For a series that made a point of introducing villains who hadn’t yet been seen or heard of by most non comics-reading kids, Batman: The Animated Series really must have believed in Harvey Dent. Not only was his origin given a two-episode arc, with his alter-ego “Two-Face” being the sole title, he had been established within the series twice already, with a brief appearance in “On Leather Wings” and a supporting role in “Pretty Poison.” The creators were really betting that the audience would care about the psyche of Gotham’s noble district attorney. And they were right. Harvey’s downfall and eventual reemergence as a criminal proves to be one of the most compelling and longest-lasting in the series.
Written by Randy Rogel from a story by Alan Burnett and directed by the always solid Kevin Altieri, “Two-Face” parts 1 and 2 play like a Jekyll & Hyde meets Phantom of the Opera saga, with Batman, once again, having to play both sympathetic friend and pitiless enforcer. And, once again, the true villain of the piece isn’t the monstrous comic book baddie, but the human crime boss. In a series that created very sympathetic monsters, Two-Face is arguably the most unfortunate. Harvey was pushed to his new ways by forces he couldn’t control. He was TOO good, and as Rupert Thorne says in the episode, “the brighter the picture, the darker the negative.”
The episode begins with Harvey having a nightmare. Some shadowy figure is closing in on him, flipping a coin. Harvey wakes up in a cold sweat and is told that Commissioner Gordon is beginning his raid. Though they take down the criminal ring, with ample help from Batman, one of Thorne’s men kicks mud at Harvey outside the bust and the District Attorney nearly tears the man’s throat out, for all the cameras to see. Thorne decides he needs to find some dark blemish in Dent’s past that he can exploit.
It turns out Harvey does have a weakness; he’s been seeing a psychiatrist due to the resurgence of his long-repressed other personality, Big Bad Harve. Thorne uses a spy to find out about Dent’s little secret and relishes the opportunity to finally get the man in his pocket. During a late-night meeting at Thorne’s chemical plant, Big Bad Harve comes out and begins beating up all of Thorne’s goons, eventually chasing the crime boss by a vat of volatile chemicals, which explode and horribly mangle half of Harvey’s face. The first episode ends with the reveal of Harvey’s new visage, with lightning, to his bride to be.
Episode two picks up several weeks later with an on-the-run Harvey, now embracing his two-sided being, having recruited his own set of thugs (twins, naturally), deciding by a flip of his double-headed coin whether or not to ransack Thorne’s bookies. Two-Face is obsessed with destroying Rupert Thorne’s criminal empire, once and for all. Thorne reacts by putting a $2 million hit on him, a million a face. Eventually, Thorne uses Harvey’s fiance as bait to draw Two-Face out into the open and Batman is forced to intervene to try to bring his friend back from the brink.
Harvey, throughout the first episode, is depicted as having been afflicted by demons his whole life, exacerbated by high levels of stress, which being the district attorney of Gotham City definitely provides in spades. Gotham is just that corrupt and full of crime; it’s literally only Commissioner Gordon who has the character to withstand its evil. Even Batman has succumbed to it in his own paranoid, mentally disturbed way. I feel like, if Harvey had been the DA of Metropolis instead, he never would have become Two-Face, even with all the mental problems he had.
It was all chance that brought Harvey to where he is now, and it’s chance that he now lives his life by. He can’t even make simple decisions without flipping a coin. When robbing one of Thorne’s rackets, one of the twins wants to take a diamond ring off a guy, but Two-Face says that wasn’t part of the initial robbery scheme (for which he also flipped a coin) and that it would need to be flipped for separately. It comes up good heads, and the lackey isn’t allowed to take it. This is how much bad or good luck has affected the man’s life; All he knows now is the law of averages, the great equalizer. He is legitimately incapable of performing any action without leaving it to chance. At the end of the episode, Batman tosses a box of coins into the air while Two-Face is flipping for Thorne’s life and he loses his mind.
Both Harvey and Batman are plagued by mirroring nightmares regarding their individual insecurities. Harvey’s, in part 1, shows him being surrounded by darkness, mocked by his anger, and shown that the flip of a coin, the twist of fate, is the only ray of hope there is. Batman’s, in part 2, shows how powerless he feels to save anyone, allowing his friend to become a damaged and scarred madman. When, in the dream, Harvey falls and Batman is unable to grab him in time, he screams, “Why couldn’t you save me?!” Just then, at the bottom of the dark pit, Batman sees the somber figures of his mother and father, who in turn looks up and asks why their son couldn’t save them either. These scenes both illustrate just how helpless the two most powerful and justice-minded men in the city feel, probably all the time. Unable to revel in their victories, they dwell almost entirely on their defeats.
“Two-Face” is a serious look at the Bat Universe’s most troubled and conflicted criminal. He goes from hero to villain so easily, and Batman truly feels the pang of loss when Harvey goes to “the dark side,” or embraces his dark side to be more accurate. Two-Face represents what Batman could easily have been if he’d lacked just a little bit of guidance and self-determination, which is what’s great about all of Batman’s villains; They each represent, in an alternate timeline, towards what the Dark Knight could have been drawn. Two-Face showed up in 8 episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, 10 if you include his two Harvey-only appearances, making him the second most prominent villain on the show, behind the Joker and just ahead of the Penguin and Poison Ivy. His journey on the series represents the most change across his timeline. So, yeah, he’s pretty deep. We haven’t seen the last of him here by a long shot.
Next time, we’re going to be talking about one of my top five favorite episodes ever: “Beware the Gray Ghost,” in which Batman gets to meet his childhood hero, and the show’s creators get to acknowledge their own idol.