Gotham: Pretty Hate Machine

It's time to give in to the madness.

Lots of things are going on in Gotham City this week. Lots. It's impossible to accuse this episode of being filler. The pace is frenetic but still working, thanks to some clever plotline interweaving. On one side we have the gangster storyline, where Eddie, Barbara, Tabitha and Butch are at war with Oswald, who's conveniently lost his "monster army" (of two people) and ends up being rescued by Fish. On the other we have the GCPD, the Court of Owls, Alfred and Bruce involved in the virus storyline, with a side dish of crazy-ex-girlfriend added to the mix.

There are at least two ways of watching Gotham, and people can love either or both. On one hand, you have Gotham, the psychological drama. At its best that show can hang in there with anything, and that's the show I mostly try to focus on. On the other hand, you have Gotham, the insane, hyperbolic and and melodramatic farce. It's the unholy love child of Tim Burton's surrealism, Kafkaesque situational comedy and eclectic inspirations from every Batman screen adaptation under the sun as well as nine decades of comic canon.

The perplexing thing is how Gotham merges both these aspects into a single series. How well the show succeeds in this usually determines the overall feel and quality of any single episode, and it partly makes for its unique tone. One of them depends on your brain working. The other... rather doesn't.

As this show evolves, it keeps slipping further and further into the spirals of an Elseworld. Don't get me wrong - the characterization of most of the players involved has been admirable, both remarkably intellectually honest to and expanding on the legend. Still, when it's time to write the encyclopedia of Batman on this show, we'll include: "before Bruce became Batman, Jim got superpowers from injecting himself with the blood of the Mad Hatter's murdered sister." You cannot make this shit up.

In fact, when it comes to Jim and Lee, I truly don't know what to say. I'm stunned. This has been the worst trainwreck of season three - in fact, I'd go as far to say it's been the worst trainwreck of a "romance" in all of American television over the last year, save Scarlett and Gunnar on Nashville. Yet somehow, miraculously, if you just let go, Gotham manages to salvage their entire mess in one scene.

Lee has finally lost it. Truly, madly, deeply. One can only assume she finally got as tired of her old personality as the audience was and decided it was time to get a new one. Realizing the whole reason she acted like a nutjob for most of the third season was "she's still in love with Jim", she decides to "Go Get Her Man." Of course, this involves first turning him into a murderous freak in order to make him a better match for next year's Halloween party.

What made old Lee unforgivable over this year was turning into a nagging, insufferable bore. The new Lee isn't boring. She's finally over her senseless vendetta and even if her explanations for her actions sound pretty incredulous, and even if the constant harping of the show about Jim's "great darkness" is getting old, it's finally laying old ghosts to rest and giving new life to their interactions.

Speaking of Jim, he's falling down the rabbit hole as well as he injects himself with the virus in order to escape death, and that's another point of this installment - it delivers. The bomb isn't stopped. Jim doesn't escape by a hair's breadth. People can complain about Jim's plot armor all they want, but this was genuinely surprising. Apparently the show decided both characters are in need of extreme shock therapy. I could not agree more. Extra props for the art team remembering their Dark Lord of the Sith makeup from Azrael's vision of Jim - that's where this week's cover photo is from!†

One way of looking at this is Gotham doubling down on its worst enduring arc of the season; the atrocious failed romance between Jim and Lee, which made the latter come across as a soulless, self-absorbed hypocrite. The other is that for all of the flaws of that horror story, at least they are transforming it to something watchable. If nothing else, the new version of Lee owns up to her complicity in the situation. She doesn't assign blame, and while positively crazy, her performance is energetic, radiant and fun.

When we turn our attention to Bruce, however, things are less shiny.

Bruce and the Shaman are back in Gotham City, hard at work exterminating the members of the Court of Owls for the sleight to Bruce's family and preparing for the virus bomb to go off. What's egregious about this storyline is that the Shaman continuously tempts Bruce to "fall into the darkness", order the killings, trigger the bomb... yet he doesn't, or rather, the plot saves him from it. We've seen versions of the same trope played out several times in the past and to much greater effect - Bruce versus Jerome, Bruce versus Matches.

This goes back to the classic Chekov's gun argument about Gotham. If the audience knows Bruce and Jim can't die, you can't drive suspense by teasing to kill him. If the audience knows Bruce Wayne will never kill, you can't drive suspense by teasing that either. We'll see if the show has an answer to this in the finisher. "One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off."

David Mazouz is forgettable in this episode. That's a rare thing, but there are things an actor just can't do, and portraying a brainwashed zombie with emotional depth and nuance is one of them. The Shaman is stuck in the generic role of the old bad guy. The one positive is Alfred, who really shines, be it torturing Hugo Strange for information or confronting Bruce at Wayne Enterprises, eventually shooting his mentor.

The Riddler and Penguin sideplot is okay. Perhaps the most notable thing is Selina going about her treacherous ways - yeah, it looks like she's been changed by her "resurrection." As she keeps saying lately, "what's in it for me?" There wasn't "anything in it for her" when she wanted to to run to Alfred to tell her Bruce had been kidnapped, and that selfless behavior was exactly what almost got her killed.

All the stuff between Ozzie and Eddie is more or less the same as last episode with the usual bravado and vitriol, but see above - the audience knows none of them can die. "It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep."

All in all this episode leaves me on the confusing note that maybe for the first time in the show's history, Jim's story is actually the best. Don't get me wrong, that's certainly welcome. The plot also sets a wonderful stage for the endgame. Let the chips fall where they may.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

You summed some things up perfectly, but I kinda have mixed feelings on Lee. On one hand, she's surely more interesting than her previous self. On the other hand, come on! Pattern recognition! Once again we have Jim's ex going crazy and becoming madly in love with him as a result. They're repeating all the old bits with Barbara.

Plus, I'm afraid this whole Jim/Lee mess will end up exactly where it started. Think about it. Jim, Gotham's protagonist, has been infected with a virus that turns people into crazy villains. Gutsy move to be sure, but how likely is it that the writers are gonna let it stick for long?
I fear that the cure will be invented before the season ends, leaving both Lee and Jim as their old, annoying selves again. The whole virus thing will serve to push them back into each other's arms, or at least shorten the way to that outcome. Season 4 will torment us again with either the two of them slowly going back together, or already being a couple. I hope I'm wrong, but I also hoped that Lee taking the virus would be the mercy kill that this plotline desperately needed.

As for Lee being complicit, I honestly don't get it. Mad Hatter messed with her head, sure, but that was just plain and simple victim blaming. She's not the one who infected Mario, or the one who shot Valerie Vale. All she did was whine at Jim after he killed her husband, and that's hardly an actual crime.
Plus, I don't think that her vendetta against Jim was unreasonable. Jim didn't have to shoot to kill. He could have shot Mario's hand that was holding the knife. He could have shouted, "GCPD, drop your weapon! Hands in the air!" You know, the things he always does, except for this one time. Instead, he went straight for the kill without bothering to try any non-lethal method. That's my two cents, but the show seemed to paint Lee's grudge as something else entirely. She didn't question whether or not Jim could have taken Mario in alive. She questioned if Mario really was trying to kill her, and if he really was violently insane at the time.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

Well, of course, Jervis' speech to her is victim blaming, but that doesn't mean she can absolve herself of any responsibility for what happened.

She came back to Gotham and brought Mario along. She went back to her old job at the GCPD, probably the most dangerous working place in the Multiverse. She trolled Jim for validation to the point of visiting him the day before her wedding to make out, thereby actually provoking Mario's jealousy which lead him to try to kill her. In some manner of speaking, she is to blame.

I don't know about the shooting, really. I mean, I get that "the people in Gotham can do anything" to help the plot, but if we're being realistic, Mario was steps away moving towards Lee with a knife. What happens if Jim misses his arm, a very small target? If I'm not mistaken police officers are trained to aim for center mass and that can kill people.

I agree completely with the pattern recognition thing; I just didn't have the stamina to write a longer review. We'll see if the show scores or lets us down in the finale.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

P.S. And I don't mean "it's Leslie's own fault that Mario tries to kill her", just that she's an active participant in the whole affair and that many of the choices that lead up to the situation where Mario dies come from her; in fact far more than from Jim. D.S.

Trey Pharr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trey Pharr said...

Alfred was great again. Enough said there.

This is the first time Jim's storyline was more interesting than the others. Not sure yet if I'm supposed to view that as good or bad. Props to the writers for actually making both he and the GCPD fail to save him without him having to take the virus. I am interesting to see how he gets out of that.

I'm glad Lee has actually become interesting again.

Some might say turning characters 'bad' is a cheap may to make characters interesting, but I find the opposite to be true in Selina's case (to be more specific, her character after her fall, not the one we saw until then). I am willing to see a bit more though before I conclude that for sure. I don't find her as interesting right now, but she gets a whip soon, so there's that.

I found it weird though that she seems to have forgotten about the clone.
She wanted to kill him, but this episode acted as though the clone doesn't exist (unless I missed it Alfred didn't mention him either). I hope some resolution happens next week.

According to the Gotham TV Writers twitter page there will be a scene between her and Bruce this coming week, so I am interested to see how that goes down. I hope Bruce snaps out of it pretty soon.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

"According to the Gotham TV Writers twitter page there will be a scene between her and Bruce this coming week"

HALLELUIA! Thank you!!!

Yes, I agree about Selina - the more "evil" she turns, the less interesting she becomes. Especially the season one finale was a total atrocity. But sheesh is their wardrobe on point for the finale? Design was never Gotham's weak suit.

Patryk said...

Apart from all that was said above good that the shaman finally namedropped Ra's al Ghul without namedropping him at all. :)

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

I have to add that I'm pretty worn out having reviewed this show over a whole year. It's been a wild ride. All the reviews aren't exactly stellar. I'll probably go over the material and make some additions and corrections once the finale is aired and done.

Marianna said...

"She came back to Gotham and brought Mario along. She went back to her old job at the GCPD, probably the most dangerous working place in the Multiverse. She trolled Jim for validation to the point of visiting him the day before her wedding to make out, thereby actually provoking Mario's jealousy which lead him to try to kill her. In some manner of speaking, she is to blame."

Streeeeetch. Clearly the Mad Hatter is to blame. Yes, you can blame the lunatic. and Jim is also partially to blame. He knew he was going into a situation where there was a sick individual. Police have rubber bullets! He could have used them! They moved to Gotham because Mario wanted to, not because Lee did. Mario and Jim are both big boys and responsible for their own actions (except when Mario was sick). Automatically blaming a woman for making men jealous sets of sexist alarm bells to me.

Gotham had the opportunity to make Lee Tomkins a smart, female character who makes decisions intelligently and not based on her heart all the time, which there aren't nearly enough of especially if you remove the Whedon works. Now all she is is out to get her man with lots of mascara. What happened to Dr. Tomkins who was friends with Bruce's parents?

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

Alright, let's do it.

"Automatically blaming a woman for making men jealous sets of sexist alarm bells to me."

I take this very seriously. I just want you to know that. I am not "automatically blaming a woman" at all. The idea that I would "automatically be to blame" for blaming a woman rather than blaming a man is offensive. I've "blamed men" over women many times.

About Jim:

"Jim is also partially to blame. He knew he was going into a situation where there was a sick individual. Police have rubber bullets! He could have used them!"

This goes under the "plot contrivance" category. The plot wanted Mario dead, so he died. It also demanded that Lee wouldn't see the knife falling into the water. I've never heard of US police sidearms being loaded with rubber bullets. Do you suggest he should reload?

Rubber bullets can kill people. Jim had no idea what it would take to incapacitate Mario, who was moving towards Lee with a knife at a distance of two meters. The plot presented the choice as "do or (Lee>) die." This is a non-argument.

"Streeeeetch. Clearly the Mad Hatter is to blame."

Yes. I said that in a comment. "I don't mean "it's Leslie's own fault that Mario tries to kill her". Obviously the Mad Hatter plays a part. That's part and parcel for the work at the GCPD.

However, apparently Leslie isn't to blame at all for this according to you? Let's take a look.

Is Leslie to blame for seeking Jim out the day before the wedding to kiss him? Is Mario to blame for becoming jealous about his fiancée making out with another man? Is a his jealousy automatically unjustified? Is Lee's infidelity automatically forgivable? How would you feel if the shoe was on the other foot?

Is Leslie to blame for inserting herself into Jim's life, accepting a job at the most dangerous working place in Gotham, constantly trolling Jim for validation?

What did Jim do, up to the point where he decided to confess his love for her? He did practically everything possible to stay away from her and he did so since before she even came back to Gotham. Is he to blame for occupying a job where he is the target of various villains, and is he specifically to blame for those villains attacking his loved ones when he's done everything he can do push them away? You are the one engaging in victim blaming here!

Is Lee justified in accusing Jim of being the cause of her present distress, i.e. the death of Mario? She literally made every decision to put herself back into his orbit. Including hitting on him.

"They moved to Gotham because Mario wanted to, not because Lee did."

But Lee is a grown woman who's responsible for her own actions! Do you see how that works both ways?!

"Gotham had the opportunity to make Lee Tomkins a smart, female character who makes decisions intelligently and not based on her heart all the time, which there aren't nearly enough of especially if you remove the Whedon works."

And I agree with that. Completely. There is a definite shortage of sympathetic women on Gotham. Selina is more or less the only one, and she's sorta faltering. Then again, there are very few sympathetic men as well.

But accusing me of being a sexist for criticizing a horrible person. No. I won't take it. I won't apologize for being happy we've moved on from the insufferable hypocrite either, even if it takes turning her into a comic-book villain.

I'm not obliged to make excuses for every fictional character just because she is a woman. That's the bottom line of equality.

Anonymous said...

Good points, Thomas, but I'd like to adress the whole Selina faltering thing. Her seeming apathy about Bruce's fate seems weird, but there was a point when she joined Fish's gang in season one, and a lot of people had a problem with that. If you were one of them, can you explain why?

Selina is a largely self serving thief, and joining one of the city's major players like Fish could serve her well financially. True, she didn't save Gordon, but that wasn't out of character. Selina, as portrayed here, cares mostly about herself and her friends, and Gordon was hardly one of those.

As for Jim's faults in this whole pathetic soap opera with Lee, he dumped her when she was carrying his child and waited to contact her again until after she moved on with somebody else. Yes, she did troll him for validation, but he can hardly be absolved for how he treated her prior to that. (I wish the two of them would just fade out of focus, with the next season focusing on the villains and Bruce's development. Damn.)

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

There were several problems with her in the first season finale, mostly the extreme tonal shift. I mean, she was actually running around with a giant machine gun rounding people up for execution. Plus, her behavior and body language went into "comic book villain territory", what with her purring when Fish was petting her and all that; it was rather cringeworthy, like an exaggerated version of her image in the pilot. But the worst part was this was completely erased from history by the next episode. It never happened. It was never referenced again. Bruce and Alfred never hear of it. When she meets Jim after the incident, she's never called on being an accessory to attempted murder.

And obviously Jim has a lot of things to answer for when it comes to Lee, such as breaking the law several times, lying to her about it, getting sent to prison and dumping her behind bars while she was carrying his baby - that's all rather unforgivable.

And yes, as for Jim Gordon I have maintained a couple of times that if they really want to turn Gotham into a true Elseworld and kill off a major character, Jim should be the one to go. I legitimately believe the show would be better off without him.

Marianna said...

1) When did Lee "constantly troll Jim for validation"? "Troll" is a strong term, as is "constant" so you should have a lot of strong examples to use those words together, and I don't recall a single one!

2) Lee did take her old job at GCPD, which is a normal thing to do when moving back to your old city and in need of a job. When she did so Jim wasn't even working there. He was Jim Gordon: Bounty Hunter. He went back to his job at GCPD later.

3) Lee did not make out with Jim regardless of how many times you say she did. It was barely a peck. One second. And she said goodbye both before and after making it abundantly clear it was for closure only. See my posts from the Beware the Green-Eyed Monster for more: http://www.douxreviews.com/2016/12/gotham-beware-green-eyed-monster.html?showComment=1481143313914#c6089166550352508744
http://www.douxreviews.com/2016/12/gotham-beware-green-eyed-monster.html?showComment=1481260890880#c2760976760519665200

I'm sticking to the main points, correcting some inaccuracies, and leaving it at that. Unfortunately I can't go through all the misunderstandings you seem to have because it would take too long. Rather than giving examples, you chose to attack me based on fabrications. I won't be commenting anymore.

Josie Kafka said...

Hello, everyone!

Two quick disclaimers before I get going:

1. I've only watched the pilot of Gotham, so nobody's comments make any sense to me, because I have no idea who these characters are or what they've been up to.

2. This is inevitably the sort of situation in which anything I say will likely ruffle some feathers. However, I'm the site's night manager, so here I go:

I truly cannot tell if this is a comment string of personal attacks or a comment string in which people are vigorously debating interpretations of characters and plot. I see no specific ad hominem attacks, but I know Billie and I have been watching this thread with some trepidation for a while because we could sense a lot of passion in this discussion.

Perhaps that means it is both: a vigorous debate about the show in which everybody feels personally attacked because fans of this show are passionate, even when the show is not at its best (which is the impression I'm getting).

This is what I do know: Marianna, we like your comments here on the site and would hate to see you go. We also do not want you to be, or feel, attacked.

I do know this: Thomas is not a sexist person. For that reason, I think he may feel defensive about being called sexist, but I do not want to speak for him or put words in his mouth.

Marianna, if you would like to follow up privately with me or with Billie, our email address is douxreviews at gmail dot com



Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

Very well, I will handle this systematically.I also apologize for any controversy, and I certainly do not wish to start a flame war in the comments, but I feel I have to explain myself clearly.

In the comments about "Beware the Green-eyed Monster" I deliberately allowed Marianna to have the last word. I did this because it felt like persisting could only spark a long and probably fruitless discussion, and it didn't feel that it was very important.

This time around, however, I am told that my line of reasoning "sets off sexist alarm bells." So, I'm left with a choice. I can either delete the comment, but that's the treatment we reserve for trolls, and Marianna is no troll. I can choose to suck it up, or I can choose to engage.

Seeing as I felt I could not silently accept this judgment I chose the latter.

I do not necessarily feel personally attacked by this, but I am a reviewer on this website and as such I feel I have to defend my material. More than that, I have a duty to accept the discussion since if I'm proven wrong I have to correct my errors. This site is no place for hate propaganda.

So let's go into the specifics here.

One, that Lee "constantly trolled Jim for validation." This was my colorful way of expressing the opinion that in every conversation between the two, she constantly tries to elicit an emotional response. When this fails and Jim remains stoic, she shows up at his doorstep the day before the wedding to kiss him.

Two, we can debate "the degree of making out" all we want. I can even admit I was exaggerating. The point, however, is that Lee goes behind her fiancé's back to visit her ex-boyfriend at his house and kiss him. In any monogamous relationship, that constitutes infidelity. Jealousy is a culturally legitimate response to infidelity. It isn't fair to blame Mario for that jealousy - this is one case of victim blaming in the argument I oppose - and I say this as a person almost incapable of the emotion. She is in breach of the social contract.

Lee is invading Jim's personal space. If we were to gender-switch this scene - "man visits ex-girlfriend to kiss her goodbye at her own home right before his wedding to another woman, in full disregard of her stated intentions" - it would come across as positively creepy to everyone.

Three, Lee took back her old job. You can argue it's the "normal thing to do" when you come back to your old town, but the fact remains - she took it. She, nobody else. That's on her. She put herself in a position where she'd have to know she'd see Gordon, "bounty hunter" or otherwise. She accepted an extremely dangerous job. Yet when things go south, it's only Jim's fault for "attracting crazy people." If Jim can be criticized for his professional choices, so can she.

Before Lee left, Jim was the one screwing up everything. After she came back, she became the active part while he was passive. She was driving the emotional trainwreck.

Last time I spoke in affection, this time I do not, and that's all that I can say.