Gotham: Harvey Dent

"Hello! I'm Bruce Wayne."
"Hello! I'm your Kryptonite."


At last, we have arrived at the first step of the greatest comic book romance of all time.

While 'Penguin's Umbrella' was the first stellar installment of Gotham, this is the episode that made me fall in love with the show. It's not even for the plot. It's all about one moment.

Anyway, here we are. "When Bruce Met Selina." This is a moment the show has been building up to since the pilot and one I was looking forward to with some degree of trepidation. What if it fizzles? What if this won't take off the way it's supposed to? It may sound puerile and stupid but this is a pivotal moment for the show, and finding out that the two characters which will have the most to do with each other in the future simply won't gel at all would have been a real disappointment.

And then David enters the scene and knocks it right out of the park.

The way he's faintly staggering when he gets a look at her face, the stutter in his voice, him awkwardly extending his hand as a poor excuse to get to touch her and know she's real - it's perfect. As I have noted numerous times David is stellar at working with subtle facial expressions and few words, but this is the first time we really see him outdo himself on Gotham.

It's equally important that Camren as Selina is clearly the best version of herself with David. She's not an experienced television actor in the sense David is despite his younger age, but David simply elevates her to a different level.


Again, you may think I'm silly, but... this is important. This introduces a core element of the show and they don't miss a single note. There's a condescending, snobbish attitude on some boards and from some posters about investing in romantic relationships in a drama, but I say, screw that. I make no excuse for being a shipper.

I could probably go on raving about this scene for the rest of the review, and it's not like I haven't on numerous other occasions, but let's get down to the peculiars of the plot, none of which are even half as important as this single moment.

This episode is called 'Harvey Dent,' which is ironic seeing that the episode is hardly about him at all except for a hysterical piece of overacting. Never mind.

The story is as follows: As Selina Kyle is thought to be an important witness to the Wayne murders she's placed in protective care at Wayne Manor, despite the objections of Alfred. Ian Hargrove, a mentally ill Blackgate prisoner and bomb specialist, is sprung out of prison and taken as hostage to make explosives to blow up buildings and safes in service of Fish Mooney in her cold war on Carmine Falcone. As always, I'm assuming you've already seen the episode; I don't do simple recaps.


Anyway, this so-called "main story" isn't important for the rest of the series. Only Dent convincing Jim to let him leak the rumor of a witness, and especially Ozzie finding out the link between Fish and Liza really is.

Apart for helping to set off the explosion of teenage pheromones earlier mentioned, this episode is also great in that it sees the first time Camren Bicondova really gets to act as Selina Kyle. It's the first time where she adds a real emotional layer to her performance and it sort of marks the start of the transition away from the over-exaggerated "catlike" body language that was almost comical in the pilot yet has never truly disappeared.

"You gonna cuff me to a drain pipe again?"

Up until now, her "action girl" role rarely seemed much deeper than her side character on Battlefield America - the less said about that movie the better - but 'Harvey Dent' changes that, and she's remarkably fluid in her interactions with both Jim and Alfred, injecting some comic levity into situations without being too on-the-nose. In the ongoing serial of "Barbara is the worst," Jim's girlfriend has left him to do drugs and jump in bed with his female colleague, and Selina's fittingly deadpan about it, echoing audience sentiment of what took them so long to kill off that stillborn engagement.

This episode got generally unfavorable reviews when it aired. Amazingly, it's also the lowest rated Gotham episode on IMDb. I say without qualification that the people who saw fit to take a dump on it didn't get the story at all. These are people who stare themselves blind at superficial flaws while failing to see any nuance to the narrative. They can go a whole review without even bothering to give credit to the acting strengths of two preternaturally gifted kids aged thirteen and fifteen. As Cercei Lannister would say - "Shame."

These are some twists to examine in this installment, and understanding these, you come some way in understanding its greatness.


First, it's still unclear where Alfred really comes from. Still, it's a pretty safe bet he's either from an outcast or working class background, with a core behavior distinctly at odds with and later varnished by his high-society contacts.

As such he's been in contact with, and perhaps even part of, the degenerate, downtrodden elements of society - thieves, pimps, drug dealers, beggars and the like - and he's inherently distrustful of them as these often aren't positive influences and they can be dangerous. Yes, this statement is "classist" in the way that all people operate and live by generalized statistics. Further, Alfred has "escaped" to the higher echelons of society and thus feels threatened by Selina's presence as a reminder of his own lowbrow background. Yet even he can't help to recognize some of her value by the end of the episode, and in essence, this forms the blueprint for all their future discourse as well.

The second is Bruce relating to Selina. A sheltered kid, he has no preconceptions of social differences and what they do to people - he's probably never met a person who couldn't afford a three-star meal at a Michelin restaurant every day of the week - but rather than looking down on her, he's in awe. It's not just her stunning good looks, it's how she's a representative of a class he's desperate to understand but never gets to meet, and how she's apparently managed to survive and thrive off absolutely nothing. For a person having to resort to self injury after losing his parents, this is naturally inspiring.

"So... If anyone mugs you with a diving board, you'll be ready?!"

Third, there's Selina's reaction to life at Wayne Manor, and in part she's openly resentful. In her mind, Bruce doesn't appreciate the immense wealth she sees all around her. Being too proud and self-reliant to accept handouts, only by offering services in exchange for food and lodging can she maintain her self-respect.

Yet she's taken off-guard by Bruce's open admiration, and it doesn't hurt that he isn't like any other kid in the universe - "You're the weirdest kid I've ever met." If you pardon a silly comic book quip, it's like a lizard meeting a cat, only lizards and cats don't form sentences. In a way - especially considering her telegraphed fascination with him from earlier installments - it makes complete sense that her reaction is to awkwardly try to "seduce" him, since they speak so different languages that a romantic, wordless attraction is really the only way to ensure her of her value to him.

"Hit me... and I'll let you kiss me."

Finally, this episode is important in that it's the first one to ever let Bruce smile, play games or get flustered, and that's vital in order to humanize him. It clearly establishes their power dynamic, weaknesses and strengths serving as an excellent platform for things to come.

Some other people have spoken at length about other admirable qualities of this installment. As an example even A.V. Club, long-time headquarters of the Gotham basher elite and guilty of minor crimes against humanity in their coverage of the show, managed a pretty worthwhile review of its subtle and clever handling of society's attitudes towards the mentally ill, but for me, this concludes my review, as for me, this one is all about Bruce and Selina.

4 comments:

Patryk said...

People don't want to invest in relationships in a drama mostly because it's a lost cause. The writers will always separate the pair, kill them like Joss Whedon does, put them through a Ross and Rachel dance of breaking-up and near misses or invent the most stupid plots to keep them apart even after they marry (Castle's last couple seasons come to mind). The problem does not lie in shipping itself but the toxic presentation that's used to keep the stakes up. Bruce and Selina have also the addded baggage of the Batman canon to content with.

Jeff Lipton said...

Patryk, this is one of the many things Brooklyn 9-9 doe right. Jake and Amy's romance flowed naturally and it hyasn't overtaken the whole show. Plus, they love each others odd quirks, and embrace them (Amy making sure their wedding cake was in the shape of Nakamura Tower (complete with Bruce Willis hanging by a firehose) to Jake getting Amy a set of binders.

Patryk said...

Comedies have the luxury of not having to generate drama through break-ups so yeah I agree that it is the place for people who want to root for stable relationships. Especially if the couple in question is the beta couple (think Chandler and Monica on Friends or Turk and Carla on Scrubs).

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

I loved Cesare and Lucrezia on The Borgias and the writers never let me down.

I loved Christopher and Valentine on Parade's End and the writers didn't let me down.

"Shipping" in the sense of "rooting for a happy ending" is obviously a heavy gamble. "Shipping" in the sense of enjoying every good interaction between the couple is not. I may hate later Nashville with a burning passion but I will never stop enjoying Scarlett and Gunnar's first season because that was magic. And with a couple like Batcat, where things naturally must be stormy regardless of whether the writing is good or bad, you will need a very thick skin to be a happy camper.

I'm not sad at the moment because they aren't together, I'm sad because the writing of the show overall has taken a critical hit.

I will always love Bruce and Selina of seasons 1-3 Gotham.