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Is Alfred the True Villain of Batman: The Telltale Series?

by  in Video Game Comment
Is Alfred the True Villain of Batman: The Telltale Series?

Who’s the first supporting character to come to mind when you think about Batman? Well, probably Robin, or possibly even the Joker — but there’s someone else in the Dark Knight’s canon who’s long been fundamental to his story: Alfred Pennyworth, the Waynes’ butler. A crucial part of Batman’s origin, Alfred has stood at Bruce Wayne’s side through thick and thin; he raised the orphan child into adulthood, and continues to aid him as he protects Gotham City as the Caped Crusader. As such, Alfred is privy to Bruce’s darkest secrets.

So what would happen to Bruce Wayne and his life mission if that were to change? As its final episode arrives today, “Batman: The Telltale Series” may be asking that very question. A “Choose Your Own Adventure” of sorts in which a player’s dialogue and action choices affect the way the story unfolds, the video game has made some radical changes to Batman canon (which we’ll get to in a moment). Therefore, it wouldn’t be a stretch for the game to make such a risky move, and it seems as though the developers have been laying the groundwork for this particular reveal over the course of the first four episodes.

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First, let’s take a closer look at the game’s seismic changes to Batman’s long-established mythology. “Batman: The Telltale Series” hasn’t been shy about shaking up the Dark Knight’s origin story, particularly when it comes to his parents. In the comics as well as the films, Thomas and Martha Wayne are saintly figures, philanthropists who tried their damnedest to raise Gotham out of squalor, only to be struck down by one of the people they tried to save. In “Batman: The Telltale Series,” not so much. The Waynes were, at best, gangsters and, at worst, torturers who took advantage of their social position as well as those less fortunate than themselves. They experimented on patients at Arhkam Asylum, and when the Cobblepots threatened to turn against them, they drove Oswald’s mother insane and had her committed. Just when you’re wondering how it could get any worse, it does: Footage of the Waynes committing this horrible crime against the Cobblepots is publicly aired, and Gotham turns on the Waynes — including Bruce, who’s innocent.

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Then there’s Vicki Vale. The journalist, who’s a love interest in both comics and film, has broken bad in “Batman: The Telltale Series.” After playing a demure reporter for three episodes, she revealed her true nature by the fourth episode when she stabbed Bruce with a toxin that amplified his rage, causing him to go berserk on Oswald Cobblepot in front of the press. As it turns out, “Vale” is Vicki’s adopted name; she is actually the daughter of the Arkhams — yes, those Arkhams — and she’s none too pleased about the way the Waynes treated her parents. Assuming the mantle of Lady Arkham, she set the Children on Arkham loose on Gotham, and chaos has ensued. To reaffirm her evil nature, the game even had her kill her adoptive parents in cold blood, leaving her foster brother alone and scared.

Clearly their are few, if any, sacred cows in “Batman: The Telltale Series,” which leads us to the story threads the game hasn’t resolved yet: Carmine Falcone’s cryptic finale words and the mole in Batman’s team.

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So far, the game has made it clear the Waynes were in bed with Falcone, the Cobblepots, Mayor Hill and the Arkhams. Bruce was with Falcone moments before a drugged-out Renee Montoya shot and killed the crime boss, who revealed Bruce couldn’t trust anyone — not even his friends. However, that plotline has largely fallen by the wayside as Bruce dealt with the Children of Arkham, the truth about his parents, and Catwoman, Two-Face and Oswald taking over his position at Wayne Enterprises. It’s unsurprising, then, that Bruce hasn’t had the time to delve into the cryptic message, but it has loomed over the series so far — and there’s plenty of mystery left when it comes to the Waynes.

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What’s worse, Bruce has a mole within his (quite small) team. Because of that, Cobblepot has access to tech that Lucius Fox was developing specifically for Batman, leaving Bruce with a tough decision to make at the end of Episode Four: head to Wayne Enterprises and stop the mole’s hack, or go to Wayne Manor, location of the Batcave. Regardless of which location you ultimately choose, the identity of the mole stays hidden, leaving the big reveal for Episode Five, which debuts today. But as far as we’ve seen, there are two main members of Bruce’s team who would have such unparalleled access to Batman’s equipment: tech guru Lucius Fox and devoted butler Alfred Pennyworth.

Let’s talk about Mr. Pennyworth’s behavior in the game. For one, he constantly reminds Batman he was on the verge of leaving the Waynes’ service due to their shady business, but he couldn’t abandon young Bruce. What’s more, he kept that a secret for most of Bruce’s life, and perpetuated the idea of the saintly Waynes.

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But how, exactly, does one leave the service of mobsters when you know their dirty little secrets? Not easily, that’s for sure. Although Mayor Hill claimed to have organized the Waynes’ murder, he was under duress; what’s more, he could have been approached before the big attack during the mayoral debate, considering his corrupt connections ran so deep. In fact, Alfred may have been sitting on the video of the Waynes torturing Mrs. Cobblepot all along; that could have been his ticket out of the Waynes’ service, until he decided it would be too damaging for young Bruce. All considered, there’s plenty of room for Alfred to be the man behind the curtain. It’s perfectly possible that, in his attempt to leave, he orchestrated the Waynes’ death, but stayed on in order to care for their orphaned son.

Additionally, Alfred has total access to Bruce’s tech, and Bruce trusts Alfred implicitly. As such, Alfred can enter the Batcave whenever he wants. He watches Bruce conduct his research and serves as Bruce’s proxy when he’s otherwise occupied as the Dark Kngiht. He would not only know where to access Bruce’s equipment, but how — and Bruce would never suspect.

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It’s also worth noting that Alfred knows how to fight back. If you chose in the game to defend Wayne Manor, you saw that Alfred is no stranger to combat. In fact, he’s a crack shot who was able to take down several of Two-Face’s Gotham City Police Department goons.

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But why would Alfred sabotage Bruce that way? Easy: to protect him. It may be warped, but Alfred seems to genuinely care about Bruce and what happens to him. Alfred may believe that, in taking away Bruce’s public life and his Batman tech, he’ll be able to keep him home and, thereby, safe. After all, being Batman isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Plus, Bruce is beginning to uncover the secrets of his past, and if Alfred truly is behind some of the terrible things that have happened to Bruce lately, he wouldn’t want that coming to his employer’s attention. With someone as unyielding as Bruce Wayne, it’s something they could never come back from.

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Insofar as the trailer for Episode Five goes, it looks as though Alfred gets himself “kidnapped.” That could, of course, merely be a red herring; if he’s been pulling strings behind the scenes, he could very well be in cahoots with Lady Arkham and the Children of Arkham. Alfred being held hostage by Lady Arkham would certainly up the stakes, and it could prove to Bruce how much he stands to lose if he fails. However, we’ll have to wait to play the episode to discover the true circumstances behind the brief snippets we see in the trailer.

“Batman: The Telltale Series” has demonstrated it doesn’t need to adhere to the Dark Knight’s canon to tell its story. In fact, the game may come out even stronger for it. As such, positioning Alfred as the main antagonist would fit right into the scheme of the game’s storytelling and provide a satisfying twist. After all, “Batman: The Telltale Series” has laid enough of the groundwork to make such a twist not only acceptable, but rewarding.

The fifth episode of “Batman: The Telltale Series” debuts today.

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