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“Confound it!”: 11 pop-culture moments that needed batteries

If there’s one constant every holiday season, it’s that something somewhere is going to need batteries. Maybe it’s that Nintendo 3DS that your nephew was demanding and finally received, or possibly that stupid singing fish on the wall everyone thought it would be so funny to get Grandpa Jerry. (Grandpa Jerry is already counting down the minutes until everyone leaves and he can stow it in the basement.) Batteries are such an integral aspect of the gift-giving process, The A.V. Club decided to look into some of the more noteworthy times that a power source failed in TV and film, be it a little AAA-cell Eveready or something with the wattage of a bolt of lightning. (We’re using “battery” a little loosely here.) Please enjoy these examples of situations where a little juice would’ve come in handy, and we hope you manage to get through these next few weeks without finding yourself in a similar situation.

1. Baymax in the police station, Big Hero 6 (2014)

Hiro Hamada wants to do the right thing. After a near-death experience with a masked villain who’s been mass-producing the microbots Hiro developed as part of his bid to get into his brother’s robotics program at school, he rushes to the authorities with his trusty robot sidekick, Baymax, in tow. Unfortunately, when he turns to the robot to corroborate his outlandish story, Baymax’s batteries fail—meaning it looks like a young kid has just introduced a cop to a drunken robot. Everything turns out all right in the end, but a hundred Energizer batteries would’ve come in awful handy right about then. [Alex McCown]


2. The Super Energy Reverse Polarizer, Batman: The Movie (1966)

In the 1966 movie Batman, which hit theaters between the first and second seasons of the classic TV series, Batman and Robin have to battle the combined villainy of the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman. Trapped on a buoy as their foes send torpedoes to secure the heroes’ doom, Batman transforms his utility-belt transmitter into a super energy reverse polarizer, thereby forcing the first two torpedoes to explode early, saving the dynamic duo from certain death. As the third torpedo hurtles toward them, however, Batman discovers that he’s drained the transmitter’s power. Were it not for a noble porpoise hurling itself into the path of the final torpedo, Batman’s final words might well have been the phrase that remains one of the greatest line deliveries of Adam West’s career: “Confound it! The batteries are dead!” [Will Harris]

3. Walt, Jesse, and a dead RV battery, Breaking Bad (2009)

In the Breaking Bad episode “4 Days Out,” the rolling Winnebago meth lab that Jesse Pinkman has christened “The Krystal Ship,” balky at the best of times, won’t start after Jesse leaves the keys in the ignition all day. An annoyance under normal circumstances, the situation quickly becomes catastrophic when Jesse accidentally burns up their generator, there’s no cell service way out there in the desert, and, oh, right—Walt and Jesse have just cooked up an ungodly amount of their signature crystal meth. In this Winnebago-shaped bottle episode, the two attempt to revive The Krystal Ship’s wheezy battery with every strategy Walter White’s scientific knowledge can dream up, eventually bringing the old girl back to life with a contraption made out of Tupperware, pennies, and brake pads that would have made the Professor from Gilligan’s Island proud. [Dennis Perkins]


4. Remote and smoke detector batteries, BoJack Horseman (2015)

The relationship between Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane Nguyen went on a downward spiral in season two of BoJack Horseman, as Diane’s dissatisfaction with her life took her from Los Angeles to war-torn Cordovia to a two-month depressed isolation in BoJack’s house. Upon emerging in the season finale, she saw her husband at the other end of a restaurant, and was left paralyzed even as he in turn saw her and called her cell phone. But rather than blow up at her or burst into tears, Mr. Peanutbutter asked an innocent question: “Do you know where the batteries are?” It allowed the two to fall into familiar domestic rhythms as they debated replacing the remote batteries with the smoke detector ones, and gave Mr. Peanutbutter the in to ask Diane to come home so she could help him look. Their marriage may not be saved, but thanks to lost batteries, it took a step in the right direction. [Les Chappell]


5. 1.21 gigawatts, Back To The Future (1985)

Time travel can be a real energy hog, as bending time and space isn’t an endeavor one can pull off with a potato, a couple of pennies, and some wires. And no movie brings the energy needs of time travel to the forefront quite like Back To The Future. Dr. Emmett Brown’s DeLorean time machine requires a robust 1.21 gigawatts of electrical power to jump-start its flux capacitor—the very thing that makes time travel possible. In 1985, these power needs are met by using plutonium Doc stole from a group of militant Libyan nationalists (as one is wont to do). However, when Marty is stranded in 1955 sans aforementioned plutonium, the younger iteration of Doc can’t help but run around his home, pulling at his hair, screaming, “1.21 gigawatts” at top of his lungs. It’s a preposterous number, which leads to a defeated Doc mentioning the only source powerful enough to get Marty back: a bolt of lightning. Luckily for Marty, he’s been holding onto a “Save The Clock Tower” flyer which states exactly when lighting will strike Hill Valley’s courthouse in 1955. Why was Marty still holding onto that flyer? Back in 1985, his girlfriend Jennifer had written her grandma’s phone number and “I love you!” on it. This proves that, although 1.21 gigawatts is a very real and large number, the primary source of energy in Back To The Future is the power of love. [Leonardo Adrian Garcia]


6. Boom box emergency, Do The Right Thing (1989)

In Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, somewhere between doling out the story of love and hate to Mookie and meeting his unfortunate end while in a police officer’s choke hold, the young man known as Radio Raheem unexpectedly finds himself radio-less, with his enormous boom box suddenly emitting no sound. Recognizing the issue, Raheem muscles his way into the neighborhood grocery store, mouthing off to Sonny and Kim, the Korean storeowners, and demanding that they count—and then recount—to make absolutely sure that he’s getting the 20 D batteries that he needs to power back up. Sonny eventually gets angry enough to deliver a scathing retort (“Motherfuck you!”), but Raheem still manages to walk away with what he came for. [Will Harris]


7. Dead car battery, Pineapple Express (2008)

After witnessing a murder, Dale and Saul end up on the run from drug lord Ted Jones, but they’re soon manipulated into meeting up with Red, Saul’s dealer, little knowing that the meeting has been arranged by Ted’s henchmen. Unfortunately, Dale and Saul accidentally fall asleep in their car, and when they wake up, they realize that the meeting time has come and gone. Deciding to follow the axiom “better late than never,” Dale turns the key in the ignition, only to discover that the battery’s dead. It’s a simple enough concept to comprehend, but the amount of inhaling Dale’s done over the years has seemingly left him unable to wrap his head around it, resulting in the repeating of a singular question: “What do you mean ‘the battery’s dead?’” [Will Harris]


8. Faulty detonator, Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

The elaborate heist set up in Steven Soderbergh’s excellent Ocean’s Eleven is so brilliant and polished, it’s easy to gloss over just how much work and how many details went into it. As all 11 members of the gang have different roles to play and pull off, their scheme could get derailed (and almost does) any number of times. At the last step of the game, Danny (George Clooney) and Linus (Matt Damon) are preparing to blow the vault door. Danny presses the button on his remote detonator, but the explosion doesn’t go off. (This turns out to be fortunate, as is it gives Yen a chance to get unstuck from the other side of the door.) This turn of events enables rookie Linus to chastise Danny about the need to always stay focused on your game, as he helpfully has some batteries in his own back pocket, so that the detonator then goes off without a hitch. It’s a sly nod to the old “For the wont of a nail, the kingdom was lost” proverb: If not for that AA battery, Ocean et al. would have been looking at jailtime instead of walking away with $163,000,000. [Gwen Ihnat]


9. Blowing up a hospital, The Dark Knight (2008)

As in Ocean’s 11, a massive explosion can’t happen without a few little AA batteries. This time, it’s Heath Ledger’s Joker with the detonator, blowing up a hospital because no one in Gotham was able (or willing) to give up the identity of Batman. Contrary to rumor, the pause between a small series of explosions while the Joker walks out of the building, and the larger one that levels the hospital, was meticulously planned (in large part, in order to give Ledger time to get clear). But the Joker’s reaction—seeing the small explosion, looking disappointed, smacking his remote to get the batteries to connect, then running for cover as Gotham General is consumed by a fireball—was improvised by Ledger to cover that pause. [Mike Vago]


10. Space shuttle SOS call, The Expanse (2015)


On the second episode of Syfy’s new space series, The Expanse, a small group of characters who survived a disaster are stranded on a tiny shuttle, running out of air and without a working radio to send an SOS call with. So they try to fix the radio, a process that includes salvaging the batteries out of every piece of equipment they can spare. In plot terms, it’s straightforward. But what makes it stand out is the process itself. The battery hunt isn’t merely a practical obstacle, it’s the latest in a set of challenges that force the survivors to butt heads and figure out a new command process, with Steven Strait’s and Dominique Tipper’s characters alternately working with and arguing over who’s in charge. The aesthetics also present it as a dirty, pragmatic issue, requiring hard work under extreme time constraints, instead of something needing a moment of genius. The battery scenes firmly establish The Expanse as a gritty, worker-focused piece of science fiction, up to its elbows in grease, instead of dispensing wisdom from a pristine captain’s chair. [Rowan Kaiser]

11. Plutonium batteries, The Simpsons (1998)


In Treehouse Of Horror IX” feature “The Terror Of Tiny Toon,” when Marge forbids Bart and Lisa from watching the Itchy & Scratchy Halloween episode, she wisely thinks to take the batteries out of the remote before leaving to take Maggie trick-or-treating. But the older Simpson kids are undaunted, and resort to using some plutonium batteries they find in Homer’s toolbox. By some magic or nuclear reaction, Bart and Lisa soon find themselves in the middle of their favorite cartoon’s episode, where their laughter at Scratchy’s pain prompts the cat and mouse to team up against them. The kids find themselves in increasingly deadly situations before Homer notices them in the old boob tube and is instructed to “eject” them from the scenario. Despite being beset by piranhas, they make it out by the skin of their teeth—well, most of Bart’s skin and organs and such. [Danette Chavez]

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