It was a foregone conclusion that when the Batman: The Enemy Within video game was done, John Doe would complete his metamorphosis into the Joker. What remained to be seen was how culpable players would feel at the end of it all. Personally, I was so exhausted and guilt-ridden that I made my Batman do something that I never thought I would.
This version of the Joker is a vigilante and he isn't laughing. Image: Telltale Games
Depending on player choice, the finale for the second season of Telltale Games' Batman drama introduces a Joker who's either a vigilante or a villain. I didn't plan it but, somehow, all my decisions resulted in a John Doe who wants to be a crimefighter like the Dark Knight. Titled "Same Stitch", episode five starts two weeks after the climactic bridge encounter during the previous chapter. My version of the episode four ending left a deadly virus in John Doe's hands and Agency director Amanda Waller with custody of Harley Quinn and Bane.
Vigilante Joker shows up in dramatic fashion in episode five, interrupting Agency operatives as they get egregiously rough with Batman and the clown's crew of henchmen. I'm glad my subconscious choices spat out a Joker who wants to fight for a twisted notion of justice because he and Batman are hilarious and poignant together. An early fight with Bane shows them working surprisingly well as a team and, when Alfred drives in later to help an injured Bruce, players get a pointed look at all three characters interacting.
Having this Joker witness the intimacy between Bruce and Alfred feels transgressive. In the comics, it's been rare that Joker has had access to the other side of Batman's life, much less enough trust where he could ask Alfred questions. The side conversations where Joker asks Alfred about Bruce's bedtimes and other little details about the butler's life make everything feel so much more charged.
This Batman/Joker relationship differs from most others we've experienced because it's intensely personal. This isn't just "two sides of the same coin" stuff. It's a deeper, "we drank together and talked relationship goals"-type of connection. Even after he starts calling himself Joker, this character still really wants Batman to like him. But this Joker also wants to kill, and that desire drives a wedge between him and Bruce for the whole episode.
Waller threatens to expose the Dark Knight's secret identity unless Batman hands over the virus and Joker. A meeting on the Gotham City Police Department rooftop follows and Bruce gets intel from Agency operative Iman Avesta that lets him blackmail Waller into backing down and leaving the city. However, that isn't good enough for Joker, and things escalate into a fight that ends with Joker taking Waller hostage.
As for Harley Quinn, rather than grumbling about being part of a remixed Suicide Squad concept, she revels in it. She isn't fixated on John Doe at all either, keeping in line with this season's vision for her. This Harley values her own agency more than anything else, which adds more cruel poignancy to the deflated look on her face after losing to Batman and Jim Gordon.
The episode's final showdown happens at Ace Chemicals, where the writing gives a nice level of nuance to Waller. The oil-and-water partnership between Bruce Wayne and John Doe started as funny and foreboding in its dysfunction. Ultimately, it winds up an extreme example of a toxically broken bond. During their final fight, Joker looks back at his relationship with Bruce, sounding exactly like a resentful lover after a break-up.
After another painfully desperate exchange of blows, Joker asks Batman if he ever really cared for him like a real friend. I had my Batman answer yes but, tragically - because of the greater good he's sworn to strive for - that love wasn't enough.
"Same Stitch" threw some curveballs at me, especially with the paths taken by supporting characters. The plot put mourning daughter Tiffany Fox into a role I was expecting but shaded her character in a way that made her relationship with Bruce much tenser. Yet nothing moved me more than a post-adventure conversation with Alfred, who's decided to leave Gotham because the danger and the pain are too much for him to bear. This kind of moment - and parts of the conversation, such as the old trope positing that Batman creates his enemies - has before happened in comics, movies and other media. But the sequence in Enemy Within throbs because I could trace the causality right back to myself, which makes one wonder who exactly the "enemy within" is.
Telltale's ongoing experiment with the Dark Knight is dedicated to reconfiguring the familiar elements of his mythos into new shapes. These two seasons have been heavy with the weight of consequence and put the lie to the idea that Batman works best as a loner. In the spirit of that experimental ethos, when faced with the choice of giving up Alfred or the Batman identity, I chose Bruce's surrogate father. With regard to what this version of Bruce Wayne might do next, the button press created a hell of a cliffhanger but it also left me with more emotional closure than most other iterations of Batman.
We don't know what's going to happen next for Telltale's versions of these characters. But the end of The Enemy Within shows that you can still make a Batman who doesn't only push people away and a Joker who deserves better than what he got.