“Perchance to Dream”
Story by Laren Bright & Michael Reaves
Teleplay by Joe R. Lansdale
Directed by Boyd Kirkland
- 133 Days…
The Batcave is sealed, Thomas and Martha Wayne are still alive, and Bruce is not the Batman. This idyllic sounding episode comes from noted horror author, Joe R. Lansdale. With that in mind, “Perchance to Dream” is anything but idyllic for Bruce Wayne. “Perchance to Dream” is widely considered by many to be the best episode of the entire Batman: The Animated Series run and also happens to be frequently cited as one of Kevin Conroy’s favorites. Having just re-watched this episode, which is probably the fourth time for me, it’s not hard to see why the Shakespearean-esque episode is regarded as one of the top-tier episodes in a series that ran from 1992 to 1995.
The episode begins with Batman chasing after someone in The Batmobile. He follows the criminals into a warehouse where he is quickly overcome by a blinding flash of light that knocks him unconscious. The immediate scene following finds Bruce at home in Wayne Manor, waking up to just another day. “Would you tell me about my life?” Bruce asks Alfred, which he specifies is to humor him. But we know that Bruce is just as confused as us. Mind you, “Perchance to Dream” came at a time where it wasn’t as commonplace and standard to do an episode that took place in someone’s mind so there was more of a naturalism to the Laren Bright and Michael Reaves story.
Bruce has no recollection of the night and he is soon startled to realize that his reality has somehow folded into some kind of dream. His parents are still alive and his is not Batman. According to this reality, Batman only appeared in Gotham City a few weeks ago. Did I mention that he’s also engaged to Selina Kyle?
“Perchance to Dream” is very Twilight Zone-ish in the way that it presents a portrait of a man questioning who he is and what is his reality. The story and teleplay explore the torment of Bruce Wayne’s mind and it’s done in one of the most engaging of ways. We soon forget that this is an animated series as we become invested in the fantasy Bruce is living in. One of the strongest aspects of Batman: The Animated Series is of how many times it transcends the notions of what a Saturday morning cartoon is and becomes real art. Moving, living, art.
Just as soon as Bruce proclaims that the “nightmare is over”, he’s declaring that “nothing makes sense.” Despite a visit to Dr. Leslie Thompkins, a character currently featured on FOX’s Gotham, Bruce deduces that it’s all a dream. We learn that the Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowell) is the one who constructed the fantasy that Bruce was living in through his Dream Machine. Bruce/Batman defeats the Mad Hatter, but despite his win, he walks away feeling the pain of losing the unobtainable dream – having his parents back.
“Perchance to Dream” is an extraordinary episode in its depiction of the torment and mental anguish of Bruce Wayne. It’s one of the finest of stories that could make a fan of the Batman out of anyone. He’s so different from Superman. You have this child that had his parents killed in front of his eyes, had his childhood stolen from him, and had placed his life on hold ever since he vowed to himself to never allow such an unimaginable horror to happen to anyone else. The torment of his mind, a statement in which I’ve already made reference to so many times, is so abundantly clear within the context of “Perchance to Dream.” It’s very clear that Bruce Wayne will most likely go to his grave having never found the peace his soul desired and Batman is one of the most tragic figures out there.
As we are continuing our countdown to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it’s my hope that Ben Affleck takes as much inspiration as he can from the depiction of Bruce Wayne in Batman: The Animated Series. I have no doubt in his abilities and in 133 days we’ll get to see his performance.
Stay tuned for more on Batman: The Animated Series. Check out our review of “Eternal Youth” here.