This episode was a true Detective Comics story. It had a eerie feel to it and I understand why- Carol Banker (Director) and Jason Hatem (Writer) are veterans of The X-Files and Supernatural. These shows are often grisly whodunnits and this episode fit that mold.
The direction and character development and dialogue are so confluent that it has an unsettling realism. You watch Dick go through a metamorphosis of grief and brutality into something new- something he doesn’t even know yet. The dialogue is quick and sharp slowly revealing the differences between Jason and Dick, building the tension between Dick’s uncertainty and Jason’s brutality. The last shot of the detective story pulls back with Dick alone, staring at what Jason has wrought. There are crippled police everywhere. The cost of Dick saving his friend is the unleashing of this hurricane of cruelty wearing the costume that he once proudly wore.
This episode picks up right after the last one. It’s uncertain why Jason Todd was there to help Dick. It turns out that Dick and Jason are both Lo-Jacked with tracking devices because of Batman. Batman discovered that someone is hunting down all of the members of the circus that Dick grew up with- essentially his family other than Bruce. This person is the son of the man who killed Dick’s parents. We learn that five years ago Dick got the revenge upon his parents’ killer. Although Dick didn’t do the fatal blow, he purposefully stood back so the killer would die at another’s hands.
This whodunnit also serves as a Mid-Point Crisis and realization for Dick’s story arc. He doesn’t want to be Robin, but he carries the suit across the country. Jason Todd is the new Robin, but Jason, unlike Dick, is pure Robin. Batman had a code of non-killing and certainly forbade beating up people because you could. Jason Todd does not follow that; in fact, he likes to brutalize people for sport. Jason Todd is rage and violence distilled to its darkest conclusion. This is in line with the comics where Jason becomes the Red Hood and straight up murders criminals.
As they work together in the episode to track down the killer, Dick realizes that he’s not Robin anymore, but he’s not on the sidelines either. The Melting Man essentially kills Dick Grayson’s Robin persona because by forcing Dick to work along side Jason to stop him, it causes Dick to realize that he’s no one’s sidekick and that he isn’t a pure psychopath either.
Dick sees Jason’s thrill in beating up cops and crippling them. Dick tries to explain to Jason that this embrace of darkness costs your soul, but Dick realizes soon that you can’t lose something that you never had. Jason Todd is like the Joker – in Christopher Nolan’s words- The Joker is an absolute. The Joker and Jason Todd are the Id of humanity- both absolutes; there is no reasoning with them. They want and do and they do -without feeling.
Dick is likely to evolve into Nightwing, but more importantly we see in this show very careful layering and texture added over time for every character. It really brings out the goose-flesh to see these people struggle with being heroes. It’s so human and painful and more clear when you see a Jason Todd who relishes embracing darkness and violence.
The Robins do save the day, but Dick is left changed permanently. Like the funeral scene the story opened with, Dick Grayson’s Robin is dead. Dick is unaware as to what he will become, but we know it will be born among the Titans. Without question, this is the BEST show on television.