Gotham: Light The Wick

Basically, a color by numbers episode. But hey, at least Selina isn't crazy. Or is she?

This episode of Gotham has a lot of tasks to perform, each of which is gone about in somewhat pedestrian fashion: Release Barnes, resurrect Selina, complete Bruce's indoctrination, turn the Court against Jim and reunite Eddie and Oswald.

Like most of Gotham's fare, there's good craftsmanship in this installment, managing to somewhat mask what's a rather fractured script.

As of now Bruce's transformation into... well, whatever it is... is coming across as mildly uninspired, heavily borrowing on themes from 'Batman Begins' without adding much to them. As I've never been completely sold on those movies and prefer the show relying on different parts of canon, that's a minus for me, but at least the concept of "removing Bruce's pain" is an original, depending on where the show wants to go with it.

We're yet to be given a solid answer to the question, "why Bruce?" What does the Court want him for? It remains to be seen if the show can deliver on that issue. All we're told in no uncertain terms this episode is that "the Shaman is evil", which everyone's gathered already.

At least, Bruce's stint in Nanda Parbat seems to be over now, with him set to return to Gotham. That's a relief, since isolating him from the rest of the characters for long would make for stale television, even if he's an infinitely more interesting one than Fish Mooney.

Also on the warpath is Selina, who's set to take on Thomas Jr. after waking up in the hospital in the care of Ivy. The show - wisely, I would think - decided not to go with the overt supernatural explanation for her resurrection that "the cats licked her back to life", and it doesn't seem like she's gone nuts, though I guess the jury is still out on that one. I, for one, hope she stays at least relatively sane. Her character is a success. It would be a shame to trade her for a cartoonishly crazy one, especially since Camren is no experienced actor and we have no idea how well she'd do with that type of material.

On the scale from "good" to "bad", Ivy's been planted somewhere in the middle. It's obvious that Gotham really wants us to like her, and they really want us to forgive them for what was an absolutely horrible recast. It's got to be said, Maggie Geha has improved somewhat in the role, getting more in tune with the "child-in-a-grown-up-body" act. Still, this episode shows us that she can't sell a monologue of the type that David would easily ace. For now, she only works in interactions with other beloved characters and capable actors, Oswald being the best example.

On the other side of the spectrum, any justifications set aside, Leslie has become insufferable. Literally everything she's doing in this episode is running around whining at everyone from Jim to Harvey to even Fox, for increasingly ludicrous reasons. Apparently the concept of having different clearance levels in an undercover operation has escaped her, as has the idea of not blaming Jim for everything under the sun.

That includes her returning to Gotham, returning to his workplace, inserting herself into his life, showing up at his doorstep to kiss him at the eve before her wedding, and then complaining when her fiancé gets in the way of the madness that is the Gotham police business - this, after Jim has done nearly everything possible to distance himself from her. She's a failed character only serving to annoy the viewer.

This is sad, because when she was introduced she was welcomed by open arms by the Gotham fans, and now, a vast majority just wants her gone. God knows there's nothing wrong with Morena as an actress, but like Ben, her character has simply ceased to be relatable. All I can think of is that the writers are trying to make her unlikable on purpose, and I don't pretend to know what their game plan is.

Jim's game plan, on the other hand, is finding out the Court's secret weapon in a really bumbling manner that has Kathryn convinced he's a Judas by the end of the episode, and all that any viewer can think of is, "what took you so long?"

With Jim having the poker face of a chimpanzee, it stretched credibility to the extreme that Kathryn would ever trust him, and I'm grateful that subplot is over. There's no reason to sugarcoat it, this part of the installment is a bust, and while Theo Galavan and Carmine Falcone were both villains exuding a certain larger-than-life quality, Kathryn simply comes across as boring.

The Court's weapon, of course, is the Alice Tetch virus, which has been weaponized from Barnes's blood. Here, again, the writers harken back to 'Batman Begins' with Crane poisoning Gotham's water supply. The other weapon is Barnes himself, who's being sent after Jim when it's clear he's betrayed them.

The final confrontation of the night is Ed and Oswald. At the conclusion of that storyline, the show unceremoniously dumps Oswald in a cage next to him, resulting in a very... very long stare, and some real prime-time acting from both of them. Of course, this is all setting up the ridiculously time-worn trope of "enemies who have to overcome their differences in order to escape", but honestly, I'll take it in exchange for more screentime with both of them.

All in all this is a metric ton of setup. James versus Nathaniel, Selina versus Thomas, Edward versus Oswald, the Court versus the city, Lee versus the GCPD, Bruce versus... yeah, I'll get back to you on that...

... and that sort of concludes my review. It does sound like a trainwreck, doesn't it? The funny thing is, it sort of isn't. Gotham never fails to surprise me with exactly how much nonsense and even outright bad ideas they can cram into an episode and still make it entertaining.

Still, this wasn't their brightest hour. Better luck next time!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I pretty much agree with most of the points you've made about the episode, but I feel that it shows that something very bad has happened to Gotham. The tension is almost completely gone.

Gotham has wavered in the past between different tones. Season one was for the most part a mix of Nolan and Burton, season two went further into the Burton area, and season three is embracing the cheese and camp of Schumacher. The problem with it is that the show now treats itself less seriously than ever before, and thus the writers allow themselves for more and more contrivances. Selina just got rescued by some magic plant that was pulled completely out of left field (Poison Ivy's behind), and that's the newest example of what I'm talking about. Isabella's entire existence was another one. Then there is the Court of Owls and their baseless trust for Gordon. That trust was given too easily, too quickly, and it wasn't organic or believable at any point. With our main villains being this dumb and this easy to outwit, it's kinda hard to get invested into the whole plot line.

The writers obviously wanted Selina to survive, but this is a show where at least three people came back from the dead by this point, so nobody bothered to make her miraculous recovery believable, because why should they?
The writers wanted Ed and Oz to fight, so they created Isabella and predictably killed her off with no explanations and no surprises along the way.
The writer wanted to move the Court plot along, but they didn't bother to make them threatening or have them act in a way that makes sense. Why? Because this is a campy show that doesn't take itself so seriously.

I'm a fan, not a basher, but I'm worried that with the way Gotham is being written right now, nothing will ever feel as meaningful as, say, Galavan's first death in season two, Riddler's framing of Gordon (also in season two), or the twist in Penguin's Umbrella.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

I have to agree with the jist of this comment.

For me - I've said it many times, but it doesn't hurt to repeat - suspension of disbelief isn't a problem as long as the universe itself follows set rules. When you have a pseudomagical universe like Gotham, you spend a ton of that suspension of disbelief on that, and that's why it becomes even more important that the parts that can be realistic, you do right.

Isabella was a bizarre contrivance, and I still hope the show will bother to make sense of it. The Court storyline with regards to Jim is utterly insane. People simply do not act like this. Lee may be a pain in the ass, but at least we can explain her behavior by simply saying she's a horrible person.

The framework of Gotham is shaky to say the least, with only the characters, the acting and some of the writers elevating it to stardom. Season three is a weird mish-mash to me. On one hand, we have all the problems noted, but on the other hand, we've had some of the strongest episodes of the show. I thought 'Anything For You' was absolutely fabulous.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

ETA: Ivy's magical rescue falls in the "pseudomagical universe" category of suspension of disbelief. I don't have anything against that on principle.

Anonymous said...

The whole magical plant rescue thing may be forgivable (even if it strengthens the already thick plot armor), but how they're wasting the Court is a damn shame. They've started dropping first hints of their existence back in season one. Then, they didn't rush their introduction and that build up massive anticipation. The writers showed some admirable patience, and that's one quality they could use more of. It's sad that they seem to have lost all of that patience when it came to actually getting the Court in the game and having them live up to expectations. At this point, they wanted everything in super speed. Jim's double agent period was rushed beyond saving.

Jim/Lee is a merciless drag, and has been for the whole season. Sadly, it's unlikely to go away. After Jim's speech about running and quitting, I anticipate that she'll change her mind, stay in Gotham, and the audience will have to suffer through watching them get back together and steal screen time some more.

Yes, 'Anything For You' was made of awesome, there's no denying it. Episodes like that are the highlight of the show. The sad thing is, there is no strong, overarching plot this season like there was with Galavan. They tried to create that with the court, but the results are disappointing. This time, the writers are wildly throwing ideas in rapid succession. Sometimes those ideas turn out great (Jerome's return, Benedict Samuel's Mad Hatter), sometimes they suck (Ivy's age-up).

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

With regards to the "plot armor", this is something inherent to all historical dramas and a fair bit of other television as well - did anyone get a sense that the life of the characters of How I Met Your Mother was ever in peril? Does anything think the Flash or Oliver Queen will die?

In Rome, there was never any doubt that Caesar, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony would die, or that Octavia and Augustus would live. Being a "life-and-death" stakes of show, it solved this by fleshed out, non-canon characters whose lives could very well be put in danger. In the case of The Borgias, it solved it by taking some liberties and delivering one of the most complex, heartwrenching and thrilling romances ever on television.

It's the latter case that's interesting to Gotham. As you said, the survival of characters like Jim Gordon or Bruce Wayne is never in question, and that's why the show should avoid creating tension based on putting them in mortal danger - we know it's a load of horseshit. Gotham has tried to follow in Rome's footsteps - remember, Bruno Heller is the creator of the show - but it has failed. Fish Mooney is a caricature.

However, the personal stakes of the show are always on the table. Will Bruce ever find any happiness? Where is Selina really headed, apart from "growing into Catwoman"? I devoted an entire review a while ago discussing the stakes, attempting to point out how Gotham, at its heart, is not a low-stake show, and that delivering on the emotional setup is a vital part of the series.

Expanding on that review discussion, Gotham's third mid-season finale was a departure in that it did not deliver. There was no revelation; they defeated the bad guys and that was it. This may be a symptom of the flaws of the third season.

The problem is that for personal stakes to ring true we must invest in the characters or even believe a change is possible. We care about Bruce's well-being, his relationship with Alfred and Selina, his emotional journey. We care about the Penguin, the Riddler and their twisted friendship. We do not care about Gordon, who is a bland fellow with questionable morals stuck in moodiness and brooding with a self-righteous stick up his ass the size of the Eiffel tower. Does anyone get a sense that this man could be happy, or does it even matter to us? Harvey Bullock would be a better lead character.

I am not at all convinced the show has dropped the ball yet on this season, some colossal blunders aside. I can see potential satisfying payoffs in the installments yet to come. But we have to wait and see.

Patryk said...

All has been said above already, but I want to add that Penguins Team Freak also did not do much and Penguin is already captured. Freeze and Friefly will probably just go back to their own schemes.