Far too busy between running a major corporation and a one-man fight against crime, Bruce Wayne sends his faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth in his stead to Eternal Youth, a health spa which promises a free weekend of rejuvenation at the hands of Dr. Daphne Demeter. But the good doctor is anything but – a slew of industrialists have gone missing at her spa, and Batman realizes his steward is now in the green-thumbed clutches of Poison Ivy.
It’s been a string of strong episodes from Batman: The Animated Series – four unqualified winners, by my count – and Ivy makes five here with “Eternal Youth.” Like its immediate predecessor, “Dreams in Darkness,” this is an episode that fits Ivy like a skintight leotard, and in some ways it feels like an episode of Batman ’66. You’ve got the themed henchmen, toga-clad nymphs Lily and Violet, though if this were an episode of The New Batman Adventures they probably would have been actual tree creatures, and you’ve got a villain hiding in plain sight in a poor disguise at a remote location. (I mean, really, Alfred, you didn’t recognize her?)
Poison Ivy first appeared in the comics the same year that Adam West donned the ill-fitting tights, but she never crossed over into the television world. This episode would seem to offer a theory as to why, because it (like her debut, “Pretty Poison”) plays up the character’s unavoidable connection to human sexuality. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a Poison Ivy story that is entirely sexless, something that’ll raise an eyebrow or two by the time the show pairs her up, in however you define that phrase, with Harley Quinn; the alternative, of course, is Poison Ivy the nurturer, as we’ve seen her in the comics take on a gang of orphans in an abandoned and overgrown city park. But here, with a matched pair of aforementioned be-toga’d henchbabes, boasting the cure for aging amid Alfred’s ostensibly romantic getaway, Poison Ivy lacks only a colossal Freudian metaphor of a plant to tie all this erotic subtext together. (See the unambiguous Venus flytrap in “Pretty Poison.”)
Then there’s the matter of Alfred’s lady friend, Maggie Page, who I always have to remind myself is not voiced by Angela Lansbury. (She is, in fact, voiced by Paddi Edwards.) It’s evident that the writers wanted to establish her as a recurring love interest for our esteemed butler, but it’s equally obvious that the writers didn’t really have much in the way of character development on the roster for her. We don’t quite know who she is or how she knows Alfred or even whether he actually likes her or if he’s just begrudgingly playing along, since his more amorous moments occur only under the influence of Ivy’s toxin. It seems she’s only present as someone around whom Alfred can act increasingly more randy, though the idea that something’s off about Alfred is more compellingly (and less nauseatingly) accomplished by his efforts to spruce up the Batcave with a few ferns.
Perhaps the Angela Lansbury trigger in my brain is borne out of her turn as cozy detective Jessica Fletcher on Murder She Wrote and an ensuing wish to have Alfred hook up with a detective of advancing years. As it stands, both butler and paramour are reduced to unwitting victims, and the last laugh is on Maggie when she muses that Bruce Wayne seems “not too bright.” Maggie’s presence is a blemish on what’s otherwise a fine episode, lacking only a nudge of character focus beyond what ends up just an uncomfortable pair of oversexed geriatrics.
Writer: Beth Bornstein
Director: Kevin Altieri
Villains: Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing)
Next episode: “Perchance to Dream,” in which Bruce Wayne discovers he can’t read.
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