After a short string of episodes that left me grossly underwhelmed, Beware the Batman bounces back with an episode that has revived my interest in the series. Broken, the fifth episode in the series, returns to the sort of eerie, almost supernatural mystery format that the first episode promised, with a Saw-like tale of kidnap and torture. It’s just the kind of dark shot in the arm this show needed to keep me interested.
The episode begins with a toy soldier turning up on a random sidewalk in Gotham City. A couple of passersby remark at how off-putting it is to have a statue on a sidewalk in Gotham City (something I guess no one ever told Tim Burton), before some cops show up and call it in. As the cops are doing that, the statue begins to open fire. When the cops return fire, they chip off a piece of the statue’s face to reveal that it’s not a statue at all, but a suit with a person trapped inside.
Later, when Gordon and other police arrive, Batman scans the suit with his handy-dandy booby-trap-scanning Batarang (more of the Iron Man-esque, gadget-centric stuff that I liked about the earlier episodes) and finds that the suit is actually set to detonate when opened. So essentially, someone is kidnapping people and stuffing them into murderous toy soldier statue-suits that explode when you open them. You have my interest again, show.
Furthermore, the suit’s victim leads Batman to the lair of a crime boss named Tobias Whale, another one of the obscure DC baddies that the show loves to dust off and play with. He’s kind of like the Kingpin, except with all the gross deformities of a Killer Croc or Penguin, and he dresses in a disco-y white suit to call to mind the great white whale from that one book about Captain Ahab that I never read. This, in addition to the mysterious, boyish figure who we keep cutting to as he moves toy soldiers around a table like game pieces, was making for a deliciously bizarre cartoon show.
Unfortunately, the mystery of the toy soldiers is solved right at the beginning of the second act. Humphry Dumpler (Humpty Dumpty, as though he could’ve gone anywhere else with that name) was a huge, egg-shaped dude (duh) who once worked as Whale’s accountant. Dumpler was set to testify against Whale, but just as he was on his way to the courtroom he was nearly blown up by some kind of large cannon ball thing that came out of nowhere. Anyway, so that kind of “broke” Humpty Dumpty and now he’s out for sweet, creepy revenge against all the people connected to the case, with Whale and Commisioner Gordon being his ultimate targets.
Honestly, even though the mystery was solved a bit too soon for me, it still didn’t really slow the episode down at all. After that, Batman sets about safeguarding Gordon, which leads to an awesome moment where Barbera comes home to her father and compliments him on his new miniature toy soldier, and Batman jolts up and exclaims, “he’s in the house!” Totally cliche, but really done nicely here. So Gordon gets taken, and Batman has to find where Humpty Dumpty is keeping him and Whale. He also makes a pit stop along the way to find a harmonic frequency that will deactivate the detonators inside the toy soldier suits. And then, of course, sync that frequency to his batarangs so he can have anti-bomb shuriken on hand. Too cool.
The final battle goes down in this field surrounding a giant castle in the middle of nowhere, which ties in with what I want to say later about how bizarre this iteration of Gotham is. The battlefield is lined with toy soldiers holding laser guns, and Humpty Dumpty himself is atop one of the castle’s turrets with a sort of laser canon. After Batman frees Gordon and Whale from their toy suits, Humpty takes off and ascends the castle’s central tower. He tells Batman about how broken he feels, and Batman follows him to the top where Humpty is preparing to jump. Batman reaches out, but is too late, and Humpty Dumpty has his great fall. However, what hits the ground turns out to be a hollow shell containing a recording of Humpty’s voice reciting the lines to the Humpty Dumpty poem. Part of me wondered if this was a subtle nod to the ending of Burton’s first Batman film.
In addition to the main plot, the subplot dealing with Katana and Alfred is brought up briefly, just enough to keep it in play for later episodes, but isn’t anywhere near as central to the plot as it was in previous episodes. And don’t get me wrong, that stuff is fun, but it certainly wouldn’t mix well with the eerie tone in this episode.
Getting back to what I was going to say about Gotham, I really enjoy the way the city is portrayed as a perpetually dark, disturbingly empty futuristic metropolis. It’s buildings are pristine, it’s streets are immaculate, it’s night sky looks like it’s radiating with the hazy glow of a million computer screens, but it’s inhabitants are nowhere to be found. In one scene, two toy soldiers are placed on opposite sides of an intersection from each other and are forced to fire a cannon at one another once the suit activates. In the entire the time that it takes for the shoot-off to occur, the only bystander in the area was a single cab driver who’d stopped at the intersection. Just him, no passenger. There’s a sort of underlying uneasiness I get from that, whether it’s intended by the show or not. It’s like someone has turned Gotham into the Grid from TRON. Oh, and within driving distance of it is a medieval castle.
Also, to get back to something that I was complaining about in earlier episodes, it’s nice to see an episode where Batman isn’t contributing the demise of an entire ecosystem, or nonchalantly knocking his enemies off of platforms without any guarantee they’ll survive the fall. Heck, in this one he actually makes an honest effort to save Humpty from falling at the end, even though it turned out to be a decoy eggman. It’s nice to see Batman kind of acting like Batman a bit, you know?
So yeah, I really enjoyed this episode. It was dark and twisted and unsettling, and I honestly found myself thinking I could go for a feature-length version of that story. It definitely sold me on the idea of like a Batman version of Se7en or something. Hopefully this episode signifies that the series itself has gone through the necessary growing pangs and is about to really hit its stride as it continues.