Gotham: The Demon's Head

Bruce Wayne has the worst luck finding friends.

We are now into the fourth season of Gotham and Bruce Wayne is yet to make one single acquaintance his own age - perhaps save Selina - who doesn't either get outed as a villain or end up getting killed in the very same episode. Silver? Schemed to have him murdered. Karen? Murdered by Mr. Freeze. Will Bruce ever get the chance to pay him back for that, and do the writers even remember? He and Selina are on the outs. Ivy's pretty much a psycho. And now, poor Alex gets offed by Ra's. If the show's trying to sell us on Bruce's grim outlook on the world, it's doing a bang-up job. Some people were shocked that they would show the graphic death of a teenager, but I barely blinked an eye. After all, this is Gotham.

Here, Bruce is shown in the "older mentor" role to Benjamin Stockham's Alex, only to fail him utterly at the end of the episode. It has to be said, Bruce screws up big time, and he's certainly right to shoulder some blame for the fallout. First, he seeks out the professor and his grandson for information about Ra's knife, thereby putting them both in danger. Then, inconceivably, he leaves them unguarded with the two-million-dollar dagger resulting in the old man's death. And finally, when faced with the hostage situation at the end, he bluntly refuses to hand it over, leading to Ra's slitting Alex' throat.

There's a point to the proceedings, though. Bruce was introduced as the "sweet, innocent child." Yeah, that's gone. His boyish good looks have always meant the audience hasn't really taken him seriously as a grim, cold and threatening presence on the show. Here, we're shown exactly how much he's changed over the course of the years. Alex, the nerdy, clever and book-loving kid, is clearly meant as a mirror of his younger self. He's just another sweet kid who got a parent figure murdered, terrified and in tears, with Bruce consoling him with an ultimately empty promise about how he'll learn to fight back. Despite the actor actually being David's senior, in this scene Bruce looks at least five years older. In essence, Bruce sees himself die in this episode, just as we've witnessed the death of his innocence on the show. For the audience, this is effective symbolism.

For Bruce, though, it's all old hat. Four years ago, he had his parents shot in front of his eyes. Two years ago, he drove their killer to suicide. Over this time, the people of Gotham have been dying like flies and his life's been put in danger more times than he cares to remember. Only months ago, he was manipulated into triggering a terrorist attack on Gotham City, effectively killing maybe thousands.

In his current frame of mind, he's pragmatic, calculating and uncaring to the point where he's actually willing to trade the lives of both himself and those around him for "the mission" - this despite breaking down at the police station later faced with the consequences. Right or wrong, it's a blunt, mathematical view on the world - "one death beats the carnage to unfold if I give in." Tonally, this seems rather unlike Batman.

Despite the occasional hamfisted dialog, Alexander Siddig is one bloody good Ra's Al Ghul. He's got the theatrical flair to match David's performance as Bruce, as well as a solid background in nuanced, naturalistic acting to call on if needed. (So far, it's hardly been needed.) What's puzzling to me, though, is exactly why he's going after the knife - he seemed rather happy with Bruce having it the last episode. This, at least, will probably be answered.

With Ben McKenzie writing this episode, his narrative as Jim is actually somewhat improved. It helps that he gets several scenes with the brilliant Sean and David, with the only offputting moment being the bizarre, throw-myself-at-you-out-of-nowhere makeout session with Sofia. I'm not sure what's supposed to be going through his mind in that scene, nor do I think I'll ever learn it. If this is supposed to be a "romance", I think I'll pass, but on the upside, Crystal Reed is fabulously attractive, and I think she's got better chemistry with Jim than did Lee. Then again, so does everyone.

I suppose I can't write a whole review ignoring the fave moment of the shippers, meaning the meeting between Ed and Ozzie. Really, this just gives the show a "sort-of-plausible" way of putting their game of death on hold, with Oswald deciding to spare Eddie's life as he's already broken - a dumb move in the best comic-book tradition. As usual, Cory and Robin are brilliant, even if I'm a bit guarded about the road the show is mapping out for the Riddler.

Another notable thing is despite all the "grimdark", this episode actually manages to be quite funny. That's one of a few actual improvements of Gotham over former seasons - the "dark comedy" vibe is more on point, thanks to an expanded role by Victor Zsasz (who's absolutely hilarious) and, in this case, a crazy dogman chasing a bone out a window. Hell, even Mr. Freeze manages to be funny, and that's the stalest supervillain on the show.

I have no real complaints about this evening of Gotham. It didn't exactly wow me, as evidenced by me taking nearly a week to review it, but it's a solid outing, and despite the usual shit ton of stuff happening - Gotham's pace has really gone into hyperdrive over the last year - it didn't feel rushed either.

Next on Gotham: Solomon Grundy!

I'm actually pretty excited.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Jim's romance is as tacked-on as ever. On one hand, at least this time they gave him a love interest who actually has a storyline outside of just romancing him. That's certainly a step in the right direction. On the other hand, though, Gotham could have made two steps there instead, and let him just stay single. Sofia seems interesting so far, and I'm curious what plans she has for her fight against the Penguin, but the Gordon romance is super forced and shoehorned in there just because the writers can't let him be without a love interest.

Agreed about Bruce's story here. Him letting the hostage get killed may not feel very Batman-like, but remember that he's not Batman yet. He's just getting there, and there are bound to be some missteps along the way.

mazephoenix said...

I like Sofia, and get the sense that she's playing everyone including Jim. Of course she is.
Liked the comedy bits, the indept rapping was great.
Siddig is indeed great, and can take R'as where he needs to go.
Cool episode.

Patryk said...

Victor Zsasz is sociopathic comedy gold.

I was actually suprised that Ben McKenzie wrote the episode. TV actors usually try their hand at directing episodes more often then writing them.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

Ben's directed one ep before. He's pretty ambitious and seems to want to try his hand on everything. Since he's the lead, the show wants to keep him happy. And honestly he's been pretty good at everything he put his mind into.

Obviously Ben can't touch "arc decisions". Should be noted though, the actors do have some input on the storylines. As an example, David (!) actually vetoed Bruce and Selina reconciling at the end of last season, opting it made no sense as written.