Gotham: Better To Reign In Hell

Gotham returns for its third season and it seems the show has lost its soul.

This is a very sad review for me to write, but unfortunately there's no way for me to make shit taste like filet migñon. As I've mentioned earlier in some comments, I don't do negative reviewing, and it's especially hurtful to do so about a show I really love. This is an exception. I feel it's absolutely necessary for me to vent my frustration and air my grievances about the show in this instance, if I am to go on covering it.

The amazing actors are still here. In fact, they're probably better than ever. The fabulous setting is still here. The characters are still here, unless they have to be sacrificed for the sake of the storyline, but the writing, the characterization and everything else that made this show so special are mostly gone. I have no idea if or when it will be back, but make no mistake - this episode does grave and perhaps irreparable damage to the series.

The pacing of this episode is horrible. The dialog - which has been a consistently strong point of Gotham - is empty, juvenile and on-the-nose. There's close to no structure and little direction as scenes are seemingly just stacked on top of each other with no thought to order or reason.

Let's begin by talking about time jumps.

There are lots of good and valid reasons for a show to use time jumps. One is to skip past a pedestrian developmental phase into which you have no interest to delve deeper. Another is when you have a low-intensity conflict and you want to give it time to brew. What won't win you any drama awards, however, is sticking a six month time jump right in the middle of a cliffhanger, and essentially that's what Gotham manages to do with this episode.

What this means is that we return to Gotham to find Tabitha has dumped Butch off-screen. We're given no reason for it - the last scene of those two had Butch crying and professing his love to her by her sickbed - and we're unlikely to ever be given a reason; the same as how we'll probably never be given a reason for why Tabitha and Barbara got back together.

Further, this means that Jim's predicament with Leslie is "solved" in the first thirty seconds of the episode, before the time warp. At least they realized they couldn't let this go without giving it a bit of screentime. Lee found another guy, so Jim is grouchy.

What this boils down to is that as we enter the main timeline of the third season, Jim Gordon is Boba Fett. Only, he's Boba Fett without the armor, the rocket pack, the ray gun or anything that would give him a chance in Hell against the monsters he's hunting. Apparently we're supposed to think that every other supermutant he comes across is conveniently run over by a truck as soon as he's losing.

I guess it all comes down to suspension of disbelief. For better or worse, this is a sci-fi - not SF, sci-fi - show and those have always required their fair dose. The thing about this type of entertainment, though, is that we normally don't mind the writers employing a hefty bit of creative license as long as they're telling quality stories and delivering engaging scenes. Those stories and those scenes aren't present here.

This brings us to the dialog.

As my friend and I sat through this installment, he remarked; "there really are some great actors in this show. It's a shame they no longer seem to have much to work with." That's rather on the mark. There have been several episodes of Gotham with questionable plot, but more often than not they have been saved by great dialog and great performers delivering said dialog.

That, too, is sadly almost absent from this episode.

The best character interaction here is Oswald visiting Edward in prison. Oswald giving him a puzzle box as a present, them establishing how he's come to sort of care for Ed over the last months and Nygma giving him advice; it's all rather well done and it doesn't hurt that it's played out by two stellar actors who clearly enjoy each others' company.

Considering this is probably the night's strongest moment, it might have made sense to build the episode more around it. Still, it's a far cry from the epic scenes between them in Eddie's apartment - talking about "love as our greatest weakness" - or even the final interactions between Jim and Ed in "Into The Woods".

When we move to the discussion between Bruce and Selina, the deficiencies become more pronounced.

Batboy and Kittengirl have always been one of the strongest parts of the show. With few exceptions all of their interactions have been memorable, with their lines driving and transforming the show and their characters. There's no trace of that here as Bruce is yet again reduced to visiting her on the roof and yet again apologizing for running off to Switzerland "for his own safety", an excuse the writers seem to use whenever they need to put him on ice.

There are no new plot points or sentiments introduced here, and the episode would actually have worked out exactly the same if they'd just met to talk about the weather. The only reason I can think of for their scene is that the writers have figured out they're cute together - which, hey, they are - and for "fake Bruce" to overhear it, making him confront Ivy about them.

This, then, leads us to the end and the most damningly inane characterization of the entire series.

The disjointed mess that is "Better To Reign In Hell" manages to maul through several storylines seemingly fighting for control of the episode leading up to its double climax. In this way we have the episode falling back on the negative tendencies of "Mr. Freeze" to mostly work as teaser trailer for the rest of the season.

We have Penguin put out a million dollar bounty on Fish's head. We have Jim hunting Fish to collect on that bounty, with some dubious help from young upstart journalist Valerie Vale. We have Fish raiding pharmacies to collect drugs to stop herself from falling apart due to the side-effects of her transformation, finishing it off by killing Ethel Peabody in search of a cure.

We have Tabitha and Barbara running a club together with Oswald and Butch coming to check up on them, and while the plot of this side story is razor thin it's at least a plus that the writers have finally found a way for Barbara to work within the series, and the show not sweeping Oswald's grudge against Tabitha under the rug is a nice touch. Finally we have Bruce challenging the Court of Owls to a face-off via a meeting at his company, only leading to Alfred getting beat up and himself getting kidnapped yet again through a scene which makes him look like an idiot.

... and then we have Ivy. Oh, Ivy.

You see, in preparation for the third season the writers apparently decided it would be a good idea to recast Ivy Pepper with someone twice her age. The reason for that was they wanted to turn Ivy into a femme fatale sexpot - apparently there aren't enough of those on Gotham, what with Tabitha and Barbara - and they figured they couldn't do that with a fifteen-year-old. This was so important to them that they were willing to trade the character's entire adolescence for it.

Thus, this episode goes about creating an immensely convoluted situation making that happen, accidentally mangling her character completely in the process. Ivy - deadpan Ivy, the girl who never cared about anything but her plants - decides to go snoop on Selina because she apparently wants to join in her illegal escapades.

In the course of this she manages to get captured by the supermutants and then immediately regresses to the state of a six-year-old in order to get into trouble, blurting out "let go of me! I'll tell!!" in what must be the most cringeworthy character moment of the series. Fish sics a Magic Monster™ on her - one with a most convenient ability to "take away years from people's lives" - and after a struggle, symbolically, she ends up falling into a sewer. Selina cries.

... and that's where I close my eyes and shake my head as I imagine the entire show falling in it with her. I can only hope it'll find the legs to rise again.

: There's only one caveat to the above argument and that's Selina's line - "Italy's better." If they manage to revisit and use that, I shall be most impressed.
: As a side note - what of all that talk about security? I would've thought a multi-billionaire genius would be able and inclined to fortify his palace after throwing down the gauntlet. Say, thirty bodyguards posted around the mansion at all times? The boy could afford a private army.


Billie Doux said...

My sympathies, Thomas. I hope it's just seasonal growing pains and Gotham gets its act together.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

Oh, I'm powering through. I love the cast far too much to give up on it. :-)

Marianna said...

I have to agree. This episode wasn't fun to watch. I think the problems actually started with season two that most people loved. The problem was the writers accelerated things so quickly. The point of this show is supposed to be how Gotham ended up needing Batman by the time Bruce was grown up. Gotham already needs Batman!

hekates said...

I'm with you although I found the actor of young Ivy to be really really awful in this episode, so I wasn't sad to see her fall in the sewer.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

She was rather horrible, but that's just because she was so out-of-character to what she'd been before.

I'm rather intrigued to see how Maggie Geha will play the role. I hope she'll do a good job, thankless as I believe it is.