The Batman Episode Guide 1×10: A Death Worse Than Fate
The 1966 Batman television show was one of the most successful and influential adaptations of comic books to mass media of all time. Over the course of three seasons and 120 episodes, the series became a cultural force with its unique combination of tongue-in-cheek humor, thrilling superhero adventure and celebrity guest stars, and shaped the way the public would view the Caped Crusader for the next five decades. Now, in the midst of a well-deserved renaissance of the show, ComicsAlliance is proud to present The Batman '66 Episode Guide, an in-depth examination of every single adventure, arch-criminal and deathtrap cliffhanger of the series.
This week, Batman and Robin face Zelda the Great, Evol Ekdal, and... The Inescapable Doom Trap!
Episode 1x10: A Death Worse Than Fate
Script: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Director: Norman Foster
Original Air Date: February 10, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Anne Baxter as Zelda the Great
Deathtraps were a huge part of Batman '66 -- even moreso than the comics, really, since the show relied on that two-part, cliffhanger format in a way that their four-color counterparts didn't. So on paper, it seems like John Broome and Sheldon Moldoff's "The Inescapable Doom Trap" would've been a slam dunk to adapt to the small screen. It's even a two-parter! So why is it that when we last left our heroes, it was Aunt Harriet, not the Caped Crusader, who was tied up in a straitjacket dangling above a pit of flaming oil?
The problem, of course, is that once Batman gets out of the Doom Trap (which ends up being slightly more escapable than advertised), the story is pretty much over. So since that's what the story hinges on in both the comic book and televised version, and since an hour of television is a whole lot more space to fill than 14 pages of Silver Age comics, this episode ends up feeling like it has a lot more filler than anything we've seen so far.
But that doesn't mean that it's bad, and we actually open with one of my favorite moments of the series. Zelda has given millionaire philanthropist Bruce (Batman) Wayne exactly one hour to come up with $100,000 to pay Aunt Harriet's ransom before she's turned into matronly tempura, which presents a unique problem in that Batman has to speed off to change back into his civilian identity before making an appearance. This has left Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara unable to locate Wayne, leading O'Hara to claim that they've "checked every rich man's club and eatin' place in Gotham City."
So basically, O'Hara, THE CHIEF OF POLICE FOR A MAJOR METROPOLITAN CITY, does not know the word "restaurant." Eatin' place. Swear to God.
With only 20 minutes remaining on Zelda's time limit, Wayne finally arrives, claiming that Batman found him and then dashed off to follow up on another clue, deputizing Robin to act as his official representative. That settled, the four crime-fighters head to a televised press conference, setting up a telephone line that the kidnapper can call in to speak to them, promising that it's not being traced.
BRUCE WAYNE: That's right. No trace. Our only interest is the safe return of Mrs. Harriet Cooper.
ROBIN: We give crooks no quarter, but we always deal with them fairly, too!
GORDON: Correct, criminals! We don't wish to undermine whatever remaining faith you have in organized society!
Gordon also starts the broadcast by saying, "Hello Criminals, wherever you are out there," and I kind of want to start every podcast I'm on with that line now.
Having been assured that she won't be traced back to her lair at the Gnome Book Store (which is pretty weird given how this episode goes), Zelda calls in and confronts the heroes, taking care to disguise her voice by speaking through a thin, diaphanous single layer of silk handkerchief.
There's some bickering between Robin and Zelda about what constitutes a fair move in the battle against crime -- Zelda calls them out on planting the phony Star of Samarkand, which, if we're being honest, is a little less offensive than kidnapping one's aunt and boiling her alive -- but eventually, Bruce Wayne owns up to the biggest deception of all. In exchange for Aunt Harriet's life, he reveals that the Zelda already has her hundred grand, and that the newspaper headline about the money being counterfiet was a hoax.
He even has a letter from the editor, signed and notarized.
Since she has no further reason to keep Aunt Harriet trussed up -- and since Zelda is one of the few criminals on the show who doesn't actually seem to enjoy committing crimes -- she agrees to let Aunt Harriet go. Shortly thereafter, the family of Wayne Manor is reunited.
Interestingly enough, Alfred initially blames himself for the kidnapping. While Bruce, perhaps rather uncharacteristically, tells him that it's not his fault for a lapse in alertness, Alfred cops to being distracted by an "addiction" to a particular television show that airs on Wednesdays, which meant that he was polishing the Bat-Poles (not a metaphor) during the kidnapping. As you may already know, Batman itself aired on Wednesdays and Thursdays, which means that giving Alfred a favorite TV show may have been a metatextual reference to the series itself. Stranger things have happened.
Fortunately, both Batman and Alfred have stumbled upon clues that point to the identity of the kidnapper. Zelda's bragging reference to Aunt Harriet being in a straitjacket above a pit of flaming oil reminded Bruce of a trip they took to see Zelda the Great last year on Dick's birthday, while Alfred discovered a book of matches from the Gnome Book Store in Aunt Harriet's pocket:
If that seems a little convenient even for Batman '66, it is. When the scene cuts back to Evol Ekdal's laboratory, it's revealed that this is merely the first step in a plot to lure Batman into the Inescapable Doom Trap -- so that he can then escape!
See, the trap -- an impenetrable cage made of unbreakable jet-age plastic that dispenses poison gas from an electrified grate in the floor -- actually is inescapable, at least as far as Ekdal can tell. He hasn't been able to figure out how anyone could get out of it, which makes it useless for Zelda's act, since nobody who buys tickets to an escape artist show wants to see her asphyxiate onstage. The idea is that they'll lure Batman into the trap, see how he escapes, and then Zelda can use that in her act. The twist, of course, is that Ekdal has also accepted an underworld contract to the tune of another $100,000.
Even adjusted for inflation ($730,666.67), that's actually pretty cheap to get rid of Batman, but for Ekdal, it's a win-win. Either Batman escapes the trap and he has a new act to sell to Zelda, at which time two mobsters take him out with their Tommy guns, or Batman dies in the Inescapable Doom Trap, and he still gets a hundred grand for his trouble.
Zelda, being not a criminal by nature, is actually pretty reluctant to get in on this whole murder plot, but Ekdal convinces her that all this crime is the way to go, after berating her for being a "wretched weakling." Zelda then reveals that she guessed Ekdal's plan already -- the part where Batman provides the escape plan, anyway -- and that she planted the Gnome Book Store matchbook on Aunt Harriet to lure them to the hideout, and that they're likely on the way now.
Interestingly enough, Batman, the world's greatest detective, never remarks on the obvious trap. Aunt Harriet is, to my knowledge, not a smoker, and they already know that she was trussed up in a straitjacket during her time being kidnapped, so this is clearly a plant. And yet, they drive the Batmobile right into it, seemingly unaware that they're on the hook of an evil plot.
Sure enough, just after Ekdal positions his two Syndicate hitters in sarcophagi with a clear shot to the entrance of the Doom Trap and heads to a nearby room where he and Zelda can watch with periscopes, Batman and Robin arrive.
BATMAN: Bizarre... A play without actors.
ROBIN: The script could be for us.
BATMAN: One way to find out: Let's get in the limelight.
Yes: Batman and Robin see an obvious trap, and decide to just get right in it. It is pretty far from the show's best writing, and doesn't even really follow the logic that's been set up in the ten episodes that we've seen so far. As for the escape itself, it plays out pretty much exactly like it does in the comic that inspired it, just with the addition of Robin:
Thus, the Dynamic Duo escapes, leaping from the Doom Trap right into the line of fire from the two hitmen. But what's this?! Just as they're about to open fire, Zelda herself grabs the microphone connected to speakers in the trap room and warns Batman and Robin that they've been set up for an ambush! The crimefighters duck out of the way just as the "mummies" open fire, hitting each other and resulting in two unscathed crimefighters -- and two dead hitmen.
Remember a few months ago when I thought that Molly was the show's only on-screen death? Turns out Batman '66 was a whole lot deadlier than I remembered. With Molly, the guard shattered by Mr. Freeze, and these two torpedoes, our Batman '66 Body Count stands at four.
Thanks to Zelda's change of heart, Evol Ekdal is easily apprehended with a Batarang upside the head, and Zelda herself surrenders, so remorseful that she sheds genuine tears (as opposed to the false ones from last week's episode) as she's taken into custody. Thus this becomes the first of only two Bat-Adventures that ends without the show's signature onomatopoeia-filled fight scene. As you might guess, both of them are stories that involve women playing the role of the arch-criminals -- the second is Season 3's "Nora Clavicle And The Ladies Crime Club," which has a lot of dodgy gender stuff that we'll get around to talking about in about two years -- and both rely on those villainesses not having the henchmen that make for convenient fight scene punching bags.
So, the villain has been apprehended, but our story isn't quite over yet. Owing to Zelda's obvious remorse, she's visited in prison by none other than Bruce Wayne himself, who offers her a deal.
The deal, incidentally, does not involve Zelda's prison-striped high heels or pillbox hat, but rest assured that I have noted how truly amazing the Gotham City State Penitentiary's uniforms are.
Rather, he offers her a position as Resident Lady Magician at one of the Children's Hospitals funded by the Wayne Foundation. Zelda agrees, and the ill children of Gotham City are sure to be entertained by her skill in prestidigitation -- once she's paid her debt to society, of course.
Index of Episode 1x10:
No additional information to report.