At first, I figured I'd simply not review this episode. It's part one of a two-parter, I am not very interested in doing soulless recaps and it's heavily cliff-hanged meaning I had a very hard time passing judgement on the result from a storytelling perspective, having essentially only seen the build-up. I figured I'd simply wait for next week's episode and then I'd review them both together.
Then, out of nowhere, I came up with a new way to handle the material, and suddenly a "review" came out of it anyway.
I'm going to spend this little piece talking about the stakes.
This won't be a traditional review. I won't even much bother recounting what happened in the episode. I will give you a complete and reasonably by-the-numbers review of this entire two-parter after the next episode. But since we are heading into a predictable barrage of fireworks for the finale, I figure I could talk about the pros and cons of the approach of the show.
This episode is a vehicle for putting the main players of the show in danger. All the pieces on the chess board are being maneuvered into the final confrontation of the season. Bruce Wayne, desperate to save Selina Kyle from Hugo Strange, confers with the gang and they come up with one of the most harebrained rescue plans I've ever seen on television, and it's all so they can all be captured by Hugo Strange and Edward Nygma to set up the finale.
The important plot development here is the introduction of the Court of Owls from New-52 fame. This puts an additional segment to the conspiracy theory surrounding the Wayne murders - now we have the Court controlling Hugo arranging the murder with Malone carrying it out. Since this means the role of the Big Bad has been taken over by them, this also means that it would be more possible for Hugo Strange to temporarily disappear, and it also somewhat shifts the blame away from him.
However. again, I'm here to talk about the stakes of the show, so let's get to it.
So far Gotham has always decided to end its half-seasons on an action thriller note. This is the fourth consecutive time. In 'Lovecraft', they ended it with Bruce and Selina escaping from the masked assassins at Wayne Manor. In 'All Happy Families Are Alike', they ended it with a big shoot-out, Falcone being forced into retirement and Oswald killing Fish Mooney. In 'Worse Than A Crime', they ended it with the race to save Bruce's life and the execution of Theo Galavan by James Gordon.
It's been a common complaint against the show that "the stakes are never high." With the show chronicling the events following the murder of Bruce's parents, it would be nearly impossible to kill off characters such as Jim Gordon, Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle, Oswald Cobblepot, Hugo Strange... the list goes on. This is because for the events of the show to work as anything resembling a Batman prequel a certain consistency with the source material must be met.
Now, despite the fact that Gotham has taken many liberties with the mythos - the killing of Salvatore Maroni comes to mind - this is somewhat of a valid complaint. It doesn't matter how spectacular the action scenes are - and they frequently are quite spectacular - if you are nearly certain no permanent damage can ever come to the heroes. The only way I can think of to fix this would be to introduce and develop new characters on Team Good Guys, people we actually come to care about which could then be credibly put in danger. Gotham has taken some steps in that direction, but there's quite a way yet to go.
What people talking about a "lack of stakes" tend to miss, though, is that life and death aren't the only things at stake in any sophisticated work of fiction. If you want stakes, how about love and hate? Power and helplessness? Wealth and poverty? Fellowship and loneliness? Honor and disgrace? These stakes are always on the table of Gotham.
Whenever you watch an episode of any drama, it's important to get a grasp of what the characters are fighting for, and for anyone to enjoy it, they must be able to invest in it. If a show isn't able to make us invest, it has failed.
Speaking simplistically, on a show like Gotham the interpersonal relationships tend to carry high stakes, and the action scenes low ones. This is because the mythology of the show is far less set in stone when it comes to the former, especially given its time period. As an example, however unlikely, it would not be impossible for Selina to break up with Bruce and spend the rest of the show hating him. The connections between the main players can practically be written every which way. The only thing that seems impossible to change is the mutual love between Bruce and Alfred, and even that could be tweaked considerably before we reach the context's breaking point.
Looking back, then, on the previous shoot-outs of this show it's easy to discern a pattern - there was a stake, and Gotham did deliver.
- 'Lovecraft' - amusingly and appropriately titled - lit the fuse to the romantic relationship between Bruce and Selina. This was them finding the love of their lives.
- 'All Happy Families Are Alike' elevated Oswald Cobblepot to the role he was always known for - vanquishing his enemies and claiming the throne as the underworld King of Gotham.
- 'Worse Than A Crime' represented Jim's true fall from grace and his worst moment, a reference point for his actions for the rest of his life.
Let us hope next Monday in the season two finale, Gotham can deliver once again.