Episode 06: The Underdwellers
Teleplay By: J. Dennis & R. Mueller
Directed By: Frank Paur
Original Air Date: 10/21/92
Throughout Batman's career, he has had to face many different forms of Crime in Gotham City. Over the years he's had to deal with mobsters, psychotic killers, cat burglars, and sometimes he even has to go up against literal monsters. But in the sixth episode of "Batman: The Animated Series" called the "The Underdwellers," Batman has to deal with a form of crime that he probably didn't even expect to face. Little children.
The main plot of this episode revolves around a group of runaway children that dwell in the sewers, and who are being used by a madman who calls himself the Sewer King, to steal from the citizens of Gotham City out on the streets at night. This episode was no doubt trying to send a message about child slave labor, as the Sewer King not only makes the kids steal for him, but he also has them work for him in the sewers in horrible conditions, and treats them terribly. The episode does a good job of getting this message across without coming off as too preachy, but I felt it really didn't get going until the last act, which just makes this a rather average episode overall.
"The Underdwellers" doesn't get off to a good start by having a weak opening sequence that has nothing to do with the overall story. It begins with two boys on a moving train playing chicken before they reach a tunnel. As one of the boys notices Batman, he decides to jump off the train. But as the other kid boasts that he's now the winner, his leg gets caught in some cables, and Batman has to rescue him before he hits the tunnel. All that comes from this opening sequence is this lame line Batman says to the kids afterword, "Play Chicken long enough, you fry." This whole sequence just felt like a cheap way for the network to tell kids, "Don't play chicken, or do any crazy stunts, because Batman won't like it if you do." This is probably one of the weakest openings the series has ever had, as it contributed nothing to the overall story, an just came off as corny.
Now back in the city, Batman sees a woman get her purse stolen by a small person in a green cloak, but he is unable to catch the thief in time. The woman thinks she was robbed by a leprechaun, and Batman wonders to himself if she is actually right. He heads back to the Batcave and tells Alfred what he saw, but Alfred just makes a joke about leprechauns, and Bruce wonders if he just needs a break. Bruce and Alfred have a funny exchange about some different vacations ideas Bruce can take, but Bruce just turns them down stating that they would all be boring. A typical Batman response, which was great. But instead of taking a vacation, Bruce realizes that he just needs to go back to the crime scene in the theater district, and find out exactly whats going on.
In the next scene, we get to see the disturbing operation that's going on in the sewers of the theater district. An operation of children who work in the sewers in the day, and steal from Gotham's citizens at night. This scene does a real good job of showing what these poor kids are going through. We see them working in the sewers in terrible conditions, dirty and exhausted, sewing clothes, farming, and putting away their stolen goods. The music in the sequence is also great, and really sets the mood for the poor condition that these children are in. During this sequence, one of the kids accidentally hits himself with his tool, and lets out a small scream before another child can cover his mouth, as these kids are not even allowed to speak. They are then summoned by their master the Sewer King, who wants to teach them their first lesson of the day, which is,"NO TALKING!" As he shouts this to the children, he says he has heard someone speak, and now that child must be punished. He then takes the kid who hit himself with the tool, and puts him in a brightly lit room for a few hours. It's a cruel thing to do to anyone who has been in the dark for so long, but the fact that its being done to a child, makes it even worse. After the Sewer King is done disciplining the child, he then sends the rest of the children out to the streets to steal more items for him, as he just laughs to himself hysterically. The writers of this episode, and Michael Pataki (the voice actor of the Sewer King) do a great job of making you really hate the Sewer King immediately. Right when this guy opens his mouth, you automatically hate him. The way he talks to the kids, and the things he says to them like, "children are to be seen and not heard," really makes you start to feel bad for these kids, and where you just cant wait for Batman to confront this guy.
Unfortunately, before Batman can confront the Sewer King, we have to sit through a middle act that is rather forgettable in this episode. As Batman is able to find the secret entrance that leads to the sewers where the children hide, he accidentally trips an alarm made of cans tied to some rope (yes Batman actually tripped off this kind of security system) and startles one of the kids named Frog, but then rescues him from being hit by the underground subway as he was running away. Batman then takes Frog back to Wayne Manor where he entrusts Alfred to look after him, and we then see a sequence that just seemed to be in the episode as an attempt to lighten the mood, as the sequence is just of Frog giving Alfred all kinds of trouble. It was a sequence that I thought just didn't work well in the episode, mainly because of two things that really bothered me in this whole sequence with Alfred and Frog. First, when Bruce tells Alfred to take care of him, Alfred is surprised by this, and tells Bruce he knows nothing about children. I find this to be extremely contradictory to the continuity of this series, as Alfred was the one who raised Bruce after his parents were murdered, and Frog looked to be about the same age as Bruce was when his parents died. It seemed that the writers of this episode forgot about that important fact, just to have some comic relief. The second thing that really bothered me in this sequence was when Frog picks up a gun in Bruce's antique room. I don't care if its a rare antique gun, and that it's just there for display, I don't think Bruce, under any circumstances, would have any type of guns in his house. To me, this really goes against his character. As someone who hates guns for taking the lives of his parents, and as someone who has swore not use them, that scene just felt wrong, and it really bothered me. The fact that Batman swore never to use guns is something that I love about character, but this just seemed like another cheap attempt to send a message to kids about not using guns. As Batman tells Frog, "Children and guns do not mix. Ever!"
Now that Batman has taken his own gun away from Frog, Batman asks him to take him to where he lives in the sewers, and the episode finally starts to pick up. Once Batman enters the Sewer King's hide out, he is shocked, and clearly angry once he's sees all the kids in there and how they are living. After Batman takes some photos of the children for evidence, he goes to the main hall of the hideout, and rings the bell to summon all the children, where he reassures them that their torment is over. But before Batman can get the children out of there, the Sewer King reveals himself to him, along with his pet alligators. As the Sewer King tells Batman that he actually cares for his beloved children, by disciplining them, and by teaching them a trade, Batman is just about ready to knock him out of the sewers. But first, he has to go against his pet alligators. This is a pretty cool sequence, as we see yet again that no opponent is a match for Batman. He subdues them rather easily, and even manages to kill one of them by snapping its jaw apart. I was actually surprised they were able to get away with doing that in this episode. Enraged by the death of his alligator, the Sewer King shows his real love for the children by threatening to feed one of them to his alligators. But before the Sewer King can carry out this threat, Frog swoops in and manages to save the child, as Batman now goes after the fleeing Sewer King.
The Sewer King is now giving Batman the run around throughout the sewers, and even manages to get Batman to fall into a trap that he set. Batman falls into a hole that leads to the lower part of the sewers, where there are hungry alligators waiting for him. As the Sewer King leaves Batman to the gators, believing he has now been eaten, he is shocked to see Batman blow up a wall behind him, just as he was about to make his escape. For me, this is the best part of the episode, as we see that Batman is just furious with the Sewer King, and it seemed like he was actually almost ready to kill him. As Batman is holding the Sewer King against a wall with a moving subway train behind him, Batman tells the him, " I don't pass sentence. That's for the courts. But this time, this time I'm sorely tempted to do the job myself." It was great seeing Batman show this kind of emotion in this scene, as we really haven't seen him act this way to a villain before in the series. This is what I think worked best in the third act, and for this entire episode. It's great in the way that it shows this is an issue in which Batman feels very strongly about. So strongly in fact, that he's even tempted to kill a man over it. It does makes sense though that crimes against children would be something that would effect Batman greatly, as the crime that happened to him as a child was what changed his life forever, and what made him wage war against all criminals. I also love how this shows that even though he is a very dark character, and that some people find his methods to be too dark for a hero, you always know that Batman's sense for justice is matched by no one. It just makes you love the character even more when he goes up against villains like this, and brings them to justice.
The episode ends with the children being taken out of the sewers by the police and child services, as Batman looks on from a far off building, no doubt feeling that this was one of his better accomplishments as a crime fighter. "The Underdwellers" is an episode that had a good premise, but I just felt that it dragged a bit in the first, and second acts. It got going in the third act, where Batman had some great moments, but those two sequences I mentioned earlier with Alfred saying he knows nothing about children, and how Bruce keeps guns in house, are two things that really bothered me, where I had to knock some points off the score of the episode. Overall though, "The Underdwellers" is an average episode that has some good things about it, which still makes it worth watching despite it's shortcomings.
Batman: The Animated Series-The Underdwellers:
Reviewed by Tim Geraci