Wednesday, February 19, 2020

B:TAS Review — “Pretty Poison” (S1, E5)

How can anybody hate an episode that begins with goofy-haired Chinese people getting beat up and ends with vagina-shaped plant monsters trying to eat Batman?


By: Jimbo X

As much as I love Spider-Man, and keep in mind, I goddamn love me some Spider-Man, absolutely NONE of the Spidey cartoons have gotten anywhere close to being as superb as Batman: The Animated Series. As a matter of fact, not that many TV shows period — animated OR live-action — have gotten close to rivaling B:TAS in terms of quality. 

Pound-for-pound, I think B:TAS might be a top five all-time TV show for me, perhaps running only second to Golden Age Simpsons in the animation category. As far as I’m concerned, there has NEVER been a piece of Bat-media as good as B:TAS, and that includes both the ‘89 movie AND The Dark Knight. Not only did the cartoon absolutely nail everything that made The Caped Crusader so iconic, in a lot of ways, it absolutely nailed everything that makes superhero mythology so engrossing and captivating. 

Yes, yes, we can talk about how the show introduced Harley Quinn and gave us a version of Mr. Freeze so great D.C. ended up retconning the entire comic canon to sync up with the TV show, but for my money, the best episodes of B:TAS where the ones virtually devoid of any super-powered tomfoolery. “The Man Who Killed Batman,” “The Forgotten,” “It’s Never Too Late,” “Beware the Gray Ghost,” “I Am The Night” — all outstanding works of 22-minute drama without any mutants, high-tech beasts or supernatural hokum whatsoever. That said, I also had a soft-spot for the episodes that introduced a lot of the B-tier Bat-villains to the juvenilia hivemind, all of those great episodes that brought the likes of Two-Face, The Ventriloquist, Scarecrow and Killer Croc out of the pages of the comic and into my living room in vivid art-deco tones. And while I could probably write an article about all of those episodes, since we’re around the ass-end of February and almost in spring territory, which better character to build an essay around than one Poison Ivy?

“Pretty Poison” originally aired in Sept. 1992, and I recall the episode for many reasons. For one, it was the very first month that B:TAS started airing on the Fox Kids afternoon lineup, and if I’m remembering correctly here, it may have been the very first episode of the show’s second week on the air to be broadcast. Which means, of course, all weekend long the local Fox affiliate kept pimping the teaser trailer for the episode, showing Batman almost plummeting to his death over and over again. So yeah, needless to say, I was pumped to get my spelling homework wrapped up early that evening and witness how Batman averted certain death that Monday.

But there is more that made this one a memorable episode to six-year-old me, but how about we get into that delicate little matter after we wrap up our review of the episode proper? 

The episode begins with sepia tone footage of the mayor of Gotham City, whatever his name is supposed to be, breaking ground on the city's new jail. Meanwhile, some mysterious woman digs up flowers in the background while ominous music plays in the background. We then fast forward five years later to "a better, safer" Gotham, where this one guy with a haircut like Moe from The Three Stooges escapes from the pokey via helicopter. Also, Harvey Bullock being fat, grabs a last bite doughnut before hitting the trail. Of course, Batman is hot on the crooks’ asses, while at the Rose Cafe, D.A. Harvey Dent and this mysterious orange-haired bitch are having a ritzy dinner. So Dent and the mysterious redheaded bitch keep saying stuff about Bruce Wayne hanging around a classy bunch and "getting his kicks," which is interspersed with images of Batman beating the hot fuck out of prison escapees, because that's called parallelism, I think, in the literary world.

He's doubly scared after seeing what Bats just did to Curly and Larry.

So Batman heads back to the Batcave and Alfred hands him that one brown business suit he's alway wearing and he joins Harvey and his date at the cafe and the redhead says she has to split but not before giving Harvey a LOOONG goodnight French kiss (they didn't animate any protruding tongues, but you can see their mouths opening) and everybody checks out her jiggling ass as she strolls out of the restaurant like a common strumpet. Then Harvey tells Bruce he's going to ask the redheaded bitch, named Pamela, to marry him even though he LITERALLY just met her last week. Then Harvey passes out a chocolate pudding and they have to stick him in the back of a meat wagon as the camera pans in REALLY close at the rose emblem on the cafe window. Huh, I wonder why they made THAT specific artistic design decision?

Then the cops find out Harvey's in a come and fatass Harvey Bullock sprints out the door, but not before getting one more last-second doughnut for his fat ass. Then the doctor tells Commissioner Gordon that Dent's been poisoned, and apparently, it's the most virulent poison he's ever seen before. So Bruce swipes a DNA swab from him while Bullock interrogates the FUCK out of the head chef, baselessly accusing him of putting Strychnine in the mousse.

So Batman does some computer research and learns the poison comes from the "Wild Thorny Rose," which has been extinct for five years. Huh, what an oddly specific time for it to be extinct, huh?

So Dent is still all dying and shit and Pamela shows up at the hospital dressed like a cast  member of Designing Women and Bruce walks her to her car. She tries to kiss him goodnight, but Bruce dodges the shit out of it, because fuck women, that's why. OK, I admit, that last bit comes off as a little forced, but hey — this WAS meant for the intellects of six-year-olds during the height of Nick Arcade, and there was only so much plot they could expect those little buggers to digest at one time.

Legend has it the censors at Fox Kids forced them to edit out the tongues ... allegedly.

So Batman goes back to the Batcave and Alfred does some research on Pamela Isley. As it turns out, she's 28, has a PhD in botany and works making fragrances for some perfume company, including one called "Nightshade," which TOTALLY isn't on the nose or anything like that, at all. Hey, what do you know, she's an expert in extinct plants, too. What are the odds?

So Batman decides to sneak into her gigantic domed greenhouse and starts doing a little fourth and fifth amendment violating. Inside, Pamela tells the extinct flower it "did a good job" today, then she turns on some classical music, gets nekkid and takes a shower, which is the kind of thing you DEFINITELY did not see in kids’ programming back in the day all that often. So Batman breaks in and almost falls to his death in a cacti trap, only to become ensnared by a 10-foot-tall Venus' Fly Trap monster that looks awfully suspicious to the maw of a big, fat pussy. Just sayin'.

We return from commercial break and Batman is still being dragged towards certain death. Pamela emerges from bathtime wearing this weird spiky leotard dominatrix outfit, while Batman tries his darndest to kick the teeth out of the vagina plant monster. Suddenly, Pamela turns on the lights and she fake cries over Harvey Dent dying and shit, and then she starts laughing maniacally. She demands Batman call her "Poison Ivy" now and gives him a highly suggestive backrub while explaining why she had to kill Dent. Apparently, she's a mad ho 'cause to make room for Dent's penitentiary, they had to bulldoze a whole bunch of rare roses that ONLY grew on the site of the prison and nowhere else in the world, which I have to say, is a pretty big oversight on Gotham's environmental review board's part. I mean, fuck, you can't even step FOOT on certain wetlands because endangered snails have a habitat there, so something tells me the EPD probably woulda' put the kibosh on Dent's proposal in like, two seconds, had this been real life. But uh, it's not, it's a children's cartoon from 1992, and I am WAY overthinking this shit.

So anyway, Ivy continues to 'sperg out, before calmly collecting herself and letting Batman know that Harvey Dent's fate was sealed "with a kiss" as she pulls a tube of lipstick out from between her titties and makes her pink lips all red and shit. Which is the purpose of lipstick, in case you weren't aware of such. So the evil vagina plant monster snakes around Batman some more and turns him towards Ivy's lethal embrace, which, canonically, means either one of two things: either P.I. can TELEPATHICALLY control plant life or else the vagina plant is so goddamn intelligent that it knows how to be an accomplice to homicide. Either way, you'd think with biotech THAT impressive Pammy could've become a billionaire conservationist or something, but then again, how boring as fuck would that be? 

Pictured: how every single lipstick fetishist between the ages of 25-35 was created.

Then Ivy drapes her arms around Batman's neck and gives him a big, wet smooch while wearing the poison-smeared lipstick. Yeah, just think about this scenario for a minute: it's LITERAL non-consensual sexual battery being perpetrated on a bound, unwilling victim. Can you dare FATHOM the outrage had the gender roles been reversed, with some greasy ass dude tying up a cartoon bitch and forcing her to swap spit with him? Just sayin, 'cause the subtext here is goddamn DEEP, ya'll.

Apparently, the poison is so fast-acting that one second after getting smooched by Ivy, Batman's already hallucinating. Which kinda' raises the question, why DID she let Batman go to begin with? Couldn't she just have held on to him and keep Frenchin' him to death, or even easier, shoved the entire lipstick tube down his throat while he was bound? Needless to say, for criminal masterminds, these villains sure do need to work on the fundamentals of their grandiloquent schemes. 

So Batman tries to spit out the poison juice and Ivy waves the antidote in front of him a couple of times and she makes a joke about having cooties and then Batman breaks out his Bat-stiletto and starts cutting the vines off the vagina plant and Ivy accidentally shoots her own plant monster with a wrist-mounted crossbow, then it's time for Batman to LITERALLY bring the lights down, which in turn causes a raging fire to ensue. So Ivy grabs her beloved wild thorny rose and ends up dangling over the cacti pit from earlier and Ivy asks her to "enjoy extinction" and then Batman holds up the plant and says he ain't givin her the plant back until she gives him the antidote and, well, she does, and that's the end of it. Well goddamn, that was anticlimactic. Then Harvey makes a full recovery at the hospital, and Ivy ends up, irony of ironies, being housed in the same penitentiary that started all of this shit. Oh, and for some reason, the guards let her KEEP the world's most poisonous plant in existence ever in her cell, because it's not like she could ever use it to do something nefarious, like attempt to assassinate a public official. Fuck, no wonder Gotham has such a high crime rate — if its prisons are totally content allowing inmates to possess LITERAL weapons of mass destruction, I can only FATHOM the kind of shit they'd let Jeffrey Epstein or Harvey Weinstein get away with behind bars.

...all I can say is you ought to see what her other set of lips can do!

From an objective standpoint, I guess “Pretty Poison,” using the Dave Meltzer star rating system, would probably be an adjusted [*** ¾] out of [*****] episode, all things considered. Storywise, it certainly has its contentious points, and at some junctures, the logic just plain isn’t there. But as much as I may want to chide the narrative, at the end of the day, it’s still a pretty fun episode with a considerable amount of detective work in lieu of the chop-socky mess, and I’ll take the suspenseful buildup over your usual karate nonsense anyday. Well, at least when Batman is involved, anyway.

But this episode will always hold a special place in my heart for a very specific (and kinda’ sad) reason. I don’t think I really started liking girls until I saw Poison Ivy in this episode, and even now, I blame “Pretty Poison” for kickstarting at least four or five of my contemporary adult fetishes, including my severe predilection for redheads who wear too much lipstick and act like total bitches all the time. 

It doesn’t take a Freud to figure out what Pretty Poison was aiming at here. I think for most 30-year-old dweebs in the United States who grew up with most of the regular TV channels in the early 1990s, this episode HAD to have been your introduction to both bondage and the executrix trope. Even as a first-grader, I remember feeling really “weird” watching Poison Ivy slick on her deadly cosmetics and start tongue wrestling Batman to death against his will. Yes, yes, I understood the whole “she’s trying to kill him” shtick, but at the same time, I SOOOO wanted to be in Batman’s place, even if it did mean sucking down a mouthful of killer plant juice and being eaten by a giant, verdant pussy monster. At that point in time, I’m pretty sure — irony of ironies — Poison Ivy planted a seed in my impressionable young mind that I enjoy being dominated, on the conceptual level, and in a really weird way, the episode kinda’ served as a mini sexual awakening. Yeah, maybe I’m reading too much here, but you know what? Reading is fundamental, and this episode fundamentally gave me wood at an age I had no idea what to do with it — and for that reason alone, I will always cherish it.

Naturally, I was excited whenever a new Ivy episode aired, although to be frank, none of the subsequent shows gave me the same libidinal thrills as Pretty Poison (although the follow-up Eternal Youth DID really make me wonder what it felt like to have a hot blonde chick spray evil plant slime on me … don’t follow that line of logic, please.) Really, this is the ideal characterization of Ivy in my book, and the version of the character I always kinda’ default to as the prime embodiment of P.I. — both in the concrete and in the abstract. Here’s hoping that when Ivy gets reintroduced to the DC Cinematic Universe, whoever writes her takes some copious inspiration from this episode — you know, writing her as a sexy, vampy, deadly-lipped vixen  instead of turning her into a climate change alarmist, Greta Thunberg-type with lime green skin, which seems like a two-to-one odd at this point in the pop cultural milieu.

Of course, we’ve all seen that meme about how Hollywood keeps turning all of the iconic redheaded comic characters into black people. And using the Pretty Poison framework herein, I think, for once, that blackwashing might actually be for the literary and aesthetic good. Hell, why not recast Poison Ivy as a super fine mocha-skinned chick who hates Whitey and blames Gotham’s millionaires for the mass incarceration of her Nubian kin, using super deadly lipgloss to lure would-be oil-drilling billionaires into the interracial kiss of death?

I mean, shit — it’s not a worse idea than turning Jussie Smollett’s sister into a hyper-literal version of Black Canary, is it? 

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