Gotham is not an easy city to live in. I’m really not sure why anyone does. So far this season, we’ve seen the deaths of two heroes, the resurrection of one, another attempt suicide, another resurrection, and the Titans outplayed at almost every turn. Now Crane is on the offense, the team is taking hit after hit, and even for Gotham, things are looking bleak. Very little gets better in “Troubled Water.”
The episode starts off with Dick in the hospital, in remarkably good shape considering he got knocked off his motorcycle by a car, although he’s having hallucinations. Whether that’s from head injury, accumulated trauma, or something else coming their way, I have no idea. At GCPD, Commissioner Gordon listens to assorted officials reporting in, and it’s really not good. Crane’s toxin has gotten into the water supply, and it’s making a dark city even worse. They come up with a few ideas to make things better, none of which are going to go well, and then hear the National Guard has been activated. From the sounds of it, they are trying to cram yet another really big Batman story (that ran for over a year in multiple titles) into the last three episodes of the season. That just doesn’t sound like a good idea.
While Vee goes to do something controversial for Barbara, Crane brings Jason to another new location. Really, how many hidden bases does this guy have, especially considering how long he was locked up? Crane gives a weird lesson on the history of breakfast, illustrating a bit about what he’s trying to do. In another bit of really impressive skill that we’ve never seen from Scarecrow, he manages to send out a broadcast to pretty much every screen in Gotham. It’s like a political attack ad, painting the Titans as villains, especially Nightwing, and branding Red Hood as the city’s savior. There’s also a surprising bounty announced, which is going to complicate things for the team. Meeting up with Barbara, Dick discusses the video and she proves to be remarkably naïve, especially for someone born and raised in Gotham, growing up as the Commissioner’s daughter, and having her own career as Batgirl before becoming Commissioner herself. Dick makes some vague, bland statements about making things better that aren’t at all convincing.
At the Manor, Gar is doing some interesting research (I swear he’s the only one acting like a detective on the team), when he has a moment with some of Bruce’s…. colleagues. This gets interrupted when Kory bursts in, saying they have a big problem. Newly returned to life, Donna has a taxi ride that makes little sense and ends up having to walk when some of the things Barbara learned earlier start coming into play. The Titans try to respond to some of the major violence breaking out in the city, but between the pervasive effects of the drugged water, and Crane’s video taking hold in the minds of the panicking and ignorant public, they’re fighting a losing battle, despite their powers.
Hemmed in by developments he has no control over, Dick watches all this from the Cave, clearly frustrated and dispirited. Donna continues her trudge to Gotham, but gets ambushed by Lydia from Paradise Island. Lydia has some tests she needs to conduct, and Donna has no choice, apparently. I’m not quite sure how Lydia knew exactly where Donna was going to be when, but that never gets addressed. In a really weird choice, they work a humorous reference to a classic cop show into the midst of a very grim scene, as Fletcher, one of the cops that works for Barbara, brings bad news, illustrating how out of control things are getting.
Donna faces her new test and does quite well, although Lydia doesn’t seem impressed. Dick meets Barbara for a drink, which seems like a bad choice with everything going on. Continuing the bad choices, Barbara orders a coffee (remember, the water is all contaminated) and Dick orders Absinthe, claiming he’s out of good ideas so he’s going with bad ones. That’s a great attitude for the team leader, Dick. Dick comes up with a plan that seems like a horrible idea to me, and once again, shows a basic ignorance of what Gotham, and the GCPD specifically, tends to be like. Crane gives Jason a really weird, cult-like pep talk, and then sends him out on errands. While he’s out, Jason calls his friend Molly, and they have an emotionally stressful conversation. Molly makes a good suggestion, which Jason of course ignores.
Dick briefs the team on his horrible idea, and somehow they all decide to go along with it. Weirdly, Blackfire now seems to be a full member of the team, including in Dick’s comments about doing this as a team, and a family. Donna’s test concludes as she learns some surprising things from Lydia and Donna’s perspective changes about a few things. Fletcher, the cop we saw earlier, proves that he’s a good fit for the GCPD as he has a surprise meeting and receives something he definitely wants.
The Titans enact Dick’s horrible idea, which begins with a lot of tension and gets a great deal worse. The team tries to go through the motions of the plan, but the GCPD starts acting like, well, the GCPD and chaos ensues. The entire thing goes from an attempt to make things better to making things so much worse for everyone. One of the team’s allies is forced to do something that’s going to have a lot of consequences, and probably cost them their biggest supporter in the city. It’s a big action scene and one of the team finally manages to use a power they’ve been having trouble with.
Scattered into much smaller groups, the Titans go into hiding. Blackfire and Starfire find an unlikely refuge which is even less likely totally empty. Kory tries to do something for her sister, and something very unexpected happens. Either the writers have read how Tamaranean powers are supposed to work and gone, “Nah, we’re good,” or they just decided “Hey, this would be cool.” The scene does nothing to make the relationship between the sisters better. Vee has to go do something unpleasant, and, while it’s dramatic, it’s done wrong. The streets continue to deteriorate into a general riot/early scene from an apocalypse, and some graffiti gets added to the Titans’ assorted posters. Donna tries to complete her journey to Gotham, runs into some difficulties, and decides she’s had enough, taking unilateral action that I suspect is going to cause more problems later. A groggy and wounded Gar gets a visit from someone he’s been missing, and the character has clearly learned some things since they were last seen.
The last two scenes manage to make everything worse. Nightwing and Superboy ended up together, maybe some nod to the World’s Finest team ups in the past. Superboy is appalled at what’s happening and wants to find a way to help the city in spite of it all. While Superboy is becoming more like Superman in a few good ways, Nightwing is picking up several of Batman’s worst habits and delivers a grim pronouncement that is utterly out of character of any incarnation of Dick Grayson I’ve seen before in my decades of comic book reading. At the end, Crane goes to claim a prize that really shouldn’t be his in the first place. With Jason in tow, he checks out his new place and pushes Jason into some petty but very symbolic vandalism. Crane really is an adept manipulator.
What I liked: It’s interesting that several characters all seemed to level up this episode with their powers. The relationship between Superboy and Blackfire is actually kind of working, which I’m finding surprising. I also like that, despite the bad stuff everywhere, there’s a clear and strong attachment between Dick and Barbara. I hate what Crane’s doing, but he’s doing it really well.
What I didn’t: Dick’s big idea was really, really not good. This is someone trained by one of the world’s greatest tacticians? It’s a small thing among so much, but why would Barbara order coffee with the water supply an active danger? How did Crane know no one would be where he went at the end? How are Dick and Babs both so naïve about the GCPD? Why would they introduce another major storyline this close to the end of the season?
I’m giving this a low 3 out of 5. I really hope they pick up the quality on this. I haven’t heard anything about a season four, and I’m vaguely wondering if that’d be an ok thing. With Nightwing my all-time favorite character, and the Titans probably my favorite team, that really says a lot.