A sadistic guard has ambitions to clean up Gotham.
Story by Paul Dini
Teleplay by Marty Isenberg & Robert Skir
Directed by Dan Riba
Music by Kristopher Carter & Brian Langsbad
Animation by Dong Yang
Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Loren Lester as Dick Grayson
Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon
Robert Constanzo as Bullock
Lloyd Bochner as Mayor Hill
Mari Devon as Summer Gleeson
Bruce Weitz as Lyle Bolton
George Dzundza as Scarface/Ventriloquist
Henry Polic II as The Scarecrow
Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn
Richard Dysart as Dr. Bartholomew
You dont go to Batman: The Animated Series for a sophisticated sociological examination of the problem of crime and its punishment: it's a cartoon action show, after all. And you don't go to BTAS for raw exploitation fare, either: it may be an action show, but it's better than that (thankfully). And you certainly don't go to it looking for some thumbfumbled attempt to combine the two. So heaven help you and the rest of us when it comes to "Lock-Up."
It has a heady theme, that's for sure, but it's one that a Batman writer plays with at his peril. It's about the ethics of vigilantism, and, in truth, the ethical dimension of the Batman universe does not bear close scrutiny. I don't mean that that universe is somehow confused or that it embodies an immoral view. I only mean that it clutches at but then fudges a deep and an important issue: How can the good of the individual and the good of society be reconciled when they conflict? In this regard, Batman, though a product of the early twentieth century, is a pre-modern figure, even pre-classical one. The Greeks, after all, were keenly aware of the problem of how to reconcile the needs and interests of both the indvidual and society (though they had no solution), for their founding poetry in Homer had harked back to a pre-political age when men were loyal only to themselves and to other men and bent to no civil authority. And yet the Greeks had also fashioned a flourishing political regime that required its citizens to compromise for the social good. Thus the paradox: Where does justice lie when the good of an individual conflicts with the good of the city that raises him above a merely selfish existence?
The issue is particularly acute in today's bureaucratized world. Economically, politically, sociologically, we are far removed from a place where each man is his own master and bound only to do what is right by his own conscience. And yet that is exactly what Batman does. He is not part of the law and is moved by his own history and ideals. That is why he appeals to us: he is neither a policeman nor a lone gunslinger, but a man trying to do what is right.
His extra-legal existence, however, is only justified by the borderline collapse of law and order in Gotham City and by the inability of the established authorities to deal with the looming archfiends of Arkham. Lyle Bolton recognizes this and follows the trail blazed by Batman. His diagnosis is more radical, but only in degree rather than kind: true social order has already vanished, he argues, and what is left actually masks and protects the violent anarchy that has replaced it. He is Batman in the raw, unencumbered by the need to preserve appearances, and it is no wonder that in their fights Batman is oddly tongue-tied and unable to argue back. They disagree only on facts, not on principles.
Not only Batman flinches from this awful vision. The script does, too. Unable to discriminate between its hero and villain on principled grounds, it ham-handedly turns Bolton into a hulking sadist with only two lines: "Scum is everywhere" and "Batman should be on my side." This resort to cheap melodrama is extremely irritating, as it robs us of an interesting antagonist as well as riding roughshod over the ambivalent aspects of the vigilante ideal. There are some effective bits early in the episode when Bolton is still loose in Arkham, and Robin makes some cheerily cynical observations. But the situation was unpromising from the very beginning, for the differences between Batman and Lock-up cannot be comfortably explored in the space of twenty minutes. And I doubt the conflict is one that can be resolved in the pat and satisfying way that the action cartoon genre requires. Antigone, you may recall, raised the same fundamental conflict of outraged conscience meeting outraged law, only to abandon the search for reconciliation in agonized despair.
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