Batman: The Animated Series – Two-Face, Part One

Two-Face, Part One

All men have something to hide. The brighter the picture, the darker the negative.

Air Date: 25/09/92

Director: Kevin Altieri

Writer: Alan Burnett, Randy Rogel (teleplay)

Themes: Split Personalities, Politics, Blackmail, Friendship, Secrets

Villain: Rupert Thorne

Synopsis: Gotham’s DA Harvey Dent is running for re-election, but his campaign becomes sidetracked by his increasingly intense mental problems and his feud with mob boss Rupert Thorne.

Review:

Ah, now we’re hitting the big time.

Harvey Dent is a great character. There is so much you can do with the guy, and B:TAS takes the opportunity to use his actual origin as the kickstarter for the more serious, darker streak that the series is going to be heading in.

But even outside B:TAS, Dent is great. He’s got a unique hook as a bad guy, he’s got a doomed quest for redemption angle following him around, he has a key connection to the Bruce Wayne character that other villains don’t share and he just works as the mobster with a twist.

But his villainous days are only half the story. As The Long Halloween and The Dark Knight showed, some of the best Harvey Dent material comes before his “change”.

B:TAS doesn’t quite follow the angle those other mediums go for, but it is hinted at pretty obviously. Dent is the “White Knight” of Gotham, the public face that fights crime using the law and legitimacy, the means by which Batman cannot act. In supporting Dent as a friend and a financier, Wayne see’s the DA as his retirement ticket, the one man in Gotham who could conceivably make Batman redundant. As such, the obvious tragedy of the Dent story is matched by the parallel tragedy of Wayne’s crushing disappointment.

Dent is such a good character, that the B:TAS team choose to make him the main character for the first half of this two-parter. Batman barely appears at all, and is ineffective when he does. No, from start to finish, this is the Harvey Dent story.

We’ve had plenty of not-so-great episodes before now, and we will have more, but “Two-Face” is a two-parter that does change the tone of the series in a general sense. It is a very dark, noir, sombre tale of psychological break-down and real heartbreak. And it is done spectacularly well.

We’ve seen a good bit of Harvey Dent so far. He was the seemingly relaxed DA in “On Leather Wings” and the besotted (and beguiled) victim of Pamala Isley in “Pretty Poison”. We know he’s a close friend of Bruce Wayne and a “good guy” in Gotham.

But the opening sequence, a troubling nightmare, brings us to a much darker place. Here, Dent is terrified of a gruff voice calling to him from the darkness, signified by a spinning coin. The crushing sense of inevitability is strong here, the feeling that whatever this monster that Harvey Dent is hiding inside his own head is, it will be getting out soon. “Two-Face” sets the tone from the start and does a great job in doing so.

We move from this chilling opening to more traditional fare: a GCPD raid on a mafia crime in progress, with Batman doing most of the leg work. This is all classic Batman stuff, as he easily overcomes and terrorises the well-armed thugs, who wind up fleeing to police for safety from the masked menace. This is the first brief appearance of Batman, and he won’t be back again until the very end of the episode.

That was just a brief action beat though, because the point of the scene is illustrated clearly in the following moments. This is a time of triumph for Dent, in a running battle with one of Gotham’s key crime bosses. But, with just some stereotypical taunting from a goon to bait him, Dent loses his senses and gets involved in a street brawl with a man in police custody.

This is a bizarre (and somewhat uncomfortable) scene to watch. This is a true dark side of a supposed “good guy” that the viewer hasn’t been subjected to before in this show. Dent is clearly shown to have a rather troubling anger problem, which we can guess is connected to the dark figure of his dreams. It’s more than just a simple case of losing his temper – Dent changes for a few moments, turning from smiling politician into a ravenous animal out for blood.

It’s clear that Dent’s angry side is the primary foe of this episode, but it has a more tangible one too. Mob goons and unnamed bosses have filled up many actions sequences so far in this show, but now we get one that actually has a name. Rupert Thorne, the obese yet deadly Mafia kingpin of Gotham will be a returning threat for a while now. He really is all the cliché here, with the suit, the jowls, the pretty little female underling. He’s actual a step-up from his comics alternative, who is nowhere near as powerfully presented.

This mob boss is not terribly threatening physically, but we can tell from this brief snippet of conversation that he has intelligence, which he is more than willing to put to nefarious ends. Thorne exudes confidence and experience, an interesting contrast to the somewhat out of control Harvey Dent.

Back in his re-election campaign, two key relationships of Dent’s are examined. The first is his new fiancée, Grace, a much more likable and less sinister option than his previous intended, Poison Ivy. She doesn’t get a tonne of time to be anything other than the concerned lover here, but she gives Dent some measure of humanity in that he is not some isolated figure waiting to explode. Grace is a comfort and support, and her love for Dent is easy to see. That love only makes the situation all the more tragic. Including her makes this story better, in that Dent has more than just a career to lose.

The second relationship is that of Bruce Wayne. He is the concerned friend, trying hard to understand what is going on in Harvey’s life while doing his best to keep his re-election bid on track. I don’t doubt that Wayne has genuine fondness for Dent, but you can sense the underlying motive here. He wants a friend in the position of DA, because that will be an advantage to his alter ego. That may sound more negative than I intend, but I got the feeling that Wayne’s concern for Harvey went beyond just that of friendship.

Such is the trust between the two men, that Dent lets Wayne in on his potentially career ending secret – he’s getting psychiatrist sessions for his anger issues. That Dent is a man under pressure is obvious, but the fact that he’s getting help for it is actually somewhat chilling. The usual narrative for these kind of stories is that the person with the problem tries to ignore it until it’s too late. But Dent is actually doing what you would advise him to do, and it doesn’t appear to be working.

The episode’s most effective scene follows on from that, as the psychiatry session introduces us to the real villain of the piece: “Big Bad Harv”, a mental construct of Dent’s repressed anger that has been haunting him since he was a child faced with a bully. The scene where this angry side is unleashed is truly terrifying, as the calm, composed DA transforms into a vicious psychopath, dangerously close to murdering the women trying to help him. Combined with some excellent animation flashes and some subtle musical cues, it’s a really effective scene at establishing the dangers. This isn’t just some anger problem that could make Dent shout when he shouldn’t sometime. This is the kind of thing that will make him hurt someone if he isn’t careful. Dent is suitably terrified of “Big Bad Harv” and what that side of him is capable of, but is too tied up in his political prospects to go the whole hog with his treatment. Thus, the tragedy really starts.

It’s a simple route from there on it. Thorne, the eagerly seeking anything to smear the troublesome DA, gets his hands on the information. This is your classic mob movie territory really, the arrogant crimelord blackmailing the cops and the authorities, smug and secure in his apparent superiority.

But Thorne is a kid playing with fire, though perhaps only the audience is truly aware of that fact. Wayne, no idiot, figures out that something suspicious is happening on the night of Dent’s re-election, and moves to protect his friend, Batman’s only key role in this episode.

The blackmail scene is tense for the audience, not because Thorne has got one over Dent, but because we know what’s really coming. “Big Bad Harv” was created out of a confrontation with a bully, and now a similar showdown unleashes him in a spectacular manner. Thorne, so eager to see the end of his nemesis, get’s burned.

Well, in a figurative sense anyway. The confluence of events that is leading to tragedy occurs here, as the enraged Dent, perhaps not totally beyond saving, becomes a victim of happenstance, caught in an explosion that was not of his making. Batman’s anguished face as he sees’s Dent go flying sums it all up: a feeling of utter helplessness and, since that dream sequence at the top of the show, inevitability. “Big Bad Harv” was let out to fight Thorne, but the physical trauma of this explosion will see him remain in clear sight.

This episode ends on a cliffhanger of suitable excitement, though not in the usual sense. This being animation, you might expect something a bit more “thrilling” or obviously actiony. Instead, we get the full horror of what has happened to Dent – a break in his mind matched by a dualist mutilation of his body – combined with the heartrending sight of his fiancée coming face to face with what he now is. Dent, disgusted with the effect that he has had on his fiancée with a mere glance, elects to leave her behind and vanishes into the night. His fate is unknown, his activities now only to be guessed at. All we have to go on is Thorne’s own prophetic rumblings – he had only an adversary in Dent, but he has a true enemy in “Big Bad Harv”.

Tidbits/Quotes:

-Simple flutes, whistles and soft drums are the main musical cues of this episode, creating a sense of impending terror, almost with a childlike quality to them.

-The Dent character model does still seem a little off, especially his block-like head.

-The sound of the coin spinning when flicked upwards is jarringly exaggerated.

-One might well wonder how the Mafia goons at the raid were able to get their hands on such advanced military hardware as rocket launchers.

-One might also wonder why the Gotham District Attorney is even present at the raid in the first place, unless he’s just seeking a media moment.

-The VA for this episode is generally good, even the small parts. Richard Moll is great as the distressed Dent, while John Vernon is subtly menacing as Thorne.

-Thorne’s goons are able to get off scot free because the “warrant wasn’t complete”. Seems like a rather lame excuse, and it’s hard to dismiss such a flagrantly obvious bit of shenanigans with “he must have been bought off!”

-I really liked the animation for the flashes of “Big Bad Harv” that we see in this episode, illustrating the divide in Dent’s mind very simply.

-No explanation is given for how Candice is able to get so close to the private session between Dent and his shrink. That was a bit of a plothole, you can’t just sidle up to those kinds of offices in the middle of the night.

-Nice simple chase sequence as Batman follows Dent. No crazy action, but plenty of tension nonetheless.

-“There’s only one problem…you’re talking to the wrong Harv”. An excellent moment in an excellent episode.

-It is a pretty basic fight scene at the end, but it’s not really the point of the episode after all. It only exists for action, and for showing off how dangerous an opponent Dent can be when riled. Some nice silhouette work though.

-The breaking point for Dent is animated very simply – just an accidental explosion that he strays too close too, flaring bright and deadly.

-Dent’s first look at his new face is taken straight out of Tim Burton’s Batman, when The Joker demands “Mirror, mirror!” from the Doctor’s chair.

-A bit of a production inconsistency, as Dent’s all-body scars from the final scene weren’t visible when he was in the hospital bed earlier.

Overall, a fantastically well-crafted origin story, an excellent set-up for the second part, where we will really get to meet “Two-Face”.

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

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4 Responses to Batman: The Animated Series – Two-Face, Part One

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

  2. Pingback: Batman: The Animated Series – Two-Face, Part Two | Never Felt Better

  3. Pingback: Batman: The Animated Series: It’s Never Too Late | Never Felt Better

  4. Pingback: Batman: The Animated Series – Heart Of Ice | Never Felt Better

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