Batman: The Animated Series – “It’s Never Too Late”

It's_Never_Too_Late-Title_CardEpisode Number:  12

Original Air Date:  September 10, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Tom Ruegger

First Appearance(s):  Arnold Stromwell

Fresh off his debut in the two-part “Two-Face,” Rupert Thorne is at it again. Apparently there wasn’t enough dirt provided by Dent to put Thorne behind bars, or he just bought his way out, because he’s looking pretty comfortable in “It’s Never Too Late.” In this episode, we have Thorne playing the role of ultimate villain opposite the slightly less villainous drug dealing crime lord Arnold Stromwell (Eugene Roche). Stromwell is the old dog in the fight and even the media and Commissioner Gordon are predicting he’ll ultimately be overthrown by Thorne in the not too distant future.

Stromwell is naturally rather irritated with everything. And worst of all, his son has gone missing and he suspects Thorne is behind it. Batman is looking on as the war in the streets is apparently escalating between the two. Thorne arranged a meeting between the two syndicates at one of his restaurants and Stromwell agrees to go. Along the way we’re shown a flashback to a young “Arnie” boasting about owning Gotham one day to a kid named Michael. The flashback is in black and white, and a common stylistic choice for this program, and things get a bit harrowing when Arnie gets his leg caught in some train tracks with a train barreling down on him.

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Stromwell and Thorne are locked in a struggle for crime supremacy in Gotham.

In the present, Stromwell gets grabby with Thorne who insists he knows nothing about his kid. He claims to have a code of honor that prevents him from messing with family, how noble of him, but he doesn’t have a code about blowing up his adversary. He ducks into the back to help with the food before bidding Stromwell adieu. Fortunately for old Arnie, Batman is close by and is able to save him from the resulting blast. Prior to this, we saw Batman meeting with a priest to inform him “it’s going down tonight” which distresses the priest. He apparently has some ties to Stromwell.

With Stromwell saved, the episode kind of takes on an It’s A Wonderful Life/A Christmas Carol vibe as Batman shows him what his drugs have done to the city and to his family. He brings him to a hospital, where Stromwell finds his estranged wife (Katherine Helmond) looking over their son who apparently overdosed on something. When Stromwell vows to punish the one who got his son hooked on drugs his ex-wife admonishes him and lets him know in no uncertain terms that he is the one responsible. It would perhaps be an affecting scene if it wasn’t so close to a popular PSA that aired in the 80s and early 90s (“I learned it by watching you, dad!”), which makes the scene feel almost comedic.

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Stromwell does not appear to be very grateful for Batman’s aid.

Batman is able to arrange a meeting between Stromwell and the priest, at the very same tracks from Stromwell’s flashback. We are again taken to that day and see young Stromwell free himself from the tracks, only to jump onto the next set of tracks right into the path of another oncoming train. Michael saved him, but in the process lost his leg. We return to the present to find out that not only is Michael the priest standing before him, but also his younger brother. Thorne tries to take the two out, but Batman works in the shadows to take him and his goons out to allow the brothers to share a moment. They tearfully embrace, and as the police roll in Stromwell informs Gordon he has a statement he’d like to give. Batman looks on with satisfaction before his gaze turns to a church which the pans to, holds, and then we fade to black.

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The Father Michael and Stromwell dichotomy is reminiscent of the classic film Angels with Dirty Faces.

“It’s Never Too Late” is a decent story that unfortunately feels like an anti-drug PSA, and not just because of that one scene that really invokes that impression. This was the early 90s after all, and the War on Drugs was in full swing at this point and it was quite common for family and children’s shows to tackle the subject. Usually those episodes were even more hammy than this one, but even as a kid who sincerely thought drugs were just terrible I still resented these episodes. Did someone really think that Batman telling me drugs are bad is the thing that would keep me clean? Though what I really found distasteful is that last lingering shot on the church which feels like Batman’s silent way of advocating Christianity. At the risk of sounding like a god-hating atheist, it really bugs me whenever a kid’s show promotes organized religion as the cure for a problem. I think there is an artful way to incorporate religious characters into such shows, X-Men did it pretty well with Nightcrawler (excepting that show’s closing scene with Wolverine coming back to God), but do we really need Batman’s endorsement here?

“It’s Never Too Late” is a mostly forgettable episode of Batman. Stromwell doesn’t play a meaningful role in future episodes while Thorne apparently is never brought to justice as he’ll remain a player for years to come. I don’t mind the more grounded stories which offset the outlandish villains that otherwise dominate this program, but this show can do better.

 


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