Old Wounds

  In flashback, Batman and Robin quarrel and separate.
  Original Airdate: October 3, 1998
  Episode # 18
  Rating: * *

Credits Cast

Written by Rich Fogel
Directed by Curt Geda
Music by Shirley Walker
Animation by Koko/Dong Yang

Kevin Conroy as Batman
Tara Charendoff as Batgirl
Loren Lester as Nightwing
Mathew Valencia as Robin
Mark Hamill as The Joker

Richard Moll as Two Face
Ian Buchanan as Connor
Townsend Coleman as Rocco
Pamela Hayden as Geena
Neil Ross as Henshaw

Considering the rich psychological backgrounds of the BTAS characters, and the series' ambitions to dramatize them, why is it that the episodes which describe the origins of the heroes tend to be so listless? "Robin's Reckoning," "Sins of the Father," "Shadow of the Bat"; these all have meritorious moments, but when dramatized their central stories have remarkably little power.

Partly, the problem may be structural: We know how they will end—Dick Grayson becomes Robin, Tim Drake becomes Robin, Barbara Gordon becomes Batgirl—so the plots tend to unfold in a straight line, with minimal complications. Then, too, the problem may be emotional: An episode that describes how Harvey Dent became Two Face has as its object the ruin of Dent, and so has every incentive to go to operatic excess, the better to motivate the gruesome change. Where the change involves a hero, however, the writer tends to be careful; the shift in character cannot be too extreme, lest it undercut the character's underlying nobility. As a result the heroes' stories tend to get short shrift. Dick, Tim and Barbara start off only one short step away from their final character; then something tips them over into a new role.

So there are usually more interesting things going on between the heroes than within them. Consider, for instance, "Sins of the Father." Obviously, Tim Drake is absurdly underage for the role of Robin, yet Batman is strangely willing to let him join. Given the falling-out Wayne had with Grayson, we begin to wonder: Is this a kind of subconscious revenge, an assertion by Batman that he made the old Robin and can therefore make a new one, even of such an unready pupil? Grayson's cameo at the end suggests further questions: What does Dick make of the fact that he has been replaced and of Wayne's motives in replacing him? And given the similarities between his background story and Tim's, what does he think of Tim's motives in joining? In short: The story behind Drake's entrance may not be very interesting in itself, but in the context of what we know about Wayne and Grayson, it is explosive.

"Old Wounds," which tells of the disintegration of the Wayne-Grayson partnership, hints at just such an exploration of the inter-personal, but bungles it. The truest line in the script is Nightwing's reflection that the tensions had been building for a long time. But then why should we think that what we see next—a specific plot or incident—will explain the breakup?

There are many cunning allusions to the fact that we are witnessing the culmination of a process, not the eruption of a sudden crisis. The first clue is Alfred's comparing Dick to "a son"; this, and the pairing of the breakup with Dick's graduation, suggest that it is time for this fledgling to leave the nest. The second is in the fight with Connor, inside Connor's own apartment, in front of Connor's own son. The parallels between the little boy's horror at seeing his father getting roughed up by Batman, and Robin's horror at seeing Batman do the roughing up, suggest that Robin has been disillusioned (literally, had his illusions stripped from him) by his father figure. Of course, Batman was always grim and Robin had always accepted it in the past. But having attained a new maturity, Grayson is in a position to make new judgments and does so now. Thus, the explanation: The rupture had to occur because it was time for Dick to move on, and it was violent because Dick had finally seen in Batman a streak of callousness, perhaps even cruelty, which he could neither respect nor tolerate. And he comes back as Nightwing, instead of giving up the superhero gig, because he's got to prove himself better than Batman at living up to Batman's ideals.

But if this is the story it was to tell, why doesn't it tell it? Neither Batgirl nor the Joker has a role in the drama just described, so what are they doing here except cluttering up the conflict? The climax is entirely misplaced: If the final break occurs in Connor's apartment, as a result of actions done there, why is that scene shoved to the front of the story? If the Connor-son relationship is a displaced version of the Batman-Robin relationship, why isn't it described and dramatized? It's not hard to imagine how such a story could be developed: Let Connor represent himself to his son as a hero, perhaps as someone who helps Batman, just as Batman represents himself to Robin as someone whose toughness is a kind of love, intended toward the long-term redemption of the city and its criminals. Then, at the moment Batman collars Connor, two illusions are shattered—neither Batman nor Connor prove to be the hero they pretend to be—and a rupture explained. The ground is then set for the suspicions, accusations and resentments of "You Scratch My Back" and "Animal Act"; even, if that is the creators' wont, for the hinted reconciliation that closes this episode.

What we get is another matter: a story that appears not to recognize its own theme; development that doesn't lead to the right climax; and a drama that dwindles rather than builds.

Related Episodes
   * Robin's Reckoning
   * Sins of the Father
   * Batgirl Returns
   * Shadow of the Bat
   * Animal Act
   * You Scratch My Back

What Others Are Saying ...
"Classic premise, and a definite must-see."Two-Face's Tower of Tranquility and Terror

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