Don't you have anything better to do? (The Worry Men)

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Shit, I am so sorry I got this up late! Basically on Monday I thought it was Sunday (because long weekend), and today I knew it was Tuesday, and so in my brain Monday never happened? Not an excuse, I know. Anyway, here it is, the end of BTAS S1 and the rough midpoint of NA09 vol. 2!
What a lackluster ending to a stellar first season.
It’s September 16, 1993, just a few days after “Shadow of the Bat,” so see that post for charts and headlines. Tomorrow is the last day of the first season of Batman: The Animated Series, which will go out with “Paging the Crime Doctor,” a melancholic reflection on things past that closes with Batman trying to connect with memories of his father. In production order, on the other hand, we end with this episode, “The Worry Men.”
This episode is a dual let-down. First, it comes at the end of a particularly strong run of episodes, with maybe two or three of the last ten being notably weak (“The Mechanic,” “Blind as a Bat,” and “Fire from Olympus”). Second, the Mad Hatter’s first two outings, “Mad as a Hatter” and “Perchance to Dream,” were both truly excellent episodes.
This isn’t.
It’s not, to be clear, a terrible episode. It’s just not very good, and relies entirely on the notion of Central America (not any particular country, mind you, just the entire region) as this exotic place whose iconography can be rifled for absurd jaguar henchmen for the Hatter, because nothing says Alice in Wonderland like casually racist depictions of Native Americans. (I mean, if he’d been a Peter Pan-themed villain, that would be a different story.) There’s a strange almost-commentary where the characters are ensnared in the Mad Hatter’s schemes by their willingness to believe in–or at least play along with–the notion that the titular little dolls have magical powers, a belief rooted in the same colonialist exoticism as the Hatter’s choice of outfit for his henchmen. Unfortunately nothing ever comes of this; other than both ostensibly originating in Central America, there is nothing to parallel the henchmen and the worry men.
It’s particularly sad because the core idea–Veronica Vreeland meets the Mad Hatter–is brilliant, even better than pairing her up with the Penguin in an earlier episode. Here as in his first appearance, the Mad Hatter is the picture of selfish entitlement: the scene in which he bemoans that, alas, private islands cost money is easily the best in the episode, as Roddy McDowell hams it up exactly the right amount to highlight what an utterly absurd complaint it is, while at the same time selling completely the notion that the Mad Hatter thinks it’s a grave injustice for which he should be pitied. And Vreeland, of course, has served as an excellent example of the out-of-touch rich person, who inherited a fortune and seems to do nothing except host high-society events and travel.
The problem, then, is that the only meeting between them occurs in flashback, and even then the Mad Hatter works mostly through a proxy, the unnamed “native craftsman” who designed the worry men. It’s understandable, as there’s a risk of repeating “Birds of a Feather,” an episode already notably similar to Dangerous Liasons; the probability of appearing unoriginal is high.
But it’s nonetheless a loss, as an examination of the potential outcomes makes clear. After all, in any head-on collision between two such powerful forces of self-centered entitlement, one must emerge as the “victor,” which is to say so entitled that they pull the other into their orbit. Either possibility is fascinating; either Vreeland’s familiarity with the cutthroat maneuvers of high society allows her to manipulate the hapless, foolish nerd, or Tetch’s advanced technology gives him control of the socialite heiress. Pick your villain: the selfish, old-money rich or the entitled, new-money tech geek?
But that’s not the episode we actually have. The question is precluded by the involvement of Batman, and so instead we get the Mad Hatter fuffing about with giant toys in a costume shop. Admittedly, the inclusion of mannequin versions of major villains–and the inclusion of Harley Quinn as one of them in her own right, independent of the Joker–is a nice touch for a season finale, but it’s still more cute gag than substantive element worth talking about.
In the end, the season just sort of fizzles out. Fortunately, next season starts with a bang. But that’s eight months and several chapters away…

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