Clayface is slowly dissolving and searches for a cure.
  Original Airdate: December 15, 1993
  Episode # 52
  Rating: * * * *

Credits Cast

Story by Alan Burnett
Teleplay by Steve Perry
Directed by Eric Radomski
Music by Shirley Walker
Animation by Studio Junio

Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred
Ron Perlman as Clayface
Rob Clotworthy as Billy
Pat Musick as Stella Bates
Marcia Wallace as Fiancee

Eyeing Sunset Boulevard, Otto Friedrich decides that it is only appropriate that, if Gloria Swanson is to go mad, she must go mad in a florid, Hollywood way, gliding down an enormous staircase toward an imagined close-up for Mr. DeMille. Similarly, how fitting that each Clayface episode should end with his presumed death, for every ham actor lives for his death scenes. (In the early nineteenth century, a certain Robert Coates lived so much for them that he would spontaneously interrupt the action of the play just to re-enact one.) Matt Hagen is no exception. "I'da given anything to play this kind of a death scene," he gasps to Batman at the end of "Feat of Clay." "Curtain's going down," he sighs in "Mudslide." So why shouldn't we expect Hagen to die over and over, at the end of each adventure, in more lurid and spectacular fashion than before, only to reappear, apparently no worse for wear, in later installments? Of course, we know that at the end of "Mudslide" he really did die. I mean, he really did. Didn't he?

If "Mudslide" were a serious episode, it would demean its integrity to turn the ending into just another matinee serial escape from mortality. Fortunately, I cannot take it seriously—it has too many marvelous jokes. Stella Bates (so Hagen, doing his best Brando, can cry "Stella!"), who used to own a motel (the "Bates" Motel, we groan), saves Hagen by encasing him in a shell that leaves him looking like an Oscar statue. She weeps over old movies (produced by Warner Bros.) with titles like "Dark Interlude" (recalling melodramas Dark Victory and Strange Interlude). She screams as Batman tries to burst from Clayface's chest (á la Alien) and the whole ridiculous enterprise climaxes on a dark and stormy night outside the scientist's laboratory (any old Universal horror picture) with the hero and villain dangling from a high place while the latter's grip slowly, slowly slips away (Saboteur). I am not aware what "Tarnower Financial" or "MD 40" refer to, but in a broth this rich it is hard not to think that they signify.

Now, in calling it ridiculous and saying that I cannot take it seriously, I am not criticizing or belittling it; far from it. It is deliriously entertaining; it squeezes the conventions of melodrama until the pips squeak. A spectacular death and astonishing resurrection are perfectly consistent with this kind of good clean fun, as any viewer of soap operas knows.

I argued about "Feat of Clay" that Matt Hagen's tragedy is not a tragedy in the classical sense but an existential one, a reduction to absurdity. Here, his physical decay is the outward sign of his moral and psychological decay (a feature Alfred shrewdly picks up on). When he comforts Stella, we know that he is only quoting snippets of dialogue from one of his old movies because we just saw that scene played on television. But how many other bits of his dialogue are culled from or are paraphrases of lines from his career? "Let's cut to the chase. The MD40, where is it?" "Run, run for your measly lives! Run from Clayface!" "It ends now!" Only an imitative actor now and not a moral agent, he can advance his plans only by forcing circumstances into familiar dramatic patterns and then following his instincts. No wonder he has to die, only to reappear in the sequel!

I do not deny that there is genuine emotional power in watching his suffering; I am repelled by how heartless Batman is in stopping the cure that Stella has devised. ("The lab boys can take it from here" indeed!) But this only shows that, in going absurdist, the episode does not go post-modern. To appreciate absurdity is not necessarily to laugh at it; there is no confusing Beckett with Beavis and Butthead.

What might be next for Clayface? Might I suggest a political career, as a mayoral candidate or governor who affects the air of a genial but slightly bewildered grandfather. Or, since he has to die luridly at the end, as a canny, handsome, charismatic young playboy whose assassination (followed by a coverup) sparks conspiracy theories that come nowhere near the truth. . . .

Related Episodes
   * Feat of Clay
   * Holiday Knights
   * Growing Pains
   * Disappearing Inque

What Others Are Saying ...
"... a mediocre episode ... but the finale itself made it one of the most memorable episodes of all time."World's Finest

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