Gotham: The Failed Vigilante

"There will be light, Jim."

This is a pre-review of the episode "Prisoners", airing on FOX tonight. There are no spoilers for that episode in this review.

One thing that's been brewing for quite a while among fans of Gotham is a general contempt of Jim Gordon. People really, really don't like Jim Gordon right now, and it's not like I can really blame them. Still, Jim Gordon is the main character of Gotham, and the show has a problem if the viewers find him completely unrelatable.

So, I'm taking the rather unconventional step of posting the first part of my review of tonight's episode of Gotham before it even airs or I've watched one second of it, and it's all to tell you how you can understand and perhaps even sympathize with Jim Gordon.

At this stage of the character's evolution, the easiest way to make sense of Jim is as a failed vigilante. Unfortunately for him, he has no mask, no superpowers, no extraordinary wit and no secret identity. All he has is a badge and a sense of right and wrong, and as the story progresses he's in danger of permanently losing both.

Jim comes to Gotham with a steely determination to "do good." It's unclear how much of it all stems from a genuine pathos and how much is simply a result of his own self-image, but it's there. Jim cares less about the letter than the spirit of the law from day one, but he still believes that he can use it. The story about Jim Gordon on Gotham is about how he loses faith in the system and how the city of Gotham gets the better of him at every turn.

It's not a comfortable or optimistic tale about a paragon of virtue. Even if I personally subscribe more to the views of Plekhanov than those of Nietzsche on the role of the individual in society, it's clear that the Batman mythos has always sold the latter. Were Jim Gordon not flawed, there might never have been the need for Batman.

The defining moment of Jim's story is where he shoots Theo Galavan. That's where he steps over the edge, so it's important to understand how he gets there from the naïve, blue-eyed cop of the pilot episode. As examples:

In season two, chapter nine, "A Bitter Pill To Swallow", Jim actively fights back his inner beast to let the Flamingo live. The city repays him for this act of mercy by having the insane cannibal brutally murder one of his colleagues the very same night while in custody.

In chapter ten, "The Son Of Gotham", Theo Galavan is on trial in what Jim perceives as an open-and-shut case while his minions are turning Gotham into a warzone, but yet he walks free, nearly beating Jim to death and attempting to kill Bruce afterwards.

Finally, in chapter eleven, "Worse Than A Crime", he arrests Galavan again, only to have Theo openly mock him, suggesting the charges won't stick, and Oswald asking him the following;

"Forget that this man sicced Barbara Kean on you. Forget that he nearly killed the mother of your child. Forget revenge. Think of the greater good. Think of Gotham. He has the courts in his pocket and billions of dollars at his command. Are you one hundred percent sure that he won't beat this and walk free again?"

So, Jim kills him. He is the Mace Windu in "Revenge of the Sith" to the Chancellor Palpatine. He could have left the man to Oswald, but whatever you can say about Jim Gordon - bully, hypocrite, you name it - he is no coward. He feels he has the moral, if not the legal, obligation to take an active part and accept responsibility for his actions.

I have heard many different opinions on this, but in my mind, Jim is not corrupt in the traditional sense. He hasn't done a single thing in the service of the police for his own personal gain, and while he's certainly worried, he isn't swayed from his duty out of personal concerns of safety. Thus he still feels superior to Oswald, who indiscriminately murders for greed and revenge. Arguably, he's justified. Still, his actions are taking a heavy toll on him, up to the point where it manifests almost as a death wish.

Of course, it all falls apart and his lies finally catch up with him, and at the end of "Mad Grey Dawn", Jim is a broken man. He's betrayed his commanding officer, his girlfriend, his moral code and his unborn child. I've seen many people complain about Jim not telling Lee the truth sooner, but the last time he let a girl into his professional life - with Barbara - it all blew up in his face, with her sabotaging his work and almost getting herself killed, then running off to her former lover and finally going completely insane, and you might forgive him for having some reservations.

Still, Leslie is the true victim of this tragedy - a loyal, loving girlfriend getting crushed between his unilateral decisions and fanatical obsession with his work - and this is where Jim is truly at fault for hopelessly persisting in an increasingly desperate illusion that "everything's going to be alright."

This is where we start tonight's episode.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis. I especially like your summation that Jim Gordon is a man who tries to walk the thin line between law enforcement and open war, and keeps discovering Catch 22s -- failed vigilante, or a term I prefer, a doomed vigilante, in the sense of doomed to fail. Jim is a soldier who recognizes a war when he sees one. Unfortunately, Gotham ( and our own society ) doesn't recognize the difference between a petty criminal, and a warlord who is carving out his own fiefdom, his own shadow government.
Personally, I think one could argue that an unseen hand is providing Jim Gordon with both tests and lessons. The tests strengthen his character, and the lessons clarify his purpose and future methods. At some point, Gordon will be ready to acknowledge the need for, and assist, a masked vigilante who can use the methods a LEO cannot.
I like how you imply that Jim fails not because of his character, but because a man whose identity (and loved ones) are known, will always be at a hopeless disadvantage against super villains who operate just outside the reach of the law.