Gotham: Nothing's Shocking

Oswald: "Penn, I think you need some rest... and a psychiatrist!"

What a conflicting and contrasting episode this turned out to be. All I could really muster afterwards was "I think I liked it?" Forgive me though, for I realize how that doesn't sound very promising.

After my viewing of 'Nothing's Shocking', I did some additional reading online afterwards and learned that in the process of developing and filming the initial layout for Season 5, FOX gave Gotham the opportunity to air two additional episodes, allowing Gotham to reach the 100-episode milestone. But this can also be seen as a double-edged sword by some, because since Gotham already had Season 5's resolution set, some of it already well into filming too, their new material for the two episodes – pushed into the slots of 5x08 and 5x09 – couldn't display anything that would contradict or upset the narrative's flow. Enter 'Nothing's Shocking' and presumably next week's 'The Trial of Jim Gordon'. These are sure to be filler-episodes in every sense of the word, but even filler can have its redeeming points. Do they outweigh the shortcomings, though?

'Nothing's Shocking's story this week is fractured a tad more than its predecessors, with one plot dedicated to Gordon and Bullock pursuing a shapeshifting cop-killer, one centered around Bruce and Alfred investigating the tunnels Joker had been digging all throughout this season, and a third revolving around Oswald and Nygma having a run-in with the presumed-dead Arthur Penn. Each one features a self-contained villain to this week's episode, and cinematography that makes you feel like someone kept leaving the tripod on an uneven stack of thesauruses. (Hasn't the slanted camera shot become an old chestnut by this point? It's about as overdone as the last word of a pop hook being "tonight".)

We should start with Bruce and Alfred's story first, if only because I have the least to say about that one. As it turns out, there are unknown perpetrators now inhabiting the tunnels Joker's troupe had burrowed, and they've begun preying on innocent civilians. Substratum tunnels and sewers, people's flesh being sought after for consumption, and an eerie snarling that is quick to catch Bruce and Alfred's attention could naturally only allow someone like me to assume this episode was giving us the debut at last of Waylon Jones/Killer Croc, and nothing else. Gotham, however, decided they could top that easily though and instead revealed that Villain-Of-The-Week No. 1 is just a disfigured cannibalistic average-Joe harmed by the radioactive chemicals Gordon dumped in the river last week as part of his "brilliant" solution to foiling Joker. But I did mention 'redeeming points' earlier and this subplot does have it in the form of Bruce using throwing stars or throwing knives of some sort to save Alfred's skin. It's really nothing more than just another allusion to Batman, but David Mazouz has sold me so much this season on his aesthetic that I think he looks even more menacing without the cowl.

Meanwhile, Villain-Of-The-Week No. 2 is a shapeshifter that's begun killing off retired police officers in the city, and it seems that Gordon and Bullock are their next targets. In the process of the investigation, because Gordon discovers that Bullock and the victims all used to work together in the corrupt manner we saw the GCPD operate in back in Season 1, he immediately decides Bullock can't be trusted or relied on in this investigation, and even goes as far as 'benching' him when they obtain a lead on the killer's address. Even if I were Gordon's number one fan, I would still feel that this was really out-of-character for him. Gordon and Bullock have been through how many battles for Gotham's soul now? How many times have they stuck their neck out for one another? But now because Gordon's gotten to reminiscing about the days when Falcone ruled over the GCPD for just a bit, he decides he doesn't want to have Bullock watching his back in this case? Bullock's theory too that Basil Karlo/Clayface could be the perpetrator (a theory also shared by yours truly) held just as much water as Gordon's theory that the GCPD had a hand in covering up the killer's history.

The killer in question is actually Jane Doe, the first villain since Professor Pyg last season that Gotham's actually gotten me to go online and look up. Similar to Absorbing Man from Marvel Comics, Jane Doe has the ability to mimic other's appearances and mannerisms just by touching them. It's perplexing to me that Gotham would bring in another shapeshifter, toyed with by Hugo Strange while at Arkham no less, when there's already one established in Gotham's mythos. At least she does her part here by reminding the audience that Gotham City's police have the precision of your average Death Star-stormtrooper when it comes to trying to hit a limping target. Bullock feels guilt over his hand in indirectly sending Jane to Arkham and tries to make peace with her, but is forced to gun her down when she retaliates.

The final subplot here was by far the most delightful and enjoyable for me. For context, Oswald and Nygma have begun attempting to build a submarine that can carry them out of the city. While bickering away in their workshop, they are abruptly confronted by Arthur Penn, Oswald's former handyman who was presumably shot and killed at Haven several episodes before. But Penn isn't alone – he's got with him Villain-Of-The-Week No. 3: a ventriloquist dummy named Mr. Scarface who wants to cross Oswald off and make a name for himself as the city's newest mobster. As shoehorned in and almost nonsensical Penn's revival is, I am thrilled that we've finally gotten a live-action debut of The Ventriloquist.


Of all the villains inaugurated into Batman's rogues' gallery in the last three decades, Ventriloquist and Mr. Scarface, popularized heavily by Batman: The Animated Series, have been among my favorites. The schizophrenic nature of Arnold Wesker and the ambiguous notion of whether he was controlling the dummy or the dummy was actually sentient fit right into the maddened nature of Batman's world. And in Gotham, albeit a little stiff, it's fair to say that Penn (Andrew Sellon) has the voice practically down-pat. Nygma manipulating Penn and Scarface into sparing him and giving Oswald a chance to get the upper hand was brilliant too, though I'd say the showrunners are being a little too meta at this point with the sexual undertones concerning Oswald and Nygma. Oswald remarking that he and Nygma may be meant for each other after all before the two of them laugh it off at the episode's end can be left up to your own interpretation.

So now that Mr. Scarface has taken the stage, with the potential of easily shaping up to be the most entertaining villain Season 5 has introduced – for all of ten minutes – it brings us to what is so conflicting about this episode for me. What do Oswald and Nygma follow through with once they've turned the tables? They kill him – Penn and the dummy both. Even if Gotham's jumbled schedule of filming episodes out of order means that Scarface and Penn can't show up in future episodes, my issue is with the notion in itself of introducing lesser-known rogues to the show. By now, I believe Gotham has abandoned the prequel-shtick, and has committed to being the best full-blown Batman television series it can possibly be with only twelve episodes left. But then what's the point of bringing in future Batman rogues if their fate is just to be axed off, never to face the caped crusader, or even young Bruce Wayne for that matter? Penn and Jane bite the dust here, Magpie in last week's episode, Pyg back in Season 4... starting to see a pattern? I'm not surprised by any means by Penn's fate ('Nothing's Shocking' certainly lives up to its name in that aspect), I'm just truly flummoxed by all these hasty conclusions to Gotham's villain-of-the-week stories. Maybe it's for the better that Bruce and Alfred didn't encounter Killer Croc – it probably spared him the likely fate too of a premature death.

'Nothing's Shocking' works best as an independent, even successfully horror-esque at times segment, but as an episode surrounded by four previous seasons and the legacy of Batman in its future, it's clunky and dispensable. Even as a filler episode, the sense that Gotham City is essentially a wasteland, and ammo and rations are scarce values that was felt in this season's first three or four episodes, now feels strangely absent here. I think it's fruitless at this point to continue anymore trying to make sense of Gotham's loony state considering it has the worst case of DID I've seen since Kevin Wendall Crumb graced the big screens.

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

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fun episode for a filler. Ed/Ozzie continue to be the highlight. They are made for each other.
mazephoenix

Diogo said...

Scarface was fantastic, too bad he's completely wasted by being killed and limited to a single episode. Just like a lot of great Batman villains and concepts that have already been discarded before Bruce has even become Batman. Also, where the hell is Harvey Dent?

Goddamm it, I knew Gotham would face this problem from the very beginning, it's Smallville all over again. Even before the show started I said that rather than just making another prequel they should have just done a proper Batman show. Why do they keep running themselves into these corners? They always claim "it's going to be a prequel, for real", but then they ALWAYS realize that there's only so much you can squeeze out of the least interesting times of the hero's life, and then undermine the prequel concept by transplanting an entire rogue's gallery, plotlines and events WAY earlier than they should have appeared. The end result is that we see the villains fully realized but without the satisfaction of watching Batman battle them.

It's dumb. I ask Gotham the same thing I asked Smallville in the later seasons: why didn't they just let Bruce/Clark become Batman/Superman already? Sure, they'd be breaking their promises, but they shouldn't have made those promises in the first place. At this point I'd take broken promises over what we have now.