Everybody deserves their day in the spotlight, even minor characters on action-adventure cartoons. By the end of the run of Batman: The Animated Series, Fox was burning off the final five episodes it had in the can, all produced much earlier in the line. Of all of those final five, “A Bullet for Bullock” was the earliest made, being produced 67th but broadcast 84th, and the second-to-last new episode to air. It’s an episode that doesn’t have any of the hallmarks of later-Batman episodes and feels much more in line with something from Season One, when the show was much more grounded. There’s nothing sci-fi or supervillainous about this episode, and it doesn’t even have Robin; it’s just a detective story which features Batman, a character study of the biggest blowhard in Gotham City.
Detective Harvey Bullock had been around since the very beginning of the series, always flanking Commissioner Gordon along with rookie Officer Renee Montoya. Bullock had been the loudest voice against Batman on the whole series, but was a bit of a dirty cop, so his motives might have been self-preservationist. While he definitely isn’t shown to be a mob-stooge like Bullock in TV’s current Gotham is, this version of the slovenly cop is still always up to his ears with Internal Affairs and shown to be violent with perps if necessary. But, we didn’t know much else about him; he was often the butt of the joke and because he was so angry, it was funny. But, thanks to Michael Reaves’ script for this episode, we find out Bullock is intensely lonely and a pretty pathetic figure outside of the police station.
On his way home one snowy evening, Bullock is nearly hit by a car. Not just hit, but mowed down on purpose. The car gets away before he can do anything, so he turns to someone you’d least (yet most) expect for help: BATMAN. He lights up the Batsignal and takes the time to tell Batman how much he disagrees with everything about him, even though they probably aren’t that different. Batman says they’re nothing alike, but agrees to help the policeman find out who’s trying to kill him. The list of suspects is incredibly long, since Bullock seems to have ticked off every single person he’s ever arrested, and he’s arrested a lot of people. Batman becomes his shadow, his guardian angel, his personal bodyguard.
But Bullock’s homelife is pretty much nothing. He lives in a rent-controlled apartment, much nicer than he makes it, and his neighbor, Nivens, is always on his case about taking out his garbage or tracking mud into the foyer. Bullock’s actual apartment is gross, full of cockroaches coming out of a huge hole in the wall, and he leaves empty pizza boxes and pop bottles everywhere. Montoya talks to him at the office one evening, when he’s the last cop there, and asks what he’s going to do for New Years. He responds, “The same thing I did for Christmas – my laundry.” This is pretty much the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. He’s alone, nobody seems to like him, even the people who might are only at arm’s length. It’s impossibly depressing.
Batman narrows down the search to Vinnie the Shark, a notorious crack dealer who Bullock busted 8 years ago and who just got released. Everything adds up. Batman yells at Bullock for not taking this seriously, given it’s his own life on the line and all, but they eventually decide to truly work together. While Bullock tries in vain to get the information on Vinnie’s whereabouts from Summer Gleason, who just interviewed him, Batman goes the more, uh, unconventional route by dangling a low-level dealer from a balcony. Classic Batman! They eventually get to Vinnie’s warehouse and spring into action. But when the dust settles, Vinnie may want Bullock dead, but he’s not the one who’s been sending threatening letters or trying to whack him in the middle of the street.
It turns out, the one behind all the threats and attempted run-overs was Bullock’s neighbor, Nivens. He hates the sloppy oaf and wants him to leave, move away, and when he didn’t do that, he decided murdering him is the only way. He even laughs maniacally to himself that no jury would have convicted him.
This is an episode that probably won’t make too many people’s top ten lists, but it’s actually much deeper and more interesting than you might expect. Bullock, as I said, is a deeply flawed and sad character, but he is also unflinching and unapologetic about who he is. Every time he speaks to Batman, the Dark Knight does his famous disappear before the guy turns back around trick and Bullock falls for it every single time. This episode also features a great big band jazz soundtrack, much different than the usual Gothic Batman music. It’s a fantastic and different soundscape, which makes the show seem like an old 1940s hard boiled cop flick.
So, there’s only one episode left to cover, but before I do that, as a little Christmas bonus, we’re going to go all the way back to the very second episode of Batman: The Animated Series ever produced, though it aired 38th. Why did I wait so long? Because it’s “Christmas with the Joker” of course! That will be up on December 24th and then on Boxing Day, we’ll have our final episode ever, “The Lion and the Unicorn.” Get ready for the end, folks.