At Veronica Vreeland’s fourth wedding, Bruce Wayne meets Susan Maguire (Linda Hamilton), who sweeps our billionaire off his feet. The relationship moves fast – fast enough for Bruce to propose marriage and resign the mantle of the Bat – but Robin and Batgirl are suspicious, especially when Veronica’s new husband Michael starts displaying murderous intent.
As the clock winds down on The New Batman Adventures, “Chemistry” is an unexpectedly appropriate antepenultimate note. For a show that has been nominally about family (albeit a family that squabbles, bickers, and at times flirts inappropriately), “Chemistry” is an episode that asks what it would take for the patriarch to leave the family. It’s been a long-standing precept of the Batman universe that Batman is a foster father to the Robins, Nightwings, and Batgirls who have found their way into his fold, with stalwart Alfred as his own surrogate father; in short, Batman creates for himself a family to replace the one he lost in Crime Alley.
For Susan Maguire to come along and destabilize all of that suggests that she must be a very special lady. This episode very smartly invokes some of the most powerful moments of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, in which a young Bruce Wayne was already considering abandoning his nascent vow of justice in favor of a life with Andrea Beaumont; in “Chemistry,” it’s the cave scene in particular, framed and scored like that Phantasm moment, that helps to land the notion that this might be Batman’s swan song. However, one never really gets the impression that this is permanent, even if this were the final episode of the Batman animated project. Like Robin and Batgirl, we recognize that this is all moving a little too quickly, and Kevin Conroy smartly keeps his Bruce voice a little too dispassionate for a man on the verge of wedded bliss. I might have liked a little more convincing that Susan was the woman of Bruce’s dreams, but perhaps writer Stan Berkowitz is more interested in the detective work of Batman’s juniors and the horror derived from the truth about Susan.
The episode begins to destabilize (in a good way) when we learn the truth about Veronica Vreeland’s fourth husband. Veronica has been a fun addition to Gotham’s supporting cast, a useful reminder of what everyone else thinks Bruce Wayne is – a vapid, shallow, and self-absorbed heir to a fortune of ungodly size. She has the early weavings of a moral fiber, having learned half a lesson from abusing Penguin in “Birds of a Feather,” but she’s hardly an altruist. Still, our investment in her, even if only as a consequence of continuity, means that “Chemistry” wrings a successful amount of horror from her husband’s monstrous transformation into – and spoilers, all – a venomous plant creature born in Poison Ivy’s lab. Michael’s shambolic lurch toward Veronica, cowering in a closet, reminds one of the better moments in “Heart of Steel,” though I wonder if I’m the only one who wishes we might have gotten one more good H.A.R.D.A.C. episode out of TNBA.
As the final Poison Ivy episode, “Chemistry” keeps its main antagonist off-screen for a while, building suspense but sadly relegating a major Bat-foe to the periphery. There’s a lot that could have been done with this character – a happier ending with the besotted Harley Quinn, perhaps, or a seed of the long-running redemption plot the comics have entertained for her. Creating plant spouses to take over global industry is perfectly of a piece with Ivy’s ecoterrorist sentiments, but her emphasis on controlling their fortunes seems a little petty for a villain who always tried to do a little good for her planet. (Say, why hasn’t Ivy ever teamed with Ra’s al Ghul to save Mother Earth?)
“Chemistry” is a kind of cold inversion of “House & Garden”; where Ivy found herself incapable of forming a family, even a synthetic one, she’s here ready to dispense with the artifice and take full advantage of her powers of photosynthetic simulation. Years later, the tie-in comics would claim/reveal that every appearance of Ivy since “Holiday Knights” was actually a plant-based doppelganger that Pamela Isley used to escape Gotham and join Alec “Swamp Thing” Holland in his botanical research; as I recall, she even washed up from the watery climax of this episode. It’s an interesting footnote for a character who’s more often than not received a fair shake from this show.
Writer: Stan Berkowitz
Director: Butch Lukic
Villains: Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) and Susan Maguire (Linda Hamilton)
Next episode: “Beware the Creeper,” in which a clown prince is plagiarized, and three stooges take a day off.
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