Gotham: Ghosts

Jim's the poster boy for brainless police brutality, Zsasz is given the imperial stormtrooper treatment and Bruce, Selina and their parents go on a double date.

First of all, if we're talking entertainment value, production value, direction and actor performances this is a rather good episode.

'Ghosts' sets the stage for the return of Jerome AKA the would-be Joker. That alone is more or less enough to earn it top marks from some fanboys, and I admit, I'm happily anticipating his eventual return and how he'll play off a certain other character. It's got a healthy dose of Victor Zsasz, Bruce and Selina, all fan favorites. Finally it's got the continuation of Riddler's brewing conflict with Penguin.

Unfortunately much of the execution is so nonsensical it robs me of a great deal of enjoyment of this installment.

The only two aspects about this outing which are really good are Bruce's interactions with Selina - which never seem to be able to miss the mark anyway - and Edward Nygma's psychological war on Oswald. The latter is particularly brilliant, with Ed hiring Clayface to gradually drive Ozzie insane over the course of the episode with appearances by his dead father, tricking him into murdering his assistant chief of staff and having a complete meltdown on national television.

The former plotline, with Bruce convincing Selina to give her mother a chance, the dinner - and now, I guess we know who Alfred's romantic interest might be, in a semi-incestuous manner much to Selina's chagrin - and finally the confrontation with the man blackmailing Maria is also reasonably well done, though it looks like a chain of events ostensibly meant to screw the young couple over. More than anything, it's an example of something I have requested many times, namely Bruce actively trying to help Selina with something that really matters, even though I suspect he's misguided.

It also demonstrates how Selina's not always the smartest of people. Namedropping the richest kid in Gotham, shifting the focus of the extortionist to your billionaire boyfriend and promising hundreds of thousands of dollars? Really?!

Other than that, the chief takeaway from the events at Wayne Manor was how the statue of the Court of Owls, unbeknownst to our characters, reveals some sort of map when light shines at a certain angle into it. This will obviously be revisited.

However, as I've pointed out in numerous earlier reviews, the contrived drama between Jim and Lee hurts the show, and never before has this been more appearant than in 'Ghosts'.

Gotham painted itself into a corner by having Jim shoot Mario dead behind Lee's back in the last episode. Lee is bloodthirsty and furious - whatever happened to the upstanding, law-abiding girlfriend worrying about Jim's "dark side" last season? - and Jim had promised to Carmine to bring his son in alive. There must be consequences.

Enter Victor Zsasz.

Victor was introduced on the show over two years ago as Carmine's hitman, sent after Jim and simply walking into the police station to drag him out of there, and he was a terrifying presence. Back then, Jim barely survived the encounter.

Now, by season three episode twelve, he is thoroughly neutered in service of the plotline. All the panache and intimidating charm of the character is still there. His initial scene with Jim, paying his final respects and talking of what is yet to come, is wonderful. Still it all comes off as bluster and it's hard to take him seriously.

He mouths off about how "he doesn't try", he "will never stop", that nobody else will get hurt and how Jim "will never see him coming", then later just trashes into his apartment indiscriminately firing away with Harvey still in the building. Both his henchmen are killed or taken out and Victor, the deadliest gunman in Gotham City, can't hit anything. None of his promises hold merit.

'Ghosts' puts the fate of Jim's life and death in the hands of Lee, so that she can finally "come to her senses" and spare him. In some bizarre manner, the show might believe this lets her retain the moral high ground despite taking part in a conspiracy to commit murder, and again confirm that "Jim and Lee are still in love with each other." This is all ridiculous, blatantly ignoring the fact that Jim killed Carmine's only son and simply removing the aging crime boss's personal stake in the conflict.

The reason, of course, is that Gotham cannot kill Jim Gordon, they are unwilling to kill Lee and Carmine, and as such, Gotham should probably avoid putting itself in situations where these are the only reasonable outcomes. Instead, it creates an impossible dilemma and "solves" it by two of their characters throwing a tantrum over the course of an episode.

This, however, is only half of Jim's story over the episode, which in itself shows how little respect Gotham has for the gravity of the situation. The second half, which will undoubtedly be the more interesting and momentous of this episode's developments, deals with the impending return of "the Joker."

Dead people show up alive and die again on Gotham - hardly a new occurrence for the city, but still - and Jim and Harvey trace it to the morgue then further to a secret meeting of the "cult of Jerome" in what looks like an abandoned warehouse, where people... watch a movie.

That's where Jim and Harvey show their stellar intelligence yet again in deciding to break up a peaceful indoors gathering by Harvey shouting "GCPD!!!" and firing his gun in the air, then proceeding to physically assault any supporters trying to flee. Remarkably, the show lets them get away with that and taking on dozens of people without suffering as much as a scratch.

Instead of trying to comment, I think I'll just let the recount of that event speak for itself.

All in all... this is a mess. It's a mess seemingly going in a great direction, with Jim and Harvey realizing the cult's ultimate goal to revive their master and tons of promising threads just waiting to be exploited, but it's still a mess.

Let's hope the next one makes more sense.

5 comments:

hekates said...

I can't stand Lee. And Jim needs ...I dunno to die and have his twin come to town to avenge him, taking on the name of Jim Gordon so he could be on the police force.

millicentcordelia said...

Excellent review, as always!

You're right on the money about Bruce and Selina; as well as the mess concerning Jim and Lee which is so, so boring. The one thing I did like, was getting to see Lee express some conflicting emotions.

When Lee first appeared, I had such hopes for her character. Morena is a fabulous actress, and I'd enjoyed seeing her in Firefly. At first, she seemed complex; she had some fire about her; I thought she was going to be Jim's equal in a way that Barbara hadn't been. Then Gotham turned the character into a nag, a woman who couldn't stand up for herself, a love interest who stood in the shadows of someone else. What a waste! In Ghosts, I saw some of that fire again-in the form of bitterness and hatred, and a desire for revenge. It was wonderful! The question is, where will they take the character from here?

I also have to mention Michael Chiklis' chilling performance as the afflicted Barnes. The portrayal is masterful, and I'm looking forward to his inevitable escape from Arkham.

Marianna said...

hekates, my Husband said the exact same thing about Jim immediately after watching the show! Uncanny!

Phyllis Strickland said...

Your review is right on the mark! I agree I am sick of the Lee character and wish it would just disappear. There are so many things I do not like about the Jim Gordon character - much of it is the writing but I can't decide if it is the actor or if it is how the director decided to portray the character. He really is no likeable and does a lot of things that are just stupid. Sometimes I don't even know why I continue to watch it. The show could be an absolute gem but they continue to do idiotic things to further a plot line and then they are stuck with it. I guess there is just enough good in it to keep me watching and as they say "hope springs eternal..." I continue to hope they will wise up!

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

re @millicent:

I agree with all of your comments re:Lee. Like Ben, t’s not that Morena can’t sell her role or that she lacks talent, it’s just that the producers often give her a very unpalatable role to sell, and unlike Bruce’s or Edward’s juicy material which effortlessly flows out of their characters’ pedigree on the show, Lee’s potent material often jars with her back story. I think Morena did a very charismatic portrayal of the girlfriend in Deadpool, among other things.

re @Phyllis:

Do not get me wrong.

I love Gotham. I love the show with a passion, which means sometimes I'm overly critical of it since I hold it to high standards. In retrospect some of the episodes of season two I judged too harshly, because we were on a run of pretty excellent fare.

That said, yes, Gotham has a lead problem. But, there are truly great episodes of this show. When it relegates the characters to their proper places and choose wisely, the show shines. I honestly think "Anything For You" is the best installment of the series, even if it's come in a season with pretty uneven quality that's a fair deal worse than the first half of season two, which I hold to be Gotham's golden standard.

I stick with it because when I watched "Penguin's Umbrella" and when I watched "Harvey Dent", eps 7 and 9 respectively, I said to myself, "I'd happily sludge through a ton of dreck to be treated to a gem like this." And Gotham isn't dreck. Sometimes it's subpar, sometimes it's infuriating, but it always shows signs of greatness.