The Batman 66 Episode Guide 1×22: Not Yet, He Ain’t
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, it's the moment we hoped we'd never have to report... The death of Batman and Robin!
Episode 1x22: Not Yet He Ain't
Script: Lorenzo Semple, Jr. and John Cardwell
Director: Leslie H. Martinson
Original Air Date: March 24, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Burgess Meredith as The Penguin
You can't really talk about Batman '66 without also talking about Lorenzo Semple. He was, after all, one of the two driving forces of the show behind the scenes, along with William Dozier, and as executive story editor, his fingerprints are all over the show, shaping the show's campy tone. He was the one who built the show around the joke of taking it so seriously.
So I think I'm going to go ahead and blame him directly for all of the most egregious deathtrap cop-outs.
I mean, look. I am willing to cut Batman a lot of slack when it comes to how he narrowly escapes death every week. You tell me he can pull virtually any device out of his utility belt to keep from being turbined to death, and I will accept that with no questions asked. Tell me that his radio can project a high-pitched noise that is a hundred times louder than the loudest sound ever recorded, and I'm fine. But this week... This is pushing it, even for me.
You might recall that the Penguin had set up a particularly cruel trap for the Caped Crusaders, stringing Batman and Robin up behind the targets at a shooting gallery and getting Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara to unwittingly take shots directly at their hearts, with the promise of a $1,000 donation to charity to entice them. It's one of many things in this episode that are almost shockingly vicious, and Penguin's glee at having Batman murdered by his friends and then throwing his lifeless body to the sharks is one of the more genuinely disturbing moments of the series. And they get out of it in the most ridiculous way possible: By absorbing the shots with their bulletproof shoes.
They then proceed to have a conversation explaining all this, while gagged, apparently through telepathy. Honestly, I like my Batman pretty silly, but for some reason, this scene has always struck me as being one bulletproof step too far, even when I was a kid. I'm not sure why, since it's really not all that much weirder than anything else, but I suspect it might have something to do with how much it's contrasted with what happens in the rest of the episode. This is, after all, the one where Batman and Robin are gunned down by cops in the middle of the street. But we're getting to that.
After escaping with the aid of telepathy and batarangs, Batman and Robin return to the Batcave with a problem far more pressing than a pair of bullets lodged into their shoes: They are now wanted criminals, having committed the actual crimes of burglary and assault. Fortunately for them, Commissioner Gordon has been covering for them in the face of Penguin's complaint, claiming that the Hotline phone has remained unanswered every time he tried to call and get the Dynamic Duo to turn themselves in. So now, the Penguin has taken it upon himself to make the call instead.
Check out O'Hara up there pulling one of the all-time greatest faces.
And the thing is, the Penguin's complaint is completely legitimate, his attempted murder by shooting gallery notwithstanding. It's something that I think the show really doesn't get enough credit for --- for all the easy silliness of the escapes, the arch-cirminals' villanous plots are usually genuinely clever, and this is a perfect example. The Penguin has, in fact, tricked Batman and Robin into committing an actual crime, playing off of their existing distrust of them, while positioning himself on the right side of the law. It's one of the smartest plans we've seen; if nothing else, it addresses the need to get Batman out of the way before you can do literally anything else, and it goes about it in a very smart way.
Admittedly, it's also a plan that requires a man who dresses like a bat and assaults criminals with lasers and boomerangs to actually have a problem with being an outlaw vigilante, but, well, that is the actual premise of the show.
Gordon, unable to cover up for Batman any longer, requests that Batman turn himself in, but Batman isn't quite ready to be locked up just yet, and angrily declares that he'll be at the offices of the newly formed Penguin Protection Agency in 25 minutes, causing the Penguin to demand police protection from an assault --- which, again, we have every reason to believe is exactly what Batman is planning to do. That dude punches a lot of people over the course of this show.
But what's this? It seems that the Caped Crusader has a plan, secretly making a call to Gordon en route to the PPA offices. It seems that Batman has learned what a wise bird once said: Sometimes you have to go insane to outsane the sane.
When Batman arrives at the Agency to confront Penguin, Eagle Eye and Dove --- who are armed with submachine guns --- he and Robin affect the (somewhat offensive in retrospect) nervous tics of desperate men who have been driven to their breaking point: "Your super brainpower has driven us mad, Penguin! We don't care if we go up the river for a hundred years --- we're getting you first!"
For those of you keeping track, this is the third actual crime Batman and Robin have committed in this adventure, adding Assault With Intent to the already existing Burglary and Trespassing chargers.
Although Batman and Robin treat the crooks to a thrashing so sound that it gives us the first appearance of "QUNCKKK!" in the Bat-Sound Effect Onomatopoeia Matrix, they don't stick around to finish the job as threatened. Sirens warn them of the approaching GCPD, and when they go on the lam, they're forced to ditch the Batmobile and flee on foot, chased by cops firing off a hail of bullets at the men who were once the law's staunchest defenders. Finally, they're cornered in an alley, gunned down in broad daylight.
Quoth Chief O'Hara, "There's nothing so tragic as a good crimefighter turned bad."
While the bodies of the Dynamic Duo are being hauled off to the morgue, the Penguin and his men make off with the Batmobile, which is something I have to question. I mean, I'm no lawyer, but I don't think that you get to just take someone's car after they die, even if they just beat you up while attempting to kill you. Surely that can't be how it works, right? Assuming they don't go track down Alfred as the next-of-kin (in a later episode, Gordon and O'Hara will refer to him as "the Voice" owing to his frequent role answering the hotline), there has to be a police auction or an impound lot involved before you just start driving it around, right? And really, how the heck are they going to drive it anyway? That sucker's nuclear, and you can't just drive up to the Texaco station and ask them to drop a couple chunks of plutonium in there, even in Gotham City.
Car ownership aside, the show cuts to commercial after the apparent death of our heroes, and when we return, Alfred and Aunt Harriet are watching a press conference in mourning. But once the reporters have left, O'Hara returns to Gordon's office with a receipt --- it seems that the very public shootout with Batman was a bit more expensive than usual --- "Them blanks cost more than the real ones!"
Yes, the whole thing was an elaborate ruse! Batman and Robin are very much alive, spying on the Penguin as he tours the city on an "anti-crime patrol" alongside Sophia Starr, the wealthy socialite that he's been cozying up to since his false change of heart began, with the use of a tiny camera behind the fuel gauge. It's a pretty advanced piece of technology for 1966, especially given that it provides a picture clearly shot from outside the car.
For his part, the Penguin has also modified the Batmobile, installing both an umbrella above the driver's seat and an umbrella-shaped rifle on the hood, something that, all things considered, you'd think would rankle Batman a bit more than it does.
The Penguin uses the rifle to break up a holdup, performed, naturally, by Dove as an attempt to further endear the felonious fowl to Ms. Starr. It works, too, for in the very next scene, the actual plot is finally revealed. It was never Sophia's jewels that the penguin was after --- at least not directly --- it was Sophia herself! He proposes, and she agrees to become, I assume, Mrs. Sophia Starr-The Penguin.
There's a great bit of physical comedy in this scene, as Sophia (played by the delightful Kathleen Crowley) goes in to kiss the Penguin and has to awkwardly adjust to get around his nose, ending up just romantically rubbing her cheek against his:
The courtship is a whirlwind, which, I suppose, is to be expected. It's not like the Penguin needs to go find a tuxedo, after all, and at the next scene, Dove and Eagle Eye are cataloging all the wedding gifts: "A solid gold dinner service! Diamond-studded electric can opener! An oil well!" No sooner are they finished than a bomb placed in the water pipes goes off, flooding the church and prompting the henchbirds to hand out umbrellas to their guests. If you've been paying attention, you've probably already guessed how that works out, with a sudden shower of smoke and confetti from the trick parasols, providing all the distraction the Penguin needs to make off with his wedding presents once he doses Gordon and O'Hara with knockout gas.
Finally, it's the chance that Batman and Robin have been waiting for, springing into action and chasing down the Penguin's "Birdmobile" in their Batcycle --- although not, it should be noted, the Batcycle that appears in the 1966 Batman movie, with the detachable sidecar. This one seems much more standard-issue, with a black-and-red paint job that matches the Batmobile:
The car chase, incidentally, is where the show's signature Dutch angles have officially gotten out of control. All of the shots of the Penguin fleeing with Dove and Eagle Eye are shot almost at a 45 degree angle. It's like watching a bizarre alternate universe version of the "Bad Girls" video, if M.I.A. was wearing a tuxedo and purple top hat. Which, now that I've written it, is actually something I'd really like to see.
It was established in the first episode that Batman has taken great care to ward his car against thieves, and in this episode, that comes to a head. First, a remote-controlled ejector seat to "give his two stooges a short, sweet voyage into space," and then, slightly less impressive, "some amusing fun with the doors," and then finally taking over the car itself with an adorably tiny steering wheel.
With the Penguin incapacitated in the car, Batman and Robin roll up on the two goons and we're treated to yet another fight scene, albeit a brief one:
And with that, the crooks are knocked out, tied to the hood of the Batmobile, and driven back to police headquarters where, I assume, Batman and Robin are exonerated for the actual crimes they committed over the course of their investigation.
In Gordon's office, Sophia Starr, still Ms., looks over the wedding gifts and tragically wonders aloud if she could be the one to change the Penguin by providing him with the love and affection that his life so obviously lacks --- "a challenge to quicken any woman's heart" --- but alas, it is not to be. When the Penguin is led in, he ignores her entirely in favor of the loot, and then declares out loud, to her face, that he'd prefer prison to marriage.
I told you this one was harsh.
Index of Episode 1x22:
- Bulletproof Soles
- Emergency Bat-Turn Lever
- Remote Control Ejector Button
- Remote Control Batmobile Doors
- Remote Control Steering Wheel