The structure of Batman: The Animated Series makes it difficult to review in season order. It was originally a M-F afternoon series, and as such the first season contains sixty five episodes. The second season contains only twenty because the show was renamed The Adventures of Batman and Robin and aired on Saturday mornings. Instead of attempting to try to sum up my feelings on either of these seasons in one big entry, I thought it might work better to break it down. After all, the strength of an episode is usually largely related to the villain involved. For no particular reason beyond my mood, I decided to start off with the Scarecrow.
There were a total of three episodes starring the villain, and they are all from the first season. My hunch is that the reason he didn't get any attention in season two is because one of these episodes includes Robin already, and season two was all about adding in more Robin episodes.
"Nothing to Fear"
This episode is not quite an origin story, but more our and Batman's introduction to the Scarecrow. He's shown to be crazy from a very early age, always enjoying scaring the daylights out of people for no good reason. It made me wonder how a man like this could ever get far enough to be a professor conducting experiments on people, but I guess we're not supposed to think about all that. The best thing about the episode is that Batman gets exposed to a slow release fear toxin that reveals his greatest fear: that his father would not be proud of him. It's a perfect angle for Bruce, given the playboy image he shows to the public and also perhaps a kind of doubt that he's going about this the wrong way. There is a very touching moment where Alfred assures Bruce that his father would be proud, because after all, Alfred is proud of him.
The main issue I had was that Batman feeds a strip of cloth he pulls off the Scarecrow into the batcomputer for analysis, and it conveniently takes most of the episode to figure it out. When it does tell him that the cloth has residue from a chemical, he asks the computer to cross reference the chemical suppliers with Gotham University (since all the attacks have been there). The computer immediately tells him that about Professor Jonathan Crane being fired and how he had a specialty in phobias who also owns one of the chemical plants. Wouldn't just checking the university's records for fired professors have already gotten him this info? It's clear they were just delaying Batman finding out the answer for no good reason.
Also, how does Batman conquer his fears? By shouting: "I am vengeance. I am the night. I am ... Batman!" As much as I love that wonderfully overdramatic line, how does that prove his father would be proud of him?
"Fear of Victory"
This is the Robin episode of the bunch, and therefore one I really enjoy. This time around the Scarecrow is using a fear toxin that activates when the person exposed to it gets an adrenaline rush - he's using it to throw sports games in his favor by making the star athletes panic. Since Dick Grayson's roommate is the star quarterback of the university's football team, he also gets exposed to the toxin. It makes Dick afraid of heights, a particularly illogical fear for a guy who was once an aerialist in the circus. Robin does manage to conquer his fear in time to save the day.
What is done best in this episode is that the climactic scene occurs at a football game, and the announcer's words and the cheers of the crowd happen to perfectly correlate with what is happening between Batman, the Scarecrow, and Robin above the game. I also enjoyed seeing a Batman in this episode who has a bit of a sense of humor, adding to that idea that Batman needs Robin to mellow him out a bit.
"Dreams in Darkness"
This one is fairly unique compared to a lot of BTAS episodes in that it is mostly a flashback story narrated by Batman. It definitely sets a different tone, if nothing else. The Scarecrow once again has created a slow release type gas that is making Batman hallucinate. His delusions get him locked up in Arkham while the Scarecrow has snuck out and is about to poison Gotham's water supply with the very same chemical. The plot is beyond simple - the Arkham doctors don't believe Batman, but then eventually do go ahead and check the Scarecrow's cell anyway, and sure enough, Batman was right and he gets past the orderlies in order to stop Scarecrow and save the day.
What is far more interesting are Batman's hallucinations. He watches his parents head into a dark alleyway, and then the alley transforms into a giant gun that drips blood. Don't ask me how they got that past the censors, but it's awesome. Later, Batman starts seeing all of his Rogues gallery - the Penguin swells to enormous size, and then his head pops like a balloon and Two Face's head is underneath. He's then tied down by a Poison Ivy/Clayface amalgam while Robin and Alfred mock him. Try and tell me that isn't something you want to see.
All three of these episodes can be found on Batman: The Animated Series, Volume 1 if you want to see them for yourself.