Gotham: The Gentle Art of Making Enemies

"Face it, kid... Gotham has no heroes."

The plot of this episode is very simple, encompassing only two storylines. Jerome kidnaps Bruce and hauls him off to a circus for execution, Bruce escapes and beats the living hell out of him. Edward lures Oswald to an abandoned building to settle the score for his murdered girlfriend, then at the end of the episode he shoots him.

That's it. There are a few minor additions to the story but they aren't important to the episode.

What elevates this episode are great acting, fantastic design, numerous clever homages to Batman lore and the most visceral fight scene the show has ever done.

If we are to discuss Oswald's storyline first — because while more dramatic in conclusion, it's comparatively weaker — there are a few things to point out.


First off, the idea that there wouldn't be hell to pay for Oswald is ridiculous. In fact, this proved to be a far better episode for fans of the Ed'n'Ozzie relationship than I suspected. This is because Ozzie did get through to him, and the show did not ridicule or demonize Oswald for his romantic feelings.


The man shooting Oswald at the end is a deeply conflicted Edward Nygma, but this is still Edward Nygma. The notion that he could simply forgive such a betrayal, that he wouldn't consummate his revenge, is completely alien to his character and would in fact utterly neuter him.

When making sense of Gotham it's important to realize that we're dealing with a symbolic visual medium populated by extreme characters. Last episode, in a signature don't-try-this-at-home move, we saw Selina "breaking up" with Bruce by physically assaulting him. Yet, we accept this in the context of the show and don't even let this sour our love for the pairing, because it rings true to the rather twisted people they'll become and because Gotham is a city steeped in violence.

And, Bruce and Selina aren't anywhere near as maladjusted as Oswald and Edward. As intricate as the Riddler's schemes may be, he always chooses the nuclear option in dealing with all his personal problems. Dougherty abused Kristen? Kill him. Kristen threatened to rat him out to the police? Kill her. Jim might be onto him? Kill another colleague and pin it on him to put him in prison for murder. Oswald? He kills people for a sandwich.

These men don't play by the same rules as normal people. Exaggerated emotional responses are the norm for the comic book medium.

Second, obviously Oswald will survive. Besides being a vital part of Batman continuity, Oswald is such a force on this show he is practically unkillable. Through the final scene, Ed gets his vengeance, and when these two next meet the show will turn a new page. Given the premise, this is the best scenario one could possibly have hoped for, and this is why I'm all but certain that no, the bond between Oswald and Edward is not broken forever.

Finally, I want to draw your particular attention to a line from when Oswald is held captive. "Remember when I put a knife in your mom’s back? That was awful, wasn’t it? Her crying, bleeding out, you just holding her as she died. You never did anything about it."

Yeah, she might be Tigress, but probably, Tabitha Galavan just signed her own death sentence.

Moving on to the main plot of the show, this is the vehicle for Batman's first confrontation with the Joker. There's no reason to mince words — Jerome is the Joker, and Bruce will be Batman. This is sold immaculately both by the show and the actors.


Most of Bruce and Jerome's exchanges - Bruce tricking Jerome by appealing to his vanity, Jerome goading him to kill him and "sink to his own level" — are so well-trodden Batman territory they don't even merit discussion. That's not a criticism, because they are all well-crafted and engaging, and because Gotham has to show this evolution.


This is the Joker's first attempt to convince "the city's white knight" of the inherent evil of all people. It's the start of Batman as the Joker's "audience of one," and that's why complaints about Batman not "creating the Joker" have no merit — in this interpretation, they both create each other. Some people have issues about Jerome plausibly knowing Bruce's secret identity in the future, but this is of no consequence — to the Joker, Batman is the real person, and he pleads exclusively to the darkness of that persona.

What David Mazouz and Cameron Monaghan emphasize in all their exchanges is the growing realization that "this is someone special". This war will shape their whole lives. It's in the look in the Joker's eyes as he punches the staple gun in Bruce's arm with Bruce defiantly staring back at him. It's in the anguished scream of Bruce looking down at his broken enemy, his own, personal avatar of evil. It's Gotham's small fortune that this is left in the hands of two of the most capable young actors on American television.


The fight scene — paying obvious tribute both to The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns — is fantastic. Apart from serving to cement Batman's "no kill rule", something I'm sure many Jerome fans were very relieved by, it's fantastic because it's a scene a long time coming. We have been waiting for this moment for nearly three years, and it couldn't have been successfully filmed even one year ago. The Joker is no Bane, but it's time to start taking Bruce Wayne seriously. In this installment, we see him beating the man to be his arch nemesis to a bloody pulp, and as Alfred says in the closing moments of this story, "I started training you so you could defend yourself. We're well past that now, aren't we?"

The brawl at the GCPD, the stuff between Jim and Lee, and Tabitha, Barbara and Butch's point of view... all window dressing. It is unclear what role the conflict between Edward and his partners in crime will play in upcoming episodes. Jim's uncle and the revelation that Bruce's "brother" will be put back into play again is just setup for the future Court of Owls arc. Speaking of which, Jerome smashed the owl statuette. That would be rather anticlimactic if that twist would end with that.

While this may actually not be the best chapter of the series, it's by far its most spectacular installment, capping off Gotham's strongest-ever finale and leaving us on a high note for things to come.

Can I borrow one of those cryogenic tanks until April?

6 comments:

millicentcordelia said...

“this is the vehicle for Batman's first confrontation with the Joker. There's no reason to mince words - Jerome is the Joker, and Bruce will be Batman. This is sold immaculately both by the show and the actors.”

I agree, and I can’t imagine anyone coming up with any negative criticism of David, Cam, or anything that happened with/between the two characters. Even though this is Earth One, the makers of Gotham have been careful to keep Bruce’s essential history intact, and that’s a wise move. Even looking at all three seasons, this was one of the strongest episodes they’ve ever made, for this reason.

Everything was stellar, from the production values, to the acting, the costuming, and the supporting roles played by others. We got to see more of Alfred, and how important he is, than we usually do, which is appropriate because he’s literally Bruce’s family.

For once, someone made a good decision about what to do with Jim Gordon. He worked well in a smaller part, and it was a relief that they didn’t try to make him more important than he needed to be. His brief scenes with Harvey, Leslie, and sinister Uncle Frank were effective and to the point.

“this proved to be a far better episode for fans of the Ed'n'Ozzie relationship than I suspected. This is because Ozzie did get through to him, and the show did not ridicule or demonize Oswald for his romantic feelings. “

Agree there also, although this story line could have used some surprises where Barbara, Tabitha, and Butch were concerned. They’re all interesting characters, but they were little more than set pieces here. I was happy when they made Barbara a villain, but the last few episodes have portrayed her as being little more than power hungry; I’d like to see her re-gain some range.

I was pleased that Oswald was allowed to grow as a person; his character became more complex, while Ed’s went in the opposite direction. It perplexes me that Ed has started suffering from “Jim Gordon Syndrome”-a complete lack of self-reflection that’s gone on for an entire season, with the exception of that one revelation that he might not be a good partner for Isabella because he might kill her-as he did with Kristen.

The next episode is supposed to be all about Ed, and I hope they give us what they haven’t with Jim-a fleshed out backstory, and reasons to make the character a bit more sympathetic and relatable. Yes, he’s a villain, but as we clearly see with Oswald; the more complex the character, the more the audience will respond.

This brings me to Gotham’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. In a live action version of the Batverse, character development is the crucial glue that holds the production together. David’s portrayal of Bruce, Sean’s Alfred, Camren’s Selina- these are the characters that elevate Gotham, and make me want to keep watching.

When the characters become two dimensional, the proceedings become boring. Gotham has fallen into this trap over and over, with a variety of promising characters.

The worst has been Jim, who was supposed to be the protagonist of the show, After season one, they dug such a deep hole for this character, I’m not sure he can ever climb out. If they work hard enough, they might be able to repair the damage and make him someone the audience can actually like, and feel interested and invested in. Ben McKenzie is a capable actor, and I wish they’d give him a chance. Otherwise, moving him more and more into the background is the best move.

Finally, the Court of Owls story- which has been kept on the back burner so long it’s nearly boiled away- needs to take on more importance in the rest of the season, or there was no point in having started it. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season, and hope it comes up to the bar that was set with this episode!



Marianna said...

Excellent review! I thought this was the best episode this season. Although I have to disagree regarding the Joker knowing Batman's identity being of no consequence. While I agree that the Joker and Batman are on the same page as far as Batman being Bruce Wayne's true identity goes so Batman would still be his ultimate target if he knew his secret identity. However superheroes have secret identities for a reason and that is to protect people in their lives. If the Joker knew Batman was Bruce Wayne he would do something like kill Alfred just to get to him. (By the way, does Wayne Manor have no security whatsoever? They really need a guard dog or something.)

millicentcordelia, I completely agree that sidelining Jim was a great choice! That and keeping him with Harvey most of the time. I've missed their dynamic from the first season. It's really tragic how this show under-utilizes Donal Logue. ("You can say you punched a guy's face off!")

mazephoenix said...

Jerome is a brilliant Joker. I loved his fight with baby Batman. The Ed/Ozzie stuff is not over. I like that Ozzie wouldn't give Ed up, thus frustating him with noble sentiments he did not think Ozzie had.
Their bromance will have more chapters in it. It's a match made in Gotham after all.
James Remar! Always a good, creepy actor.
great review as ever. I wnat to freeze myself and wake up in april too.

Diogo said...

Thomas, I would like to take this chance to point out that these reviews (and your character analyses) are what brought me back to the show after I abandoned it in early season 2.

I hope one day I'll see one of those brilliant character analysis of yours applied on Jerome :)

At the risk of sounding controversial, I think Jerome might be the best live-action Joker ever. Yes, this might seem like a slight to Heath Ledger's magnum opus of acting, but hear me out: Ledger was absolutely PERFECT... as Christopher Nolan's Joker. But while Nolan's anarchist is the single best thing in The Dark Knight trilogy and it is 100% adequate to the universe he's in, I feel like Jerome is more quintessentially the Joker, regardless of the universe he's in. While Nicholson and Ledger were A version of the Joker, I feel like Cameron Monaghan magnificently encapsulates a little bit of all of them (including Mark Hamilton's animated version, which is THE definite version of the Joker for me regardless of being comic book, live-action or cartoon). Also, unlike Ledger, who generally speaking is always "serious", Monaghan is genuinely silly some times ("Fowl! He hit me! Did you see that?", as well as being very vain, all which I think it's a part of the Joker that wasn't as present in The Dark Knight.
The less said about Jared Leto the better.

Patryk said...

Mark Hamill's*

Agree on the rest. :)

Diogo said...

(Slaps own forehead) D'oh!