This Gotham review contains spoilers.
Gotham Season 3, Episode 14
Death. Violence. Murder. These actions don’t mean the same thing on television as they do in real life. They are melodramatic catalysts for the emotions they produce. They aren’t the point; the reactions they cause are. They’re ciphers, simple stand-ins for the much more complicated language of living.
This is even more true in the world of Gotham,where death, violence, and murder are used as lightly and liberally as other shows use more casual forms of betrayal: gossip, lies, and infidelity. It can make for a confusing, unsettling, and overwhelming effect. It also results in a world where to value human life, to not kill, maim, torture, or enact harm makes you an outlier. Enter Bruce Wayne.
I’ve written before about how Bruce Wayne is the only character on this show who seems to value human life and who gets visibly upset when someone dies or is hurt. Gordon has his moments, but, the way his character is played in the world of Gotham,his anger at injustice seems to come less from a place of empathy and compassion and more from his tightly-clutched identity as The City’s Savior.
(But, hey, Gotham needs all of the “good” guys it can get, regardless of their motivation. It just makes Jim Gordon a heck of a lot more annoying when he is giving self-righteous speeches about Truth, Justice, and the Gotham Way. But I digress…)
Point is, the winter finale was great and that had a lot to do with how well Gothamhas set up Bruce Wayne’s character in relation to pretty much every other living, breathing occupant (and probably some of the buildings and streets, too) in the city of Gotham. Unlike the rest of this cruel, violent, unjust world, Bruce Wayne cares.
I’m not always comfortable with the way this show plays fast and loose with subjects like police brutality, mental illness, and violence against woman — sometimes, I think it’s downright irresponsible — but there’s something subversive in the way that Bruce Wayne has taken all of the pain his young life has brought him and turned it into something, for want of a better word, positive. It goes against much of the connection between mental illness/pain and violence that this show, and many other popular stories, tend to present as if-then logic.
Yes, you can already see Bruce developing the foundation for a whole host of personality disorders and mental illnesses, and it’s really sad. This kid is not going to find a lot of happiness down this path, but Gothamdoesn’t present many other possible scenarios and, in this fictional world, choosing to be a crime-fighting, justice-seeking superhero is presented as the best possible outcome for young Bruce Wayne.
The choice also breaks the logic between pain and villainy. It veers dangerously close to a representation of a character choosing to take action not because of his painful past, but because of a basic humanity. In other words: characters (and people, for that matter) shouldn’t have to need a situationally-relevant backstory to do the right thing.
When Bruce chooses to take out Jerome, he isn’t doing it because of his parents or even because of the torture he has endured at the villain’s hand, at least that’s not how it’s presented, but because of the people Jerome killed. You see it every time Jerome hurts a Gotham resident. Bruce takes each and every one of those deaths personally.
Still, unlike other incarnations of the Batman, Bruce isn’t ready to jump on The Ends Justifies the Means Bandwagon just yet. On a show that once killed someone with a balloon like it was depicting something as inconsequential as a white lie, Bruce tells Alfred: “I will not kill.” He recognizes the thin line between justice and vengeance and vows to stay on the right side of it. In Gotham, the kids are not alright, but they are still the best hope for the city’s future.
Jerome is a perfect villain for Bruce’s revelation and clarification of his values. The two are well-matched, perhaps mostly because Jerome isn’t that much older than Bruce. (David Mazouz is 15, while Cameron Monaghan is 23.) This isn’t Bruce facing off against weary career criminal Matches Malone. Jerome is Bruce’s villainous equal: a young person who Gotham has failed, but who remains integrally connected to this city. And, of course, comic book canonically, the Joker is one of Batman’s most notorious nemeses.
It doesn’t hurt that Gothamhas such fine, young actors in these roles. Overall, the Gothamcast is a treasure trove of actorly riches that sells plot twists and character moments that have no right landing as effectively as they do, but it’s particularly impressive that the youngest members of the Gothamcast are as good as their more senior, experienced thespians of the group. Monaghan is a charismatic ball of villainous, manic energy as Jerome. It should be easier to look away from a character who has his face grotesquely sewn back on, but it’s not. You can’t wait to see what Monaghan’s Joker does next.
Meanwhile, Mazouz makes Bruce’s world weariness seem not only possible for a 15-year-old billionaire, but heroic. Bruce should be annoying. His turtleneck-wearing philosophizing on the nature of vengeance and justice should be ridiculous, but Mazouz sells it. He is one of the best, most consistent parts of this inconsistent show.
We also need to talk about the direction in this episode, which was most unignorably mesmerizing in those circus scenes, but was beautiful throughout. The shots of Bruce standing, confused and concerned, in front of the whirling lights of the circus rides? Brilliant. Later in the episode, we see the characters take stock of their situations and their city as the sun rises over Gotham, a bright, orange glow in the background of the Wayne manor and the GCPD headquarters. I often find myself frustrated with this show’s writing, but I don’t credit its production values and direction nearly enough.
Of course, this episode wasn’t just about the Bruce/Jerome showdown. We also had some resolution to the Ed/Oswald stuff that has been a particular highlight of this season, if not messily handled post-Isabella’s death. While Bruce is making the subversive choice to eschew murder in a town that uses violence to get things done on the regular, Oswald makes the decision to love in a criminal underworld that sees most (if not all) forms of tender human emotion as the ultimate weakness. Oswald’s capacity to love amidst all of his darker instincts is the cognitive dissonance at the heart of this character and the element of Gotham‘s Penguin that makes him one of the best characters on this show.
I’m glad to see that Gothamhasn’t dropped the Ed/Oswald (tragic) romance, or made a big deal of the fact that it’s queer. Not one character has made a comment about the fact that Oswald loves another man. Not one character has called Oswald’s love for Ed less valid than Ed’s love for Isabella — or, when they do, it’s not because of its queerness. When Ed does call Oswald’s love into question, it’s not because he is a man loving a man, but because he didn’t put Ed’s happiness before his own, which is totally valid.
Robin Lord Taylor and Cory Michael Smith are excellent in their final scene together. Though it’s not hard to guess where the scene is going (given the show’s winter finale-ness), but Smith totally sells Ed’s confusion. I doubt that Oswald is dead for good, and I look forward to future interactions between these two characters. As I said before, murder (or attempted murder) doesn’t mean the same thing on this show as it does others.
On any other show, having one character murder his love interest’s girlfriend would be a dealbreaker, an end to their potential romance. Having one character attempt to murder another character would be a mood killer. In Gotham‘s unique language,it feels like a weird evening of the score for these two characters. In other words, I think there’s still a chance #Nygmobblepot could work out.
As Oswald tells Ed moments before Ed shoots him, he’s the only one who sees Nygma for who he truly is. These two characters see each other for who they truly are and, at least at one point, both loved one another (romantically and/or platonically) in spite of it. On Gotham,that’s as close as you get to true love. (Disclaimer: Kids, don’t try Gotham‘s dysfunctional brand of true love at home. Don’t murder your love interest’s love interests.)
While Gotham‘s main character — in particularly Gordon and Bullock — were busy dealing with Gotham’s descent into the blackout-instigated madness, the Court of Owls watched and plotted from afar. And they have a new member… Jim’s Uncle Frank (played by James Remar).
We see Frank conferring with Kathryn throughout the episode. He seems to be part of Kathryn’s plan to use Bruce’s doppelganger to control the city, showing up at Jim’s door in the final act of the episode. What does Frank want? And what is the Court of Owls planning to do with Doppel-Bruce?
There was a lot to like about Gotham‘swinter finale. “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies” is yet another example of Gothamseason three’s ability to consolidate its characters and plot lines into one, cohesive story in a way the show had a lot of trouble with in its first two seasons.
This show will always have its issues, but if it keeps delivering installments like this one, bolstered by the strong talent of its cast, production team, and directors, it makes a good argument for its continued existence in this era of Peak TV. If nothing else, it remains committed to its comic book tone and really is like nothing else on TV.