Batman: The Animated Series – The Forgotten

The Forgotten

 

Hey, you can’t give up hope. Down here it’s all we’ve got to hang on to.

Air Date: 8/10/92

Director: Boyd Kirkland

Writer: Jules Dennis, Richard Mueller, Sean Catherine Derek

Themes: Amnesia, Identity, Slavery

Villain: Boss Biggis

Synopsis:

In disguise while investigating a rash of missing person cases, Bruce Wayne is captured by a tyrannical mine owner and forced to work, losing all of his memories in the process.

Review:

In the realm of tropes used in media, there are only a few that can rank above the amnesia story in terms of cliché-ism.

An amnesia story isn’t automatically a loser, far from it. But in the modern world of fiction, where every angle of such a plot have been re-worked over and over again. It’s hard to get right. All of the familiar beats are here. A strong character loses his identity in a violent manner, losing everything that made him special. His lack of personality casts him into unfamiliar surroundings. He makes friends he never would have under his normal persona. He regains his memories in a rush after numerous flashes. He overcomes adversity and returns to his normal life, absent any kind of brain damage.

That makes it sound very negative. “The Forgotten” is an acceptable episode, but is weighed down by the stagnant nature of its central premise.

The set-up is quick and to the point in the opening scene. Homeless people in Gotham are going missing and Batman is the only person who seems to care. This kind of plot doesn’t require that much set-up and the creators aren’t going to furnish us with much exposition. The point is to get to the part where Bruce Wayne is no longer Bruce Wayne, and work from there. So, the opening few minutes invariably feel a bit rushed.

We’ve seen Bruce Wayne the fighter, the detective, the acting playboy. Now we see him as the master of disguise, a portion of the Batman mythos that doesn’t actually get that much attention in the popular consciousness. Though the things he does here to turn into “Gaff Morgan” are simple, they are still rather ingenious. Some dirt, a change of hair colour, shabby clothes. The character model looks the same, yet different enough to be noticeable.

Wayne exhibits a little bit of over confidence though, investigating the issue without his gadgets to back him up, and letting himself get easily distracted during the opening fight. He isn’t perfect after all, though the clumsy nature of the animation didn’t do a great job of selling it (see below). In fact, Wayne doesn’t even do that much investigating, he just wonders down and alley and stumbles into the operation.

The knock on the head comes and Bruce Wayne becomes Gaff Morgan, transported across the country to become a slave in the employ of “Boss Biggis”, another unique villain for B:TAS, who won’t be turning up again. Much like the Sewer King in “The Underdwellers” Biggis is an uncaring megalomaniac with pretensions of being better than the underlings that he treats so terribly. B:TAS even gives them the same sort of scene where they guzzle down food while others toil away.

Biggis is ok as a villain, but way too OTT to work as well as should have. He’s comically overweight, unbelievably self-centred and exhibits a streak of stupidity that leaves the viewer wondering just how he came to head such an operation. His vicious cruelty to his “workers” helps make him a bit more interesting and “boo-worthy”, but he just doesn’t feel real enough. You can have some suspension of disbelief for people like the Joker because they go the whole hog with the insanity. Biggis isn’t in the same league, and just seems too ridiculous to take seriously as a threat.

While Wayne is doing the classic amnesia thing – rubbing the back of his head and saying things like “Who am I?” – we cut to a sub-plot with Alfred. For whatever reason Bruce hasn’t taken the liberty of telling Alfred what he’s been up to, so in the butlers eyes he’s MIA. This whole sub-plot has some comical elements, but it’s wrapped around a decent core at least. Alfred gets increasingly worried as the clues pile up – like the Bat-mobile still being in the cave, which he notices very late – leading to Pennyworth heading out on his own investigation. While it is certainly played for laughs, at least it shows Alfred as a caring, worried guardian, who despite being out of his depth in the world of crime-fighting, dives in head first anyway to help out Wayne.

As “Gaff” meets new friends – the “Family man” and “Prankster” archetypes in a prison movie – and deals with the fact that he is now little more than a slave, we come to the best part of the episode, a dream sequence where the Batman persona tries to breakthrough. This is accomplished by a trippy circus mirror moment, until Wayne’s reflection morphs into that of The Joker, laughing at the man whose identity is imprisoned inside his own brain. I pretty much love that it is the Batman universe’s epitome of insanity that Wayne’s mind uses to try and banish the amnesia, with this appearance also firmly tagging Joker as Batman’s arch enemy, the one he obsesses about the most. Joker can’t exist without Batman. Maybe that works the other way around too, a little bit.

And that follows on to an equally impressive bit of subconscious theatre, as Bruce Wayne is overwhelmed by a multitude of beggars and needy causes, unable to satisfy his own charitable instincts. Wayne is a man who is giving everything he has to try and help Gotham – but does he think that it will be enough?

It isn’t enough to get Batman back though, leading us to another clumsily animated and somewhat confusing fight scene. Wayne and family man wind up inside a hot box. In this most testing of environments, it is the broken wailing of said family man that finally gets Wayne to snap. That it is only such a tragedy on display that gets Batman out speaks to some of the inherent instability in Wayne’s mind.

But, in classic amnesia story terms we’ve come to the point of return – Wayne, now back in control of his faculties, starts kicking ass all around him.

Well, to a point. It serves to illustrate how vulnerable Wayne is without his suit, car, gadgets etc that he has to basically make a run for it, pursued by a mob of men and dogs. It’s ok though, because the sub-plot shows up, in the form of comedy vignettes between Alfred and the Bat-plane. At least they work, kind of, and form here on in things meander in a predictable way.

It’s a revenge story now, and we get a pretty decent set-piece scene as our climax. Batman is back, and lures Biggis and his cronies into a mine. Some classic Batman stuff occurs in the dark, as the gang of slavers is taken out one by one, Arkham Asylum style. The claustrophobic atmosphere, the palpable sense of menace from the shadows, the fear on the workman’s faces, the creeping inevitability of it all…it works. This final bit elevates “The Forgotten” into much better territory. You don’t need some dramatic fist fight to create tension and an enthralling atmosphere, as this ending shows.

It is a mega happy ending too, even for this show. Wayne gets back both of his lives, family man gets to go home and the bad guy is sent away for good. Smiles and bad jokes send us off. It is a very cheesy conclusion, but at least we have that mine sequence to remember the episode by, right?

Tidbits/Quotes:

-This episodes musical cues are marked by a distinctive guitar twang and harmonica sound, which repeats throughout the episode and is effective at creating an atmosphere of oppression and despair.

-Some odd “Dutch” angles at parts of this episode, like the opening shot of the city. Unusually slanted.

-The VA for the guy at the homeless shelter is the worst of the series so far. Sounds like someone they found five minutes before they recorded it.

-The montage for Wayne’s disguising act and subsequent prowling is really well done and features some nice suspense causing music.

-Something I noticed, which was so small but really nice to see, was “Gaff Morgan’s” car having a small catch to make the seat go back and forth included in the animation design. Some good attention to detail there, drawing things that are never used but serve to make the situation that bit more immersing.

-It cannot be understated how awful the first fight scene is, in the clunky slow moving characters and awkward looking animation. Bruce Wayne gets beaten because he is distracted by a cat, which is awful story telling.

-I know that it is supposed to match the scene, but the sudden onrush of sax and horn music when things got a little violent at the mining camp the first time just made me laugh, a yakety sax effect more than anything else. Not helped by the same repeated line of “Please” from Biggis’ unfortunate victim, which sounded like the same VA being played over and over again.

-Where exactly is this mine anyway? A long way from east coast Gotham it seems. Looks like Arizona or somewhere like that. How does Biggis get so many people so far without notice?

-The “hot box” is an interesting idea to use, making the whole thing a bit more like a prison story, which works. Firefly did something similar in the episode “Jaynestown”, and it worked there too.

-The VA for the other two main cast members – Riley and Smith – is ok, but not too memorable either.

-The dream sequence is all kinds of awesome, a fascinating look at Bruce Wayne’s subconscious trying to break through the amnesia cloud and reclaim its identity. The use of the Joker, Batman’s greatest enemy, is especially fitting.

-Alfred, in his search for Batman in some not so nice locations like a scrapyard, keeps on his pristine butler uniform.

-The sweat animation for Wayne during his time in the hot box is hilariously overstated. The rapidly moving droplets look like little insects on his face.

-Excellent moment when, having realised his true identity, Wayne simply slams his way out of the box with ease. Some might call that unrealistic, but I think it fits, as Wayne’s training, strength and years of practice all come flooding back to him.

-All the stuff with Alfred is the plane is pretty funny, if a bit over the top with the snarky response from the vehicle to the butlers directives. It all leads to a really nice moment between Wayne and Alfred when they meet up in the valley, share a mutually emotional look and just collapse next to each other.

-Apparently George Murdock, the voice of Biggis, actually ate food in the studio while recording his lines, which was a really good call.

-It is a gloriously happy ending, though the sense of smugness from Bruce Wayne does affect it a little.

Overall, some decent set-pieces cover up what is otherwise a fairly drab, straightforward and, dare I say, forgettable plot.

To see the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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5 Responses to Batman: The Animated Series – The Forgotten

  1. Pingback: Batman: The Animated Series – Index | Never Felt Better

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  5. Derek Benatar says:

    Hi, I liked what you wrote. Personally, I think BTAS is one of the few, I say VERY few things I’ve seen that’s pretty much bulletproof.

    Nothing’s as truly expressive and perfectly satisfying to me as my own art, and ideas. My way of doing things. But I still enjoy, and find inspiration in the work of others, and this show’s got it all. Groundbreaking style/influence, great look, stories, characters, music, feel, and now some 20-25 yrs. later it still stands the test of time, and it’s still relevant. A+ series effort as a whole, and this episode is a classic.

    P.S. The boss’ disgusting eating/dialogue, and Bruce’s disguise alone are worth the price of admission. Oh wait, they even gave it to us for free. FREE! We don’t have to get off our butts or lift a finger. I’ll use this space to show some gratitude. THANK YOU!!! YOU ARE ALL AMAZING!!!

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