ANALYSIS: COSSACK SABRE DANCE
I guess I have the same amount of fascination with the Cossack Sabre Dance as twof has with the Siamese Human Knot. I feel that the Cossack Sabre Dance rates far above any of the other traps they ever came up with on the show.
Why? Simply put, in the Cossack Sabre Dance, the villains had a direct hand in its outcome. In the show, Batman, Robin and Batgirl would usually be captured and left to die in some sort of bizarre and hideous death trap. The villains normally left them alone to perish. Because of this oversight on the villains' part, the heroes always found some way to escape.
With the Cossack Sabre Dance, however, the villains are physically present at the scene and are directly determining what the eventual outcome will be. Barring some outside interference (which, luckily for Batgirl, happened in this instance), a Cossack Sabre Dance should be 100% lethal.
In several respects, I think the Cossack Sabre Dance peril is the exact opposite of what the Siamese Human Knot is all about. For one thing, instead of remaining perfectly still to stay alive, Batgirl had to remain in constant motion to fend off serious injury or death in this peril.
Watching someone trapped in a Cossack Sabre Dance would be extremely entertaining from the villain's point of view. In the "Ogg Couple" episode, Egghead, Olga, and their Cossacks quite literally had Batgirl dancing to their tune (bad pun intended).
The psychological stresses placed on the participants are also completely opposite. The victims in a Siamese Human Knot know that to stave off death, they have to endure hours of unending motionlessness. Conversely, the victim in a Cossack Sabre Dance has no such guarantee. Dodging to avoid a sword thrust from one direction will almost certainly draw a painful prod from another. With attacks coming from all directions, there is no way to escape them all. Trapped like this, the victim is completely at the mercy of the villains, remaining alive only by their whims. Knowing that they can be finished off at any moment, the victim never knows if their next step will be their last. To quote Egghead from the episode when he and Olga are watching Batgirl dance, Batgirl knows for sure that no matter what she does, "She's dancing to her grave."
Let's look at the setup and planning behind this ingenious peril for a minute. The idea behind it in the beginning appears to be to wound rather than to kill immediately. To that end, the sabres get a thin coating of ice to blunt the tips and edges. This feature also introduces an element of randomness later on in the dance as the ice melts in that a sword thrust may or may not actually inflict a wound, regardless of what the swordsman intends. More on this icy coating later.
In a Sabre Dance, the primary targets for the swords appear to be the legs and buttocks with occasional prods and feints at targets above the waist to keep the victim guessing. The strategy appears to be to slowly cut the legs out from under the victim until they are too crippled by their wounds to continue. Then the end comes.
While dancing, the victim's upper body may draw occasional feinting attacks but since all the major organs are housed in the body cavity and head, the swordsmen run the risk of striking a mortal blow before they are ready to finish off the victim if they are not careful. Of course, since these are supposedly expert swordsmen doing this to Batgirl in this episode, they would probably be better able to strike at targets on her upper body without inflicting immediately serious wounds. Now, let's follow the course of a Cossack Sabre Dance through to its logical conclusion.
In the initial stages of a Cossack Sabre Dance, a stab or slash from a frosted sword will most likely not draw blood, yet will still let the victim know that they can be struck at will and force them to dance harder and faster to avoid the blades. Since it follows that in the initial stages of the dance the victim is at their fittest and fastest, they know that as they tire and slow down, the ice will melt and the sword prods will start producing painful, bloody wounds.
As the dance progresses, the victim is beginning to tire and is slowing down. At the same time, the ice coating on the blades is melting away with the result being that the victim is now picking up wounds. Depending on the location and severity, we can surmise that the victim's legs should be bleeding rather profusely (trying not to be too gory here) with blood all over the floor. Imagine the psychological horror of being forced to dance in a spreading pool of your own blood.
Eventually, the victim falls to the floor, crippled by bloody wounds, totally exhausted, and unable to continue. Since, other than Egghead's comment to Olga about Batgirl dancing to her grave, the intended outcome to the dance was never specified on the show, we can surmise the villains planned one of the following three endings for Batgirl in this episode:
Since the antagonists on the show were, "a wild band of Bessarovian Cossacks," we can surmise the eventual outcome for Batgirl would have been either "B" or "C" or "C" followed by "B." All three endings are unpleasant. Luckily for Batgirl she got rescued when she did. She pretty much looked like she was on the ropes when Batman and Robin arrived to save the day.
Now let's examine what actually happened to Batgirl during the episode. To do that, we must first back up to her capture by the Cossacks.
Batgirl is captured when she slips in caviar and falls, striking her head hard on the floor and knocking herself unconscious. This is immediately followed by a bat-spin, after which the scene picks up with Batgirl standing surrounded by Cossacks, having the trap explained to her by Olga.
Olga tells Batgirl, "And now, my little pipkin, you will do for us Sabre Dance, with frosted swords." At first, this comment about "frosted swords" may appear to be just a reference to cold steel blades (they are seen being pulled out of hoppers full of ice blocks before the dance). I take it to mean, however, that they were actually supposed to be coated with ice for the following reasons.
First, this was a family show and the censors probably concluded that showing Batgirl getting jabbed in the legs by naked sharp sword blades would be too extreme. The producers would almost certainly have nixed anything showing Batgirl getting her legs cut up. By saying that the blades were coated with ice and therefore blunted, they could get around this obstacle long enough for Batgirl to get rescued. This first point rolls nicely into the two following reasons.
The second reason is that they are located in an ice house where industrial ice making equipment is readily available to coat the blades and the third reason is that a bat-spin has just occurred. Bat-spins were used to show that an indeterminate period of time has gone by and also to change scenes. This bat-spin gives the illusion of enough time having passed for the ice to set on the blades. Just think of how much time passes when you make ice cubes and you'll quickly see what I mean.
Of course, now we are left with a three or four hour block of time in which Batgirl is in the clutches of the villains while they wait for the ice to set. What evil things were they doing to our heroine during this time? Hmmmm??!? Another problem with this scenario is that it's slightly inconceivable that Batman and Robin couldn't have found her in all that time, especially since they took off from the bank right behind her in the same direction she had gone. They were always so good at following some extremely improbable clues to end up at a villain's lair, too.
To get around this hole in my theory, I conclude that Egghead probably acquired the hideout from Mr. Freeze so he could keep the huge amount of caviar they had stolen cold. Freeze doesn't just make and use ice, he used all kinds of specialized equipment to freeze things solid in seconds and it's likely that some of it would have been left behind when he moved out. Certainly the hideout's nature and location did not lend itself to either an egg tie-in or a Bessarovian or Slavic connection. With this observation in mind, we can conclude that the amount of time passing during the bat-spin is actually quite short. The unconscious Batgirl was tied up, the villains decided how they were going to do away with her, the swords were iced down, and Batgirl was pulled to her feet and surrounded by Cossacks when she recovered, all within a fairly short amount of time. Now we move on to the beginning of the dance.
When we see Batgirl having the dance explained to her, the expression she gets on her face during the brief explanation is very grim indeed. The implied effect is that Batgirl is already somewhat knowledgeable of this peril and is aware of its deadly ending, probably from all that time spent reading up on Cossack culture in the library as Barbara Gordon. She has only seconds to dwell on her fate before the Cossacks draw their iced blades from the ice hoppers and surround her. Olga then gives the order and the dance begins.
As the dance begins, we can see that it starts out with Batgirl surrounded by five Cossacks in a circle with the caviar vat to her back. This is fortunate for her because with the vat closing the circle behind her, Batgirl knows that no attacks can come from that direction. During most of the dance, Batgirl dances with the vat to her back.
Right from the beginning, it's clear that the Cossacks are in complete charge and Batgirl is totally on the defensive. Batgirl is seen frantically dancing about trying to see in all directions to duck, dodge, and leap over prods and feints from the Cossacks' swords. After only a few seconds of dancing, however, the Cossacks demonstrate just how totally in charge of Batgirl's fate they are when they all suddenly lunge at her with their swords. Batgirl is seen grimly staring down at a ring of steel blades at her waist as they are slowly drawn back. The thought is probably going through her mind about how easily the Cossacks could have run her through if they had chosen to do so and it doubtlessly drives home to her the desperateness of her predicament.
From there, the dance progresses to shots of Batgirl's dancing feet, leaping to avoid sword prods and then some shots of Batgirl above the waist as she dances for her life. We can see from these shots just how hard Batgirl is working. She is breathing hard through her mouth and she is swinging her head back and forth sharply, trying to look in all directions at once for attacks.
Shortly after this, Batgirl begins dancing off to her right away from the vat. This is somewhat mystifying at first as to why she does this. It could be a test on Batgirl's part to see if the ring of Cossacks will move around with her or if they will simply shove her back into the center where she is and make her continue.
This may not be the answer though. This could be an escape attempt on Batgirl's part. Why? If you remember the layout of the room from earlier, you will realize that the door through which Egghead entered is near there. When we last saw it, that door was left hanging wide open when the Cossacks attacked Batgirl. Batgirl may have deliberately danced in that direction with hopes of getting close to the door. Once there, she would have attempted a sudden desperate dash through the circle of Cossacks, out the door, and run for her life with sword wielding Cossacks in hot pursuit. Not the most glamorous escape from a bat-trap, I'll admit, but anything that saves your life is acceptable. There is one other possibility behind what she could be attempting here which I'll come to in a bit.
It is while Batgirl is dancing near the door that the scene cuts to Egghead and Olga watching her dance to their bad Cossack dance music (that bad pun again). Olga remarks on what a good dancer Batgirl is ("She's good dancer, Eggski"). This is interesting for two reasons; foremost of which is that Olga is actually appreciative of Batgirl's dancing ability. She likes what she sees and wants to see more of it. If this is the case, we can imagine that during the break, when they cut to Batman and Robin outside, that Olga is waving or shouting instructions to the Cossacks to slow down and pace Batgirl's dancing. This way, she will last longer so they will get more entertainment from her dancing before they administer the coup de grace. By dancing well, Batgirl may have bought herself a few more minutes of life. However, there may also be another reason behind Olga's remarks.
Back when Olga first informed Batgirl what they were going to do to her, the implied effect of Batgirl's expression was that she already knew what a Sabre Dance was. If this is the case, the Sabre Dance may be far more than just a bunch of men standing in a circle stabbing someone in the legs before killing them. It may actually be a choreographed social event from Cossack culture with the swordsmen following a predetermined set of moves that the victim trapped inside has to respond to. This then would make the Cossack Sabre Dance very similar in concept to the Japanese Tea Ceremony in which form and the predetermined sequence of events are everything. Were all this so, then the Cossack Sabre Dance has a definite beginning and a definite ending and Olga's comment may not be just about Batgirl's dancing ability but also an observation that Batgirl is following the form well. This, of course, then begs the question: If someone can survive the dance all the way to the end, does that mean they get to live?
Obviously not, at least in Batgirl's case, because Egghead's and Olga's follow-up comments leave no doubt as to Batgirl's eventual fate -
"Yes, she's dancing to her grave," Egghead laughs. (He's clearly enjoying the creative way they are putting Batgirl to death and is probably even a little vindictive about the whole thing after the way Batgirl treated him at the bank earlier when she threatened to let the bank guard shoot him!)
Olga replies, "Naturally."
From this point, the scene switches back to Batgirl dancing back toward the vat. Perhaps she made her escape attempt and failed while the camera was on Egghead and Olga. Maybe the Cossacks figured out what she was up to and forced her back toward the center of the room. It could be that they are all just following the form of the dance. At any rate the next scene is of Batman and Robin arriving outside.
I have a real problem with the way the Caped Crusaders found the hideout by using their Bat Geiger counter to follow radioactive sparkplugs in Batgirl's Batgirlcycle. If this were the case, Batman and Robin could have followed Batgirl home and learned her secret identity any time they chose to. Any criminal could have done the same thing for that matter. It would have made more sense if they had used something like an off-duty police officer waving them down and pointing them in the right direction.
As Batman and Robin prepare to enter the building, Batman makes a comment about taking the Cossacks by surprise. It's clear that he expects that Batgirl has overestimated her ability to capture the whole gang and is probably now their prisoner. As I recall from the show, Batgirl and Robin almost never fared well against villains without Batman present. Also, I know that Adam West was very negative about having the hero (Batman) rescued by any of the other characters. We must also remember that this show was done in the 60's and strong female characters like Batgirl were the exception rather than the rule.
Be that as it may, the Caped Crusaders enter the building and the scene switches back to Batgirl dancing. Now, however, the whole nature of her dancing has changed. Where before, Batgirl was dancing strongly, now she is staggering quite bit, gasping for breath, and is clearly reaching the end of her endurance.
I have timed the whole dancing sequence from when Olga orders the dance to begin to where Batman and Robin turn off the record player and Batgirl stops dancing. The total time is one minute, 25 seconds. The first dancing segment runs 30 seconds, the intermission runs 33 seconds, and the final dancing segment runs 22 seconds. I cannot believe that Batgirl was nearly finished off in only one and one half minutes of dancing for the following reasons.
First, the type of crime fighting that the Terrific Trio practice is very physically demanding. They have to climb walls, swing on ropes, endure unusual physical and mental punishment in villainous death traps, and still be able to engage in physical conflict with the villains. To do this, Batgirl and the Caped Crusaders have to be in tip-top physical condition.
This is demonstrated in my second point where, in "The Wail of the Siren," Batgirl ran up many flights of stairs to prevent Siren from making Bruce Wayne jump off the roof. The villains thought that the distance to the roof was far enough that they took an elevator. When Batgirl reached the top, she was in condition enough to take out Siren's thugs, yet the evidence of her exhaustion in the Cossack Sabre Dance is clearly before our eyes. How can this be?
Again here, the producers used a time trick. Obviously, when the camera cut to Batman and Robin outside, the time passing inside was much longer. It just makes sense because otherwise, the alternative would have been to actually script and show maybe 20 minutes of real-time dancing. While this would have shown her sinking into exhaustion, it would have been totally unfeasible in a 30-minute television show (I wish they had done it anyway because it would have been extremely interesting to watch!)
Anyhow, Batgirl is now staggering and gasping for breath. At one point, she spins off toward her right again toward the open door again. This time, however, the Cossack standing in her way simply catches her and shoves her roughly back into the circle of blades towards another Cossack. Clearly, the Cossacks are no longer going to move about with her.
As the Dynamic Duo are shown creeping into the hideout, the dance continues. Now Batgirl is being manhandled by the Cossacks, being shoved roughly from one man toward another as they force her to continue dancing. She is stumbling and staggering so badly now that at one point, her legs give out and she is shown slumping toward the floor. The only thing preventing her total collapse to the floor is the Cossack standing behind her who catches her and prevents her fall. Her legs are like jelly at this point.
If the Cossacks have timed the ice melting correctly and paced Batgirl so as not to exhaust her too quickly, this would be the perfect time for them to begin actually cutting on her legs. At the level of exhaustion that Batgirl is in, an initial cut would probably cause her adrenaline to kick in, making her temporarily faster. Unfortunately, It will wear off quickly and she would slow down again. Then the next cut would be inflicted. After only a few cuts like this, Batgirl's adrenaline would be totally used up and now the real cutting would begin.
Again, these wounds would not be meant to be immediately fatal yet would still be painful and debilitating. At this point, Batgirl would almost be finished off. She is not just physically exhausted but mentally exhausted as well. She is totally in a reactive mode now and is slowly being reduced from the superb mental state she normally operates in to that of a terrified animal that knows it is about to die and is helpless to prevent it. She is much like a mouse being toyed with by a hungry cat before dinner.
Fortunately for Batgirl, Batman stops the record player and the dance never goes this far. Batgirl has been saved from certain death by this timely intervention. Now, let's go just a bit past the ending of the dance to look at something else that is a bit odd.
Olga orders the Cossacks to attack Batman and Robin. Inexplicably, they do just that, leaving the bound Batgirl to duck out of the fighting. There are three smarter moves they could have made here. They could have simply killed her right there when they had her surrounded with drawn blades or, as an alternative, they could have taken her hostage to prevent Batman and Robin from foiling their escape. They could also have inflicted a near fatal wound to Batgirl that would have forced the Dynamic Duo to forgo a fight or pursuit of the Cossacks in order to administer lifesaving first aid measures to her. At any rate, we are past the Cossack Sabre Dance's ending now so it's time to move on to some other points about this Bat-trap.
First, however, it is interesting to note that this episode was probably originally intended as the middle installment of a three-part Egghead, Olga and Cossack story. This would explain the rather lame, off-camera capture of Egghead, Olga and the Cossacks by the police at the end of the episode. As aired, this episode ends very similarly to "How to Hatch a Dinosaur." The producers evidently decided they did not want another three-part story.
I was asked to rate this trap on a one-to-ten scale in the following categories:
For physical torment, I have to give this one an 8. Dancing as hard as she is is very physically demanding. As a comparison, the closest thing I can liken it to is a high impact aerobic workout that never ends. Additionally, if it goes on long enough, Batgirl will have her legs sliced up and will be totally helpless to do anything about it. Getting stabbed and slashed in the legs is obviously very painful, not to mention very bloody.
For psychological torment, I have to give this one an even higher mark, a 9. Why? Batgirl knows there is no way to physically escape what is happening to her. Her hands are bound behind her back and the Cossacks can clearly kill her any time they choose to. Any step she makes could be her last. She knows that eventually, she is going to be dancing in a puddle of her own blood. These are all factors that figure into this high mark.
Duration obviously gets a low mark, maybe about a 4 at the most. You certainly can't do this to someone too long before they are too crippled and exhausted to continue. Taking a wild guess here, I would say that you couldn't make the dancing portion of this bat-trap go beyond 30 minutes.
In the fatality department, I give this one a perfect 10. There is absolutely no way to escape this one if the villains are determined to kill you. Granted, dancing ability counts for something in this area but it's still not going to allow an escape.
For believability, I award a 9. You can't get much more realistic than having a circle of swordsmen stand around a victim to stab and slash at their legs. The only way this trap could have earned a perfect ten would have been to actually show her getting cut on her legs with blood all over the floor. For reasons I've previously discussed, this was obviously impossible for the producers to do.
For ease of escape, just look up in the fatality category. Barring outside intervention, It's escape proof as long as the villains are determined to end your life and I give this one a 10 also.
Finally, for sensuality, I have to give this area a 7. This trap was most likely created to highlight Yvonne Craig's dancing abilities. She was a former ballerina who did her own stunts on the show. At a guess, I'd say she probably also had a hand in choreographing the dance since I know she did just that for her green Orion slave girl dance as Marta on Star Trek.
To sum up, this trap has elegance and style. It's an absolutely foolproof way to permanently eliminate those pesky costumed crime-fighters that are interfering in your evil super-villain operations. It provides a tremendous amount of entertainment for you and your henchmen as you put the heroes to death. And lastly, when you're finished, the evidence of your success is right before your eyes as the hero lies dead before you and there is no guessing as to whether the trap you left them in worked or not.