Sometimes 30 Rock gets it right thematically in a way other shows don’t seem to be capable of.  Last night’s Batman themed episode was a perfect example, and delivered a great story arc in a terse 23 minutes.  Tracy, Kenneth, and the writers were on the fringe for this installment, as Liz (as the homeless, crazy, smelly, Joker) and Jack (the tuxedoed politico, believing New York’s best days are still ahead).

The episode begins with Liz and Jack discussing their ride to work. Liz doesn’t think anyone else follows the rules and therefore New York is overrated, a testament to man’s selfishness; “She’s a thug in a cocktail dress,” a axiom Liz adopted from that testament to culture and refinement, The Real Housewives of New York.

As the initial foreshadowing to her ultimate reveal as the Joker, Liz can feel herself getting sick, and showcases several gross behaviors, including sneezing Rorschach blots into her sleeve, and carrying around a bag of workout clothes she hasn’t washed in ages.

Meanwhile, Jenna’s cross-dressing soul mate Paul (Will Forte) is coming into town, and as she mentions this to Pete, Kenneth (in one of the best lines of the night) mentions they remind him of Sam and Diane – a lesbian couple who murdered each other.  Liz approaches and because Jenna doesn’t want to play the part of an old woman in a TGS skit, she suggests Liz should do it, especially because Liz “already has frown lines,” and because Jenna’s thing isn’t playing old, it’s being dramatic, and, also hilariously, “she’ll kill you if you feel otherwise.”

The news comes in: Jack was mugged walking to work because the roads were closed off for joint pain run that took a long time.  Tracy suggests that maybe he was asking for it dressed in a tux, and asks him how black his assailant was, “on a scale from Lisa Bonet to (his bodyguard) Dotcom.”  But that’s what troubles Jack the most – the mugger was actually a middle class white guy with an Eddie Bauer knife – proof to Jack that the lower classes are getting mad because they don’t understand the plight of the rich: “how can we pay their salaries without using their money?”  Jack asks, exasperated.

For Liz, this is more proof that “New York gets the best of us – it’s Ghostbusters II all over again.”  On set, Liz is so sick she thinks she’s “coughing up brain” and begs Pete to get her a ride home because “there’s a Monk rerun on.”

Jack solicits help with his mugging problem from everyone – the county commisioner’s office (represented by Steve Buscemi) can’t help, neither can the police.  Not even Donald Trump is capable of lending a hand, so, like Batman, Jack must take matters into his own hands (We also find out that Jack writes a column for Irish Arguments Weekly, New York’s only “all caps” magazine…I love grammar jokes).

Like the Joker, Liz realizes you can get what you want by creeping people out.  By wearing her old outfit and coughing and being crazy, she earns herself a seat on a crowded subway.

Will Forte arrives at Jenna’s place, but he’s tired, and instead of getting into their usual sexual craziness, Paul and Jenna just fell asleep.  They wake up the next morning and Paul wonders if they roufie’d each other.  They decide they muust’ve stumbled upon a new sexual fetish – “normaling” – where people do kinky things like cover their partner’s cold feet with an afghan and  go to Bed Bath and Beyond and shop for home necessities in public.  Paul thinks it’s an especially sick idea – normaling in public.

Jack’s frustrations then continue; he has the idea to pay cops 5 million dollars a year so they’ll be rich and therefore care more about rich people.  Jack believes the wealthy were once the heart of New York, and Liz counters this belief with her “get crazy and creepy” strategy, because as a New Yorker, you have no choice but to “sink down into the filth.” Jack disagrees and is going to lead the city back to glory and officially announces his candidacy for mayor of New York.

In the midst of all this, we find out Jack hasn’t left the building since he was mugged – (his daughter is conveniently) at a baby leadership conference.  Tracy tries to help by telling Jack that when he got mugged he got over his fear by making a costume out of hair extensions to get back out there.  Tracy thinks Jack is scared but Jack insists its for the love of the city that he’s worried.

Later, Pete points out to Jenna that what she thinks is a fetish is actually just called being normal, and when he invites her and Paul over for a game of Scategories, Jenna finally freaks.  It’s all good in the end; Paul and Jenna agree they will spend the next 3 months getting as crazy as possible, specifically on a “sexual walkabout,” and if being “normal” is the happiest they can get, they’ll go back to it.

Back on the subway, Liz can’t stop freaking people out – she’s says she’s sick like a fox.

Liz has hatched a plan to go to the movies alone using her anarchist tactics, and Kenneth reminds her she loves the rules, but in her final turn to the dark side, Liz insists they never got her anywhere so forget it.

Every Batman story requires a rooftop tête-à-tête, and this one is no different; Batman and the Joker meet on the roof to discuss “figuring out New York” and Liz opens her secret weapon – her stank gym bag.  Complete with ominous Christopher Nolan-esque music and Jack in his tux, he tells Liz, “there’s a war going on out there, and you’re going to have to pick a side.”  He insists the city will stop her evilness, but the new liz doesn’t agree: “I don’t cross lines, I just make them disappear.”

Liz backs up her words by heading to the movies but has forgotten her wallet.  She accosts Jack who thinks she’s another mugger and he throws her across the alley.  Bystanders appear – typical New Yorkers like Mr. Met, and the Statue of Liberty – and Liz’s faith in the city and love for rules is restored when these strangers applaud Jack for stopping the lady who has been terrorizing the subway.  Jack thanks Liz for being “the only woman I could ever fight to regain my manhood.”  In a final heroic gesture, Jack renounces his mayoral candidacy because “the city no longer needs me…for now.”

30 Rock has a ton of recurring characters, which is very often one of its strengths, but sometimes when they strip it down the audience is treated to theme done just right, a mixture of undertones and broad strokes, of villains and heroes.