Episode Title: A Death Worse than Fate
Original Airdate: February 10, 1966
When we last left Gotham City, poor Aunt Harriet had been captured by Zelda the Great and is now being held for ransom, dangling above a tub of flaming hot oil. A $100,000 ransom must be delivered in an hour, and time is ticking away. Let’s see what happens in this week’s episode A Death Worse than Fate.
As we begin this installment, Robin is waiting with Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara for the arrival of Bruce Wayne. After all, not only is the hostage the aunt of Wayne’s young ward, Dick Grayson, but he’s one of the few people with pockets deep enough to pay the crooks off. Once he arrives, Robin, Gordon, and Wayne go on television to communicate with the kidnappers. During the broadcast, Robin reveals that the money that Zelda stole from the bank previously was, in fact, real. Remember that Batman planted a news story that the money was fake in order to draw her out. Since this means that Zelda already has her ransom money, Aunt Harriet is released.
Now our heroes must locate the criminals. Luckily, Alfred found a matchbook that fell out of Aunt Harriet’s pocket advertising The Gnome Bookstore. The Caped Crusaders decide to head there to investigate. Along the way, they deduce who the criminal is. They know it’s a female magician, but Robin reminds Batman that there are 27 female magicians licensed to practice in Gotham City. But then, Batman tells Robin to consider how Aunt Harriet was tied up in a straight jacket over the flames. Suddenly Robin realizes that this is a signature trick of Zelda the Great…who he saw perform on his last birthday.
Of course, Zelda and the evil maker of magic tricks, Eivol Ekdol, are planning on Batman’s arrival. You see, now that Zelda has the money to purchase the “Inescapable Doom Trap” she needs to know how one escapes from it. Thing is, even Eivol doesn’t know. However, the plan is to trap Batman inside and see how he does it. As he emerges from the trap, two gangsters hidden in Egyptian sarcophagus’ will blast him and the Boy Wonder with machine guns. Everything goes just as the crooks plan, but just as our heroes escape (by igniting an explosion of the trap’s poison gas with their belt buckles), Zelda has a change of heart and warns them to duck. The two gangsters end up killing each other and Eivol is snagged with a batarang.
Just like the first half of this story, this episodes takes a very different approach than most other episodes of the show. This pair of episodes is one of the few to not feature a big fight sequence between the heroes and villains. “Pow,” “Biff,” “Zonk,” there’s none of that this time. And guess what…I don’t mind at all. It ends up giving the episode a slightly more serious tone. “Slightly” is the key word there. I mean how serious can this show get? One thing that is more serious this time around is that we actually have some bad guys end up dead. Our two gangsters mow each other down with their machine guns. They ain’t gettin’ back up after that. By the way, I should mention that one of the mobsters is played by Victor French, who would go on to famous roles on Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven.
This episode is also unique in that we have a shift in terms of who the villain of the story really is. The first part of the story focuses more on Zelda, and she is the one pulling the crimes. In this episode, though, we see that Eivol Ekdol is the true baddie of this story. He’s the one pulling the strings…like the Emperor to Zelda’s Darth Vader. And just like Vader, it is Zelda who brings about Eivol’s downfall. In the final sequence, she is even visited in prison by Bruce Wayne who offers her a job doing magic shows for children in hospitals when she is released.
The two Zelda episodes don’t have the same level of campiness as most of the series’ other episodes. However, they make for an entertaining story that is a nice change of pace from what the rest of the series offers. Next time, though, we return to the cackling craziness of Frank Gorshin’s Riddler in A Riddle a Day keeps the Riddler Away. Next week…same bat time, same bat channel (superhero).
Bat Gadget’s Used:
Holy Birthday Cake