Batman: The Animated Series, “It’s Never Too Late”

01Feb11

Let’s talk about Rupert Thorne.

In the “Two-Face” review, I noted that Thorn was a character that I used to think came out of the Animated series. But despite it being the first episode where he appears, Thorne doesn’t really do a lot. He mostly sets up the plot by pushing Harvey too far, then works as a target for Two-face’s rage. However, we still got to see some of his personality-arrogant, oily, easily enraged when he’s not in control of his domain, and willing to get his own hands dirty to do the job. All of that is on display in “It’s Never Too Late,” which is really Thorne’s show. Batman plays a vital role, of course, and we’re supposed to root for Thorne’s rival as the episode progresses…but the fat man with silver hair is a far more interesting character.

The episode opens in a large mansion, where the news reports on a crime war in Gotham. it doesn’t take long to realize the person watching is Arnold Stromwell, one of the two sides in the fight. It’s a fairly effective use of a narration dump-Thorne is winning, and Stromwell’s son has gone missing. At the same time, it all comes across in a rather bizarre fashion, especially when Commissioner Gordon describes the situation, and gives his opinion on who’s winning. It makes him seem like he’s discussing who’s going to win in a college football game. it’s also odd to hear Thorne described as the younger crime boss, considering both men look like they could be in their late 50s or early 60s. Stromwell calls for a meeting with Thorne, since he suspects he’s responsible for his son’s disappearance.

We then cut to Thorne and his men in an Italian restaurant, plotting how the meeting will go down. There’s certainly a good deal of the usual Mob imagery in the entire episode, especially here; all the mobsters are wearing suits, and there’s generically Italian music playing (though I’m not sure why everyone appears to be drinking orange sherbert). But it’s undercut by Thorne describing his plan for killing Stromwell, everyone at the table relishing the chance to kill the rival leader. In disguise, Batman manages to plant a listening device in the restaurant before he’s thrown out, which leads to the odd bit of the restaurant owner, voiced by Kevin Conroy, throwing himself out.

On the way to the meeting, Stromwell goes into a flashback at the railroad crossing. The flashback itself is all right, but it’s an odd thing to suddenly drop into the episode, even though it makes more sense later on. So too is Batman meeting with a priest about Stromwell, who seems all too familiar with the man in question. This is less an issue with the episode than the time slot; a hour long show would have had more than enough time to introduce all the players, give us time to know them, and then get the ball rolling. The episode does a good enough job as it is, though.

The meeting between Stromwell and Thorne mostly goes as planned, with the exception of Stromwell throwing Thorne around in a rage about his son, while Thorne pleads that he doesn’t touch family, perhaps one of the least comforting assertions you could hear from a crime boss. “Sure, I’ll gun you down in the street like a rabid dog in front of your wife and kids, but I wouldn’t shoot at them! Intentionally!” Thorne springs his trap on Stromwell after he’s gotten him calmed down, but Stromwell is saved by Batman, in a scene that doesn’t make much sense. The restaurant explodes, and then Batman pulls Stromwell out…before it explodes a second time. The attempt to save Stromwell surreptitiously is somewhat defeated by a witness, who tells the police in the manner of a UFO believer that Batman pulled someone out of the building. This information prompts Thorne to put everyone on the case of finding Batman and Stromwell, a plan that’s probably failed too many times to mention.

Meanwhile, as Stromwell and Batman verbally spar, we find out Batman’s reasons. He wants Stromwell to give himself to the police, first by showing Stromwell that his drugs have put his own son in a rehab center, and bringing in the priest (who turns out to be Stromwell’s brother from the flashback) to give an even bigger hit to the man’s self-image. Along the way he also has to beat up Thorne and his gang to protect his unwilling charge, both until the police arrive and until Stromwell finally decides to turn himself in. It’s a plot that’s a little unrealistic in concept, since drug lords don’t tend to have a change of heart before they’re actually convicted, but it’s saved by smart writing and performances-Eugene Roche as Stromwell makes him sound like one of the glamorous mobsters of the 30s and 40s in decline, and at one point responds to Batman’s accusations with the succinct “Prove that,” and “Prove that, too.” Stromwell also tries at one point to shoot Batman to get out of the situation, though the only reason he doesn’t get a beating is that Batman is trying to convince him to talk. In the end, of course, Batman is successful, and the last line of dialogue is Stromwell saying he’d like to make a statement.

“It’s Never Too Late” is a odd episode for the Animated Series. We get hints of after-school special morality in the drug mentions and the use of a priest/religion on the side of good, but it’s never overwhelming. Thorne makes for a great villain in the episode, and stands strong as a character you could see in a live action mob show. And while Stromwell’s character arc may be a bit unrealistic, it’s done well enough to overcome most objections. It’s still in a rough form, but we’re starting to see the strengths of the show appear in more than the music and the voice acting here. Despite a few clunky bits, it’s a strong episode, and it stands up well to the flashier spectacles of Batman’s Rogues Gallery.

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