Gotham: One of My Three Soups

I would like to preface the following: I absolutely hate writing negative reviews of a show most dear to my heart, and I really wish I could stop.

So why don't I?

In starting, this will be one of my longer reviews to date. You may accuse me of navel-gazing. If this isn't your cup of tea, move away. However... This is that point where I have to break down a lot in order to continue doing my job.


I've loved Gotham from season one episode seven. I've loved Batcat since episode nine. I started posting about both - after having sunk deep into the filthy swamp of the Vampire Diaries fandom - in anticipation of the second season, which turned out to be fantastic. I joined the Doux team specifically to cover my favorite show in the middle of that season.

Once I was hooked... That was it. There was no going back. I've never stopped loving Gotham. When it comes to this enterprise, the sky's the limit - it can produce astonishingly beautiful, content-rich, engaging television, a subtle evolution of relationships, fantastic characters, and it's populated by arguably the best main cast on network television.


That's probably why I'm harsh at it at times. I know the show's upper ceiling is so high, and I just wish for it to realize itself in every outing, which is probably impossible. In retrospect, I was picky in my season two reviews, but back then we were all on such a high that if I weren't I'd been reduced to raving nonstop, and that's not a hallmark of a good critic. However, the second part is that Gotham has been stumbling, it's made catastrophic mistakes and it's sometimes painful to watch, even as there are glimpses or more of its trademark excellence left.

And I guess that's what keeps me here. I'm so in love with the cast, the characters and the show's flashes of brilliance that I will never abandon it, even if the show occasionally hurts me.


Anyway... if you're still here... this is where I'm starting my real review. Here goes.

'One of my Three Soups'. Only in Gotham. When I first read that title, I thought "well, they probably just wanted to figure out the weirdest possible name for an episode; God knows if it'll actually mean anything." Color me surprised when it was actually a clean reference to a scene, and a good one too!


This is the first episode introducing the terrible trio of Jerome, Scarecrow and Mad Hatter, and they really work well together. Scarecrow looks and sounds like lifted straight out of Arkham Knight. Jervis Tetch never had smarter turns of dialog - the content may be another matter - and Jerome is, well, Jerome, giving anyone a run for their money at overacting. These are actual, raving mad supervillains and they certainly are both menacing and entertaining. Their "plan" is signature Gotham - ostensibly clever while not making much sense if you think it over, but it provides for lots of fun.

The triple treat of the evening is Tetch jerking around with Gordon, Bruce and Selina trying to catch Jerome, and Barbara's adventures with the League of Shadows. The first two parts are pretty good or better.

It seems that Gotham is close to figuring out what to do with its chief protagonist; it only took four seasons! The gist that it's selling is Jim's realization that "I'm a little shit, but I have to pretend to be a hero and do my job anyway," and that's a damn good look on him. Jim's never exactly sold "jaded" before - he's sold "tired", "angry", "self-righteous", "more angry" and "apathetic", but here he's finally starting to come through as something that could lead up to his comic book role, as well as someone having a great deal in common with a younger Harvey Bullock. Speaking of Bullock, their conflict seems mostly resolved, but it also seems he's been cast in the role of Jim's eternal bad conscience.


In conclusion it's quite poetic how Jim wins his fight with the Mad Hatter exactly by resigning to the fact that he is helpless - "I can't save you. Save each other." As well as being actually clever, this is the single most powerful line Jim Gordon's delivered in the run of the show.

Bruce's quest for Jerome is classic boneheaded Batman territory, with Bruce both steadfastly determined to bring in Jerome by himself rather than leave it to the cops as well as being completely unable to entertain the notion that anyone will be allowed to die in the process. The cool thing about it, though, is that now we actually have a reason for it - he's simply so traumatized over the fallout of him killing Ra's Al Ghul that he's terrified that something like that might ever happen again.


Baby Batcat's little flirt keeps on escalating, as it's done over the show's whole run. If the show won't soon act on all that tension, it'll win the prize for "worst string-along in television history." Their dialog is extremely "Batman/Catwoman"-esque here, even mimicking a heated scene from 'Batman Returns', but the main takeaway isn't that. If I'm to pick one key part of their conversation, it would be Bruce telling Selina that "you don't owe me anything... You never did," and Selina lighting up like a sun. This is final closure for all of their contrived excuses to spend time together, as Selina is now absolute sure that Bruce is there because he wants her.


The other major thing's the evolution of how they relate to each other wordlessly. In all that matters, their age difference has vanished, and for the first time in the show's history, their connection is borderline sexual. This episode also marks the first time Bruce actually teases Selina in a romantic fashion, pulling the old "pretend-kiss" trick, rather than the other way around, and that's a very amusing touch. Also, David's scenes with Cameron are damn well-acted, and for some reason I found the scene with Jerome terrorizing his uncle, with the grunts of the fight and Bruce basically flying all over the cafeteria in the background, hysterically funny.

... and then we have Barbara And The Ninjas, which is the figurative straw to break my camel's back.

I have avoided to tackle this issue head on for the longest time. Maybe I'm a coward. All I know is I can't pretend all is fine anymore.

Here we have what Ben McKenzie refers to as a "female empowerment storyline" about Barbara Kean ascending to the post of the First Female Demon's Head of the resurgent League of Shadows. We have the straw misogynist character of the captain challenging her authority and then we have - wait for it - all the women shooting all the men in the back because they are weak and weak men must die.


The whole scene is insanely cringe-worthy; whole slews of dialog seemingly just written to tick off a checklist. One of the more plain-disgusting aspects of it all is how all men are executed only after she's easily dispatched of the token male asshole and scared all the rest of them into submitting to her rule.

This discourse is toxic, and it's hard not to get toxic in return. This is what produces tumblr posts like this:


... and reddit threads like this:


That last one is a new one, isn't it?!

There's a standing obsession in Hollywood with writing "strong female characters." Obviously that's laudable, but in truth, Hollywood rarely goes about this by writing believable, complex female characters that you can root for. They are far more on-the-nose about it. Maybe she can lift a really heavy object?? Mostly, though, the women are shown as being "strong" by effortlessly annihilating any men looking at them the wrong way, and ironically that makes them weaker characters.

Gotham has steadily slumped into this black pit since the third season. In fact, you can probably date it back to when Bruno Heller lost all creative power over the show, with things now seemingly run-by-committee or possibly just by Danny Cannon.


For example, see the Bruce/Selina discourse. Now, first, their scenes are magic this episode, and I love, love, love them, but this narrative remains: Bruce struggles, while Selina just wins. I don't believe we've ever seen Selina with a mark on her face after a fight. That means that Bruce has character development in that department, while Selina's just an auto-win button to use as needed.


The scene with Bruce tackling the circus strongman is perfect. It is perfect just because it is tough. The dude is three times his size!!! Bruce doesn't even win, he's about to get choked to death, and then Selina just shows up in shining armor with a whip and everything's roses. But the point is Bruce tries, he doesn't give up, and we get to see this evolution first-hand. We hardly ever get the same with poor Catgirl.

However, Gotham goes one step beyond the normal discourse by taking storylines that should have rightfully belonged to male characters and giving them to women as part of the "female empowerment" deal, and this is where we find out how the writing truly is at fault.

Just as the grudge match between Jim, Ozzie and Sofia would ideally have been symbolically resolved between those three characters, so too the "Demon's Head" storyline rightfully belongs to Bruce.


Ra's Al Ghul forced Bruce Wayne, his prince and chosen heir, to murder him in order to succeed him. This was the most potent and original development of early season four given massive attention through several episodes, and Gotham now cheats their viewers out of the juicy consequences of that story with Bruce suddenly thrust into the role of the leader of some weird supernatural villain army, by handing it all over to Barbara.

I believe the reason this is happening is that Gotham doesn't bother to create believable grudge matches for their female characters to win, nor does the show care to craft the grand arcs that could make them earn these moments by their own merits. Unlike Bruce, who made the conscious choice to kill Ra's, Barbara didn't choose to come back to life, nor did she choose this power. Ra's was her Deus ex machina, and now she's a figurehead following his silent whispers. In summary it's an afterthought that doesn't even win the character any agency, plastered-on for cheap representation points.

This concludes my breakdown of this debacle. I verily don't want to have to write more about it. I'd much rather concentrate on good, relatable stories.

Now we have Bruce and Jim both gearing up for the fight with Jerome, Jonathan and Jervis. We have Riddler and Penguin returning to the scene. Hell, I think we might even get some progression with Bruce and Selina. As has been the case all season, next episode could very well be fantastic. Gotham has that ability to surprise you with a spectacular home run now and again.

If not for one atrocious scene I'd rated this one highly, but in a way I guess it's worth banging your head on the table for five straight minutes to get the pleasure of forty good minutes of Gotham.

P.S. Aren't the screenshot edits spiffy? I got really pleased with them. D.S.

5 comments:

Jonny said...

I have basically the same complaint about Game of Thrones and how they write women. "Strong" does not mean "psychotic" or devoid of empathy for others. There's a strange implication that for a woman to be taken seriously as a character, she must act in a villainous manner.

And nothing should be effortless for any character. Buffy wasn't strong because she was strong, but because she struggled with life and overcame it through effort, sacrifice and with the help of those she loved, like we all do.

Diogo said...

Yeah, Gotham operates on an incredibly shallow version of what "female empowerment" is supposed to be. Apparently being an arrogant, cruel, jealous, petty, possessive, out-of-touch and for most of the time incompetent female character, then having a man you dated literally hand you everything on a platter because you "deserve it" (never mind that there were far better players in Gotham, like the deceased and more competent Fish Mooney), and then consolidating that power thanks to an out of nowhere gendercide (with very little setup given that we had barely even seen the League of Shadows troops as characters before) is supposed to be "empowering". I understand the political statement they were trying to make, and it came off incredibly clumsy to the point of almost being a satire. Let's not even get to how Barbara perpetuates the long trend of portraying bisexual people as evil characters on fiction... It's also a very reactionary idea of empowerment, the idea that power for power's sake, the power to control, oppress and abuse is a positive thing by itself as long as it is in the hands of a woman.

Feel free to disagree with me, but I don't see it as empowering. It comes off as actually very condescending to women in general, ironically enforcing the very patriarchal notions they purportedly wish to reject. The patriarchal idea of women as "delicate", too fragile to face harm, and in need of favors from men, never mind all of the real life women who had to triumph through their own merits and the military and police women who get injured in the line of duty.

Compare and contrast with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where we saw her take hits and serious damage (from males) but ultimately triumph. Compare to Wonder Woman. Heck, compare to the Batman Animated Series, where the writers wrote actually interesting and well-developed villainesses and it felt no need to treat them with kiddie gloves, because it had faith in them; it's ironic how the technically more modern Gotham took a step backwards in regards to that brilliant show.

Diogo said...

It's sad cuz other than that poorly thought out scene filled with unfortunate implications, I outright loved most of the episode. Watching the Mad Hatter, Scarecrow and Joker (c'mon, let's call a spade a spade) team-up like that looked like something straight out of the comics and cartoons, and it was utterly wonderful. In fact, the Scarecrow and Mad Hatter dialogue was possibly an homage to their scenes together in The Long Halloween mini-series.

Patryk said...

Just wait for the writers to spitefully deny Jerome's Jokerhood and piss off the rest of the fans that still stayed with the show. :/

Logan Cox said...

I haven't kept up with the show at all, but I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks writing "strong women" this way is a rather glaring flaw. It's one of the problems I had with Game of Thrones the last few seasons: most of the men have to live in shame or face harsh punishment for the horrible things they do, whereas women doing horrible things is portrayed as empowering and justified, usually because they were once victims.

It's not even that ruthless female characters with "girl power" on the brain are bad; that is pretty much the hat Yara Greyjoy wears on GoT, and I still like her. The problem is you can tell when this direction feels contrived, focus-grouped, probably by a bunch of guys. It's just bad writing trying to pander to a narrow demographic. Having a character designed to kick ass and take names can be fun, but it's not enough to make them compelling. This is true whether they are male or female. That's why Alice from the Resident Evil series has got nothing on the likes of Princess Leia, Sarah Conner, Buffy Summers, hell, even polarizing characters like Skylar White from Breaking Bad or Rey from the new Star Wars trilogy.