Titans: Lazarus

Bruce, I don’t think they’re coming out. We’re not gonna get their autograph tonight.

The third season of the Titans has been a hell of a ride so far, and it’s still getting interesting and odd. With two character deaths and a resurrection, it’s safe to say there have been surprising twists and turns. Now we get to see a bit more about how Jason Todd went from Robin to dead to revived as the Red Hood. The comic storyline (both of them, thanks to retcons) are complicated and confusing at times, but they did a good job approximating one of them. For a story that is, at least in part, about someone coming back from the dead “Lazarus” is a fine choice of title.

The episode begins just after the last one, as Jason and Crane escape from the cabin in the woods where Dick was trying to trap the Red Hood. Jason is rattled and worried, while Crane seems thrilled and pleased with himself. They argue for a bit, and then we get a hint about what’s going on and how Crane has a hold on Jason. This then sends us back three months ago, as Jason has a vivid and ugly nightmare about being Robin. He’s stalked and spooked and runs into Donna Troy, thoroughly rattled by the entire experience. Waking up, he finds Bruce in his room trying to find out if he’s ok, given all the screaming. Apparently the nightmares have been going on for a while, and Bruce is worried. Jason tries to brush it off and goes his usual sullen snark route, but gets stunned by Bruce’s next edict: no more Robin until Jason goes to see Dr. Leslie Thompkins, someone Bruce trusts and knows all his secrets.

In the comics, Thompkins has had a long and odd history. She was one of the social workers assigned to young Bruce just after his parents were killed, and had at least an interest in, if not outright love affair with, Alfred as he raised Bruce. Leslie knew about Bruce’s crusade to save Gotham, and didn’t approve of Batman’s methods. At times she was a reluctant ally, and at least on a few occasions an outright foe of the Dark Knight, faking the death of one of his Robins to teach him a lesson. Now, she’s much younger, and a contemporary of Bruce’s rather than a possible mother figure. It’s interesting that, with her de-aging and the deaths of both Alfred and Jim Gordon, all of the older characters that could exert an influence on Bruce or the younger heroes are gone. That likely plays a part in so much going off the rails as events move forward.

Later, Jason meets Molly, apparently a friend of his from when he was “in the system” as an orphan. I’m not familiar with this character, or anyone from Jason’s early days that he kept in touch with, so I believe this is a creation of the show. They talk, clearly care about each other, and Molly tells him about some homeless kids going missing, and the cops, typical for Gotham especially, not really caring. Jason talks her into showing him the man she has heard is responsible, and his time as a trouble-seeking hothead clearly pre-dates his time as Robin. Jason had at least two different histories in the comics (again, retcons complicate comic book history), and I don’t know if they are following either path here, although it doesn’t sound like it. Jason tries to confront the man Molly suspects, and we learn two things. Molly dates women, so they are not setting them up as a love interest, and Jason is way off his game, getting beaten badly by a non-powered, non-costumed thug. Naturally, he refuses to go to the hospital, despite Molly’s concern.

Later, we see Jason and Leslie’s first visit. It doesn’t go well, but we learn there’s a connection between Leslie and Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow, which is also new territory. She hears what became of Jason’s parents and it’s not a pretty story. When Leslie releases Jason, she makes a joke about telling him a story about Superman next time. We’ve never seen Superman or any of the big name heroes in this world (we’ve seen Bruce, but not Batman), but they have previously established some version of the Justice League exists. Plus, Crisis happened and affected this world, too, so anything could have been rewritten.

Later, in the cave, Jason uses his handprint to open a safe and looks through some of Batman’s trophies. We see evidence that this world has a Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, Ventriloquist, Ra’s, and Scarecrow, although we knew about two of those already. Bruce comes in, sees Jason with the Scarecrow’s fear gas, and they talk. Jason doesn’t believe, and I don’t blame him, that Leslie isn’t telling Bruce about their sessions, although Bruce tells him that’s the case several times. Bruce asks about Jason’s injuries, buys the lie (or just doesn’t pursue it) and talks about a conference call with Metropolis that night because “Luthor is up to something,” at least hinting strongly that this world’s Batman and Superman work together and that Lex Luthor is a problem. Bruce offers some hope for the future, creates a very awkward moment when he calls Jason “son,” and, on hearing Jason has dinner plans anyway, advises that “if the new girl likes cats, run.” A nice insider joke about Catwoman, and just an amusing line if you don’t know enough comic book history to appreciate it.

The next session with Leslie goes better, although she clearly has a lot of work to do. Jason actually apologizes for some of his crude comments, which is surprising. She offers some interesting insights, seems genuinely interested and supportive, and reminds Jason that he is her patient, not Bruce, and things stay between them. This version of Leslie is not a big fan of Batman from some of her comments, or at least has a very clear-eyed view of who he is. Things seem to be going well, so you know that can’t last. Bruce picks him up after the session, and Leslie apparently works out of her home in the suburbs. It’s a little domestic, parental moment, or at least an implied one, Bruce picking his son up after a doctor’s appointment. This feeling gets crushed when Bruce brings Jason to Crime Alley, the spot his parents were murdered. Bruce has arrived at a decision, and Jason is far from happy about it. At first, Jason blames Leslie, and Bruce once again tells him that Leslie isn’t sharing their sessions and had nothing to do with it. This turns into an ugly argument, Jason walking off, and Bruce having to go to London that night for business. Anyone with any emotional intelligence at all would have stuck around after that fight, but Bruce isn’t great with people he’s not punching, hunting, or ordering around.

That night begins the descent of Jason into darkness, not that he wasn’t flirting with the edges of it anyway. He calls Leslie, eating dinner at home alone, accuses her of lying, and then somehow or other gets into Arkham. This is a recurring bit of weirdness on the series. Nightwing or Robin I could see getting access to the asylum. Dick Grayson, ex-cop (and should be wanted fugitive per season two), and Jason Todd, teen without a guardian present, shouldn’t be able to get inside such a high-security place through official channels, but both had visitor badges when they were there. Jason goes to see Crane, and manages to get the man’s interest with some of his comments. Jason has a project in mind and makes a deal that involves betraying secrets and agreeing to some blatantly illegal things (at least one of which his “big brother” does later). In return, Crane gives him some information. This leads to Jason renting a place, which we saw Dick discover later, a lot of experimentation in the finest mad scientist tradition, and a joke about Breaking Bad from Crane on a later visit. Crane is clearly manipulating young Jason, and is good at it. He steers the young hero exactly where he wants him, and events unfold as we saw before with Jason tracking down Joker, Bruce telling him not to go after him, and Jason’s eventual death. Crane hears about this and smirks.

Covering new territory, we see Jason’s body stolen from the morgue and brought to a Lazarus Pit, something generally associated with Batman’s arch-enemy Ra’s al-Ghul. The pits bring people back to life, usually with some anger management issues, and have played a part in various stories over in the Arrowverse. Revived, Jason sees just how much Crane has taken parts of Arkham for his own, and we see Crane exerting his control over the young man, also getting a weird little dance number. Crane cackles, saying Gotham “ain’t seen nothing yet.”

After some whispered, devious words, Crane outfits Jason (where the costume and weapons came from, I’m not sure) and sets him loose on the city. To no surprise, one of the first things he does is settle a score from earlier, taking a grim delight in revenge and mirroring a famous scene from an early Batman movie. Later, he does something for Molly, and she can see he’s different now, costume to one side. He says he’s not Jason anymore, gives her some advice, and leaves, his friend very unsettled.

What I liked: I’ve never been a fan of either Jason Todd or the Red Hood. That said, this is an interesting take on the character and I like how they are developing things. The scenes with Bruce were emotionally painful and showed two people who are emotionally stunted trying to reach out for each other and failing. I’m also not big on Leslie, but this version worked. Jason’s dreams were disturbing, and his logic, faulty though it was, about how to handle it made some degree of sense. This Crane is a master manipulator, clearly different from previous versions I’ve seen or read. The passing references to other heroes and villains were nice touches.

What I didn’t: I’d really like to know where the Red Hood costume, name, and weapons came from. That name has a history in the comics, and I have no idea if that’s the case in this world or not. I’m not sure how much I buy that Crane, from inside Arkham, knew about a Lazarus Pit in Gotham that Batman missed. That seems unlikely.

I’ve had some uneven reactions to this show, but this was a good episode. Not as good as “Hank and Dove,” but a cut above some of their prior outings. I’m hoping it’s a good sign for the rest of the season. I’ll give this a high 3.5 out of 5.