The big question that I had at the end of the last episode was how exactly the show was going to move forward now that it had established that the police procedural story is all in Bruce’s head. Well it turns out the answer to that question is “with a different police procedural.” This show has a comfort zone, and even completely changing narratives isn’t going to change that.
Barbara Gordon (Gina Rodriguez) takes the protagonist chair this time around, working as a detective on the Harvester case with Renee Montoya. Don’t get it confused, this isn’t a case of “everything’s different and we don’t know why” like with Bruce being a doctor last time. The show goes to great lengths to make sure you’re aware that this is the “real” world by having plenty of characters reference Bruce Wayne being presumed dead as well as the existence of Batman. Barbara is just a cop now because that’s the kind of story Batman Unburied wants to tell.
It’s heavily implied that she was at least Batgirl at some point in this universe given the dodgy ways she avoids saying how she knows Bruce, and the fact that she’s aware of his identity and the Batcave, though it’s not clear if she totally gave that up when she joined the GCPD. There are a few characters that muddy the waters around continuity a bit, like Detective Flass who was an antagonist in Batman: Year One but was killed in Dark Victory. However this is more than likely just a reference to that story especially given that the scene where Flass and his friends confront Barbara in her car is extremely similar to when he did the same thing to James Gordon back in Batman: Year One.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with having a Batman story focus on the police investigations. Gotham Central did that, and that remains one of my favorite comic series of all time. Batman Unburied‘s problem is that the police investigation that it presents, especially in these two episodes, just isn’t very interesting. The first two episodes had the hook of the audience not knowing how much of the story was real. Now that all the cards are on the table, it spends a lot of time just spinning its wheels. The audience knows that Bruce Wayne is alive, so watching Barbara follow dead end leads to figure that out is tedious. The actual Harvester serial killer mystery takes a complete backseat and replaced with what is essentially just a standard missing person case, even if that person is Batman. I had expected and hoped that once we returned to the non-hallucinatory world that we would get more of what makes Gotham so interesting, but none of that seems to be manifesting.
Things do become more focused and a bit more interesting when Barbara starts working with the Riddler. I love The Riddler as a character, and positioning him as consulting detective is a great angle. Paul Dini did the same thing back in his Detective Comics run. However, part of what typically makes him so entertaining, especially when paired with someone serious like Batman, is how ostentatious he is with his need to show off his intelligence. In Dini’s stories he was always hamming it up for the press while Bruce worked quietly to get the case done. Here Hasan Minhaj’s performance is still egotistical but in a quieter, smug way. When you lose the contrast between the serious detective and the showboating narcissist, all he’s reduced to is mainly someone who knows the answers to questions to move the plot forward. Answers which Barbara should have probably known herself but didn’t for some reason.
It’s also never made clear why Barbara decides that working with The Riddler is a good idea. She has every reason not to trust him since he stabbed her father, forcing Jim Gordon into early retirement. The only reason would be that she thinks he’s just really smart since he somehow knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman. A deduction that, by the way, is a major point that’s glossed over and Barbara is very quick to completely confirm for him.
Part of what keeps the investigation elements from landing this time around is the dialog, both in how it’s written and how it’s read. A lot of the lines don’t sound natural but instead like the writer created them to serve a purpose in the story. One instance that stood out to me was when Barbara clumsily tries to build a rapport with the inspector in charge of Bruce Wayne’s plane crash, and after complimenting his tie once, he says “I like you already!” and immediately trusts whatever she says. It doesn’t feel like a believable interaction, but the plot needed it to happen. There’s also a lot of “as you know” dialog where characters will explain something every character present already knows and it’s solely for the audience’s benefit.
The lines would be more believable if there were better performances behind them. Last time I praised Winston Duke as Bruce Wayne, and I stand by that, but Gina Rodriguez as Barbara Gordon is not a fitting replacement. Very infrequently is she able to match the emotion needed for critical scenes, and I can’t help but be constantly aware that I’m listening to an actress reading a script instead of hearing the character themselves. However, the acting is not all bad this time around. While the two main performances in Riddler and Barbara are wanting, Jason Isaacs as Alfred steals the show in any scene he’s in. He’s as sarcastic and full of dry wit as ever, which is good because if you mess up Alfred then the whole project becomes a waste.
There isn’t much to the production aside from the dialog. Music is minimal and forgettable enough that it never leaves an impact on the listener. It’s not bad per se; it’s moody and fits with the setting well enough, but even immediately after listening to the episodes I couldn’t tell you anything about the score. The audio engineering still leaves a lot to be desired. A major component of getting an audience invested in an audio drama like this is to be able to paint a scene solely through sounds alone. However like I said last time, you’re never not aware that you’re listening to an actor in a booth.
- You’re ready for a different police procedural to replace the old one
- The mystery of what exactly happened to Bruce is enough to keep you hooked
- You love seeing the Riddler working with the hero to solve a crime
Episodes 3 and 4 are a step down from the previous chapters that played out in Bruce’s mind due to the fact that the new police investigation lacks any unique hooks. The less than stellar performances and script prevent it from rising much above a middling police investigation story, despite the fact that it nominally involves Batman. Most of the cast, along with the sound design itself, fail to build a believable world in which the story takes place, which keeps the listener from really getting invested. Throwing Riddler into the mix does add some needed flavor to the story, even if it doesn’t utilize the character to his fullest potential.
Episode 3 Score: 4/10
Episode 4 Score: 6/10