There's a line in Episode 4 of Telltale's Batman: The Enemy Within that serves as an evocative metaphor for the dynamic between Batman and Joker--or more aptly for the Telltale series, Bruce Wayne and John Doe: "We're two threads in the same stitch, bound together...even under strain." Across the previous three episodes, events have transpired to pull at the fabric of their relationship, and in Episode 4, the two threads begin to fray.
What Ails You is a standout episode with strong writing, compelling performances, and decision-making moments that feel like they have significant consequences. The star is John, the would be Joker, who finally unravels, going from the well-meaning if a bit unhinged friend to something much closer to the Clown Prince of Crime we're used to seeing terrorize Gotham City and Batman. However, since developer Telltale has been building towards this from the very start, the shift is the culmination of a slow descent into madness instead of a leap, and it's fascinating to watch.
It's not as simple as something within him snapping. Instead, this Joker has been forged by a maelstrom of emotions wearing him down. John has suffered internal conflicts between what he's destined to become and his desire to find true friendship; a destructive love for Harley Quinn and his reverence of Batman. And all of that comes through in the way he's written and performed in the episode. We get to see a vulnerable, misguided, lonely figure desperately trying to find something to anchor himself to--and whether Bruce and Batman are positive influences in that process is called into question.
As Harley, Bane, and Freeze make a play for a deadly virus that could have devastating implications, Bruce realizes that the key to stopping them is John. In fact, many of the series' most high-stakes events have involved Bruce relying on John for help, and the realities of this give-and-take relationship are laid bare. While many Batman stories have tried, very few have succeeded in making the audience feel sympathy for Joker, but Telltale actually pulls it off, and it's a testament to how well it has humanized this larger-than-life supervillain that he feels relateable. There are moments that make you think about the way you've used John in the past, and whether you've been genuinely treating him as a friend or as just a tool to achieve objectives.
In the midst of the self-reflection the episode inspires, the game asks you to choose whether to put your faith in John once more. However, it does this after presenting the most damning evidence that he may have finally flipped, with just John's word luring you into thinking that things may not be as clear cut as they seem. It's a powerful moment that offers fans of Batman something few other mediums can: the opportunity to give Joker a chance. Given that the series' decision-making moments ultimately always reconnect to a predetermined narrative, the overall outcome is set. However, the type of person John emerges as is one that your actions--past and present--have helped define.
Episode 4 also muddies the relationship between Batman and Amanda Waller, whose unclear motives start to come into focus. As is typical of Waller, her actions become more dubious, and the consequences of them have fallout on those around her. While her cards aren't completely laid out on the table, her tells and bluffs start to become more transparent. By presenting her as someone who is both somewhat sketchy and under pressure to handle a situation spiraling out of control Telltale maintains an enigmatic air about her.
What Ails You also lays the groundwork for future drama, revealing how recent happenings have impacted Alfred, and the responsibility Bruce now has to face for his decision to take Tiffany Fox, the daughter of his close ally Lucius Fox, under his wing. And it breaks up all these with sequences where Bruce investigates clues to push the narrative forward, or the odd set-piece in which Batman trades blows with villains. Like previous episodes, there's a dearth of moments that challenge the mind or offer engaging gameplay, but in a narrative and characterisation-heavy episode, these sequences provide some respite from the high-pressure interactions with other characters.
Episode 4 of Telltale's Batman: The Enemy Within has top-notch writing, thoughtful depictions, and impactful decision-making moments. It leaves Bruce, Batman, and you to grapple with questions and uncertainty. Between the future of Joker, the nature of Amanda Waller, and the potential fallout of Bruce's mission on his allies, Telltale has set the stage for what could (better) be an explosive finale.