"A helping hand", or the story of Bruce and Selina on Gotham.

I wasn't quite sure whether to post this to Doux Reviews or not. It was inspired by the events in 'Anything For You', an episode so good I didn't feel quite content just posting a review of it. Initially I wrote it for my personal blog, and it's decidedly the sort of material that's popular over there and which I sometimes love to write.

Finally I decided to go with it. For what it's worth, I have a feeling that this article, humble as it is, might help fans of the show enjoy and understand it better.

A few weeks ago, a Gotham fan on the fora asked me, “why are Bruce and Selina even friends?”, because he didn’t understand it.

At the time, I didn’t really engage because there was a lot going on with the show that could strengthen or invalidate my point of view, but with the latest installment I’m pretty comfortable answering the question.

Bruce and Selina aren’t friends, and they never were.


The interaction between Bruce and Selina can best be understood as a mutual hidden crush. This has been the case ever since these two first met, to varying degrees. They don’t need to “like” each other - they love each other, and that love comes from mutual fascination, as none of them have ever met a person quite like the other.

Camren Bicondova coincidentally touched on this in a recent interview, where she described Bruce as “all black and white” while Selina is always “living in the gray.” In this respect, they aren’t “the same”, as Bruce contends in ‘Anything For You’ - they’re yin and yang, perfectly complementing the other. This means their relationship will never lack conflict but also explains how neither can ever get the other one out of their head.


For a while now I’ve been arguing that the relationship between Bruce and Selina is shaped by a false narrative of “helping and be helped”, and that people who only see the surface of their interaction invariably misunderstand what’s happening between them. They’ll argue that one gives more than the other, and while that may be true and the show has been somewhat lacking in conveying Selina’s perspective, this sentiment misses the point that the giving and taking is simply meant to lend excuses for them to spend time together without having to just say, “I like you.” Because, that would be scary.

This mode of interaction is going out the window now, as Bruce is finally stepping up to the plate and admitting his real motives, but it is something that has been established from their very first meeting, and both Bruce and Selina are guilty of falling back on it.


In episode 9 of the first season, ‘Harvey Dent’, they first meet under the pretense of Selina “helping” Bruce by testifying. Already by episode 10, ‘Lovecraft’, Selina is guilty of some “convoluted reasoning” in order to establish a pretense to “help” him hide to keep hanging out with him.

Later Bruce finds Selina again to ask for her help, and when that backfires he’s absolutely devastated - the scene of him crying and crushing the snow globe he bought as a gift for her doesn’t show a boy who’s angry about losing an asset, it’s all about heartbreak. When Bruce discards her help and returns to the manor far later, Selina’s equally heartbroken and the scene in 'Into The Woods' with her throwing away the leather jacket he mended for her is an exact parallel to the former scene.


As Alfred is nearly killed late season one, in ‘Everyone Has a Cobblepot’ Selina returns to again offer her assistance. In the next episode Bruce seeks her out to accept that assistance. When he chides her for doing the “wrong thing” by killing Reggie after ‘Beasts Of Prey’, that hurts her much more than would otherwise be the case because through season one, in her mind the only reason he spends time with her is because he wants her help. Gotham keeps recycling this main theme throughout the show.


Now, these are all valid reasons for Bruce to seek help but they’re also excuses to spend time together. As an example, Bruce could easily have rented a slum apartment of his own after ‘This Ball of Mud and Meanness’. He didn’t need to live with Selina, he just wanted to take comfort in her presence after the trauma with Matches.

As I mentioned in the review prompting this breakdown, Bruce is running out of excuses to spend time with Selina and those excuses can't help him get what he wants anymore. He gave up on his quest to find and punish those responsible for his parents' deaths partially to protect Selina, and now he's left with nothing but "fake smiles and mingling." There are no more thrilling adventures to invite her on.


In the past, he was content with the way things were, meeting her now and then and enjoying her company. Now he wants more. That's what makes this situation different from their conversation in 'The Son Of Gotham', where he was playing a game and had no expectations.

Bruce has two lines of defense when it comes to dealing with Selina, because he can’t bear the thought of being rejected by her. The first one we’ve already discussed; the intentional obfuscation of his motives. The second is how he’s rationalizing his own actions and feelings at every turn, talking over the head of Selina who’s at heart not a very rational girl. As long as those walls are up, they can never happen.


That’s why 'Anything For You’ goes about breaking them down. It’s not a coincidence that Selina only kisses him after he’s forced out of his comfort zone and getting animated. That’s when she knows he is telling the truth, and that’s when she feels safe. There’s a special significance to the exchange, “I’m confused.” - “Good.” Selina thinks it’s good that he’s confused because she’s confused. She has no idea what is happening, no idea what she’s feeling and no idea how to handle this, and with him being utterly puzzled she gets to hide that.

Every line of conversation between these two on the rooftop holds a special meaning. It starts with Bruce offering her a tribute by talking about how he’s looking into Ivy’s disappearance, tying into their standard “helping” discourse - not that it’ll help him reach his goal, but it’s an attempt to get her to at least like him, as they’ve been through some rough patches lately. That fails and to make matters worse she insults him.

Demoralized, he launches into his standard “prepared speech mode”, but she immediately shuts it down demanding him to get to the point. That’s where he panics, hoping against hope and simply throwing it out there: “I like you.” “There’s something between us. You have to see that.”


Selina doesn’t ever really confess her feelings for him but from what she says it’s pretty clear it’s something she’s been thinking of for quite a while. “Have you ever thought that maybe you only like me because I’m literally the only girl you know?” She’s scared that maybe, at some point in the future Bruce will grow tired of her when he’s seen more of the world. She’s scared of that, because at this point she doesn’t think she will. This fear only got exacerbated by the events with Silver, which Bruce wisely chooses not to mention.


"That's not true! I feel something, we're the same!" - "In what universe are we the same?!" This is the first time Bruce has ever raised his voice against Selina! Even if Bruce is wrong, Selina likes that, because Bruce almost never says anything headless and him arguing without logic makes her feel at ease. Selina is obviously more streetwise than Bruce, but Bruce is far more educated, and Selina knows that, which fuels a certain inferiority complex forcing her to assert her dominance time and again by stressing her greater life experience and their age difference. Also what he's really saying is how he wants to find common ground between them.


“The money doesn’t matter!” - “Try not having it! It matters!” This touches on the class angle Gotham has been playing at between these two from day one. He’s bourgeoisie, she’s lumpenproletariat, and that rarely makes for fertile ground for romance. Being fiercely independent, Selina doesn’t want to be a “kept girl”, and she fears that they will always occupy different social stratas in life. That much is true… and then again it isn’t, but that’s impossible for them to know right now.

“Rule one - don’t ever tell me what I have to do.” That’s the finishing touch, establishing control of the situation. Amusingly, by stating “rules” for their relationship she’s also more or less confirming they’re an item. She can’t bear to “lose” this discussion or the idea of Bruce somehow having the upper hand on her; in that case she would never kiss him. In a way it’s very much in line with comic canon, but it’s also interesting because no other portrayal of Catwoman in the comics has been this much of a control freak when it comes to her romantic affairs. In most other versions she’s the one flirting and, well, practically begging to get into his pants.

…and all this proves is Gotham takes them seriously, more so than any other interpretation of the Batman mythos. In this show, they matter to each other, and that’s what makes their scenes so rewarding. This was the first step towards a serious romantic relationship between them. I think the next one will be all about Selina losing control.


: kathemy.tumblr.com


2 comments:

Kelly said...

Thanks for this write up. I only watched a few episodes of Gotham, but I really hoped they'd dig more into Bruce and Selina's relationship. I've always found their mix of differences and similarities to be very compelling, along with their inability to ever completely let go of each other. So I'm glad there are writers out there devoting time to exploring the two of them.

Too much on my TV plate at the moment, but maybe one day I'll catch up on Gotham because of this. Thanks.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

Thanks for the kind words. :-) They are the most rewarding relationship on Gotham despite not having a lot of screentime.