The Riddler feigns reform while hawking a new line of toys.
Story by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini & Randy Rogel
Teleplay by Randy Rogel
Directed by Dan Riba
Music by Michael McCuistion
Animation by Dong Yang
Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Loren Lester as Dick Grayson
Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon
Mari Devon as Summer Gleeson
John Glover as The Riddler
Patricia Alice Albrecht as Brenda
Peter Mark Richman as Charles Baxter
William Kitt as Zowie
Robert Pastorelli as Manny
Actually, this isn't a riddle, but an engineering problem. The challenge is to write for an antagonist who is supposed to be smart. Very smart. As in, the sort of person who thinks Mensa is a support group for the semi-retarded. For this means that he who writes a Riddler episode has the unenviable task of himself trying to think on such a plane: He has to be as smart as the Riddler so as to come up with a scheme and smarter than the Riddler so as to catch him at the end.
There are ways of cheating, of course. When the Riddler was running around in little green tights, the script-writer could always just give him a few puns and have him do something frankly impossible. (I don't know how he did it, we could shake our heads afterward. But he is a genius.) Whatever merits this had as comedy relief, it left him as only that: comedy relief. When those behind BTAS decided to make him a serious adversary for Batman they made him much more interesting, but they also lost the advantages that accrued to the comedy angle. All in all, I prefer the BTAS interpretation, which is why I think they did the right thing in choosing it. But that doesn't mean they did the wisest thing, for they also took up an almost impossible burden, a responsibility for thinking and writing for a one-man conceptual carnival. Tom Stoppard or G. K. Chesterton might pull it off, but that's pretty rarefied company.
Of course, it's sad when bad things happen as a result of good choices, but we shouldn't be surprised that odd things occur when we tangle with the prince of paradoxes. God bless Messrs. Burnett, Dini, Rogel and Riba for their courage, even if an episode like "Riddler's Reform" is deeply disappointing.
Here, a strong set-up proves to have an astonishingly weak pay-off. Batman, suspicious to the point of paranoia, sees plots and riddles in all the Riddler's seemingly innocent remarks. The outlandish and outrageous readings he has to put on the Riddler's words only heighten our conviction that this time Batman is wrong. But in which direction? Is the Riddler really reformed (but doomed, perhaps, to be persecuted back into crime)? Or is he only playing an enormously misleading game against Batman? Either way, we are all primed for seeing the Riddler undermine Batman in unexpected ways and relishing the prospect of pleasant reversals and counter-reversals. How deflating, then, for it to turn out that Batman was correctly divining and deciphering the Riddler's moves from the start, especially since his readings were so tortured and implausible to begin with. Batman is made to seem not merely smart, but damn near infallible; we are left with the conviction that he won only because the writers dealt from the bottom of the deck.
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