Gotham: The Blind Fortune Teller

Lee: “There are plenty of things in this world that can’t be explained by rational science.”

Oh hey Barbara! I didn’t notice you there! I thought maybe you got lost, or the showrunners may have dropped you down a black hole, never to be seen again.

At this point, I’m of the belief that in any work of fiction, it is ultimately better for an author to shout “au revoir” and write off a character for good, than to make it clear to their audience that they haven’t the foggiest clue what to do with said character anymore. And so it pains me to say that Gotham might be better off in the long haul if they give the axe to Barbara Kean now while they still can. The whole reason, as far as I can remember, that Barbara is peeved at Gordon is because she believes he’s been busy entertaining other mistresses, merely because she mistook Ivy Pepper over the phone for being one of them. But resolving this misunderstanding doesn’t seem to make for good entertainment according to the showrunners, so they choose to disregard the possibility that Barbara could have easily recognized Ivy’s voice in person when she stumbles upon her and Selina in her apartment. And hey, while we're at it, why not widen the rift between Barbara and Gordon when just anyone unannounced and without warning can somehow waltz into the GCPD precinct and witness Gordon and Lee making out in the locker room. Don’t worry showrunners, you just keep focusing on that inevitable catfight between Barbara and Lee for the season finale you’re so eagerly setting up – I’ll just sit here remembering my deep breathing exercises.

I understand that this can sound like nit-picking, but it pains me seeing how Barbara Kean has been reduced from being an actual character, to a mere plot device who’s there to push and propel other actual characters to where they need to be by the end of season one. I’d be sorry to see Barbara go had the show written her out permanently, but at least in that way, she’s being put out of her misery.

Moving on to the main event, for an episode that’s built entirely on the promise that we would witness the origin of the future clown prince of crime himself, ‘The Blind Fortune Teller’ leaves me with a passionate feeling of “...meh.”

First things first, I do need to stress that Cameron Monaghan’s performance as Jerome Valeska, who we can only assume is destined to become The Joker, is certainly not what is lacking here. In fact, he’s almost exactly what I would imagine had I been instructed to envision an adolescent devil-may-care psychopath without the emerald locks and rictus grin. I also realize Gotham is a series with the notion of exploring the origins of Batman’s rogues practically built into its premise. And yes, I even recall that Tim Burton’s Batman also goes against the grain by putting its own spin on Joker’s genesis.

So why does this indication that we may have seen the first glimpse of the Joker feel... well, unseemly?

What is distinguished about the character of Joker for me is that he is a perfect yin to someone else’s yang, that someone else being a caped crusader Gotham most likely will not feature in the years to come. Regardless of whoever's penning the comic, movie, or television series, Joker’s beef has never been with Gotham’s boys in blue, or even with other rogues situated in Gotham, but always Batman. Joker is always there to throw a wrench in everything Batman stands for, to take the order that Batman is always trying to restore to Gotham, and turn it right on its head. So how does this tie into my red flag with this week’s episode? Perhaps Jerome turns out to be a one-and-done character, merely there to give an indication of who the Joker may have been in his younger years. But another ‘perhaps’ that’s giving me a sinking feeling is that because Gordon cracked the case here and figured out that it was Jerome truly who killed his mother, Gordon has now quite firmly weaved his way into Jerome’s life, regardless of whether that was his intention or not. So now, going forward, if Jerome makes his grand return one day, he may be looking to settle the score with Gordon. He may be looking to introduce a little chaos into the law and order Gordon is working so hard to promote in the city. The way rivals do. See where I’m going with this? Look Gotham, just because Bruce hasn’t put on the cowl yet, doesn’t mean we have to make Gordon into ‘Proto-Batman.’

Another problem I immediately realized five minutes in is that, as mentioned earlier, because this episode spelled out to us quite clearly in its first teaser trailer that it would be introducing Joker next to the series, what has happened is that its supposed ‘twist’ in the end that Jerome is the actual murderer now has lost the element of surprise. The audience already knows this week that Gotham has begun planting the seeds for Joker so there’s no shock or astonishment whatsoever that Jerome is the culprit. All that buildup in the first half hour, making sure the audience knows there’s a petty squabble between two disgruntled families of circus performers, amounts to jack-squat if we already know who the man behind the curtain is.

Backing up a step, the whole reason Gordon becomes wound up in this investigation is because he happens to be on site at the carnival where Jerome’s mother was employed at. On a date with Lee no less. I’ll be frank, I’ve actually come to enjoy watching Morena Baccarin’s performance as Lee over the last few episodes for two primary reasons: it’s fun to see somebody who effectively ‘wears the pants’ in a relationship concerning Jim Gordon, and her near-insatiable appetite for dangerous and perilous situations is a breath of fresh air when it comes to comic book heroines. Her chutzpah could turn her into quite the prevailing asset to the series down the road, provided that she finds a place and a purpose other than Gordon’s eye-candy.

I know I’ve done my fair share in the past dissecting the oddity of Gordon and Lee’s relationship, but I feel compelled to comment on it once again here if only because Lee outright calls Gordon out on his B.S. in this episode, remarking what I’m sure a lot of us have been thinking anyway.

“You say you want a strong woman to share this crazy life you've chosen, but when push comes to shove, you want me to stay home and bake cookies.”

Not only does Lee have a point here (Gordon even admits she’s right in the end) but it begs the question as to what reason do the two of them even have for being together in the first place if they’re so quick to be at each other’s throats in every episode we’ve seen featuring them since they first got together? They’re polarizing – Gordon is of a more practical mind and does like having the cute girl on his arm (so long as she just stays away from the big, bad crime scenes), while Lee is more adventurous and exploratory than is expected, and her mind is shown in this episode to drift towards more impractical explanations and phenomena, such as the blind clairvoyant she believes can point Gordon in the right direction of his investigation. Gotham’s showrunners might think that such a divisive couple makes for good entertainment but, to quote Tony Stark, I say “Not a great plan!”

Because Gotham has such an extensive cast, mostly composed of characters all going through their own arc and development this season, it often becomes difficult to give everyone their moment in the spotlight throughout a single episode, and when an episode of Gotham tries to juggle too much at once, you end up with pacing problems and an uncertainty about whether you’re supposed to take anything away from a scene or not. To give an example, this episode in the span of sixty seconds shows us Bruce preparing to sit down with his company’s shareholders, Oswald playing ‘Heart and Soul’ on a piano, and Barbara trying on clothes in front of Selina and Ivy. Towards the episode’s end, Bruce’s sitdown with the shareholders is repeatedly interjected with scenes of Gordon closing his investigation into Jerome rather than just playing out as one, uninterrupted moment that the audience can soak in. It’s because of this jumping back-and-forth between Plot A, Plot B, Plot C, Plot D, and so on, that possible implications and takeaways can become misconstrued or missed altogether, and leaves the viewer feeling that such scenes like the ones above are more akin to pieces of filler than being scenes trying to reveal something worthwhile.

I’m left with a bit of a sour taste left in my mouth after this episode, but, this far into the season, I’m still committed to seeing Gotham through until the end.

Other Thoughts:

• Is that a potential rivalry I’m sensing between Lee and Nygma? If only, if only...

• Gordon claims it’ll only take a half hour to do a paternity test between Jerome and his alleged father but if my memory serves me, I’ve been told that the fastest blood tests take at least three to five days to get results.

• Fish states that using the organ donor prisoners as insurance is just “simple economics” but you’re telling me not one person in this prison – not the previous leader, not one John Doe – before Fish ever also thought of such an in-plain-sight idea?

• As random as the notion is of Zsasz somehow being able to brainwash Butch into serving Oswald, such is a development I could get used too very quickly. I like the idea of Butch being a more zany character than he was before, now that he’s under Oswald’s thumb.

Aaron Studer loves spending his time reading, writing and defending the existence of cryptids because they can’t do it themselves.

3 comments:

CoramDeo said...

I think you're right about building up the villains without their counterparts. That's the biggest problem that I have with the concept of this show in general. If I recall correctly, this particular aspect gets a lot better later on in the show, but it's very clunky in the first season.

Billie Doux said...

Yes, what CoramDeo said. I think this is why I had such a hard time connecting to Gotham. Terrific review, Aaron.

Aaron Studer said...

I truly think it stands out much more heavily with proto-Joker than with any other villain. This show seems to be going the route that all these villains are what will inspire Bruce to become Batman years down the line (in the comics, its kind of the opposite way around) and I’m totally fine with that, but somehow it just doesn’t feel like it’s the way to go with Joker.