Titans knocked it out of the park so well with last week’s Superboy-centric episode that it seemed as if the series might have both hit its stride and figured out how to tap into just the right amount of charming comic book absurdity to convince anyone still on the fence about the show to give it a try. That’s why “Bruce Wayne” feels like such a letdown.
The episode isn’t fully “bad,” exactly; it’s just all over place and trying to do far too much at once, as is the Titans way. Given that “Bruce Wayne” is a midseason episode, you kind of understand why it only does but so much to push the overall story forward so it can instead focus on the mental fractures in each of the Titans’ emotional foundations that are keeping them unbalanced. But the way it goes about trying to unpack each of its heroes’ uncertainties is just…a lot to take in during one episode.
Even though the Titans managed to rescue Jason Todd from Deathstroke’s clutches, “Bruce Wayne” finds Dick on edge, because the former-Robin knows deep down that he’s partially responsible for alienating Jason from the rest of the team, which is what put him in danger in the first place. Because Dick spent so much time being angry at Bruce and trying to become a different kind of mentor to his own charges than the Dark Knight was to him, Dick feels an understandable amount of guilt for what happened to the young hero. But because neither of the brawlers are inclined to express their feelings openly, Dick can’t muster up the courage to be honest about his guilt and Jason refuses to admit how much almost dying scared him.
“Bruce Wayne” decides to get a bit cerebral in the way it depicts Dick’s grappling with the multitude of conflicting emotions banging around inside his head. Throughout the episode, he imagines Iain Glen’s Bruce strolling about the scene, invisible to everyone but Dick, and the out-of-costume Batman delights in nothing more than voicing each and every single one of Dick’s insecurities, making it that much more difficult for him to deal with the situation at hand.
Conceptually, the idea of a Robin being haunted by Batman because he’s worried he’s becoming like Batman is brilliant, but the episode never manages to sell the idea because the series doesn’t have a good grip on who this incarnation of Bruce Wayne is. Even when he’s not a psychic manifestation, Glen’s Bruce has always been more jovial than stern, and in this episode—again, because he isn’t real—his behavior’s more like that of someone in emotional distress rather than the real off-duty Batman. But the effect is…weird. It makes you wonder what kind of friendship Bruce and Dick had in their off-hours and whether Dick ever chalked up to nerve to ask Bruce if he was actually an English actor who wasn’t particularly good at American accents.
While Dick’s proving that you can never take the Gotham out of the man, Kory continues to be one of Titans’ most dynamic and tragically underused characters as she keeps busy tending to Conner, who’s still in something of a coma after sustaining a kryptonite bullet wound from Mercy Graves. As nifty as the idea of the Titans’ two aliens bonding and forging a friendship is, Kory gravitating toward Conner—who again, is just lying there for most of the episode—feels like a half-assed way of incorporating her into the story by once again pushing her into a caregiver role. Just as Kory was going to literally leave Earth to prevent a Tamaranian invasion a few episodes back, one tearful call from Rachel was all it took to convince Kory to drop everything she was doing and book it all the way to San Francisco. If Titans was spending more time to make Kory’s relationships to the rest of the characters feel substantial, this kind of selflessness might make a bit more sense, but here, it just seems as if the show doesn’t know what to do with her and so…she’s just kind of there.
“Bruce Wayne” is considerably stronger in the way that it approaches Jason’s trauma and the recurring visions he has of plunging to his death. At multiple points, Jason develops a kind of existential tunnel vision that makes it impossible for him to really perceive or interact with the outside world properly. His fear about what happened to him, coupled with his insecurities about not belonging on the team, petrify him and blind him to the fact that the people around him are also in pain in their own ways. When Rose shows up at Jason’s room, it’s obvious that she’s trying to flirt with him, but he’s so overcome with fear as he’s reliving the moment he almost died that he’s not in the right headspace to be receptive to her advances.
Jason being checked out and the Titans’ continued inability to recognize what the teen hero needs is tragic, but it’s one of the better-executed elements of the episode because of how those two things mingle into a potent poison of misunderstanding that spreads throughout the tower. When Rose finds her dead brother Jericho’s old record in Jason’s room, she immediately assumes that the only reason it’s even in the Tower is that the Titans were planning on drawing her there. But because Jason doesn’t even know who Jericho is, he can’t help but feel as if he’s been accused of something he didn’t do yet again.
One by one, all of the Titans begin to find things scattered throughout the tower that have each been seemingly placed to piss them off or set them on edge, and each believes Jason to be the one responsible for placing them. It’s here where “Bruce Wayne” really drops the ball because, again, many of these people are veteran superheroes who know that they’re currently fighting one of their mortal enemies who delights in playing mind games. Deathstroke doesn’t make all that many appearances in “Bruce Wayne,” but the fact that none of the Titans even think to consider whether the mercenary’s toying with them all seems like a huge oversight. Sure, they’re all young, but they’re not dumb.
Dick spends the entire episode hunting for Deathstroke by hitting the pavement and tracking down leads, all the while being taunted by a Bruce Wayne who can barely keep himself from slipping into a Scottish accent. By the time Dick realizes that Deathstroke’s been playing him all along—something his Bruce subconscious was telling him repeatedly—it’s almost too late for him to make it back to the Tower. When he does return, everyone is shocked to see him holding a gun he picked up on his excursion, but there’s no time to address that because Jason’s on the roof ready to kill himself because of the dark place Deathstroke’s mind games have pushed him to (vis-à-vis the other Titans.)
In its final moments, “Bruce Wayne” reveals something about Dick that’s supposed to shock the audience and prove to Jason that whatever darkness he feels about himself pales in comparison to the truly grimy things Dick’s done. But because the episode’s so muddled and uneven—and it’s been telegraphed for a few episodes—Dick admitting that he killed Jericho doesn’t come across a surprise. It’s just another twist that’s complicating Titans, but not exactly making it any more interesting.
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