As Batman: The Animated Series began to wind down and nominally became The Adventures of Batman & Robin, a decision by the FOX execs to make sure kids had Robin in every episode (a mistake, I feel), the storylines became a lot more introspective, not about the Dynamic Duo themselves, but about the villains who had become the standout aspect of the show. The final 25 episodes were populated with various stories of villains either going straight, trying to go straight, or making people believe they’d gone straight. Let’s face it; the villains aren’t ever REALLY going to go straight, but it’s a good mine for narrative, especially after they’ve been around awhile. And since almost all of Batman’s Rogues are tragic figures, at least in this program, it only makes sense that their rehabilitation loom large, and no villain was quite as tragic as Gotham’s former District Attorney, Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, who almost went good in the episode “Second Chance.”
Two-Face was the only one of the “bad guys” depicted on the series who was shown a couple of times as a good guy to establish him as both a character and a friend to Bruce Wayne. It’s his fall from grace that adds yet another ember to the fire of Batman’s sense of guilt and duty. He has to be able to save Harvey, if only to prove he can save someone he cares about. At the beginning of the episode, Two-Face is being transferred to Gotham General Hospital for a medical procedure, watched closely by Batman and Robin. The Doctor believes she can, through extensive plastic surgery, repair Harvey’s scars which would allow him to look whole again, and therefore help to make his personality whole again, able to make his own decisions without the aid of the coin.
However, just as the surgery is about to begin, masked goons with automatic weapons burst in and kidnap the anesthetized criminal. The Dynamic Duo burst in to stop this but are momentarily stopped by a row of ceiling lights hitting them in the face. That’ll happen. When they get outside, they see two vehicles escaping – a sedan going one direction and a van going another. They split up, Robin following the former and Batman following the latter.
Robin jumps onto a moving train travelling parallel to the car, then jumps on its hood and tries to stop it. However, it begins to swerve into the wall of the tunnel and Robin is forced to Bat-Grapple away lest he get crushed. Batman, meanwhile, chases the van across one of Gotham’s many bridges on a motorcycle and does manage to make it crash, however Harvey is nowhere to be found in either car.
The van is registered to Rupert Thorne, the notorious crime boss/businessman who, it has been well established, hates Harvey Dent and is the reason he’s Two-Face to begin with. However, the sedan was heading to the island penitentiary where the Penguin, another with a massive grudge against Two-Face, is incarcerated. Again splitting up, Robin goes to see Thorne while Batman goes to the Penguin. Robin is almost immediately captured and Thorne laughs at his accusations before telling his boys to chuck the Boy Wonder into the Gotham River. (He escapes.) Meanwhile, the Penguin tells Batman he’d never do that to a fellow Rogue, honor among thieves and all that, before sicking his trained pigeons on the Dark Knight. Very unhelpful, these chaps.
Batman soon figures out who, if not Thorne or Penguin, hates Harvey Dent enough to want to stop him from getting better. The answer: Two-Face himself. This all began because Harvey couldn’t keep his dark side, “Big Bad Harv,” in check; why would he simply be okay with going back in the box, so to speak? However, Batman has pulled a switcheroo – he’s replaced Harvey’s coin with one that will always land on edge, making Two-Face’s decision-making skills all but impossible. While Robin arrives and takes care of the thugs, Batman tries to convince Two-Face to let the coin go when he’s dangling from a girder at a construction site. He can’t, though, and Batman is forced to make another daring, Bat-Grapple-based rescue.
This episode is pretty light on plot but heavy on character implications. We get to see a stylized account of Harvey’s transformation which is exactly like what was featured in the “Two-Face” episode that aired almost exactly two years earlier. Clearly, it’s always been something that eats at Batman which explains, more than anyone else, why Two-Face is the one he feels he has to help. It’s always fun to see other bad guys in episodes not really about them, but the chases and the Thorne and Penguin scenes don’t really do much of anything except eat up screen time and give the episode a bit more action. Nothing wrong with it, but the mystery of which of them took Harvey isn’t really much of a mystery. There are also weird moments where Robin feels like Batman’s not giving him enough credit. Super tacked on, it felt to me, and probably just a byproduct of network notes about the Boy Wonder. Not a bad episode by any means, and some excellent animation, but just not quite as deep as the character drama should have made it.
Next week, we get another villain sort-of going straight, in the form of a baddie who’s only been in two centric episodes but who has already made a huge impact: The Riddler. His third and final appearance might be the biggest riddle of all. “Riddler’s Reform” is next time.