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Recap / Batman: The Animated Series E48 "What Is Reality?"

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The Riddler traps Commissioner Gordon in a virtual reality machine.


Tropes in this episode include:

  • And I Must Scream: The ending has the Riddler turned into a complete vegetable. Whether his mind is literally destroyed or still trapped inside the computer somewhere is unknown. Batman says that restoring the Riddler would be the greatest riddle of all—though he is shown to have recovered in a later episode with no explanation. Apparently it's such a good riddle that even the writers couldn't think of an answer.
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  • Animation Bump: Per Bruce Timm:
    "Strangely enough, it's one of AKOM's better shows. They pulled off all the special effects really well."
  • Bat Deduction:
    • This exchange between Batman and Alfred in the Batmobile, where Batman has a handful of coins and the clue, "Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no tales. It all makes sense when you add it up."
      Batman: Penny... Penny... Cent... Red cent... Copper! It's made of copper!
      Alfred: And "copper" is another word for "policeman"!
      Batman: And no tails means heads. Police... Head... Quarters!
      [...]
      Batman: Four quarters and one penny equal 101 cents, so... Police headquarters, room 101!
    The silliest thing about this? Batman was going to go back there eventually anyway.
    • Leading into the above example, three computers crash around Gotham, displaying only a riddle on screen: "Where does a 500-pound gorilla sleep?" "What's worse than a millipede with flat feet?" "How do you fit 5 elephants into a compact car?" Train of logic: the Riddler doesn't usually use such commonly known riddles, meaning the answers to the riddles are a red herring. The riddles themselves all contain numbers: 500, 1000, 5. Convert to roman numerals and get D,M,V... the Department of Motor Vehicles!!! Which is exactly where the Riddler's goons are.
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    • Right before the simulation collapses, the Riddler remarks "If the planet were equitable, I'd still have my old job." Batman rewords this into "If the World's Fair, I'd still have my exposition" and sure enough, that's where the Riddler's hideout is.
  • Batman Gambit: Batman knows he can't solve the puzzle cube in time, so he multiplies himself, predicting Riddler will do the same, on the assumption that he cannot sustain a collective consciousness and the entire virtual world. Batman is correct; the world falls apart, destroying the cube and letting Batman and Commissioner Gordon escape.
  • Call-Back: During his Motive Rant, Riddler mentions the corrupt employer who cheated him in his debut episode.
  • Chess Motifs: The Riddler traps Batman in a virtual reality simulator. At one point, the Riddler has Batman chase him across a giant chessboard, only to have the squares slowly disappear beneath Batman's feet. The villain's riddle is, "Move according to the rules or it's the end of the day." Robin deduces that the Riddler is playing with Batman's nickname The Dark Knight, and that in order to avoid disappearing squares, Batman has to move like a knight ("according to the rules" of chess); two forward, one to the side, to avoid the "end of the day" or nightfall (knight fall). Batman completes the puzzle by confronting the opposing King to simulate a checkmate.
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  • Cutting the Knot: When the heroes get to the center of the virtual world, they discover that their goal is inside a Baxter's box. Batman's solution? Turn his hands into hammers and break the thing, referencing an earlier comment by Robin:
    Robin: You're looking at the guy who solved the Baxter's box in 37 seconds. Of course this time, I don't have a hammer.
  • Door Roulette: The first obstacle Batman encounters. This being the Riddler, however, the doors are all labeled with clues as to what is behind them. The door labeled "crazy intent," you guessed it, contains an oncoming locomotive.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Riddler can't resist hanging around inside the crashing program to give out one last riddle to Batman. It's to his own misfortune.
  • Inside a Computer System: The Riddler creates one and tricks the Gotham PD into bringing the computer into their headquarters, where he traps Commissioner Gordon inside and dares Batman to go in after him.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Robin is smart enough to search the system thoroughly before actually using the VR program to make sure the Riddler can't access it via the net. However, as the villain points out later, he fails to check the hardware, and doesn't discover the wireless modem.
  • Pungeon Master: Like before, many of Nygma's traps involve Stealth Puns. "Crazy Intent" is a synonym of "Loco Motive," the door with that label hiding a locomotive that tries to run the hero down.
  • Me's a Crowd: In the end, Batman faces off against the Riddler, who demonstrates his mastery of the domain by duplicating himself. Batman realizes he can do so as well, and the two get into a ridiculous arms race of clones. Eventually the Riddler's consciousness is spread too thin for him to maintain the simulation, and it collapses, with Riddler's mind still inside. Batman somehow knows how many duplicates are too many for the Riddler to handle.
    Batman: [while merging back into one] Tell me something, Nygma, how do you split your mind in more than sixty-four directions while maintaining the concentration necessary to sustain an entire world? You can't.
  • Most Dangerous Video Game: And unlike his previous plan, it truly is computer-generated.
  • Moral Myopia: The Riddler wants revenge on Batman for forcing him to become an outlaw. When Batman points out that this is because the Riddler tried to murder his former boss, Nygma dismisses his previous crime as "a personal matter" and blames Batman for getting involved.
  • Ret Gone / Un-person: Nygma is trying to do this to himself, destroying records of his civilian identity and eliminating anyone who knows of it.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The aforementioned "loco motive" trap involves a train emerging from a fireplace, a reference to Rene Magritte's painting Time Transfixed in which the same thing is depicted.
    • The computer lab wherein Nygma the takes control of Gordon's reality is Room 101.
  • That Man Is Dead: The Riddler is trying to enforce this by destroying computer and paper records of his Edward Nygma identity.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Robin, once Batman enters the program. Eventually, the Riddler sabotages Robin's headset to stop him from giving Batman any more clues.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: The Riddler's virtual reality program is somehow able to induce a heart attack in a user by simulating high G-forces. Of course, pulling the plug is a bad idea since it'll be like "slamming into a brick wall."

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