonlight as they lean in for a kiss.

The sound of Dick calling her name wakes Barbra Gordon (Melissa Gilbert) from her dream. She’s surrounded by textbooks and homework and looking a little annoyed that her lovely dream was interrupted like that. She heads over to the window, and surprisingly Dick is right outside it. The way his shouts sounded seemed to indicate that Barbara’s dorm was not at ground level, but his head is literally less than a foot below her window. She yells to him as well, which makes me think when these lines were recorded the direction was that they were yelling to each from a much higher vantage point for Barbara, making this scene rather awkward. Dick just wants to know if Barbara is willing to take a pizza break, but she says she can’t as she needs to ace these midterms or her dad will lock her up. Dick doesn’t put up a fight and leaves her to her studying mercifully putting an end to this exchange. As she heads back for her books, the newspaper is delivered and slid under her door. The front page is covering the theft of the jade cat statue, which seems to give Barbara an idea.

the cat vs the batgirl

Time to tango.

The university museum has been broken into by none other than Catwoman (Adrienee Barbeau). However, it appears she’s the second person to enter as the lock on the skylight was melted away. She drops inside to inspect the case where the cat statue once stood and is surprised to be met by Batgirl. Batgirl accuses Catwoman of returning to the scene of the crime, but Catwoman is quick to point out the methods utilized by the actual thief before demonstrating how she would have done it with her claws. The two exchange silly superhero banter with Batgirl insisting she tell her tale to the police (she’s so like Batman). Robin drops in to interrupt the two, and Catwoman uses the distraction to her advantage and escapes. As Robin grabs Batgirl to help him chase after Catwoman, he ignores her protests.

batgirl unconvinced

Batgirl is going to need some convincing.

On the rooftop, Catwoman uses a bola to entangle Robin and make her ultimate escape. Batgirl, knowing she didn’t steal the statue, lets her flee while Robin sarcastically remarks how much help she ended up being. She tries to tell him what she knows, but Robin isn’t listening. He tells her to stay out of his way and leaves. Some men…

The next day, as Barbara appears to be leaving the campus gym, she spies a cat-shaped card on a bulletin board addressed to “The Winged Mouse.” She reads it and finds an address and instructions to meet there tonight. Barbara does as she’s told, and that night Batgirl heads to the spot to find Catwoman waiting for her. Catwoman remarks she was impressed the prior night with Batgirl and proposes a team-up to find the real thief. Batgirl appears hesitant, but then naively agrees on the condition that if it turns out Catwoman is up to no good that she’ll turn herself in. Catwoman agrees, and the two shake hands forming their partnership.

At the Batcave, Robin is shown talking on the phone. He’s speaking with Bruce who is in France for an important meeting that he can’t bail on. He cautions Robin when dealing with Selina Kyle as she likes to play games. After their conversation ends, he openly remarks that he hopes Batgirl isn’t in over her head.

bat cat teamup

They’re basically the only two major female characters in this show so of course they have to team up.

Catwoman leads Batgirl to a dive bar called The Stacked Deck. Batgirl is disgusted to be there declaring it the sleaziest bar in Gotham, which is why Catwoman says they’re going to check it out. If anyone knows anything about that stolen statue, they’ll likely be in here. The two stroll in and the gathering of basically all men turn to admire the women. Catwoman narrows her focus on a guy who looks like a stereotypical scientist and begins interrogating him. This guys goes by the name of The Chemist (Scott Valentine), and Catwoman thinks he would know where the acid used in the robbery came from. He lists off a couple of possible locations in a hushed voice, one of which being the chemical plant that gave birth to The Joker, before making a run for it. The bar then erupts in violence forcing Batgirl and Catwoman to battle their way outside.

the chemist

If Hugo Strange combined with Professor Farnsworth you would end up with The Chemist.

Once there, Catwoman commandeers a motorcycle (really guys, why leave your keys in the ignition at a bar where criminals frequent?) and Batgirl jumps on the back of it. The two speed away just as the cops show up. One squad car goes after them and Catwoman leads them on a chase onto a freeway that’s still under construction. Conveniently, the overpass is complete except for a six-foot gap that the bike can easily clear, but a police car cannot.

bike escape

I’m legitimately surprised they were able to do this scene without helmets.

Catwoman declares she has a good idea who is behind the robbery and takes Batgirl to an old abandoned factory. Batgirl recognizes it as a building once belonging to Roland Daggett and it’s the same building where Clayface was born. Catwoman confirms this while also adding it’s the same place where a virus was developed that nearly killed her (“Cat Scratch Fever”). The two head inside and Catwoman easily locates the jade cat statue. Too easily, as soon a flood light clicks on and the two find themselves staring down the gun of Roland Daggett (Ed Asner) himself, along with some of his men.

captured by daggett

Nice of Daggett to save his first appearance of season two for the final episode.

Apparently not willing to risk getting shot, Catwoman and Batgirl are then shown with their hands bound and Daggett’s men around them. They’re on a catwalk which is running over some imposing looking vats of green, bubbly, acid. Daggett explains his legal fees relating to his last encounter with Batman have bankrupt him. He needs money from the sale of this cat statue to start life, and business, somewhere else and stealing it provided the perfect cover since everyone in Gotham would assume Catwoman was behind it. Batgirl then notices Catwoman is keeping them talking because she’s using one of her claws to cut through her restraints. Batgirl does the same and tries to guess at the death trap awaiting them. Daggett corrects her though:  there’s no trap, he’s just going to have his men shoot them. Before they can react, Robin swings in to take out some of Daggett’s goons. Catwoman then frees herself and goes after another while Batgirl is forced to fight with just her legs. Catwoman even tosses a man over the railing, but he lands on a pipe running over the acid bath, sparing himself a rather nasty end. Batgirl winds up in a precarious position when it looks like one of the crooks is going to toss her overboard, but Robin makes the save by cutting her restraints with a batarang which is enough for Batgirl. As the two congratulate each other, they realize Daggett and Catwoman are missing.

batgirl needs saving

It’s a bit annoying how often Batgirl needs saving, hopefully she improves for the next series.

Daggett, with the jade cat statue in hand, is shown running across a darkened catwalk. Catwoman calls out to him, and he spins and fires at shadows not realizing the voice came from above. She uses her whip to disarm Daggett before dropping in on him. She retrieves the cat statue and while regarding it Daggett finds a metal hook lying around and tries to take her out. She easily avoids the old man and lets him tumble over the railing catching his foot in a chain. As he dangles over the acid, Catwoman seems content to let him fall as payback for the whole virus thing. Batgirl arrives and uses the classic super hero line of “You’re just as bad as him if you let him go,” and Catwoman basically laughs her off and lets go. Batgirl makes the save by grabbing the chain, but is having a hard time hauling Daggett up which allows Catwoman to flee once again. Robin then shows up and the two pull Daggett to safety.

catwoman daggett

Yeah, he’s not getting away from her.

On the rooftop, Catwoman swings from building to building with the aid of her whip, but soon finds Batgirl on her tail. Batgirl uses a bola of her own to catch the cat burglar, and the two then have a little chat. Catwoman confesses that it was always her intention to steal the statue, causing Batgirl to remind her of their deal. Catwoman proposes the two team-up, but Batgirl is sticking with the law. The police arrive on the scene and Catwoman surprisingly agrees to the terms of the deal as she lets the arriving officers place her in handcuffs. While they lead her away she tells them Batgirl is innocent, which is apparently good enough for them.

robin bargirl celebrate

Robin with the premature celebration.

Batgirl and Robin observe as the two officers place Catwoman in their squad car. They take off while the two basically have a moment to congratulate each other again. As they watch the car speed away, it begins to swerve. Soon the doors open and both cops are tossed. They run over to help the officers, who rise to their feet and realize their guns are missing. Catwoman then yells from the car that she agreed she’d let the police take her, but she never said how far. As she takes off, Robin starts to go after her, but Batgirl grabs him by the cape insisting there will be another time. She must have been really certain there was going to be a season three!

And that’s how the series comes to an end, with Batgirl and Catwoman having a cheeky little romp through Gotham. Catwoman, due to her playful nature, is as good a villain as any for this type of story. She’s returned to her life of crime following the events of “Catwalk” (which would awkwardly air after this episode) so no explanation is needed for her ulterior motives. It’s interesting that this was the first chance for her to interact with Robin as one could see her using her feminine charms on him, but they have few interactions. The episode also serves as a curtain call for Roland Daggett, a pretty big player in season one who will never be seen again. I guess the in-universe explanation would be that since he’s no longer wealthy he couldn’t afford a good attorney to keep him out of prison this time.

batgirl returns pose

Batgirl may still be new at all of this, but she’s definitely got the poses figured out.

This is another directorial effort from Dan Riba, who was given an expanded role back when Dick Sebast left the show. Unlike the directors for the past two episodes, Riba will stay on for the next iteration of Batman. Joining him will be Dong Yang Animation which will animate all of the episodes of The New Batman Adventures save for five. This isn’t their best work as some of the animation seems a bit stiff. Perhaps it’s due to animating the more slight female characters as opposed to Batman. This is the final appearance of Melissa Gilbert as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. She’ll be replaced by Mary Kay Bergman in Batman & Mr. Freeze:  SubZero and then by Tara Strong in The New Batman Adventures. This is also Dick Grayson’s last appearance as Robin in an episode of the show, though he’ll be in the upcoming movie.

As a series finale, “Batgirl Returns” is miscast, but it’s not a bad episode by any means. This is a fun, entertaining, reintroduction for Batgirl. She’s painfully naive throughout, but since she’s new at this I suppose I can overlook it. Robin and the police both overlooking Catwoman and her ability to escape are less forgivable as this episode really puts an exclamation point on how inept the Gotham PD is. And Robin, for that matter.

Even if the series finale isn’t what one would have expected, it doesn’t diminish what Batman:  The Animated Series meant for children’s cartoons and Batman as a whole. It’s the show that helped re-legitimize the character for a new generation which had grown up on reruns of the 1960s show. The show arguably gave us the best Batman (Kevin Conroy), the best Joker (Mark Hamill), and absolutely the best Mr. Freeze and Two-Face. When I decided to revisit the show in this format as a celebration of the show’s 25th anniversary there was some skepticism on my part. I didn’t think the show would hold up as well as it did. I knew “Heart of Ice” and other select episodes would be great still, but I was surprised to find that most of the episodes I didn’t remember fondly I ended up having a more positive reaction to this time around. There’s still a few duds, but by and large the show is very consistent and very entertaining. It gives me hope for The New Batman Adventures as I don’t have great memories of that show so I’m hoping I’ll like it more now than I have in the past. One thing I do know though is that it isn’t as good as the original two seasons. This is still my favorite portrayal of Batman, and I doubt that will ever change.


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