This article contains Titans spoilers.
Titans Season 3 Episode 5
Ah, Titans. Ever since they cast the perfectly angsty Curran Walters to play Jason Todd we all knew it was coming to this. Titans Season 3 began with Jason being brutally murdered by the Joker in a near direct recreation of his controversial–and fan chosen–death from 1988’s A Death in the Family. While it was quickly revealed that just like in the comics Jason had actually somehow survived and taken on the mantle of the Red Hood, we had been unsure of what led him to the fairground on that fateful night.
But Titans season 3 episode 5, “Lazarus” is, as the title hints, all about Jason’s rebirth and resurrection and the man who was to blame for it… no, not the Joker or the Scarecrow but Batman himself, Bruce Wayne.
If we look back to the classic four issue comic arc that inspired this, Bruce has always borne a certain level of responsibility for Jason’s death and eventual turn to the dark side. That story saw him–like in Titans–suspend Jason from his duties as Robin before once again reuniting with him in order to fight the Joker and Ra’s al Ghul in Bosnia… because of course. It was there that the Joker managed to kidnap Jason and kill him with that infamous crowbar.
Batman’s irresponsibility around his charges has long been one of the most intriguing and ongoing parts of his particular pathology and here we saw it come to a head in a profound way in that story. But in Titans, the show takes a different path and makes Bruce a far more obvious part of Jason’s downfall.
“Lazarus” is told in flashback as we see the road Jason took after fleeing San Francisco at the end of last season. Returning to Gotham, he moved back in with Bruce who took him under his wing while asking him to play a lesser but still present role in their crime fighting. For a while Jason seems content as the boy behind the screen, as he lets out his anger with an old friend with a little street level violence of his own. But after getting pistol whipped, his PTSD kicks in and ignites a fight or flight that makes him question his own place as Robin. In a rare moment of what seems to be intelligent thoughtfulness, Bruce suggests Jason go and see an old friend, Leslie Thompkins. The iconic Batman character is a therapist who appears to want to help Jason, but also has what end up being deadly ulterior motives.
See, Bruce is apparently mining Lesley for information, so as Jason begins to trust her he opens up, finding hope in the sessions. And Bruce begins to get more of an insight into his sidekick’s mental state. That, of course, gets used against Jason swiftly, with Bruce rejecting him and telling him he’s no longer fit to be Robin. It’s a heartbreaking scene and one that forces Jason towards a new father figure, one who no one would choose to guide their son.
Neither of the allegedly responsible adults notice that Jason is trying to treat his PTSD in a far less healthy way. After finding some of the Scarecrow’s fear serum in Batman’s creepy trophy cabinet, the young hero heads to Arkham to broker a deal with Jonathan Crane himself. Jason wants to create an anti-fear serum and he wants Crane to help him. The nefarious villain sees a chance to take advantage of the desperate child, becoming a mentor to him and prying open his vulnerabilities to find out everything he can about Batman. It’s a brutal role reversal, but why would Jason have any reason to be suspicious? He’s used to a psychopath withholding love and using his trauma to shape him into something new.
In that way it’s not just Bruce’s rejection of Jason that makes him culpable but also the fact that he molded him into a sidekick. Jason’s traumatic childhood made him the perfect experiment for Bruce, but his unresolved anger made him a wild card. Bruce waited far too long to send him to Leslie, and when he did it was for his own gain rather than Jason’s. So naturally after being let down by two father figures, Bruce–and to a lesser extent, Dick–Jason sought out another. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, it wouldn’t have been possible if Bruce wasn’t constantly jet setting and leaving his extremely troubled son alone in Gotham.
It’s when Bruce is on one of his many trips that Jason finds the Scarecrow’s serum. And Bruce is also out of town when Jason spots the Joker and uses his refined anti-fear serum in order to hunt him down. It’s also probably how he spent so much time in Arkham chatting to a known rogue while Batman swanned around the globe. His new surrogate parent Crane had even more malevolent plans for Jason than Bruce, which means when the kid headed off to catch the Joker there was only one outcome: his own demise. But even then Bruce still has his role to play as we all know why Jason cared about the Joker anyway and why the Clown is out on the streets needing to be caught… It’s because of Batman.
Jason represents Bruce’s largest failure. But while his death seems to be the biggest indictment of Wayne, it’s actually his resurrection as Red Hood which really shines a light on the damage Batman has done. Jason learned all the wrong lessons from Bruce; about violence, about justice, about power, and about dealing with your trauma. Instead of becoming a vigilante, he becomes a villain. Instead of opening up and dealing with his fear, he becomes absolutely emotionless. And instead of turning to his friends, he turns against them.
Titans has never shied away from the damage that Bruce Wayne has done to his wards but with “Lazarus” we see the true, violent, and terrified face of Bruce’s own mistakes.
New episodes of Titans hit HBO Max every Thursday.