Even so, I loved it to pieces.
It would have been so easy for me to write a review of the final episode of the season condemning it for any number of reasons. The pacing was off. There were more plot holes than in a Swiss cheese. The level of suspension of disbelief required to accept this material simply went through the roof. This is why it took so long to review this piece, because all these problems notwithstanding, it still worked. I would've been lazy to go with the first option.
Normally speaking, Gotham is a show which excels at execution, and this is probably the worst-executed episode of this season. However, it's a bit of an antithesis to 'Prisoners', which was an episode I genuinely disliked. All the reasons why I disliked 'Prisoners' are also reasons I loved 'Transference'.
While 'Prisoners' was one of the most predictable hours of television I've sat through this year, 'Transference' was one of the most confusing. With 'Transference', the show managed to surprise me every step of the way. All my predictions for the finale came to naught. Where 'Prisoners' contained practically no plot holes and was directed, shot and acted admirably, the execution of 'Transference' was dead sloppy. It just didn't make sense. I'm not even sure if it was supposed to.
If I am to judge an episode on its merits, I consider execution less important than content, and I especially consider both of these less important than the decisions of the piece setting up an overarching plot. While this episode had enormous flaws, most of those didn't really screw up what remains a stellar setup for the third season, and that's why ultimately, I consider it a success, along with almost the entirety of the second season. The second season of this show transformed the show for the better, and while I genuinely believe it would have been much better served as a two-hour finale, I will take what I can get.
'Transference' was an episode chock full of content and decisions. It introduced more elements than almost any of the show's preceding efforts, and I have no problem with anything of it. In fact, I'd say the show is better off for it.
So, let us get the lowdown on this story before we start to break it up into little pieces.
As more and more of the cast has been drawn together over the final episodes of the second season, the core plot has become more and more focused. Here we have all of the good guys except Bullock trapped in Indian Hill and trying to escape, while Hugo Strange has been ordered to interrogate and finally murder them by the Court of Owls. Clayface is released into the public as a Jim Gordon copy to stall the police from raiding the place, and the Penguin... well, he just wants to kill Strange in good old comic book fashion. That's about it. After everyone has escaped, the final part of the episode sees all of the monsters hidden in the basement escape into the city.
This sounds simple enough and still it took me a full week to review it. Writer's bloc? Who knows. Let's just say, Gotham didn't make it easy for me with this installment.
When I started doing serious reviews of television shows, I chose to live by one simple rule - "thou shalt not nitpick." Unfortunately, with 'Transference', Gotham has managed to defeat me by introducing plot holes even in parts that are vital of the story, so I must address them.
The first jarring tone of the episode was Clayface masquerading as Jim Gordon. As he exits Arkham, he clearly looks and sounds unhinged, and everyone knows that Arkham is an insane asylum where people are regularly drugged. Not only that, but Jim Gordon isn't even a police officer, and none of the others - Bruce, Lucius and Selina - are anywhere to be seen... and the task force just leaves?! This stretches all credibility and sets up further albeit quite humorous scenes where both Harvey and Alfred come across as total idiots for not immediately understanding that something is wrong with him and drawing the appropriate conclusions. No, obviously your first thought wouldn't be that "Jim got duplicated by a face-changing metahuman", but anyone could see he was not himself, so how could anyone take him at his word about anything?
Then, we have the scene with Butch and Penguin meeting Fish, where they both come across as absolutely terrified, with Butch and his gang even running away from the scene after she's dropped Penguin. This is yet another plot contrivance that makes zero sense, because both Butch and Penguin just came across a person who had come back to life and proceeded to blast him with a bazooka. No, Oswald, this isn't "impossible!"
However, these two inanities pale compared to the fight between Freeze and Firefly.
Yes, Strange surviving the combined heat-cold-blast of Victor and Bridgit was silly, and throwing in a cool fight between two metahumans for some eye-candy without having it mean anything is lazy, but that in itself is nothing to write home about. The problem is that Selina's explicit motivation for going into Arkham was to save Firefly, and yet, after the fight... they simply disappear?! Nobody even bothers asking what happened to them?! Not to mention that as far as everyone knows these are the most dangerous people in Gotham!
Yet and once again, when I look back at the episode I can't help but noticing what it did and didn't do, and in my opinion all the decisions that will come to play in the third season are good ones.
Most of all, this was a vehicle for unleashing the monsters of Arkham Asylum on Gotham. This is a good choice and it will forever change the city and the tone of the show. Now, we have a legion of cartoon villains combined with two fully-fleshed-out supervillains in Penguin and Riddler - and amazingly, the show's creators have told us that they have been "taking it slow" with Edward and he's still got "quite a way to go" before he's fully developed. You could've fooled me!
Second, as Hugo Strange is incarcerated the focus shifts to the Court of Owls, of which our heroes have got just enough of a lead to keep pursuing.
Third, the way the writers chose to defuse the conflict between Bruce, Alfred and Selina was quite elegant, as once again they're given the best single dialog of the episode. Here, we have Selina clearly pointing out that she's in all of this with her eyes open, and while people like Jim and Alfred might treat her (and Bruce) as minors, it makes absolutely zero sense for him to do so. In the second dialog with her, Bruce and Alfred we also have Alfred clearly arriving at the conclusion that Selina is the lesser of two evils, what with his speech to Bruce about "getting your priorities straight", essentially. If you contrast all of this with the show slapping on a cheap "villain" label on Selina by the end of season one just to give her something to do, it's obvious how much more respectful this installment was to her character.
Fourth, Hugo's "unorthodox therapy" amusingly really helped Jim and drove him to go look for Leslie at the end of the episode. It's anyone's guess, though, if Hugo merely removed Jim's "guilt" or his "sense of guilt". Does a person with no sense of guilt possess a sense of duty?
... and finally and most importantly, we have the Bruce doppelganger emerging from the van at the end of the episode. While Bruce was knocked out for a while and one might theorize that they somehow managed to clone him (despite the fact that Indian Hill has never been shown to have those capabilities) I think the far more solid theory is that this is Thomas Wayne Jr. In some canons, Thomas was the mentally ill brother of Bruce who was hospitalized when Bruce was still a baby, so that would fit perfectly. (In Earth-3 canon, he is Owlman, the "evil Batman" in a universe where Bruce was murdered along with his family.) Also, since the writers of the show have stated that we will see Talon in the third season, this signals that they are attempting to merge the Batman origin story with the Court of Owls, New-52 story meaning Thomas Wayne Jr is the Talon.
Without spoiling any more of the source material, this is a gold mine of storytelling. It also means David will get more screen time as well as play a vastly different character, and David is magnificient at selling his role's dark undertones. With Ben McKenzie's Gordon so far failing as a genuinely engaging protagonist for the show, this is a masterstroke. In retrospect, I believe this will prove to be the best decision of the entire second season.
All in all, this is an episode that has me counting the days until the premiere of the third season. And, isn't that what a season finale is all about?