Oh, great – it’s a Barbara-centered episode!
Okay, okay. I’m being unnecessarily harsh. After all Babs, as she’s more affectionately known, has at least done…well…stuff this season as opposed to last season where she was more of a sidelines character. I’ve made it no secret that I’ve never been a fan of Babs because she’s too erratic, behaving in ways that make no sense and causing me to beat my head against the wall metaphorically-speaking (because actually beating my head against a wall hurts).
In this episode, the main action centers on Galavan’s scheme to sink his claws into Wayne Enterprises. While he’s off trying to smarmy up to Bruce, he extends his blessing for Barbara to kill Jim Gordon, her former flame. Galavan knows Gordon is no longer in his corner, so it’s time for him to go. But here comes my biggest pet peeve with Barbara – she tries too hard to be bad and crazy when there isn’t anything in her background to offer up a sufficient explanation for such behavior. It’s almost like she wants to be seen as this insane bad girl vixen killer so desperately that it actually works against her, not for her.
So exactly why is Barbara’s transformation not convincing for me? Because it doesn’t mesh with her backstory. In a nutshell, we’ve learned that her parents were controlling; Jim Gordon left her for his current lady interest (Leslie Thompkins); and Babs had to endure mental and physical torture when held captive by the Ogre, who also murdered her parents. So, yes, all of these moments, some more traumatic than others, are sure to leave a mark. But to the extent that Barbara just wants to go nuts and unleash hell? For me, her evolution doesn’t seem to add up to that.
For the sake of comparison, consider Ed Nygma’s descent into madness. He started out as a nerdy background character who felt undervalued and unappreciated. He couldn’t get up the nerve to talk to Kristen Kringle and seemed to live in his own little world of riddles. However, his murder of Kristen’s abusive beau opened a door that slowly drove him to ignore his conscience, eventually leading him further away from sanity, which is further punctuated when he inadvertently kills Kristen. Thus, Ed’s character at this point in the show’s time frame make sense in terms of why he does what he does.
Barbara, for me, had no such evolution. Most of the time last season we saw her hover between being a doe-eyed weepy lass to a vampy vixen with hardly any explanation as to why. Again, I understand her wanting to seek revenge on Jim for leaving her, but that doesn’t seem to be that big of a reason to go full-on nuts. It makes me wonder if something happened that we didn’t know about – like she accidentally ingested crazy pills instead of sleeping pills one night. It would seem more plausible to me that Barbara would want to take revenge on all serial killer creeps like the Ogre. But instead of vowing to rid Gotham of genuine bad guys (like maybe Theo Galavan for starters?), her target is Jim Gordon, the most moral man in the city.
So basically Barbara goes from feeling this about Jim…
Again, a little bit of payback towards Jim for “cheating” on her would make sense, but to want him dead just for pairing up with another lady? That’s kind of extreme, even for Gotham.
To be fair, I did like Barbara’s dream sequence, which marks the first time that “Gotham” has delved into the surreal as most of the show is grounded in realism in terms of story and design. Here, Barbara is dressed as a bride as she and Jim approach the altar, about to be wed. Then things take a sinister turn. The priest, before turning into Penguin, asks if she “unlawfully” takes Jim as her husband. Then Barbara starts to lose it. Growing confused, she releases a bird from her mouth, which sets everyone laughing. In the end, she’s gagged and bound, forced to sit in the pews surrounded by jeering Arkham inmates before she wakes up.
This dream lends itself to some interesting analysis. Obviously, Barbara envisioning herself as Jim’s wife-to-be alludes to their past relationship. She still wishes it would have worked out; however, to be asked if she wants to “unlawfully” take him as her husband implies that she knows he’s out of reach. Jim is Leslie’s squeeze now and to try to get between the two, perhaps Barbara subconsciously knows, would be wrong. But that won’t stop her from trying.
The two men who populate this dream, Jim and Penguin, are reversals of their real selves, reflecting what Barbara projects upon them: dream-Jim is cold and callous and dream-Oswald fills the role of a clergyman, not a crime lord. In her mind, Jim is a heartless man who flaunts the fact that he’s no longer her love interest (even though Jim has never actually behaved this way to Barbara). In the same way, Penguin is projected as someone involved with sacred matters; and since Barbara’s mind has been warped by her own sinful nature, she no longer sees good and evil in their true forms because, in her mind, a good man becomes callous and a crime boss becomes holy.
The bird image is especially curious and could mean any number of things. It could symbolize that Barbara is a flighty person on the inside, unsure of what direction she wants to take in life. It could represent her desire to be free or escape herself as a person. The fact the bird flees from her mouth unawares means it’s a subconscious desire, something that takes her by surprise when it’s released into the open. Yet it’s something she’s obviously embarrassed to admit as it’s after this that the dream-crowd goes wild with laughter. If running with this idea, maybe we can conclude that, at least on the inside, Barbara is a lost soul who wants to be free to have a purpose, but for some reason, she’s embarrassed to admit this. While I won’t say Babs is so far gone that she can’t find her moral compass, I can’t help but wonder what doom will befall her if she continues down this dark road.
To be honest, once I found out that this episode was going to be about Barbara, I wasn’t all that psyched to see it. I might like her more if her descent into craziness made more sense and her on-screen evolution lent itself to such a drastic change. But to me Babs will always be a drama queen. Likewise, for the first time since watching “Gotham,” I can honestly say that I thought the writing was a little sloppy, the pacing seemed to drag, and some of the characters’ “logic” didn’t make sense. Such as how did Leslie find her way to the church? Was she trailing Jim all this time? Did she go after him after the radios went dead? Did Tabitha abduct her from the GCPD without anyone noticing? Did she just teleport herself there? We’re never told because apparently it didn’t matter – it was just a plot device to drive a wedge between the Jim-Leslie-Barbara love triangle.
Likewise, the entire church “showdown” where Barbara engages in a near-monologue about how she loves Jim, how he wants to hurt her (huh?), how she’s so bad, yada yada yada goes on far too long and, in the end, really served no purpose. Barbara states, more than a few times, that Jim wants to hurt and/or kill her. But why? Jim has never acted or talked in a way to imply that he meant her harm; if anything, Jim has been remorseful over their breakup but he’s never appeared to harbor a vindictive spirit about it. My only guess is that Barbara is really talking about herself: she hates and wants to hurt herself. (Well, she did just that by falling out of the church window – too bad the writers allowed for that conveniently-positioned shrub to be in her way.)
Furthermore, Barbara keeps going on and on about what a bad, terrible, sick person Jim is. Again, what is she basing this on? Some of this crazed logic feels phoned in, as if the writers have to give her something to rant and rave about. It’s clear Barbara is trying to drive a wedge between Jim and Leslie but it seems forced. Barbara tells Leslie that Jim’s goodness is all an act. “He’s like an addict who thinks he can dabble in darkness as long as nobody sees the needle marks,” she says. Seriously, that’s an awesome analogy! But unfortunately it makes no sense in context. How is Jim “addicted” to darkness? He hasn’t switched sides and joined the ranks of the city’s villains. The fact he has openly admitted he has done wrong/bad things shows he’s a good person as a truly bad person would not be able to recognize immoral behavior or bad decisions in the first place. The fact Jim possesses a conscience is proof that he’s not a dark, twisted person – he’s just flawed. Big difference.
This is what I mean by seeing holes in Barbara’s logic. She says things that have no basis in the story and that are so far off the mark they don’t feel believable even coming from a crazy character. By way of example, I could believe how Jerome would think sanity is a prison: he might have been a whole order of fries shy of a Happy Meal but he still had the sense to know that by acting crazy, he felt he had a license to do whatever he wanted. That makes sense in relation to what we knew about his character. But Barbara’s ranting feels forced and random. In fact, this entire episode felt like it was meant solely to showcase her character and give her something to do rather than advance the plot. Even the end where Galavan is arrested felt anticlimactic though it’s hard not to feel Bruce’s pain and desperation as he sees one more possible bridge to discovering who killed his parents literally be burned.
The better parts of this episode were the scenes not involving Barbara. First, we get some emotionally-charged scenes with Bruce and Alfred where Bruce struggles with whether or not to play along in Galavan’s act of extortion (i.e. control of Wayne Enterprises in exchange for information about Bruce’s parents’ killer). Bruce feels that buying into and playing along with Galavan’s demands will protect his parents’ legacy. But Alfred kindly reminds him that the Wayne legacy isn’t wrapped up in a company – it’s Bruce himself. Likewise, Bruce’s final decision to not hand control of his company over to Galavan was admirable and shows how deep his character’s resolve is to do the right thing, even if it’s difficult. Other worthy moments involved Ed Nygma’s little excursion where he goes to lay Kristen’s body to rest. Quite unlike Barbara’s pointless rambling, Ed delivers a simple toast that reflects how he cared about Kristen but now relishes the new power he has found to take a life. His words are eerily prophetic as he proclaims, “I was a broken man…two halves at war with each other. But thanks to you, I am whole.”
Sadly, Ed’s scenes are brief but do end with him stumbling upon a wounded Penguin. So I suppose if there is one thing to hold me over until next week it’s the promise that we’ll get to see these two young super-villains share scenes together.
Until later, my fellow Gothamites!