“It’s Never Too Late”
Story by Tom Ruegger
Teleplay by Garin Wolf
Directed by Boyd Kirkland
“It’s Never Too Late” is a fascinating episode in the first season of Batman: The Animated Series; it is more of a character study on those around the Batman than on The Dark Knight, himself. It also furthers along the timelessness of Gotham City, along with the ongoing mob war, and serves as an indirect follow-up to “Two Face Part One” and “Part Two.” There’s also an undeniable tone of morality and religion that quietly plays to the entire episode. If you haven’t seen the episode, it is worth watching, even with it not being one of the better episodes.
The story by Tom Ruegger begins with a shot of children playing outside a home. The image of innocence juxtaposed with innocence lost is clear as the camera takes us inside one of the houses. We are introduced to mob boss Arnold Stromwell and learn of the ongoing mob war between him and Rupert Thorne. We also learn that Stromwell’s son, Joseph, is missing and that he blames Thorne. It’s a very classic mobster movie setup and the story and animation only add to this quality. Thorne, along with his men, plan a setup at Pete’s Restaurant that will ensure Stromwell losing their mob war. In a polite way, they mean to kill him. What they don’t realize is that the drunk slouched over on the table is secretly Bruce Wayne in disguise. Dismissing the drunkard, Thorne has him thrown out, but not before Bruce could place a listening device on the bottom of the table. This moment, not unlike the episode “The Forgotten”, plays up the fact that Bruce Wayne is a detective and doesn’t always go undercover as the Batman. It also nicely reestablishes Bruce Wayne as a skilled actor, something we have yet to see on screen (other than a few moments in The Dark Knight Trilogy).
While en route to Pete’s, Arnold Stromwell passes by a church and remembers a childhood memory of him and his brother, Mike. One time when they were children, as they walked along the tracks in a rail yard, Arnold got his foot stuck. Mike went to save him, but was struck by another oncoming train. The memory, well told through animation, is shocking and jarring enough that it will easily stick with the audience, especially the younger ones. It’s yet another moment in Batman: The Animated Series that demonstrates how much the team pushed the show creatively. It’s apparent that the memory still haunts Arnold.
Before we get to the meeting between the mob bosses, there is a quick moment that shows Batman meeting with a priest. He tells him that he’s needed more than ever and we begin to realize that the Father is Arnold’s brother.
Even though Thorne promises Stromwell that he doesn’t “mess with family”, he does plan on killing him on multiple occasions throughout “It’s Never Too Late.” He blows up Pete’s and it’s believed that Stromwell dies in the explosion. However, Batman rescued him and a passerby notices the two running across a rooftop. “He’s really out there” the man says in astonishment. I really enjoyed this line as it’s a further suggestion of Batman’s status as a crime fighter in Gotham City. It feels more and more that he’s viewed as some sort of urban legend and that no one is really quite sure of his existence. There have been rumors, most of them confirmed by the latest trailer, that this will be the kind of Batman we get in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The passerby then tells Commissioner Gordon of what he saw and refers to Batman as “a dark angel.” It’s a nice tip of the hat to The Dark Knight title Batman will one day earn in The Animated Series.
The story shifts from the timelessness of a gangster film and moves more closer to that of a Charles Dickens tale. Batman ushers Stromwell through the city and hopes to reason with him to change his life. As the title states, “It’s Never Too Late.” Batman first takes Stromwell to Sunrise Foundation, a rehab center. After learning that Stromwell has made a living off of selling and manufacturing drugs, we find out this his son is in the clinic. We meet Joseph and Constance “Connie” Blaine, the ex-wife of Stromwell. She’s voiced by Katherine Helmond of Who’s The Boss? Arnold Stromwell is a real piece of work and didn’t even know that his son, Joseph, was in rehab for the very same drugs he’s been getting rich off of selling and manufacturing. Batman calls it an “empire of misery”, but Stromwell still chooses not to change his ways. Instead, he fools Batman into believing he’ll turn over his books to the authorities and brings him to his offices in the rail yards. Batman realizes that they’re dummy books right before Stromwell could shoot him. It doesn’t work, obviously, and Rupert Thorne arrives ready to kill them both. Stromwell escapes while Batman fights off Thorne’s goons. The scene, reminding current viewers of the dock scene from 2005’s Batman Begins, allows Batman to work more from the shadows and menace the cowardly and superstitious lot in ways much more akin to Aliens xenomorph.
Stromwell, while running away, is brought back to that fateful day on the tracks as he is running down the very same tracks as an older man. His life, coming full circle, brings him to his brother. Father Mike Stromwell, already waiting for him on the tracks, comforts him and reminds him of the very same message that “It’s Never Too Late.” The G.C.P.D. arrive and Batman stops Thorne right before he could shoot both Stromwell and his brother. So much for not messing with family.
The final shot is of Batman watching Stromwell reconcile with his sins and brother, now a priest, and it’s suggested that Arnold has now opened his life to God as the camera concludes on a shot of his brother’s church while we hear bells bring a close to the episode. “It’s Never Too Late” is one of the strongest written episodes and is the most adult take on the DC Comics character yet. There’s a real iconography to Batman and with more episodes reflecting on the people of Gotham, we get more of a sense of Batman’s quiet role in the city and in everyone’s lives. There’s a certain, unmistakable quality that Batman saves and truly is “a dark angel.” If there is one director to capture this even better than Christopher Nolan, that is, undoubtedly, Zack Snyder.
We will continue to countdown to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice with more Batman: The Animated Series. Up next is “I’ve Got Batman in My Basement” marking the debut of The Penguin, followed by “Heart of Ice”, which we all know is Mr. Freeze.