"Perchance to Dream" is the thirtieth episode of Batman: The Animated Series. It originally aired on October 19, 1992.
Batman is chasing some crooks into a warehouse when suddenly; he finds he has walked right into a trap. Blinded by a sudden flash of light, and knocked out, he wakes up in bed and is greeted by Alfred. Alfred seems ignorant of Bruce Wayne's life as Batman not knowing what he means by falling into a trap and mistaking the name Robin for the name of a woman Bruce may be dating.
Bruce decides to get back to work as normal but when he tries to open the clock, he discovers that the secret entrance to the Batcave is missing. Alfred has no idea what he’s talking about. Bruce is angry with Alfred but his anger turns to shock when he sees that Thomas and Martha Wayne are still alive. Worried, Thomas examines Bruce and asks him if he's okay. Bruce answers he is and continues the day.
Confused, Bruce talks to Alfred and asks to learn more about his own life. Alfred explains that Bruce is the head of Wayne Enterprises ever since his father retired though Lucius Fox really runs the company, and that he's due to be married to Selina Kyle.
Later that day, Selina goes to cheer up Bruce but while they talk Batman appears outside. Shocked and determined to discover what's going on, Bruce races outside and witnesses Batman stop a jewel heist from the oddly named store ALXJYZIV (a foreshadowing of Bruce's lost ability to read). Selina explains that Batman just appeared in Gotham a while back and no one knows who he really is. Trying to make more sense of what's going on, Bruce asks Selina if she knows about Catwoman. Selina just gets worried.
Confused by memories of his previous life as Batman, Bruce goes to see Dr. Leslie Thompkins. She clears up that Bruce is simply identifying with Batman, because he feels as though he's been given everything his whole life and his guilt is manifesting the fantasy that he is Batman, who has worked for everything he has and every deed is of great value. Bruce, relieved, replies, "Then, the nightmare is over."
Relieved, he goes to his home, and is "his normal self" according to Alfred. Bruce is feeling happier than he has for years, however, when he tries to read a newspaper, the words appear jumbled. This confirms Bruce's fears that something strange is going on and he tries to read some of the books in the library. These too are completely jumbled. Bruce starts to lose his mind and realizes that this life he is living is not real. He sees a news report about Batman and decides that he's the one behind all of it.Bruce races to a sports shot and buys a grappling hook, a rope, a flare gun and some flares. Things go easily enough until he goes outside and the police confront him on parking in a no parking zone. When they discover he's Bruce Wayne they ask him to come with them because his strange behavior has been reported. Bruce refuses to go with them and makes a break for it. Evading the police, he goes to the Gotham Cemetery and he climbs to the top of a bell tower. Batman arrives shortly thereafter and Bruce attacks him saying that he's figured it out: this is just a dream. Batman asks him how he knows and Bruce explains that when he tired to read it was impossible because "reading is a function of the right side of the brain, while dreams come from the left side." While Bruce can't explain why Batman is behind everything he continues to fight him while the Police call out to Bruce they just want to talk. Ignoring the Police, Bruce continues to fight and pulls off Batman's mask to reveal the Mad Hatter. The Mad Hatter explains that this is a dream world, which the real Mad Hatter invented to simulate everything that Bruce wants. Bruce is worried that this means his secret is out but the Mad Hater assures him that the mind control device reveals nothing to the outside world. Bruce demands that the Mad Hatter releases him but is told that there is no way out. Angered, Bruce looks over the side of the tower and notes that he's afraid to fall. Realizing that this may be the only way out he refuses to live a lie and leaps to his death.
Batman's mind is unable to create a scenario in which he has died so awakes. He discovers in a room with the Mad Hatter and a mind control device on his head. Batman makes short work of the thugs and angrily asks the Mad Hatter why he did it, to which he replies, "You, of all people have the gall to ask me that! You ruined my life! I was willing to give you whatever life you wanted, just to keep you out of mine!" The Mad Hatter breaks down into tears and is taken into police custody. Batman then leaves, deeply hurt by the loss of his dream life.
- Although the entire series is heavily indebted to Film Noir, some of the most explicit references are found in this episode. The climax at the bell-tower is perhaps a nod to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and Batman directly quotes Humphrey Bogart's final paraphrase from The Tempest in The Maltese Falcon in the end. The dreamlike nature of the storyline is very much in common with Film Noir. Interestingly, the climax also resembles the finale of Metropolis and Tim Burton's Batman, in which Michael Keaton's Batman and Jack Nicholson's Joker face off in the spire of a cathedral.
- The title comes from a line in the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy from the play Hamlet, in which Prince Hamlet debates with himself whether or not to commit suicide, or to face the cruel travails of the world, and specifically the task of avenging his dead father which has been put before him. This is a subtle, but intriguing parallel not only to the story of the episode itself, but to the story of Batman in general. Also, Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman in the series, appeared in a number of Shakespeare plays during the 1980s, before being cast on the show.
- Joe Lansdale, who wrote the teleplay and several other Batman and Superman TV scripts and comic book stories, is perhaps best known for his "Hap and Leonard" detective novels and the story Bubba Ho-Tep, later adapted for film.
- The theme and conflict found in the episode are both similar to those faced by Superman in the Alan Moore story "For the Man Who Has Everything". In that story, Mongul uses an alien plant to place Superman in a fantasy world where Krypton never exploded. (Indeed, this story was eventually adapted in Justice League Unlimited, "For the Man Who Has Everything."
- Leslie Thompkins essentially sums up part of the episode: the persona of Bruce Wayne, who has never had to work for what he wants, is jealous of the personality of Batman, who is obviously a better person. Thus, the two personalities fight each other in the bell-tower for control of Bruce Wayne.
- In Batman: Animated, Paul Dini wrote that the producers rarely explored the idea of Bruce being tempted to give up being Batman and lead a "normal" life. Kevin Conroy added:
|“||Batman needs Bruce, however hollow that identity feels to him from time to time. Bruce keeps Batman human.... I think the temptation is there, but the temptation is to retreat into the cave and never come out. To give up his disguise as Bruce Wayne and surrender himself completely to the darkness.||”|
In that sense, Batman seems to be able to tell that the dream world is a lie, because the temptation it offers is not truly the one he feels.
- The main clue that the Mad Hatter is behind the events of this episode is the fact that his theme plays several times before he shows up. Also, he follows the thugs into the Carroll Building just before he is knocked out.
|Kevin Conroy|| Batman|
Thomas Wayne (uncredited)
|Bob Hastings||Commissioner Gordon|
|Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.||Alfred|
|Adrienne Barbeau|| Selina Kyle|
Martha Wayne (uncredited)
|Roddy McDowell||Mad Hatter|
|Diana Muldaur||Dr. Leslie Thompkins|
Alfred: Well, sir, it's a leisurely existence, I admit. But there are worse lives.
Leslie Thompkins: You've led the sort of life where everything has been handed to you. You don't feel you've accomplished anything. It's all been laid out for you.
Bruce: You're a lie! It's all a lie!
Bruce: Batman! Always Batman!
Bruce: Here I am! I've been waiting for you! You did this to me!
Mad Hatter: Ah, "Are you the dreamer or merely part of someone's dream?" That was just the question Tweedledee put to Alice in Through the Looking---
Mad Hatter: N-n-now, wait just a minute! You don’t do anything foolish! This isn't an ordinary dream! What if you're wrong?
James Gordon: (Holding the Mad Hatter's Dream Machine) Something for the lab boys to play with. Any idea what it is?