So far every pair of episodes that released at the same time were tied together to tell a cohesive chapter in the story. Episodes 1 and 2 focused on the story in Bruce’s mind, while episodes 3 and 4 showed what was going on outside as Barbara investigated Bruce’s disappearance. Now we come to a turning point in the narrative as the storylines converge, with episodes 5 and 6 representing Bruce’s and Barbara’s sides of that, respectively.
With the audience now fully aware of the illusory nature of Bruce’s story, the narrative gets to stop playing coy and really embrace it as a source of conflict. Bruce struggles against the lies as both he and the audience are assaulted with contradictions. The characters quickly become manifestations of Bruce trying to convince himself that it isn’t real. Everyone from his parents to his therapist begin to poke holes in the constructed narrative. It’s this kind of storytelling that plays to the strengths of Batman Unburied‘s premise and audio drama as a medium. With such a psychological framing, the story gets to really lean on the actors’ emotions to sell the scene. Lance Reddick as Thomas Wayne especially ramps up the intensity as the cracks begin to form. The music, which has been forgettable and sparse in the past, is tense and helps build a slowly escalating sense of anticipation. It’s a riveting sequence of events that leaves the listener on the edge of their seat, waiting to see what will happen next.
Dr. Hunter is revealed to actually be Professor Hugo Strange, who has been manipulating Bruce in order to steal information from his mind as part of a heist. It’s only coincidence that he managed to capture Batman as well. In fact, this is not the first time Professor Strange has accidentally captured Batman while targeting Bruce Wayne. In Steve Englehart’s Detective Comics #471-472, Strange runs a health clinic where he tricks wealthy clients into becoming his prisoners, including Bruce Wayne. John Rhys-Davies does a good job as Strange in this episode, so confident and certain of his control of the situation. It’s of course that hubris that makes Strange push Bruce too far and allows him to realize what’s going on.
Unfortunately, the big, triumphant “I’m Batman” moment is undercut significantly by Winston Duke’s Batman voice. In the past I’ve praised his performance as Bruce Wayne, but once he puts on his caped crusader persona it becomes almost cartoonish. The forced gravelly affectation makes it sound like a less than stellar impression of Christian Bale’s Batman voice from The Dark Knight.
With both stories now in the real world, the characters spend a lot of time catching up to make sure everyone’s on the same page. This also brings with it a lot of dead air as they have to physically move to where they need to be for the story. When they finally do get a chance to sit and talk, it’s fairly exposition heavy as the characters (and by extension the audience) learn everything that’s happened so far along with new context. Most of the dialog is functional more than anything else, aside from Riddler’s regular comedic(?) interjections and observations. It’s satisfying to finally know everything that happened prior to the series’ beginning, but I worry that without any mystery left it will be too much of a straight shot to the finish line. Four episodes is a lot of time to just be chasing down the bad guy.
That chase begins in earnest with a shootout scene at the heroes’ hideout. It’s here that we finally get some Batman in Batman Unburied, and the story relishes in it. Characters react with variations of shock and awe at the Dark Knight’s return. It’s meant to be a glorious return, but in addition to the aforementioned Batman voice, the action sequence is unable to elicit much excitement due to the sound mixing. Without a visual component, it’s simply an extended sequence of gunfire noises occasionally interspersed with exclamations of “it’s the bat!” Earlier I mentioned that Bruce’s struggle to break free of his psychological prison fully utilized the audio drama format as a medium. A drawn out gun battle does the opposite of that; it’s the kind of conflict that really best translates to a visual medium where you can see what’s going on.
We are also finally told how The Riddler figured out that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and it feels very unsatisfactory. There is no clue that he found or secret uncovered, he just noticed all the coincidences that link Bruce Wayne to Batman. The thing is that, yes, it should be obvious to most people that all the easily observable facts make it clear who Batman is. The same is true for most superheroes; Lois should have immediately seen through Clark’s glasses and all of Peter Parker’s friends should realize that Spidey sounds just like him and shows up whenever Peter disappears. However, when you read a superhero comic, you agree to suspend your disbelief for that sort of thing. It’s part of the concessions of the genre, just as we are willing to believe that a rich guy and athletic 12-year-old can dodge bullets every night. When Riddler points out that these don’t really make sense, it just feels like he’s violating the rules of this universe. Essentially he breaks kayfabe by ignoring the agreed upon suspension of disbelief.
- You’ve been waiting for Bruce’s climactic struggle to break free of his hypnosis
- The payoff of the storylines finally converging is what you’ve waited for most
- You’re ready for Batman to start kicking butt in this Batman story
The exciting climax of Bruce’s escape from his mental prison is the highlight of the series so far. The emotion and drama of the illusions falling away allow the actors to really shine. However, a lot of steam is lost once it’s over. Back in the real world the story starts to resemble a more conventional Batman story. This might come as good news for some listeners, though the action does not always work in an audio format. With most of the questions answered, the plot seems to be focusing in on a more straight-forward race to catch the bad guy. Hopefully it can manage to keep that premise interesting through to the end of this 10-part tale.
Episode 5 Score: 8/10
Episode 6 Score: 6/10
You can listen to the first six episodes now, only on Spotify. New episodes drop every Tuesday.