This Gotham review contains spoilers.
Gotham: Season 2, Episode 21
Watching tonight’s excellent episode of Gotham,it’s hard not to wonder what this superhero show might look like with a shorter episode order. In many ways, Gothamis the most network-y show ever to network. It’s attention to villains-of-the-week isn’t a side effect of a 22-episode season order that requires a certain formulaic element, but rather a genuine interest of this story.
On the other hand, “A Legion of Horribles,” the penultimate episode of Gothamseason 2 proved what this show is capable of when it manages to focus its narrative lens on the characters we care about (with an extra dollop of Bullock). “A Legion of Horribles” still had all of the zany, comic book-y elements this show is so earnestly and endearingly committed to, but none of the quick-built characterization it tries to do with its more ephemeral character population.
No, “A Legion of Horribles” put the characters we care about all in one, dangerous place — Arkham Asylum — and gave us a complex villain we’ve slowly learned to fear over the course of this half-season. Hugo Strange is the standout villain of season 2 (sorry, Galavan), and that has never more clear than in his conversation with Bruce — one of the scenes of the entire season and show.
When this show was first launched, many would-be fans made fun of the teenage Bruce Wayne idea. No one seemed interested in watching proto-Batman if we knew we would never actually get to see him become Batman. But this limitation on the character has produced some rich character results in season 2. In a season that is constantly asking Jim Gordon to contort his character in underdeveloped and frustrating ways, Bruce Wayne is a character constant, while still getting the growth he perhaps didn’t in season 1.
Much like Bruce’s conversation with Matches Malone, Bruce’s conversation with Strange is defined by his piercing gaze and impressive poker face. Batman is, of course, known for his tech and his fighting skills, but he is also traditionally a man who knows how to work a conversation. For me, this has always been one of Bruce Wayne’s most interesting qualities: the dichotomy between who he is and who he must pretend to be.
While Gotham‘sBruce hasn’t yet needed to develop a playboy alter ego to cover his nocturnal justice-seeking, he has increasingly been called upon this season to work a social situation, to play a part, to keep his true agenda close to his chest. And, though Hugo Strange may see through Bruce here, it’s not because Bruce isn’t convincing.
Can I take a second to stop and commend David Mazouz’ talent at this point? Much of Bruce’s strength as a character comes from this 15-year-old actor’s understated, yet powerful performance. The differences in the choices Mazouz makes in Bruce’s scene with Alfred vs. his scene with Strange are relatively minor — Bruce’s face is relatively stoic even when he is at his most emotional — but he manages to convey regret, worry, and a yearning for Alfred’s approval in the first scene, while maintaining a curious, cold politeness in the latter.
That is until Strange basically admits to killing Bruce’s parents. But, even then, Mazouz doesn’t oversell Bruce’s quiet fury or stubborn moralism. On a show known for doing almost everything over the top (just last episode, someone was blown up with a bazooka), Mazouz is the eye of the storm.
Elsewhere in Arkham, we get to spend some time with Gotham‘s other teenage secret weapon. Like Bruce, Selina is one of the best parts of the show — though for different reasons. Camren Bicondova doesn’t get asked to carry quite as much of the character-driven emotion as Bruce (though I’d like to see Gothamgive her more of it), but she is great in the character beats she does get.
Like Bruce, she has a strict kind of moralism, even if it is hidden by street smarts and sarcasm. Selina is steadfastly loyal to the people she loves. This includes Bruce and this includes Bridget, aka Firefly. Selina is willing to risk her life to try to save Bridget, who was there for her when Selina’s mother left. Of course, just because Selina is a good friend, doesn’t mean she’s stupid. When it becomes clear that she can’t break Bridget’s brainwashing, she takes a different tact, offering to be her minion. Selina Kyle is a survivor.
Speaking of survivors, it was pretty great to see Fish Mooney up and about. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I was always a Fish fan — or at least, I was as much of a Fish fan as I am any of the over-the-top villain-types on this show. Fish has style, and, on Gotham,style is one of the most valuable narrative currencies.
It’s hard to imagine what Fish might do with her new persuasive abilities. This woman almost took over Gothamwithout any superpowers. In the short term, I imagine her Arkham prison break might work in Bruce, Lucius, and Jim’s favor. They all currently being held by Strange, with their futures looking short and dismal.
Bruce and Lucius have been left in the “care” of Nygma, who is taking his new responsibility of getting information out of them in stride with glee. He is giving the Wayne Industries duo five minutes to fess up about who they’ve told about Strange’s experiments. If they don’t, they will die a slow and painful death by poison gas. Presumably, if they do, they will still die — though maybe less painfully?
It was nice to see Lucius given something to do in this episode, though his methods of trying to determine where Strange’s lab is located were the most obvious thing ever (no wonder Strange caught this group). Lucius makes up for his less-than-stellar spy work later, when he tells Bruce that he can’t blame himself for everything that has happened to Selina, Lucius, and Jim. They have all chosen their own paths. They chose to help. By taking the blame, he is undermining their own personhood. I wish more superhero stories poked holes in this annoying trope.
While Lucius and Bruce face death by poison gas, Jim has a slightly different problem to worry about. Using one of his contraptions, Strange manages to create a lookalike of Gordon. This was the only part of tonight’s episode I wasn’t quite sure about. Gothamhas really pushed its narrative limits in season 2 with Strange’s experimentation (hey, Clayface!), but I’m not sure if I am ready for a Gordon doppelganger plotline — especially this close to the end of the season, which means it will probably be rushed and sillily executed. On the other hand, I am excited to see Ben McKenzie given a chance to play a zanier Gordon.
Amidst all these major plot happenings, perhaps the biggest one was not with our heroes, but with our villains. We finally got a glimpse at the Court of Owls, the mysterious group that Strange answers to. If this group is anything like the comics, then they have potentially been shaping the nosedive path of Gothamsince the very beginning of this show (and, you know, longer for the narrative world itself).
As we learned in tonight’s episode, the Court of Owls were the ones who asked Strange to figure out how to resurrect someone. Is this simply because they all seem kind of old-ish and want a neverending retirement plan? Or do they have an already-dead resurrection candidate in mind? Furthermore, does Strange’s successful resurrection of Fish Mooney possibly mean that we might see a main character “die” in the season finale? If so, my money is on Bruce Wayne. There’s nothing like killing Batman to prompt headlines. Also, Bruce has been said (and demonstrated) multiple times that he isn’t afraid of death. Foreshadowing or proto-Batman bravado? We’ll have to wait and see…