By this point, the Titans might well be wishing they’d stayed in San Francisco. Jason died and came back as the villainous Red Hood, Hawk died, Dove left, and Rachel and Donna still haven’t shown up this season. Gotham is not a good place for anyone, really. Hell, even Batman left (both in this series and Batwoman on the CW). Now, Dick rallies his allies to try and get a grip on the chaos being sown by Red Hood and Scarecrow, and we hear a few surprising things about Blackfire’s past in “51%.”
In a grim game of telephone, Barbara gets woken up and then calls Dick, both of them learning about a new orgy of violence and death linked to a new drug on the streets. Given what they know so far, it’s obvious Crane and Todd (sounds like a law firm) are behind it, but they’re not sure what to do next. There are enough jabs in the conversation to make it clear that Barbara still hasn’t forgiven Dick for some of his recent antics, and I don’t blame her a bit. In a weird scene that manages to show Todd as both a badass criminal and someone wanting approval at the same time, the returned Red Hood goes to see Crane, expecting trouble about Hood’s stealing from Crane and distributing some of his new creation on the streets. Crane seems calm and unruffled and then shows how this version of the character is brilliant and several steps ahead.
The various big crime families are meeting, once again in a mostly abandoned industrial site (none of them has a decent conference room?). Their squabbling and concerns about the new drug get interrupted when Crane shows up. Vincent Kartheiser, who plays Crane, does a great job with this scene. Crane isn’t physically intimidating, he’s not in costume, and comes in alone. With all that working against him, the man has Presence, and easily dominates the room, cowing ruthless killers with calm and precise words. Crane easily takes charge, makes some big promises, and leaves with no doubt who the alpha in this situation is. Down in the Batcave, the team watches footage of the brutal attacks from the night before, and Dick is careful to emphasize that they need to stop thinking of Jason as their former ally, and remember he’s an enemy who has killed one of them already. They are out of leads for the moment, and Dick makes a cryptic comment about something special they need that the GCPD has but won’t use.
Showing that he can be almost as obsessive and manipulative as the man who trained him, Dick goes down to the GCPD headquarters to see Barbara. They argue about their next move, and we learn more about what Oracle is in this reality. In the comics, Oracle is the identity Barbara Gordon took when her Batgirl career ended after Joker shot and paralyzed her. Oracle was a super hacker who ran her own team (the Birds of Prey), was an advising member of the Justice League, helped coordinate heroic activities all over the globe, and kept a special eye on the heroes of Gotham. Here, it’s something very different and it’s a development I didn’t see coming. Amusingly, when Oracle finds Crane in little time, he’s located in the Conroy district, a tip of the hat to Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman throughout the DC Animated Universe, and even in live action during the CW mega-event Crisis on Infinite Earths. Red Hood finds himself in a bad position, and Crane, very mellow, shows his unwilling student how to destroy a team of heroes.
Blackfire and Starfire are cruising around Gotham, arguing about methods, and making their own play in the hunt for Red Hood. Amusingly, the powerful old car they are using seems to be the same specific make and model used by the Green Hornet and Kato in the short-lived tv show. The only thing really worth remembering about that show was that Kato was played by an up-and-coming Asian actor named Bruce Lee. The alien sisters muscle their way into a meeting with one of the crime bosses and make an interesting pitch. I can see why they did this without the rest of the team. To no surprise, the crime boss in question wants something in return. As the Tamaranean sisters make questionable deals, Dick and Conner meet up. They end up discovering they’ve been led into a trap. I can see this making them reevaluate a few things, but Dick and Barbara massively overreact and do something dramatic that really helps out Crane’s plan. I think this bit was a stretch and not done that well. Pleased (and rightfully so) with his scheming, Crane is a creepy mastermind, looking on as the heroes dance to his tune and Jason is surprised to see how well Crane’s scheme is working.
Ridiculously naïve, which actually arguably works for Starfire in at least some of her incarnations, the sisters track down what the crime boss wanted and do a good job of persuading someone to do them a favor. Left to his own devices, Gar prowls the Manor and shows that he’s not only picked up great fighting skills from his time with Dick, but some damn good detective skills as well. I’d argue Gar is acting more like Dick than Dick is for most of this series. Dick and Barbara argue some more, and Barbara takes a much more intelligent approach to things than Dick has been lately. Working together, they find some clues and work out their next moves.
Starfire carries out her bargain with the criminal leader, and things take a turn for the shocking. It’s an ugly scene and then Kory makes it much worse with an overly-emotional reaction that leaves them no better off. Blackfire makes a few comments about their past, and it seems to me like they’re trying to make her a more sympathetic character. Of course, since she’s already killed her and Kory’s parents, as well as Kory’s boyfriend, it’s a hard sale. Barbara and Dick argue as they work together, but manage to get enough leads to reference another classic Batman foe and deduce where they need to go next. I’m really curious how they are justifying the Police Commissioner running around town during a crisis with an ex-cop/escaped felon, but that’s the sort of detail that seems to slip through the cracks on this series.
At the Manor, Conner and Blackfire have a scene very thick with a few different types of tension, and Blackfire tells a lie that seems out of character. They get interrupted by Kory coming in, giving Blackfire a present, and then all three take off to meet up with Dick. Getting a bit more like a usual hero show for a bit, we get a lot of thugs, a goofy location, a villain full of smug overconfidence, and the attacking forces of the good guys with a good plan. The fight shows a few great scenes and a new and interesting trick from Gar. Crane is finally taken by surprise and some of Jason’s regard for Dick is shown to be a wise thing. The thugs and their gadget are dealt with, but with the season just barely halfway over, it’s no surprise the two big bad guys manage to get away and start scheming immediately.
In a rare celebratory scene, the team is thrilled with their victory, and even Barbara is there joining the party. A few characters flirt and pair off, someone takes off on a special errand, and one of the heroes slips away. We see this one doing a damn fine job playing detective and meets up with a minor supporting character we met before to try and do something foolishly heroic.
What I liked: This was an interesting spin on Oracle. The concept made sense. Crane did a great job taking over the gangster meeting, and was both written and acted well. Conner is slowly getting more confident in his skills and powers. The nods to Green Hornet and the animated Batman were appreciated. I enjoyed the heroes’ attack near the end of the episode.
What I didn’t: Dick and Barbara’s big overreaction played perfectly into Crane’s hands and didn’t really make a lot of sense. Kory did a few really dumb things and then found ways to make them worse. I can’t imagine Dick will be happy when he hears about some of this later. Where the heck are Donna and Rachel? And will we ever get to see the hinted-at Roy, or maybe Wally?
It was a decent episode with a few nicely executed scenes. I’ll give this a 3 out of 5. I’m very curious to see where the team goes from here.