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Gotham: These Delicate and Dark Obsessions

Ivy tells Oswald to build an army of freaks, Frank tells Jim to join the Court of Owls and the Shaman tells Bruce to become Batman.

This is a rather workmanlike episode so it'll get a rather workmanlike review.

With one small exception the plot is pretty much laid out in the very first sentence. It's decorated with a grisly murder, a suicide and an acrobatic ninja, but ultimately that's all there is to it - and that, in itself, is not a lot to talk about. Certainly, the show is turning some wheels in this installment but ultimately failing to woo me. There are both positive and negative signs in this episode.

When it comes to Uncle Frank killing himself, this isn't something that hits the audience very hard since he was hardly a character to begin with, only a plot device - not to say that the actor didn't do his best with the material. His explicit function was to fill Jim in on the existence of the Court and to involve him with them, and this episode simply declares mission accomplished and gets rid of the dead weight.

The exact way it goes about this is both convoluted and vaguely unbelievable, as there is no obvious reason the Court would think Jim loyal after him finding out Frank killed his father. However, there is a certain flow to the proceedings which has been missing in many recent Gordon scenes, and I suspect it's a result of Ben McKenzie directing it. Parts of it reminds you of season one territory, and for Jim Gordon, that's not such a bad thing.

The second part of the Court storyline is the "mysterious weapon". I have to agree with my fellow reviewers that this is a rather generic and lazy trope, even if it's eventually going to tie several minor plots together. This, and more specifically Jim sending Barbara to retrieve it, serves to alert her as well to the existence of a "higher power" as she and Tabitha has to flee for their lives from one of the Court's Talons.

Oswald's and Ivy's storyline is arguably the most fun of the evening's fare, despite a bit of recycling. In fact, I'd say this is the first time the new Ivy has been put in a context where I find her enjoyable, and that's very welcome. Her quirky interactions with Ozzie are something both of them manage to sell with Gotham's signature humor. Obviously Ivy has some sort of an agenda, but it all comes across as rather flimsy. Old Ivy wanted to get in with the crooks, and now like Eddie last season, she finds herself a ticket to that world, so she's happy, though a bit annoyed with Oswald repeatedly insulting her.

A pity it has to come at the expense of Gabe's life. Unlike Frank, Gabe has become a minor fan favorite over the seasons, despite mostly functioning as a Butch clone when Butch couldn't be around. Gabe was Oswald's very first henchman, and his confessing that they all only worked for Oswald out of fear doesn't make much sense. Gabe had been with him through many rough patches where selling out might've seemed far more judicious, and while his death is operative in cutting Oswald's last ties to the mob, it's a sad one.

Finally we arrive at Bruce's storyline, which is arguably the most important of the three since the correct handling of the transformation of this character can make or break this show.

One of the most common criticisms of Gotham from a comic nerd's perspective is how the villains create Batman instead of the opposite. It's been a long time axiom in Batman circles that his gallery of rogues are his own dark mirrors, and that he is the one forcing them to more and more extreme measures in order to stay relevant.

As this has never exactly been true in the modern era - for one, Ra's Al Ghul is several hundred years old - Gotham is by no means the first to deviate from this formula. Most recently and notably, in the Nolanverse pilot Batman Begins Ra's Al Ghul all but creates Batman. In fact, that's one of my chief criticisms of that movie, as well as one reason I was wary of Ra's Al Ghul's introduction at this juncture. Unfortunately, Gotham follows suit.

In practically every previous interpretation, Bruce Wayne's parents are murdered, he vows to avenge them and sets out to become a vigilante of his own volition, seeking out trainers as necessary in pursuit of his goal. This is quite different from getting kidnapped by an old monk and simply told to be one, and I cannot lie - this does cheapen the narrative for me. It does not help that the exposition is uncharacteristically heavy-handed, with Bruce normally getting much more nuanced writing. It remains to be seen if this plot will improve over coming episodes.

This brings me to the longest detour of my review.

Ever since the Court of Owls shipped Bruce off to Nanda Parbat the question is inevitable - "So, is he going to become Batman?" Obviously, at some point he's going to become Batman, but there are a few problems with that at the moment.

Gotham was originally conceived as a prequel leading up to the birth of Batman. As Ben McKenzie has said in interviews, "the very last scene of the very last episode of the show will be Bruce putting on that cowl." Bruce Wayne wasn't slated to have a big role, and it was only expanded upon drastically after the producers and writers realized exactly how good David Mazouz really is.

This means it's unknown which license Fox really has to run the show. While the network has directly stated that they have licensed "all of the underlying Batman rights for the entire franchise for this series", they have also said how they will "have to coordinate [with Warner]" when they're "in the market place".

This means there may well be restrictions on what they can and can't do.

However, lately there have been signals from the studio and the actors that Bruce's role will now change quickly. The show is intent on accelerating proceedings, and we may even see "some type of suit" in the closing moments of the season. So, what gives?

Turning Gotham into a Batman show on Fox is exceedingly unlikely. The most grim and implausible scenario is that this is the final season and thus in the final episode they'll show Batman, but that would make no sense and be an economic disaster for Warner Brothers. An almost-equally unlikely scenario is Warner Brothers relocating the show, making a time jump and turning it into 'Year One' possibly recasting Bruce Wayne.

I have long maintained that if they want Bruce in an action role, the most elegant solution would be to make him the first Robin. This ties into Detective Comics #226, an obscure issue from the fifties detailing Bruce Wayne's adventures as the first Robin under the tutelage of private detective Harvey Harris.

This takes care of the real issue, which is that David is simply too young to play Batman. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with a smaller guy pulling off an action role - if we can accept Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen and even tiny girls beating up much bigger men on television, why should this be an issue? Still, while not every Batman has to be a Ben Affleck meat-mountain, Batman is a big guy. David will get there, no doubt, but that's still some years off.

Robin, on the other hand, is a different story. David is the perfect age, the perfect build, the perfect looks and has already proven that he can sell a wide range of emotions, from the lovability of Dick Grayson over the cerebral nature of Tim Drake to the fury of Damian.

If Gotham wants a pre-Batman alias, this is literally the only one supported by the comics. The second option would be to turn him into a Talon, which would... firmly plant the show in "Elseworld" territory, if I'm being diplomatic. Otherwise, they'll have to create a new identity completely removed from the rest of Batman mythos - or give him none at all, in which case I'll still probably call him Robin.

In the past, Gotham has often displayed a quite sure instinct in borrowing small tidbits from previous incarnations to enrich its universe, while some other and arguably more important aspects - as the remarkable botching of Mr Freeze - have been decidedly less successful. We can only hope they'll do a good job with this.

In closing commentary about this episode, Gotham retains the professionalism it's attained over the seasons. Especially the pacing and structure of the show is vastly improved from the first season, and Ben does a fine job as first-time director. However, there is little sense of wonder in these forty minutes, and if there's anything that makes Gotham special, it's its spark and its flair. Luckily, next installment looks as over the top as any.

Credit to farfarawaysite for promotion pictures.
Credit to MayanTimeGod on deviantart for the Damian Wayne picture.

1 comment:

  1. The whole shipping in of a weapon via docks and the hints that it's an former inmate of Indian Hill reminds me of The Black Sky and the Hand. But of course that's Marvel. ;)


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