CREDITS: Written by Garin Wolf (mostly a soap opera writer) and Tom Ruegger; directed by Boyd Kirkland.
REVIEW: Rupert Thorne returns to cement his hold on Gotham City's underworld as a gang war rages and Batman plays a much deeper game than he usually does. His plan is to actually redeem one mobster, Stromwell, so the violence will end, using Stromwell's own brother, now a priest, as his willing instrument. Controversially, this will give Thorne a near monopoly, so even if the episode doesn't really address it, it could lead to discussion on this gray area. And to the writers' credit, Stromwell doesn't turn easily. Even seeing his son going through withdrawal doesn't make him renounce his drug peddling; he still tries to kill Batman at the earliest opportunity. It's his childhood trauma that does it, and his guilt over his brother's near death (and loss of limb), which is very appropriate for a character like Batman who is likewise driven.
Directorially, the episode shines. The sepia flashbacks look good. The haze of nerve gas creates a rich, grainy, filmic look to certai scenes that could really be the look of the whole show, as far as I'm concerned. Certainly fits the film noir crime thriller this is. The reveals are well played, like when Batman comes out the back door of the burning restaurant with Stromwell on his back, or when he prepares his bat-rope on a rooftop and has you wondering what he's about to do long before he does it. The opening also bears mentioning, with kids running in the street in front of a mobster's big house, putting the city's violence in context and tying into Strowell's (adult) son missing, and his own memories of a rough and tumble childhood.
The weaknesses are in the writing. Most blatantly, Gordon characterizes the gang war as a generational one, with the "younger" winning. But Thorne and Stromwell look about the same age; Thorne might even look older! The anti-drug message is blunt and obvious, melodramatic. The scene with the guy who spotted Batman, who he thought was just an urban legend, is way over the top. And there's a missed opportunity, I think, in not making Batman Stromwell Jr.'s "kidnapper" (or at least, not clearly). Still, there are some gems as well. For example, I love that Stromwell ALSO has a goon who thinks he looks good on TV, a running gag started with Thorne in the previous episode (and kind of shared by Bullock with Gordon here).
SOUNDS LIKE: I somehow skipped Rupert Thorne's voice actor yesterday, but this is John Vernon, Dean Wormer in Animal House. Stromwell is voiced by Eugene Roche, a veteran television TV actor, and his brother Michael by Paul Dooley, an even more recognizable veteran television actor (I know him well thanks to roles on DS9 and the Practice, others might recognize him as the voice of Sarge in Cars).
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - There are a couple of missteps, but mostly a strong crime thriller without any costumes villains barging in.