Gotham: The Blade's Path

"One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep."

What many thought unthinkable, actually happened.

Ra's Al Ghul, "The Demon's Head", is dead, murdered by Bruce Wayne. Take a moment to read that over again.

This is hands down the most shocking development in the history of Gotham, but if we had any faith in the show, it's something we should've all seen coming. From a dramatic standpoint, it was near inevitable. With Gotham's often erratic narrative, it was impossible to know for sure, but here the writers show that whatever its flaws, at heart it's an honest show with giant balls of steel.

This episode reminds me of some words of Francois Arnaud, a fine actor and a really clever guy. "After two and a half years of teasing everybody, here we are. It's a TV series; we can’t keep going like this forever. The curtain has to fall." He and Holly Grainger had spent two seasons literally putting television sets on fire with their portrayal of the forbidden romance between Cesare Borgia and his sister Lucrezia, and by the third act, something had to give.


Similarly, Gotham has teased the conflict between Bruce's scantily hidden thirst for blood and his superimposed moral conscience ever since the first season. We had the story with Reginald Payne, then his confronting Matches Malone, then him beating the Joker to a bloody pulp thinking he'd killed Alfred, then the third season finale with the Shaman and the Court of Owls. For every crazy thing that happens in his life, one more screw comes loose. As Ra's keeps goading him over the edge - easily their best scene, and the best character work by both this season - his sudden explosion in anger and violence is jawdropping.

Like 'The Borgias' could no longer afford to get bogged down by historical technicalities, Gotham could no longer afford to be neutered by what's popularly thought of as Batman canon.

So, welcome to Elseworlds. Where do we go from here?


From a comic-book perspective, this is an absolute game changer. Nothing like this has been seen before. Ra's Al Ghul was looking for an heir, and through his actions, Bruce accepts. Technically, whether he knows or wants it or not, he's now the leader of the League of Shadows. Will Gotham touch that?

On a personal level, as Bruce notes, "it's over." That's not just because he feels like he betrayed his family's legacy, it's because he actually avenges his parents' murder. Matches Malone is dead. The entire board of the Court of Owls was slaughtered before his eyes, and he just stabbed the man behind it all to death. The inspiration for his hero quest is obliterated and he needs to find a new one. Realistically, this should also affect his relationship with Selina. They're now on level ground - they're both killers. This has to be addressed.

The final and most troubling aspect is how Bruce proves to Alfred that he simply can't be trusted. At this stage, Bruce Wayne is both unstable and truly dangerous.

Bruce Wayne's brewing insanity is actually one good way to make sense of his no killing rule. Bruce is an intelligent man, and intelligent men question absolutes. One of few reasons I can think of for indiscriminately buying into the moral absolute of "Thou Shalt Not Kill" - a rule no man with working self-preservation or empathy can truly live by but for luck - is as a safeguard against one's inner demon. Bruce's inner demon is on full display here. It oozes out of David's performance.

Jim spends the whole episode playing second fiddle to Bruce, acting almost like a second Alfred. My feelings about that are simple - that's where he should be. Whenever he's paired in a scene with Bruce, the character works. Still, he's no longer the hero of the story. His personal motivations stopped making sense a long time ago, and it's impossible to root for him in his own right.


As for the other developments on the show, the main reason I was excited for tonight's episode was the teased appearance of Solomon Grundy, or "The DC Universe Undead Hulk." Don't get me wrong, it's quite serviceable, but the narrative is rather clumsy and feels a bit like painting by numbers to provide his backstory - which is really done as close to the traditional origin as possible - and then team him up with newly-brain-damaged Riddler. I'm happy with the development, and they really work well together, but I'm mostly looking forward to future events which may not be as predictable.

Regardless, unlike the pointless reinsert of the bankrupt character of Lee Thompkins, the transformation of Butch to Solomon is one of the examples of thoughtful, long-term planning on the part of the creators. Yes, such a thing exists on Gotham. According to Drew, the Grundy arc was planned years in advance - as a funny tidbit, Riddler used to live on "10 Grundy" back in season one. Now that the change is here, the new role fits the actor like a glove.


There are other things that happen in this episode - most notably Sofia worming her way into Penguin's safe zone - but as well as being lazy, I think delving into all of it would dilute the point I wish to make. The acting is fine, the camera is great, the aesthetics are to die for, but all things together this is only a passable episode introducing a great lore character. Then one core decision made by the writers detonates like a nuke and gives the show a new thing to live for.

Installments like this make me proud to review Gotham.

3 comments:

Trey Pharr said...

I'm fine with the decision to have Bruce kill Ra's, so long as it's served to be a teachable moment for him and he doesn't kill again.

He seemed real remorseful.

Diogo said...

That decision reminded me of a a dialogue from Under The Red Hood, one of the greatest batman movies ever. (spoilers for those who haven't watched it yet...)

Red Hood : Ignoring what he's done in the past. Blindly, stupidly disregarding the entire graveyards he's filled, the thousands who have suffered, the friends he's crippled. You know, I thought... I thought I'd be the last person you'd ever let him hurt. If it had been you that he beat to a bloody pulp, if he had taken you from this world, I would've done nothing but search the planet for this pathetic pile of evil, death-worshiping garbage and then send him off to hell!

Batman: You don't understand. I don't think you've ever understood.

Red Hood : What? That your moral code just won't allow for that? It's too hard to cross that line?

Batman: No! God Almighty, no. It'd be too damned easy. All I've ever wanted to do is kill him. A day doesn't go by that I don't think about subjecting him to every horrendous torture he's dealt out to others, and then... end him.
But if I do that, if I allow myself to go down into that place... I'll never come back.

Patryk said...

Yeah Bruce killing Ra's was jawdropping, even Ra's skeleton agreed in the end there. ;)

Technically You could say it's the 2nd time Batman kills Ra's, but the 1st time in Batman Begins was just not saving him, this time it's actually killing. I guess that's the way it should be. Just as Doctor Who says: Good people don't need rules, You really don't want to find out why I have so many.