The third episode of Telltale’s Batman: The Enemy Within pulls off the impossible; it somehow makes you feel sorry for The Joker (John Doe) and deftly casts him as deeply tragic figure swept up in the maelstrom of chaos that surrounds him. As it stands, this utterly reimagined version of The Joker underscores Telltale’s commitment to upending the established status quo and in doing so, serves as a fresh reminder as to why Batman: The Enemy Within continues to be one of the best series Telltale has put out in a good while.
Plots, plots and more plots
We’re now at the midpoint of Batman: The Enemy Within where, following on from the previous episode, Bruce Wayne has now infiltrated criminal organisation The Pact in order to dismantle it from the inside and uncover the destructive legacy left behind by The Riddler. If that plotline wasn’t enough, ‘Fractured Mask’ also delves further into Bruce’s relationship with Joker, Harley’s distrust of Bruce, Catwoman’s involvement with The Pact, the conflict between Amanda Waller and Jim Gordon to protect the city and the internal power struggle between Mr. Freeze, Bane and Harley Quinn, to name just a few of the subplots that it deals with – and breathe.
As a result, the third episode of Batman: The Enemy Within finds itself spinning far too many narrative plates at once, and the result is an experience that can at times feel far too busy and unfocused as a result. The flipside of this coin however, is that ‘Fractured Mask’ does its best work up close when it intimately develops the personalities of its various cast members in addition to how they all interact with one another, and it’s here that Telltale manages to get proceedings back on track.
Arguably, this is reflected excellently in the ongoing broship between Bruce Wayne and John Doe (The Joker), a dynamic that has easily been one of the highlights of The Enemy Within thus far. As before, the John Doe that we see here is someone who has yet to undergo the final metamorphosis into the Clown Prince of Crime, an individual who struggles with his inner demons and is looking for a role model to style himself after. Likewise, his unhealthy obsession with Harley Quinn persists in this episode and even results in one of the best moments in the season where Doe asks Bruce out for a coffee and begs him to act like Harley Quinn so he can try his best (read worst) pickup lines. It’s a great scene and one that adds a nice touch of levity to the otherwise decidedly grimdark proceedings.
Ultimately, what Telltale has done with the John Doe character is revelatory. By stripping away the murderous mania that has for years been attributed to the very essence of The Joker character, and replacing that with a persona that is self-deprecating, vulnerable and naïve, Telltale has somehow made The Joker a sympathetic figure that you can really root for and which makes following his inevitable and tragic decline into a total madness all the more emotionally impactful.
As much as ‘Fractured Mask’ places a spotlight on John Doe’s character development, so too does it also give Harley Quinn plenty of time to shine as she once more showcases a commanding and powerful presence that is at the behest to absolutely nobody else other than herself. Further emphasising her ruthlessness is how she cruelly uses John Doe to fulfil her own goals; often weaponising his infatuation with her to get she while wants all the while aggressively preventing Bruce Wayne from getting too close to John when the three of them are together. Again, it’s a fantastic flip of the script and further cements the unique dynamic which breathes life into an otherwise well-worn trio of classic DC characters.
Where the third episode of Batman: The Enemy Within comes unstuck a little more is in the conclusion; everything just sort of ends very abruptly, neither setting up a cliffhanger for the next episode effectively or, tying up some of the loose ends that the episode spends significant amounts of time setting up. Finally as a side note, fans of The Enemy Within’s great combat scenes will find their appetites satiated, because while there aren’t as many scraps as in previous episodes, an absolutely belting brawl between Catwoman and a suitless Batman serves to establish itself as a particularly impressively physical confrontation and a highlight of the season so far.
Even though ‘Fractured Mask’ does creak and almost break under the sheer weight of plots and subplots that have been stuffed into its 100 minute duration, it still makes a confident statement with a focus on the endlessly fascinating Bruce Wayne/Batman and Joker/John Doe relationship, all the while setting events up for a grand finale further down the line. For now at least, Batman: The Enemy Within represents a good prospect for fans looking for their next fix of adventures with The Caped Crusader.