Gotham: Destiny Calling / HeavyDirtySoul

It only took one minute of watching the first part of the season finale for me to start laughing.

There's no show that does "unhinged" quite like Gotham. Unfortunately that same madness seems to have seeped into the creative direction of the show as we're left with a two hour season finale with more logic holes than a Swiss cheese, and while I'm a firm believer in giving shows "license for the absurd," there's a sloppiness to the proceedings that's decidedly unattractive.

I'll start with my least-favorite part of any review: the recap.
  • People go crazy from the virus but are eventually cured by a decoction made by Hugo Strange out of Jervis' blood,
  • Lee leaves town after writing Jim a love letter,
  • Penguin wins the battle with Nygma and has him frozen as a trophy by Victor,
  • Barbara kills Butch,
  • Tabitha kills Barbara,
  • Jim shoves a sword through Fish's guts and she bleeds out, and:
  • Bruce also shoves a sword through Alfred's guts, revives him using the Lazarus Pit after meeting Ra's Al Ghul, tells Selina to bugger off, and becomes Batman.

There. That wasn't hard to follow, was it? Oh, but I forgot. Butch is Solomon Grundy. Incidentally, Solomon Grundy was created by Alfred Bester, who's only one of my favorite science fiction authors of all time, but I don't think it's realistic to expect Bester quality writing on next season of Gotham. And after being blown off by Bruce, Selina scoots away to join Tabitha because she needs someone to teach her to be more evil.

It's clear that these episodes weren't originally supposed to air right after each other, with a cliffhanger immediately resolved in the middle of it, and it shows. These are the two worst-put-together episodes of Gotham. No contest. We have scene after scene of overly sentimental melodrama hacked up all over the place - Fish loves Oswald! Alfred loves Bruce! Harvey loves Jim! Jim loves Lee! Tabitha loves Butch! Bruce loves Alfred! The only truly powerful emotional moment I can think of is Bruce's understated response to the question about how he knows Alfred, who's lying half-dead on a hospital stretcher: "We're family."

We have zooming in and out of Alfred's hospital room in a way that's almost comical, chopping up what's supposed to be an emotional and heartwrenching scene into ten-second fragments. We have an extremely poorly edited appearance of Ra's Al Ghul where they're actually having the characters repeat themselves after the commercial break - as good as Alexander Siddig and David Mazouz both are in their respective roles, there's no way for them to salvage this if the director is actively working against them - and a fractured, dazed excuse for pacing that must be seen to be believed.

What leaves me utterly perplexed is how so many of the teases delivered by the people involved simply didn't come to pass, and how little there has been in the way of explanation. I've had a feeling over a long time that Gotham normally does the buildup far better than the payoff, seeing them miss out on what I'd think would be easy home runs. Still, I've always had this little voice in the back of my mind when it comes to some of its more puzzling developments of the show. "Surely it'll eventually make sense. Surely they can't be that stupid."

Well, based on the evidence of the conclusion of season three, some of the creators of this show truly are that stupid.

Ben McKenzie teased how he would turn into "some kind of iconic character" this season. It never happened. Danny Cannon teased, and David Mazouz flat out said, "in the season finale, you'll see Harley Quinn." Nothing resembling Harley Quinn was shown on screen. One could perhaps argue that Barbara's "death" was meant to mimic a certain scene of Joker electrocuting Harley, which is... only the worst idea ever. With nine decades of comic book culture to choose from, and after having demonstrated an awareness of often obscure passages of comic canon in the past, basing your Harley Quinn on a deleted scene from Suicide Squad (?!) feels somewhat less-than-inspired, although it'd certainly be just in line with using a perverted Batman Begins plot for Bruce's evolution.

There are some rumors, but nothing definitive, that the young girl whose family is the first people Bruce saves at "Batman" is Harleen Quinzel, portrayed by Meggie Vilcina - which actually, at least, could add one more young character to the cast - but that's not apparent on screen and there's no official confirmation. However, accepting this as gospel puts a question mark over the fate of Barbara, and unlike Fish, losing her permanently would be a shame.

Most of all, though, it's time to accept that we will never get a resolution or an explanation for the Isabella fiasco in the first part of the season. As I said at the time, if they didn't deliver on this, I'd lose a lot of my respect for the writers. And, yeah. I just lost it.

I can't help thinking what we're seeing is the result of an excessive and harmful retooling of the season. Ivy was supposed to have "a relationship" with Bruce, Bruce was supposed to develop his "playboy persona", and that never happened. Bruce was supposed to "let Selina take her time" to forgive him, yet he immediately chews her out when she comes back, apparently ready to lay old ghosts to rest. The show teased Bruce's final confrontation with Thomas Jr by the latter asking, ruefully, "will I die before Bruce returns?" We never saw it, nothing happened. The show teased Bruce, or Thomas, confronting Jim at the precinct wearing a white Court of Owls mask in his Red Queen dream. That never happened either.

In summary the whole two-hour installment comes across as almost-but-not-quite a series finale, pushing all of the players into their fully formed roles.

However, in a way, you can argue this episode isn't payoff at all. It, too, is setup. It's setting up Catwoman's development as a villain. It's setting up Batman's development as a hero. It's revealing Solomon Grundy, one of the best Batman villains. It's part of a concerted drive to bring Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle to the forefront of the show. To be clear, I have no inherent problem with any of this - I even applaud much of it, and have called for some of it forever - but again, if the setup of a show isn't followed by a successful payoff, it's a dramatic failure. The execution of these two installments are among the worst I've ever seen.

As an example, Lee and her vendetta against Jim is banished from the show, though it's unclear for how long, as the show simply punches the giant red reset button on their relationship. Both are returned to their "old selves", and Jim is somehow happy despite her leaving. Why does Lee really forgive Jim at the end? We get no intelligible explanation. As a side note, I found Lee's letter to Jim to be one of the most confusing and nonsensical speeches ever on the show. Even the Mad Hatter is more coherent.

As another example, Bruce murders Alfred, and this is then immediately reversed by the waters of the Lazarus Pit, which is just the latest "get-out-of-death-free"-card on Gotham, again cheapening the impact of people dying to the point where we no longer take it seriously. Bruce was brainwashed, so he isn't to blame, not really. Of course he snaps out of it right after he kills him - a ten-year-old could've seen that coming. Gotham tries to have its cake and eat it too, and it's no longer working.

As a third example, we have the actions of the League of Shadows. In this episode, their only operative function is to deliver some eye candy in a giant sword fight against Jim and Fish's monsters. Ra's only function is to show up, talk about how he wants Bruce as his heir, incite him to kill his oldest friend and then just disappear. For some unexplained reason, he even leaves Bruce with the means of Alfred's resurrection, rending his impact on the show otherwise null and void. The League of Shadows? Ra's Al Ghul? The very people ultimately behind Gotham's judgement, and this is what they boil down to?!

If we are to talk about the stuff that's mostly passable, it's the game of death between Oswald and Edward, which finally comes to its conclusion with the Riddler defeated. Tons of the twists of the cat-and-mouse game here make precious little sense, but it's still the vehicle for the most intense acting of the episode. This, then, leads up to the question hanging over us.

From here, where?

It would be a giant cop-out for everything to go back to normal after what we've just witnessed, and it would make no sense to do this in the first place were that your intention. I think it's safe to say the show must now change drastically.

Bruce is now a vigilante, dressing up in a ski mask beating down muggers. Selina's now, well, Catwoman. The Scarecrow - a kid actually in Bruce's age range - is teased for season four. Ra's and the League are clearly meant to reappear in coming episodes. He's the main villain of the show, and unlike all previous ones, he's Bruce's nemesis. Jim has never met or even heard of him. Harley Quinn may or may not appear.

Bruce and Selina's relationship has been dealt a near-fatal blow. Of course, it won't stay that way forever, but with that previous beautiful romance burnt to the ground, will the writers feel tempted to introduce Talia? (Immediately as I wrote this, I realized: "This is Gotham. Of course they will.")

All of this will naturally lead to a show with a much bigger focus on the young cast. I've rooted for that since I started watching Gotham. Bruce and Selina are two of the few characters that, despite some minor missteps, it's actually possible to invest in. They're "good people", and their motivations were always more tangible, sympathetic and clear-cut than Jim Gordon's brooding, bad manners and Great Darkness™. Seriously, Lee, if I never hear those words again it'll be too soon.

I love this show more than any other show on television. I realized that during some of its previous rough patches - I'll never give up on it. That doesn't mean I can just shut up about its failings, and for me, the last part of the season has seen a marked deterioration.

The show is entering what should be a golden era. Now it's time to find writers who can capitalize on it.

Four out of five Chekov's gun misfires.

10 comments:

Diogo said...

I don't know, I think I'll just ignore the show until Jerome is back on it.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

I don't think the casting is the problem with this series. In fact I'd say the main lesson from these episodes is that even great casting sometimes can't defeat poor writing.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, there is definitely something weird going on with the writing on this show. One thing that stands out is that during the first half of the season David said on numerous occasions that we would be seeing the "playboy/party-boy" side of Bruce develop during the second half, "what if that side of Bruce Wayne was real at some point", "Bruce is going to dig himself into a deep hole," etc. What exactly happened to that story line? Instead we end up with Bruce getting brainwashed/voodoo-magicked into becoming a masked vigilante within the span of like three episodes. This whole thing makes me wonder if there were forces outside the Gotham writing staff interfering with the second half of season three/"suggesting" changes or something along those lines.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

Good call on the playboy persona, I added that. I'm having trouble remembering all the show's broken promises. And yes, I am definitely leaning towards outside influences.

Trey Pharr said...

I am firmly on the fence as to whether I watch next season or not. I didn't really enjoy this last half of this season.

I really enjoyed the first 2.5 seasons for the most part.

Maybe I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

Thanks for your reviews by the way. I just started commenting, but have been reading them for a while.

Anonymous said...

I have such mixed feelings about this finale. On one hand, I love the whole Selina and Tabitha aliance that's shaping up here. Selina is getting an arc that isn't only about friendship with Bruce, and that's something she could use. There is a lot that can be done with Catwoman. She's the character who can really sway between anti-hero and a villain, as her history in the comics shows.

I pretty much cheered when Barbara put a bullet in Butch's head, but him getting out of this alive feels like the last straw of the whole NOBODY DIES ON GOTHAM thing, which should really become a meme by this point.
And, even if that's contradictory, I loved the crazy, power-hungry Babs in this season. It would be sad for her to be the one to stay dead permanently, even though it could be good for the show.

Jim and Lee... Let's just all be relieved that this romance is going away (hopefully for good).

Ed and Oz were great, and I'd watch the show just for their characters if everything else turned into trash.

I think we should all be grateful that the writers came back to their senses and scrapped the whole Bruce/Ivy thing they had planned. There's been far too much romance in this season, and them starting up with Bruce's vigilantism is a much better path for the show to take IMO.

As for season four, there is some serious potential, but I think they should hire some new writers. The current ones are very "Gryffindor". Lots of guts, not enough thought.

Trey Pharr said...

The problem I had with the whole Bruce/Selina stuff the last half especially the last four episodes was it came across as artificial. Selina goes from wanting to tell Alfred Bruce was missing to not bothering to help him find him and then back to caring about him when she sees him in the hospital only for Bruce to chew her out.

I can to a point understand his reaction if he somehow caught wind of her refusal to help Alfred find him, but we aren't shown that, and his response to her doesn't make sense in light of the things she has done for him.

I am okay with them spitting up as long as the writers invest some time giving us a natural reason. This is why the scene in 3x13 went over well with me.

Both this relationship and Ed/Oswald were essentially killed or put on life support due to artificial reasons (Isabella).

Also, I felt Bruce's entire story arc this last half seemed rather unnecessary. The only real payoff was Alfred trying his best to get through to him and their brief scene at the end.

As for Selina, I agree that she needs her own arc, but I am not sure why she needs a mentor though. She was introduced as a character that has probably seen a bit too much and even helped facilitate Bruce's early development. I mean what could she learn from Tabitha she doesn't already know? She handled the whip like an expert without any shown training.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

Well, last they met, Selina blew him off, told him never to seek her out again and left him in the street to get beat up by Sonny and company. (Then again, maybe she didn't connect two and two he'd get attacked, seeing she asked them to knock it off.)

There's some precedence for Bruce's reaction. Last time she seeked him out in the hospital watching over Alfred, it was after she'd rather brutally broken his heart (the snowglobe scene.) Bruce forgave her, in fact it wasn't even mentioned. Now she returns under similar circumstances and Bruce snaps.

But, Bruce screwed up big time with her about her mother, despite his arguable "best intentions," and it's also rather jarring how it was said he'd "give her time to come around" only for him to reject her when she did.

They've both hurt each other, and they both keep misunderstanding each other. Nobody is completely in the right in that relationship.

Anonymous said...

Good review, Thomas. I can't for the life of me figure out why most reviews for this two-parter finale were positive. That was a tedious mess and it exemplifies all of the shows flaws.

Writers just seem to be throwing everything that seems cool into the script with no moderation or restraint. Fish popped in and out of the show again, and the emotional moment between her and the Penguin fell completely flat because of the hectic pacing and lack of focus.

Harvey calling Jim the best cop? LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!

It was all so overstuffed. The show went so far into the cartoony exaggeration that I'm having problems getting invested in anything.
Yet, in spite of all that, some turns in the plot look promissing. Maybe, if they fire some writers, hire new ones, or just restrain the ones they have, season four may be better.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

To me the puzzling thing is how they overuse their bad writers and underuse the good.

Denise Thé has written exactly one script for Gotham. That's 'Anything For You', arguably the show's best episode. Seth Boston has written two, 'A Dead Man Feels No Cold' and 'The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies'. Incredibly that's the only two scripts he's written for anything.