Dreams in Darkness

  The Scarecrow slips Batman a drug that lands him in Arkham.
  Original Airdate: November 3, 1992
  Episode # 28
  Rating: * *

Credits Cast

Written by Judith Reeves-Stevens
      & Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Directed by Dick Sebast
Music by Todd Hayen
Animation by Studio Junio

Kevin Conroy as Batman
Loren Lester as Robin
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred
Henry Polic II as Scarecrow

Richard Dysart as Dr. Bartholomew
Takayo Fischer as Dr. Wu
Ron Taylor as Orderly

A persistent weakness in the Scarecrow character is the lack of motivation for his crimes. In "Dreams in Darkness" we find him about to release a "fear toxin" into the water supply. But if we asked him afterward why he wanted to do this, what could he answer? Because it seemed like a good idea at the time?

In "Nothing to Fear" it is explained that Jonathan Crane has always had this "thing" for scaring people. (Just as Snidely Whiplash had his "thing" for tying women to railroad tracks, I suppose.) But this is a wan kind of motive, as stupidly unilluminating in its evil way as Sir Edmund Hillary's explanation for why he climbed Everest. One senses sadly that the real motive for the Scarecrow's behavior lies in the writer's need for someone to do something reprehensible.

At the root of the matter may be a difficulty in sorting out the Scarecrow's ends from his means, with a consequent confusion between the goals the Scarecrow intends to reach and the tactics he employs in reaching them. As a psychologist specializing in phobic disorders, Crane knows how to induce fear and trembling in his victims. Whatever he wants to accomplish, then, can best be done by manipulating his victims' fears or capacity for fear. But this tells us nothing about what the Scarecrow wants to accomplish. And without a sense or statement of what those goals are, the writer will be tempted to substitute means for end and make the Scarecrow's goal simply the scaring of people.

Compare the Scarecrow with the Penguin, Freeze, and Joker. Penguin clearly is just after loot. However boring his adventures, we know how to make sense of his actions: Here is the Penguin; there is some money; watch the former go after the latter with parasols, trained birds, and flying machines. Freeze is after revenge and the resusitation of his wife; watch as he withers anything that stands in his way. The Joker is probably the closest in conception to the Scarecrow. He is an inhuman monster with a schtick that is a perversion of a genuine human emotion. But though his purposes and goals may vary from adventure to adventure, he always clearly states what he wants; and though he may enjoy giving people the laughing gas, we only ever see him do it in the course of some caper.

Occasionally, as in "Fear of Victory," something like this develops for the Scarecrow. There, he was using his fear techniques to fix and win money off of sporting events. Usually, however, his actions are woefully underexplained. This is a real pity, since what we know about the Scarecrow from the comics suggests some rich possibilities. We know that Jonathan Crane was a fragile youth routinely terrorized and abused by others and plainly traumatized by his experiences. We know that he is learned and brilliant and given to introspection and fantasy. From this base it is not hard to imagine Crane turning into a man fiercely devoted to solitude and study and capable of a murderous rage when his privacy is violated. It is possible, in other words, to imagine him as a reactive force, in the mold of Freeze, systematically terrorizing and destroying anyone who crosses him but rarely wanting to start trouble himself. Or we can imagine him as a mercenary, a specialist hired by others for nefarious purposes, but who is not himself strongly motivated by particular rages or desires. But if the Scarecrow is going to remain a sadist and a sadist only—if he is going to be moved only by the psychotic desire to harm others—we ought to be made to feel the seductive power that sadism has over its practitioners; we should be made to feel and appreciate the hot and sour joy that comes from the purposeful humiliation of another.

Instead, we get something like "Dreams in Darkness," an episode that wastes many interesting possibilities. The idea of Batman confined to Arkham gives a frisson of expectation, but Bartholomew just clucks condescendingly over him. The Scarecrow seems to be running his plot out of a padded cell (a la The Testament of Dr. Mabuse), but then it just just turns out that he has somehow escaped. Batman's fears, unlike the eerie, unmotivated panic-attacks in "Fear of Victory," are grounded in hallucinations, making one wonder if the Scarecrow is experimenting in fear toxins or bad acid. Worst of all is a thick, distracting, and wholly unnecessary voice over. (Badly written, too: "Word on the street was that something big was going down." The clichés were raining like cats and dogs, and I had a bad feeling there was more where they were coming from.)

Production Notes
Bruce Timm on the nightmare sequence: "The gun is dripping blood! How did that ever get past BS&P? It wasn't intended to be blood, it was intended to be wreckage from the street. But they painted it red, and it looks like this big old gun dripping blood. My God! At the mixing stage, I had to fight with the music editor ... about the way the music had been cued. It ran all the way up to the firing of this large gun. Then it stops. I felt it wasn't working, because the music was fighting this great effect of those big, huge cylinders cocking into place on the gun that the sound effects guys had come up with. I thought we had to stop the music before the cylinders cocked and told Tom I really wanted to try it this way. Eric agreed, so we set it up. Now the music stops just two beats sooner. And the sound of that gun is like the Crack of Doom right before it fires. It really sells it."

Related Episodes
   * Nothing to Fear
   * Fear of Victory
   * Never Fear
   * Spellbound

What Others Are Saying ...
"A superb look into what the people of Gotham experience when exposed to the Scarecrow's fear gas. There are many very well done hallucinations that Batman experiences. . . . an excellent piece of work and surely one of the better episodes of Batman."World's Finest

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