To DC fans, the name Lazarus is instinctively synonymous with Ra’s Al Ghul’s Lazarus Pit that, in the comics, brought people back to life. The details of how it worked became less relevant as the Pit’s presence at resurrecting characters as needed. The episode’s title then is a dead giveaway that this episode is finally going to deal with Todd’s return from the dead. Coupled with his second life as the Red Hood and you’ve got yourselves a nice origin story, albeit a bit of a retread from the central narrative. Only this one’s as good as it gets.
Usually episodes like this one provide the writers the freedom to flex their creative muscles while also taking a step back to develop some of its core characters. Lazarus benefits immensely from these choices in that it helps connect us better to series antagonist Red Hood. Everyone else sits out of the episode as we see Jason grapple with his fears and succumb to them before his reemergence puts him at the mercy of the Scarecrow. It also makes it clear that Jonathan Crane has been the real mastermind of this whole scheme all along, although Todd ended up instigating his hand.
The central conflict of Jason Todd his battling his fear and a desperate need to overcome it, which becomes a very fascinating deep-dive into how his mind works. It’s as though he’s in continuous denial of that fear which leads him to act in brazenly cocky ways, such as confronting the thug who’s been working with the Joker taking in teenage kids in a bid to prove to his friend Molly that he’s more than capable of handling the situation. It doesn’t end well for Todd though and in a fit of embarassment, he ends up pushing Molly away.
Todd would like for nothing more to be able to wake up being unafraid of anything in life, when his lack of acceptance of his fears is really what’s preventing him from facing them. It’s what his therapist Lee Thompkins tries to get at (lost opportunity for a Gotham crossover). In trying to open up Todd, she gradually wants to bring him to a point of peace by getting him to accept that being afraid does not equate to being weak. It’s the same lesson Bruce tries imparting in him as he reminisces about the death of his parents and his own fear as he stood there, his world shattered in an instant as he was unable to do anything to save them.
His inability to conquer his fear and find an outlet for his rage leads him to Jonathan Crane. A bit of comicbook magic and Crane gives him an incomplete antidote for fear, which pushes Todd to take on the ultimate test – combating the Joker. Clearly, the serum doesn’t work and we return back full circle to the series premiere, before Todd ends up being resurrected by the Lazarus Pit whose location, Crane is somehow aware of. We also get some insight into Crane’s plan at the beginning which, in classic Scarecrow style, involves terrorizing Gotham with fear before emerging as their saviors by handing them the antidote. It’s very similar to Batman Begins and possibly many other Scarecrow stories from the comics.
I may be reading too much into this but the Joker kidnapping under-privileged kids was also an interesting development, more so due to Molly’s off-hand remark that Bruce only helps rich people. Was the Joker trying to make this very point through his abductions? That Gotham is so corrupt, so ruined and so beyond despair that it does not even bother investing resources into finding these lost kids coming from a lowly background. That Molly’s neighborhood kid returned safe and sound at the end also means he was unharmed all this time, again insinuating that the Joker never intended to harm this kids? Maybe, maybe not.
Aside from its exploration of Todd’s fear, this episode offers a glimpse of a warm relationship between Todd and Bruce. Bruce begins to gradually embrace Todd as the son he never had and Todd sees in Bruce the father he never grew up with. Which is why it hurts Todd more when comparisons to Dick crop-up, suggesting yet again that Todd is weak and would never be as strong or responsible as Dick is. It’s a neat twist on a father-son family dynamic wherein the father prefers the elder, more mature son as the younger one is looked down upon as the spoiled brat, whose privileges need to be curtailed in order to restrain him and teach him a lesson. This further pushes the teenage son down a rebellious path who more than ever feels the need to rid himself of his fear and prove to his father that he too is equally capable of bringing the fight to Gotham’s criminals.
Ultimately, Todd’s battle is with his own fears and it should be possible to get him out of the dark side with a bit of compassion. Which is where the question of just how redeemable Todd is becomes complicated given that he was responsible for Hank’s death. Perhaps that’s where Minka Kelly’s Dawn could come in; her forgiveness is the only thing that stands between Todd being accepted as part of the Titans family and ending up permanently on the dark side. It at least stands to reason though that the Lazarus Pit requires a full body for a resurrection, ruling that path of bringing Hank back out. This only means there’s no clean way out of this mess, making it further intriguing just how the writers will resolve this conflict with one of their own ex-members.
This was undoubtedly the best episode of the season by far. Here’s hoping Titans continues to push further on this sort of character driven storytelling and who knows, Season 3 might actually prove to be a turning point for the show.