Gotham: New Day Rising

Gotham drops a metric ton of new material on us in a great episode with absolutely horrible pacing.

First of all, let's give a round of applause to Robin Lord Taylor, Cory Michael Smith, Camren Bicondova and David Mazouz, because they are killing it. Their interpretations of the relationships between Bruce, Selina, Ozzie and Edward have been the show's high points ever since they were first visited, and apparently the people running this show have figured that out as well.

That's my main impression of this episode, and it looks like the show will keep exploring these developments throughout the season. Sure, it's possible to accuse the writers of "fan service" for this, but if "fan service" means actually concentrating on the aspects of the show that work and are the most engaging I can't see how anyone could have a problem with it.

As a matter of fact, all of the character interactions in this episode range from solid to absolutely stellar; be it Jervis and Alice, or James and Barbara, or Butch and Edward, or... well, you get the point. There are no rotten eggs here.

When we delve into the composition of this episode, however, Gotham falls victim to the same trap as some earlier outings as it's juggling three separate storylines none of which have anything to do with each other. All of these are individually strong but then the writers proceed to chop them into little pieces and stir them all together in a hodgepodge, and that makes for really fractured television.

When we add the fact that each subplot is more complex and rewarding than the entire storyline of 'Prisoners', the episode leaves me in a spot where I have to simplify the events just to write a coherent review and not a treatise. The fans won't have any problem following the narrative but people who aren't intimately in tune with the show will probably find it a bit confusing.

The main story of this installment is the Mad Hatter plot, where Jervis captures Alice from GCPD custody with the help of the Tweed brothers and she ends up dead at the end of the episode. Furthermore, the episode explains that Alice's blood has transformative powers, Jervis draws a couple of vials for some future terrorist plot against the city and Captain Barnes is infected with it in the closing moments.

"At first, he did it to control me. Keep me with him. But then he started putting other thoughts in my head. Thoughts a brother should never have."

In the previous episode I wasn't sure if Alice was really Jervis' biological sister but this episode makes that abundantly clear as well as spelling out a very dark incestuous background between the characters. This is a pretty important incorporation of existing Mad Hatter canon as his sexual deviancy has been a defining trait in all serious portrayals.

As such, his sister serves as the Mad Hatter's first "Alice" and her death is what triggers his subsequent psychosis - not that one could accuse him of being particularly sane to begin with - forcing him to find endless replacements for her, most of which end up dead. His "partnership" with the Tweed brothers and his plan to poison Gotham's water supply are directly lifted from the New-52 interpretation. All in all this is neatly done in establishing Jervis as a truly abominable character.

The first subplot is the Penguin-for-Mayor story with Ozzie, Ed and Butch. It does a great job of setting up the immediate antagonism between Butch and Nygma as Edward insists on winning the election cleanly, culminating in a landslide victory for Ozzie with Eddie elevated to his chief of staff. The genius of this entire development is how it gives two of our main criminal antagonists a legitimate reason for interacting with the law-abiding part of the cast in upcoming episodes.

"I can't be bought but I can be stolen with a glance. I'm worthless to one but priceless to two. What am I?"

"They love me."
"If you'd bought the election you'd never known."

The show is flirting pretty blatantly with the homoerotic overtones here, which is something the actors have had quite a bit of fun with over the last year, and all of the scenes between Edward and Oswald are solid gold for fans of that relationship. I don't really have to point out how great Robin and Cory are as the entire Gotham fandom is currently throwing a party all over social media. Apart from that the writers add more than a touch of satire of the current presidential election to the mix.

The final subplot is the game between Bruce, Five and Selina. Here, we haven't got any interaction between Bruce and Selina at all, but as a matter of fact all the conversations between Five and Selina, and between Bruce and Five, are in service of the Batcat dynamic. First, we have Selina going on a pretty harebrained quest to rob a betting parlor ending with her captured and Five having to help her out in a really well-crafted fight scene, prompting her to remark how "she didn't think he had that in him" and finding out he isn't Bruce after all.

"When you came to see him the other night, I was watching from the hall. I saw the way you looked at him. No one's ever looked at me like that. I wanted to know how it felt."

Then, we have the conversation on the roof ending in a kiss. This is a way for the show to air her grievances with Bruce while at the same time reaffirming how there's a certain attraction - if not, why would she consent to kiss a practically unknown boy who's his exact double? After that, we have the confrontation between Bruce and Five, where Five suggests that Bruce doesn't appreciate what he's got and doesn't have the guts to go after what he wants, serving as a swift kick in the arse for young Master Wayne to get his act together.

"For someone who has everything you have no idea what you actually want. Or maybe you're just too scared to take it."

Finally, as if we need more confirmation that this entire plot is all about Bruce and Selina we have Five skipping town telling Bruce they won't see him again, jumping off a ten-story building with no problem and disappearing into the streets.

The show deserves high praise for not running with the old fantasy cliché of "girl kissing boy not knowing it's actually not him." Actually, the fact that Selina does know it isn't Bruce is what gives the kiss its meaning, and the young onscreen couple portrays it perfectly holding back slightly in order to demonstrate how these two people don't really know each other.

Second, Five's story arc for this episode ends by him being kidnapped by the Court of Owls, telling him how "you could be [Bruce Wayne], and so much more." With this final development it's crystal clear that the show is running a variant of the Lincoln March slash Thomas Wayne Jr. New-52 storyline, and henceforth as long as the show refuses to give him a proper name I will refer to him as Thomas.

In conclusion, while this isn't the best crafted episode of Gotham it is still a great installment. I tend to judge the quality of an episode by how tempted I am to rewatch select parts, and this one has a ton of delicious scenes where the ensemble truly shines while setting up a sequel looking equally or even more amazing.


Marianna said...

I'm confused. Didn't Alice shoot Jervis. Why wasn't he at all injured?

The scene with Jim and Harvey going after Jervis by themselves seemed like a terrible plan and extremely contrived.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

I tend to forgive shows for contrivances such as those if they deliver good character scenes. My suspension of disbelief covers enjoyable episodes, it's just when the story is subpar that stuff like that starts to grate me. If we're to talk about things like that, the most bizarre thing was how they did the mayoral race storyline over the same time space as the other subplots in this episode. In Gotham apparently you can announce you're running, organize a campaign and win the election in three days!

As for Alice, she never touched a gun in this episode.

Marianna said...

I meant at the end of the previous episode I thought Alice shot Jervis, which was what stopped Jim from jumping off the roof.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

You're right, he seems to have gotten a scratch.

Marianna said...

I forgot to mention I loved when Harvey said that he would make a great P.I.! I think that was intended to be an inside joke for fans of the show Terriers that Donal Logue starred in (which was a great show if you haven't seen it).