Well, the day has finally come. After a whole year celebrating both the 75th anniversary of Batman and the 20th anniversary of the end of Batman: The Animated Series, we finally reach the end of our little journey through not-all-but-most of the episodes. This show holds up like very few ’90s animated shows do and is certainly worth a rewatch any time. But, I’ll get more into a postmortem next week. For now, we’ve got the last episode to air, “The Lion and the Unicorn,” and it’s certainly one of the more atypical episodes the series produced, and also, to my surprise, one of the most enjoyable.
Airing Friday, September 15th, 1995, after a week straight of burning off the remaining episodes, “The Lion and the Unicorn” is an episode I’m sure I saw at the time, but I had almost no memory of. The final five episodes were all doing something different with the format of the show. This one tries its hand at a James Bond-style spy thriller, with Alfred’s apparent secret service past catching up to him, with an international terrorist behind it all. It was written by Steve Perry, Diane Duane, and Philip Morwood and directed by Boyd Kirkland, and it trades in Gotham City’s familiar bleakness for London, England’s familiar bleakness. Gotham really is the London of America.
The episode begins with Alfred chatting with Batman and Robin. They both come down on the side of “What would we ever do without you, Alfred?” They don’t have to wait long to find out. Alfred receives a strange phone call from his Cousin Frederick asking if he can come back to London ASAP. Frederick is being coerced into saying this by someone in the shadows, but we can clearly tell it’s Red Claw, the same international terrorist whom Batman fought in the very first episode to air during the primetime sneak peek, “The Cat and the Claw.” The next morning, Bruce and Dick awake to find Alfred gone. He obviously left in a hurry, given that he hadn’t even washed the tea set — something he’d never do without good reason. They find a note from him saying he’d gone to visit his cousin. Bruce knows that Alfred has no family and that he must be referring to his “cousin,” or secret service slang for a colleague. Yes, Alfred used to be a spy, or at least a clerk in the intelligence community.
In London, Alfred waits for Frederick to show up and two toughs, named Bert and Ernie (Bert voiced by Adam Ant, weirdly), show up and say that “Freddie” sent them to pick up “Alfie.” This is a dead giveaway that it’s a trap, as neither Frederick nor Alfred like to be called by nicknames. The thugs try to grab Alfred, but he gets the better of them in very impressive umbrella-thwacking fashion. He eventually escapes and makes it to his old haunt of the Yorkshire Arms where he calls Bruce to tell him he’s okay. Just then, Bert and Ernie break in and kidnap Alfred, which means it’s time for Batman and Robin to go Transatlantic in the Batwing. It’s very impressive that the Dynamic Duo don’t have to worry about the FAA when flying overseas.
Alfred is blindfolded and taken to a castle in Scotland, where he finds out that Red Claw is behind the kidnapping. She plans to hold London for ransom using an experimental nuclear missile. The catch is, it needs two codes, and these two codes are known only to the two most trusted agents at the time – Frederick and Alfred. She’ll torture them to get them to talk, or use truth serum, which she also has available to her. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson go to check on Alfred’s flat and see the signs of a struggle, and Bert and Ernie are watching and decide to take out these two snoopers. Unfortunately for them, the heroes brought their costumes and soon the goons are being chased by Batman and Robin. They steal a double-decker bus and the heroes have to stop them from hurting anyone (which of course they do, because these limeys didn’t know who they were dealing with)!
Batman and Robin go to visit the inner circle of the intelligence community who are meeting to discuss the threat. They’re all surprised Batman and Robin get in so easily. It’s ’cause they’re Batman and Robin, duh! But they learn from the heads that the Red Claw is up in Scotland where the missile program was being housed so they head up to stop her. But it’s too late, she’s already gotten the code from Frederick and is very close to getting Alfred’s, though he seems just to be babbling incoherently. She broadcasts a message that if she doesn’t receive 5 billion pounds sterling by a certain time, she’ll shoot the warhead into Trafalgar Square. That’s really not nice of her.
But Alfred hadn’t been saying nonsense after all. His code is “The Lion and the Unicorn,” a reference to a poem of the same name. Now Red Claw has all she needs. Unfortunately for her, Batman and Robin show up and try to make it through the castle and its many traps. Eventually, the dynamic duo fill the main dining room with smoke and Red Claw and her thugs begin shooting wildly while Batman takes them out and Robin frees Alfred. But it’s too late – Red Claw has launched the warhead. Batman calls the Batwing to arrive and gives chase, only to find that Red Claw herself has somehow stowed away in the jet and pops up behind Batman. After a big struggle, she pulls Batman’s mask off, but he gets to the ejector switch before she can see who he really is. Flying with the wind in his face, Batman makes it to London and destroys the missile before the warhead goes off, saving London.
I really enjoyed this episode a lot. I shouldn’t be surprised given how big a James Bond fan I am, but this isn’t an episode that I remember very much at all, and it almost never gets talked about. It’s really great that they actually devoted an episode to Alfred’s past. They made him more than just the fatherly butler and voice or reason. He actually had a life before he was indebted to the Waynes, and was quite a badass himself. I’d love to see a whole episode about Alfred in the swinging ’60s or whatever doing government agent work in London. How cool would that be?!?! And I wish the show had gone to London more often, because the animators do a really fabulous job of making it look cool. The color palate is different than Gotham, much cooler and bluer, but it’s still the perfect place for someone like Batman to be haunting.
And there we have it! 50 different articles about Batman: The Animated Series. By and large, these were some brilliant pieces of both animation and storytelling, a show that will continue to be relevant in another 20 years I’d bet. As a final nod, next week I’ll be giving you my postmortem and rank my ten favorite episodes. You shouldn’t want to miss that! Thanks for reading all of these every week and I hope we can reconvene in another format later.