Story by Paul Dini & Michael Reaves
Teleplay by Tom Ruegger
Directed by Boyd Kirkland
The fifth episode “Pretty Poison” – Batman: Animated Series is an important episode for a few reasons. Chief among why “Pretty Poison” is an essential episode of the 90’s animated series is that it features the writing debut of Paul Dini, co-creator of Harley Quinn. Dini himself, along with Bruce Timm, has gone on to make a name for himself within DC Comics and is also the writer behind titles such as Mad Love and Gotham City Sirens. His writing for Batman: The Animated Series marked a departure from the other scripts and brought a much more adult theme to the already mature series. It’s commonly understood among fans of the series that many of Paul Dini’s plots were filled with a more noir-ish take on Batman and situations more reminiscent of Frank Miller’s work on the comic books. “Pretty Poison” is the first of many episodes that had to be watered down as it was still primarily an animated program for children, but served as a fitting episode to be enjoyed by all.
“Pretty Poison” begins with a plant being buried at the future site of Gotham Penitentiary. Away from the press conference, a woman makes her getaway without being noticed. We learn that the new and improved penitentiary, which will be the site of Stonegate, is the dream of D.A. Harvey Dent. Five years later at the now built prison, in “a better, safer Gotham”, there’s a breakout.
One of the strengths of Paul Dini’s writing is that he isn’t just a skilled comic/cartoon writer. He escapes those confines and truly creates an engaging, character driven story. There’s also plenty of humor, as well and “Pretty Poison” plays more like a short film than anything else. At the Rose Cafe, Harvey Dent is on a date with Pamela Isley. There supposed to be eating with Dent’s friend, Bruce Wayne, but he’s running late. While Dent makes excuses for his friend’s late appearance, we see that he’s currently occupied as The Caped Crusader and trying to stop the escaped felons from Stonegate. The sequence goes back and forth for a small time and expertly layers the dual identity of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Here he’s supposed to be enjoying a night with his friend, but instead he’s scrambling over rooftops, trying to stop a prison break. He is Batman, after all, and brings the men to justice to make it in time for Dent and Isley’s date.
While out dining, Isley decides to leave so both friends will have some time to themselves. She flirtatiously leaves in a bombshell kind of way with all the patrons heads turning. Before she does, she kisses Dent and Bruce comically taps his fingers on the table while also checking his watch. This is one of the first moments of the episode that marks a difference in tone. Pamela Isley kissing Harvey Dent in an animated series was quite risque, especially given how much they play up her using her sexuality throughout the episode. In past episodes, the creative team fought over having guns and blood depicted in the series, and in a later episode featuring the debut of Two-Face, a mature scene of an adult situation was removed entirely.
After Pamela Isley leaves, Dent announces to Bruce that he’s going to marry her. This admission stuns Bruce, especially considering that the two just met. Before he could talk sense into his friend, the D.A. collapses head-first into his souffle. Dent’s been poisoned! At the hospital, Bruce and company learn that he’s been poisoned with a “virulent strain.” Bruce, managing to grab hold of the blood sample, returns to the Batcave and does what he does best – detective work. He learns that the poison has been derived from the wild thorny rose, a rare plant, and that if he gets a hold of it, he could synthesize an antidote.
Bruce returns to the hospital and meets Isley. She begins to cry so he offers her some words of comfort. Isley grabs hold of him and goes to kiss him, which Bruce turns into a hug. After she leaves, he suspiciously looks into her background and learns that there’s more to Den’t girlfriend than meets the eye. (Sorry for the Transformers reference.) With Alfred’s help, they learn Pamela Isley has a PhD in Botany and currently works at a cosmetics firm. She’s a chemist working on perfumes, one being “Nightshade, it’s deadly,” Alfred and Bruce realize that she poisoned Harvey Dent and he heads out after her as Batman.
- Interestingly, we get a few facts on on Pamela Isley. At this moment in the DCAU, she’s 28 years old, is 5’2″, and weighs 105 lbs. She also gives a monthly lecture at the University on endangered plants.
- “Pretty Poison” also features the first appearance of Renee Montoya of the GCPD. Montoya, along with Detective Bullock, are both featured on the FOX series Gotham.
Batman encounters Poison Ivy at a greenhouse and she reveals that she wanted Harvey Dent to pay for killing so many plants to build Stonegate Prison. Before she tries to capture him in a venus fly trap, she asks if he’s really there for a “late night rendezvous.” It’s another fleeting moment of sexual innuendo that adds to the adult nature of the series and marks the first incarnation of Batman outside of the films that take the character seriously. They end up battling each other as the greenhouse catches fire. Batman manages to get “the bottle for the weed” and ensure that he has the antidote to save Harvey while also preserving the Wild Thorny Rose from going extinct. He returns to Harvey Dent as Bruce Wayne and tells his friend that he doesn’t feel Pamela Isley is right for him. Elsewhere, it appears as if Pamela Isley/Posion Ivy is incarcerated at Stonegate, which later in the series is revealed to be Arkham Asylum.
“Pretty Poison” is a fantastic episode and also feels the most authentic to the comic books. While “Christmas with the Joker” and “The Last Laugh” prove to be good episodes featuring, arguably, Batman’s most iconic rogue, this episode works on all levels. Primarily due to Paul Dini’s story and wildly fun take on Poison Ivy, the fifth episode to be produced marks another success for the animators. The episode is decidedly dark, keeping with the dark deco look, but also manages to brighten up the color spectrum with the usage of greens and reds for the vivacious villain, Poison Ivy.
It was interesting re-watching “Pretty Poison” as it’s the first time fans would see Poison Ivy outside of the comics. More interestingly, outside of Batman: The Animated Series, the only other time fans have seen Poison Ivy was in the 1997 film, Batman and Robin. Uma Thurman is the only actress to have portrayed the villain. While Claire Foley portrays a version of the villain as a child on the FOX series, Gotham, Thurman is the only actress to have portrayed a fully realized version of the comic book character. While the movie has received bashing from fans and critics, I can’t help but add that I did enjoy Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. Hopefully, going forward with the DC universe of films and the inclusion of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, we will see another live-action Poison Ivy on screen.
As always, stay tuned for more Batman: The Animated Series.