This Gotham review contains spoilers.
Gotham Season 3, Episodes 21 and 22
Gotham has always been better at writing its villains than its heroes, which is why, perhaps, when it turns its heroes into villains for its Season 3 finale, it gives us its best season ender yet.
Heading into “Destiny Calling,” part one of the Gotham two-hour season finale, the show’s chief symbols of morality have both been compromised — Bruce by his Court of Owls-sanctioned conditioning at the hands of the Shaman and Jim by the Tetch virus. As manly heroes are wont to do in these cases, they both fight against the villainous forces whispering in their ear, but can only do so much to stave off the inevitable consequences. Jim is arguably better at resisting than Bruce, though they admittedly both accidentally murder people they don’t particularly want to.
In Jim’s case, the person he drives a sword through is none other than Fish Mooney, putting an end to her random reappearance on the show (and, it seems, an end to her character on this show altogether). How will this affect Oswald and Jim’s relationship moving forward? Hard to say at this point. Though Jim was under the influence of the Tetch virus when he accidentally murdered Fish, Penguin looked pretty pissed in the aftermath. Lucky for Jim, at this point, Oswald had other fish to fry.
Bruce’s murder was much more gutting. (Pun intended? Sure!) Still acting under the influences of the Shaman’s conditioning, Bruce runs a sword through Alfred’s chest upon R’as al Ghul’s order… Oh yeah, did I mention that R’as shows up to spout some talk of destiny at Bruce? I’m not sure how I felt about the character’s introduction. On the one hand, Alexander Siddig is excellently cast as R’as and I am eager to see how this villain continues to shape Bruce in Season 4. On the other hand, the introduction was much too brief for my liking, shoehorned into a season finale that had too much else going on.
That being said, R’as knows how to make an entrance. Alfred’s murder at Bruce’s hands was heartbreaking, especially when seeing Alfred’s death breaks through Bruce’s conditioning. He goes from an emotion-less shell of a man to a desperate child, pleading with Alfred not to leave him. Not when Alfred is the only family he has left.
Gotham sure knew how to get the most emotional impact from the death, too, giving Alfred multiple speeches about his love for Bruce in the lead up and aftermath of the death. Alfred has never been the effusively sentimental type, but in his efforts to break through to Bruce, he tells him stories of his parents love for him. He tells Bruce of his love for him. That is real, Alfred tells a stoic Bruce; not the absence of pain and the thirst for vengeance the Shaman has promised. In this case, love won out. Alfred didn’t stay dead for long, with the help of some water from the Lazarus Pit. (Not sure why R’as had Bruce kill Alfred just to give him a way to resurrect him.)
The Alfred/Bruce moments were one example of the emotional articulation the season finale had in spades — something I’m not used to saying about this show and one that made it much better, intercutting the comic book campiness and villainy (those descriptors are not insults) with moments of genuine, character-driven emotion that, for the most part, felt earned.
In addition to Bruce’s storyline, the Jim/Harvey friendship got an emotional climax. As Jim struggled against his virus and his desire to be with Lee, Harvey appealed to Jim’s intense commitment to both the GDPD and to their partnership. The season finale might have thought the Lee/Jim dynamic was the love story in Jim’s storyline, but, for me at least, the love story was between Harvey and Jim. From the beginning of this show, their friendship has been a consistent bright spot, even when Jim’s other storylines were floundering. I believe in Jim’s love for Harvey far more than I believe in his love for Lee.
One emotion-driven storyline that stumbled a bit in the season finale was the confrontation between Oswald and Ed, which has been one of the best dynamics of the season. Unfortunately, here, the cat-and-cat game these two are playing didn’t bring much of anything new to the dynamic, though with Robin Lord Taylor and Cory Michael Smith so delightfully chewing scenery, it can be easy to care too much.
Ultimately, Oswald wins… this time. He risks his own life to trick Ed into thinking he has the upper hand. Then, he strikes, getting Mr. Freeze to turn Ed into a human popsicle to be displayed in his new club — a reminder, he says, to never fall prey to the weakness of love.
It’s a nice thematic counterpoint to Bruce and Jim’s own storylines. While the show’s protagonists are reminded of the power of love, leading them back to the path of heroism, Oswald is convinced of the weakness of love, leading him back to the path of villainy (not that he ever strayed far from it). In the zany world of Gotham, I still think Ed and Oswald could still work things out somewhere down the line. Though they may not claim to love one another, they have never been anything short of obsessed with one another this season — and, in Gotham, I’m not sure there is much of a difference between the two.
Speaking of dysfunctional Gotham love, the simmering tension between Tabitha and Barbara comes to a head. When Butch finally convinces Tabitha that Barbara cares more about power than their relationship, Tabitha agrees to talk Babs out. Of course, Barbara hasn’t made it this far because she’s stupid. She shoots Butch in the head before he can enact his plan, confronting Tabitha in a hurt fury. Tabitha manages to talk Barbara out, electrocuting her to maybe death? (Please don’t be dead, Barbara.) It’s a competent storyline, but one that would have benefitted from a few more Barbara/Tabitha conversations over the course of the season in place of some of the redundant Tabitha/Butch scenes.
Will Butch be back? Though he may have suffered a headshot, we learn that his real name is Cyrus Gold, a zombie supervillain from DC lore. Something tells me this isn’t the last we’ve seen of “Butch”…
And what of Tabitha? With Barbara seemingly gone, Tabby heads back to The Sirens Nightclub to take stock. She runs into Selina who, reeling from a conversation with Bruce, wants to double down on her status in Gotham. She’s hoping Barbara might be able to help with that. Well, Barbara might not in a position to mentor Selina, but Tabitha is. She gives Selina her whip, bringing the teen one step closer to her Catwoman persona. It’s a badass moment for this show, and not one that I necessarily thought we would ever see. It’s also not the only iconic moment of the episode’s closing moments…
Across town, a thief holds a family up at gunpoint as they make their way down a Gotham alley. Before the mugging can turn too ugly, a vigilante comes out of the shadows, taking down the thief and saving the family. It’s Bruce Wayne, dressed in a DIY Batman costume. He may not be able to erase the pain of his own loss, but he can save others from having to experience that same pain.
Alfred tells Bruce that, to figure out who he is, he needs to find something to love and protect. It’s not exactly a twist that Bruce chooses Gotham, but it’s no less affecting in its inevitable reveal. As Bruce takes off his cowl and looks out over his city, it feels like a new chapter in this show is starting — one that may finally see Gotham‘s heroes given the same narrative chances as its villains.