I only just yesterday read about Yvonne Craig’s recent passing. As I have not followed her or her career I don’t have much to say beyond wishing my condolences to those who were close to her. However, as I have already professed my love for the Batman television show on this blog, I thought it only right that I did something. I just got to season three in the DVD box set that I bought back in January—the season in which she was introduced in the role of Batgirl. The timing might have been a bit odd but nonetheless I now have the chance to look at this infamous third season a bit more closely.
I’ve heard and read a lot of complaints of the third season. The show went from two-part episodes to single, twenty-odd minute stories with a scene at the end of each which reveals the villain for the next. The music and language were updated to reflect the contemporary fads at the time, which earlier seasons often (thought not always) avoided. Many of the new sets constructed for each episode became more “artistic,” consisting mainly of individual set pieces in front of a plain background.
The biggest change, of course, was the addition of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, played by Craig. Like a funny and hip cousin would be introduced in a sitcom failing in the ratings, Batgirl (who only started appearing in the comics just months before the show) came along to keep the show fresh—and hopefully help its own ratings. It didn’t. As such, in some ways Batgirl embodies the problems that many people have with the last season of the show.
It’s easy to dismiss such criticism of Batman—the absurdity of the show defies analysis, and the show rests on its absurdity. But it’s also possible to reach such criticism based on comparison, especially if one watches the show from beginning to end (as I’m doing). By the end of the second season the show had become formulaic. Season three quickly became predictable in trying to break the previous formula, forming a new on instead. Plus, there’s camp, and there’s bad. The show started descending into the latter category.
For example, take the third episode of the third season, “The Wail of the Siren.” The villain of the episode, Siren (played Joan Collins) possesses the ability to control men by singing a note two octaves above high C, resulting in them falling under her spell. The silliness of the ability notwithstanding, her criminal scheme is one of the more plausible of the series; by using her spell on Bruce Wayne to take control of all of his property and then forcing him to kill himself. Yet whenever Siren uses her ability, resulting in the playing of a long, high pitch, it’s one of the most annoying things in the history of television—and its repeated far to many times throughout the episode. I could tell that many of the scenes were included as filler. This includes a sub-plot in which Commissioner Gordon, under the spell of Siren, discovers the secret identities of Batman and Robin. This goes nowhere, as he’s out of the spell by the end of the episode and remembers nothing. If only the audience could do the same.
Yet, I like the third season for precisely the reasons that everybody dislikes. Sure, they could have handled some things better, but overall the new aesthetic works, at least for me. I wish they made Batgirl a little more of a feminist icon (lace on her motorcycle was not only backwards in that regard, but just looked stupid), but for me she doesn’t embody what went wrong with the show. She simply was part of a series of changes—some wrong, some right. Yvonne Craig’s excellent job portraying the character certainly gave her an appeal that could have gone awry in the wrong hands.