Media · Story & Characters

Movie Review – “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986)

Three Stars out of Five

**Spoilers may be present throughout**

What sparked my interest in this 80s cult film was Cinemassacre’s Rental Review with special guest Macaulay Culkin. I had never seen this movie before (though I had heard of it), and their lively discussion prompted me to check it out. (Note: This video contains full spoilers as well as some strong language and a few suggestive jokes.):

Big Trouble in Little China (dir. John Carpenter) is a martial arts fantasy set in a modern-day (i.e. circa 1980s) Chinatown where the mundane crosses paths with the magical. The story focuses on the buddy pairing of rough-necked truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) and Chinese restaurant worker and friend, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun). Wang plans to propose to his childhood sweetheart, the green-eyed Miao Yin (Suzee Pai), who is coming to the United States from China. However, things go awry when she is kidnapped and Jack and Wang find themselves battling a supernatural foe who is also after Miao Yin for his own nefarious purposes. Both men are then unexpectedly allied with a magician/tour bus driver, Egg Shen (Victor Wong), before being thrown into an underworld battle where they match wits and martial arts skills with a murderous ancient Chinese sorcerer named Lo Pan (James Hong).

Big Trouble in Little China is, to put it lightly, a strange little film that elevates itself from B-movie fodder thanks to its sense of humor, good performances, colorful design, and interesting in-world mythology. Its story is peppered with legends, archetypes, and rather telling exposition (e.g. “This is So-and-So who does XYZ,” etc.), all of which reminded me of a fractured fairy tale. In fact, I would go so far as to call Big Trouble in Little China a fairy tale as its central story has heroes unite with a wise old magician to battle an evil sorcerer in order to rescue two women from his clutches. Only in this case we have a tough guy truck driver and a restaurant employee as its knights in shining armor.


Kurt Russell and Dennis Dun both do a good job in their respective roles, with Russell playing Jack Burton as a man with brawn and wit who is never afraid to fire back with a quip but is admittedly new to encounters of the supernatural kind. Dun’s Wang Chi, on the other hand, is willing to confront fantastical dangers, not for any glory or honor for himself, but to rescue his beloved Miao Yin. Both Jack and Wang serve as the story’s heroes, and while Wang is more static concerning his end goals, Jack goes from a selfish jerk to a less selfish hero in the end. Initially, Jack cares more about relocating his truck than in finding and saving Miao Yin though admirably his goals change. While he starts off selfish, he begins to act more like a hero, often putting himself in harm’s way to save and protect others. As a whole, Big Trouble in Little China ultimately becomes Jack’s heroic story, as Egg Shen sets it up as such in the movie’s prologue. (“We are in his debt,” Egg Shen declares. “He showed great courage.”) From then on, we accompany Jack on his journey and witness his arc that possesses classical storytelling hallmarks.

Big Trouble in Little China also functions as a fairy tale for adults as it sets up its imperfect, unsuspecting hero and subjects him to various trials and tribulations culminating in a showdown with Lo Pan and his henchmen. This isn’t a serious tale by any means as it is rife with intentional ridiculousness and humor. But through it all, we see Jack go from the familiar and the everyday to the strange and the extraordinary. He starts out as a man who seems at least open to the idea of there being more to life. “It’s an amazing planet we live on here,” he remarks in his introductory monologue. “A man would have to be a fool to think we’re all alone in this universe.” As the story progresses, Jack sheds his self-centered mantle and proves his mettle so that, in the end, he becomes the brave hero Egg Shen declares him to be.


In his essay “On Fairy Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien outlines three stages most fairy tales adhere to: Recovery, Escape, and Consolation. Recovery is a means by which we gain a clearer view of the world or seeing things as “we are (or were) meant to see them.” Escape is not escapism in the sense that one denies the world or its troubles but it is a means by which to glimpse a future hope of escaping evil and death. Lastly, Consolation is the joy of a happy ending or what Tolkien would call eucatastrophe. Interestingly enough, Big Trouble in Little China seems to follow such a narrative pattern. The movie opens with scenes of Recovery as characters regain a clearer view of their world, seeing it as one influenced by an evil supernatural force (Lo Pan), which forces them to decide to either confront it or ignore it. Escape occurs when characters decide not to remain blind to Lo Pan but seek to right the wrongs he has committed, thus removing his influence from the world. Lastly, without revealing spoilers, the film’s Consolation offers its own take on a eucatastrophe and it’s a satisfying end for both the characters and the audience.

Its structure aside, while the movie isn’t intentionally deep or introspective, it does present the idea that humans aren’t alone in the world and that there is a supernatural component at work. While some such forces work for good, others work for evil and inflict harm. The villainous Lo Pan is an influence on the mortal world, from affecting the weather (through his henchmen) to even instigating a street fight between rival gangs. These scenes, perhaps more so than the moments in Lo Pan’s lair, show how spiritual forces affect the world and how certain physical “signs” can point to supernatural involvement. Regarding Lo Pan himself, because his positive and negative “furies” are out of balance, he has opened himself up to demonic influence and is now seen as a “creature of vast destructive power” who exists only to “plague the living.” To deny or ignore the hold he has on the mortal world is, as the movie subtly implies, a mark of complacency.


Two characters who present a challenge against spiritual complacency are Egg Shen and Wang Chi. During the movie’s opening scene, Egg Shen converses with his attorney, a man who expresses outright disbelief in all things magical or otherworldly. Egg Shen then insists that such things are true simply “because it’s real” before demonstrating some magic himself. Later on, Wang tells Jack that Lo Pan is a figure from Chinese lore, but he’s a being many people forget about. “Myths and legends….A lot of Chinese heard these things while they’re kids,” Wang tells Jack. “Then we grow up and pretend not to believe them….I don’t even want to believe it. But it’s real.” And in time, despite his confusion, Jack comes to believe it, too – not because it makes much sense to him but simply because it is real. Hence, aside from all of the high-flying martial arts action and overall kookiness, Big Trouble in Little China presents a subtly insightful view into the nature of the supernatural, its influence on the world, and the truth that evil forces are not ultimately all-powerful.

Regarding the film’s design and tone, I simply can’t fault it for its cheesiness as it’s in this quality where it holds all of its charms. Hence, my only criticism is that the story’s world feels like there’s more to it than what we’re given. We’re told a great deal about the background of Lo Pan and surrounding mythology; however, we’re not presented with much else outside of him and his tale. There is the sneaking suspicion there is more to this story’s world than what is shown (and judging by the ending, I sense material was being saved in hopes of a sequel). Hence, I feel that some of the martial arts fight sequences could have been trimmed to allow for more story world development so we’re shown more so than told about these myths and legends (though the action scenes are nicely choreographed and edited). Though I do concur with a comment made by Culkin in the Rental Review: this movie’s visual style – from its settings, to its costumes, to even its use of colors – is a “sticks-to-your-ribs” type of look that allows you to explore its visual depths and discover new elements with each viewing.

Overall, Big Trouble in Little China is fun and maintains a lively pace with a plot bedecked with Asian magic and myth. To borrow a line from from the movie, it’s very much like a “radical Alice in Wonderland“! Without a doubt, this is a weird movie, but it’s a kind of weird that welcomes in a wide audience rather than being strange for strangeness’ sake or shock value. In truth, I really did enjoy this movie and had a blast watching it; so don’t be misled by my three-star rating as three stars means I genuinely liked it. I might not have been deeply moved by it or found it to awe-inspiring, but that doesn’t mean I disliked it. I initially worried that Big Trouble in Little China might be too strange for my tastes, but it was just the right kind of strange mixed with a generous blend of action and humor. Fans of cult 1980s films, or anyone looking for a different take on the fantasy genre that meshes classical heroics with Asian culture, should give Big Trouble in Little China a try. After all, I suspect that’s what Jack Burton would do!

Content: Big Trouble in Little China is rated PG-13:
Language – Profanity usage is occasional with PG and PG-13-level profanities. Jack’s front truck grill sports the phrase “haulin’ a–.” Jack uses an f-word when he breaks through a wall. Lastly, it’s worth noting that some dialogue is spoken in Chinese without English subtitles, so it’s possible there are profanities or derogatory statements not translated into English.

Violence – The violence is non-graphic with an emphasis on martial arts-style action and sword/knife fights. Other moments of peril and general action-based violence (chase scenes, shootouts, and fisticuffs) are non-graphic and avoid blood. In two scenes, we glimpse rotting corpses and skeletons displayed in Lo Pan’s lair. Elsewhere, there are a few creatures/monsters, but these are more kooky-looking than scary. Two characters fall under a spell and their eyes creepily become white and blank. Lo Pan tries to stick someone with a needle but minimal blood is shown on his fingers. Lastly, Jack throws a knife that sticks into a man’s forehead but no blood is shown.

Sexual Material – None in terms of sexual content or sex scenes. Jack has a “mudflap girl” on his truck grill (i.e. a silhouette of a presumably nude woman with no specific anatomical details) and makes a quip about dating women of different cultural backgrounds except for Chinese. He also develops an insta-attraction to one of the female characters and the two often trade playful innuendos and eventually kiss. Jack visits a brothel but nothing explicit occurs or is seen other a few shots of woman walking around in panties, negligees, and bras (but there is no nudity). It’s implied that a street gang kidnaps and sells young women as prostitutes, but nothing to this effect is ever shown other than glimpsing women in cages who are eventually freed. One girl is seen from the side swimming to safety as her slip rides up to her hip, making it appear that she’s not wearing panties, but no actual nudity is seen. Lastly, Miao Yin is seen wearing a robe that appears sheer in the back but no explicit nudity is shown.

*Source:
Tolkien, J.R.R. On Fairy-Stories. The Tolkien Reader. 1986.

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Book Review · Books & Reading · Story & Characters

Book Review – “Thrawn: Alliances”


Five Stars out of Five [GoodReads: “It Was Amazing”]

After perusing Star Wars: Thrawn, I was left hoping that Timothy Zahn would continue penning more adventures showcasing the incredible intellect, battle tactics, and personal fortitude of the titular Grand Admiral (who remains my all time favorite villain). I first assumed that Thrawn was going to be a stand-alone, but I sensed the potential for more. Thankfully, Thrawn became the first entry in a new series dedicated to Thrawn’s origins and backstory prior to the original Thrawn trilogy Zahn penned in the 1990s. Hence, we have the follow up novel, Thrawn: Alliances, which adds yet another classic Star Wars villain to the mix, the dreaded Darth Vader himself.

Plot-wise, Thrawn: Alliances relies more on action as opposed to the first novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the tone and pace of Thrawn, but I appreciate the fact that there is less political red tape, power plays, and backstabbing here and more on-the-ground action that puts Thrawn – who has now become a Grand Admiral – in full command. The primary story arc places Thrawn alongside Darth Vader as both have been paired up by Emperor Palpatine to explore a threat looming in the Unknown Regions. It’s no secret that neither man truly wants to work alongside the other, and this sentiment is shared no more strongly than by Vader himself. While Thrawn seems agreeable to establishing a working relationship between them to achieve their end goal, Darth Vader isn’t exactly that invested, preferring to work alone. This generates much of the story’s tension and it’s a compelling dynamic to watch unfold. (As a side note, we also learn something rather unique about the Chiss. It counts as a spoiler, so I can’t discuss it, but it proves to be a vital plot point and I thought it was a very creative detail.)


Unlike Thrawn‘s dual-sided plot that was related in real time, Thrawn: Alliances showcases a split narrative using flashbacks. While the principle plot focuses on Thrawn’s and Darth Vader’s mission in the story’s present day, the parallel plot focuses on a time when Thrawn (serving the Chiss Ascendancy) partnered up with Anakan Skywalker (the future Darth Vader) on a mission to an alien world. This ties into the present day narrative as Thrawn tries to subtly discern if Vader is actually Anakan Skywalker beneath his dark visage. Vader does not take too kindly to these attempts to resurrect old/painful memories, which also drives his dislike of Thrawn. To be fair, Thrawn does not antagonize Vader – he simply seeks to prove to himself whether Vader is the same person he once knew or if the man Anakan is lost forever. In the end, Thrawn discovers his answer, for better or worse.

This split narrative propels the novel’s action as well as parallels the lives of its leads. Anakan’s plot shows him as separated from his beloved Padme (who eventually strikes out on her own to find him) and forced to work alongside an alien (Thrawn) he knows nothing about. However, it’s not a spoiler to reveal that his and Thrawn’s teamwork is less rife with tension than it is  when the plot switches to the present-day’s showcasing of Thrawn and Vader’s dealings. Interestingly, Thrawn set the stage for Thrawn: Alliances as, in the first novel, Thrawn makes casual mention to the Emperor that he once met Anakan, whom he called a noble warrior, but is saddened to learn he has “died.” In that novel’s final pages, we see Thrawn’s introduction to Vader, though at the time the Grand Admiral doesn’t seem to suspect that both men – Anakan and Vader – are one and the same. Hence, part of Thrawn’s personal quest here is to uncover the truth and put some of his suspicions to rest.

In this way, Thrawn: Alliances presents an interesting look into the concept and theme of self-identity and how this spills over into how other people choose to view and accept us. Concerning Thrawn, we can see a set up here that I sense will be explored more fully in the third installment, Thrawn: Treason (set to release in 2019) and possibly beyond where his loyalties to the Empire will be tested. One gets the sense that Emperor Palpatine isn’t fully convinced that Thrawn is in service to him solely for the Empire’s benefit but also to benefit Thrawn’s own people, the Chiss. Hence, moving the crux of the action to the Unknown Regions, from which Thrawn hails, is intended to see whether or not Thrawn will keep the Empire’s interests at heart.

As stated in my review for Thrawn, Thrawn isn’t an evil or a morally bad person as he belongs to a category of villains I like to call Conflict of Interest. These villains, under different circumstances, might not have been villains at all and are only deemed as such due to their alignment against the story’s heroes, thus creating a moral conflict of interest. Thrawn fits perfectly within this category as what makes him a villain at all is that he serves the Empire. However, as we learn in Thrawn, his reasons for doing so aren’t for personal glory but the good of the Chiss. Seeing this put to the semi-test here is interesting and provides ground for Zahn to explore in subsequent novels regarding how Thrawn defines himself – as a servant of the Empire or a member of the Chiss Ascendancy. Thus, Thrawn harbors two “identities,” one as a high-ranking officer within the Empire and the other as an “exiled” officer from among the Chiss. Thrawn seems to have no trouble seeing himself as both; however, there are others around him (namely the Emperor) who won’t take too kindly to knowing he has split allegiances.

But the character who is given an even more detailed treatment regarding self-identity is Darth Vader. In the present-day narrative, Vader is self-actualized and there is no question as to how he views himself and his personal allegiances. However, this is contrasted with his younger, “real” self Anakan Skywalker, from the way he tackles problems to his relationship with and love for Padme. In juxtaposing these scenes with moments of Vader being his iconic, fearsome self, we see both an inner and an outer conflict taking shape. It’s akin to a similar character identity conflict seen in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (an odd comparison, I realize!), one of my favorite movies. In the film, audiences witness Holly Golightly’s internal and external conflicts with her own persona – is she the simple country gal, the wannabe starlet, or the chic Manhattan party girl? She defines herself in different ways at different times, but it doesn’t always mesh with how other characters perceive her. By comparison, though Thrawn’s loyalties are tested to determine how he views himself (a servant of the Empire or of the Chiss), it is Darth Vader who gets the Holly Golightly “treatment.”

To himself, Darth Vader sees Anakan like a second, old identity that is, for all intents and purposes, “dead,” much like how Holly strives to distance herself from her bucolic roots. However, that doesn’t prevent Vader from not recalling memories of his younger days, which functions as the internal conflict. The external conflict arises when Thrawn subtly tries to get Vader to recall his former “self” as Anakan Skywalker, the man Thrawn once met and was honored to work alongside. Though Thrawn never openly tries to drag Vader’s old self out of him, it’s clear he is trying to discern who resides behind Vader’s mask – the courageous Anakan Skywalker or the fearsome Darth Vader. In this way, Thrawn plays the role of Paul (from Breakfast at Tiffany’s) who strives to extract Holly’s true identity and sense of self. In the end, Thrawn reaches his conclusion with a sense of finality tinged with regret. It’s a sentiment readers can’t help but sympathize with, adding a degree of depth to a fast-paced space adventure story.

Overall, Thrawn: Alliances is a solid follow up to the first entry in Zahn’s new Thrawn series, and I think it was a smart move to compare and contrast two classic Star Wars villains as well as shift the plot away from a political arena and more into a traditional space opera. Fans of Thrawn should not miss this entry as it’s a compelling sequel as well as a good set up for future stories showcasing the brilliant Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Content:
Language – Very sporadic PG-level words (nothing worse than what one might hear in a Star Wars film).

Violence – There are some typical sci-fi fight/action scenes as well as perilous moments where characters face sundry threats, from being captured/imprisoned to physical fights. The type of action here is akin to a Star Wars film and is devoid of graphic blood or gore. Elsewhere, Darth Vader has moments where he considers inflicting pain upon Thrawn, with whom he has a testy relationship, but ultimately he decides not to do so. Later, we are told that some children were kidnapped, but said children are eventually rescued and are unharmed.

Sexual Content – None.

Media · Story & Characters

Movie Review – “Casino Royale” (2006)


Four Stars out of Five

**Spoilers may be present throughout**

The old (but grammatically incorrect) adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” might have been some audience’s knee-jerk reactions when the James Bond franchise was revived in the early 2000s. After all, the Bond films (with some exceptions) stand as a collection of iconic action spy-thrillers that, to their credit, don’t take themselves too seriously. Heading the title role for most of the entries was Sean Connery, who became the classic face of the character and played James Bond as a suave, smart British spy with a martini in one hand and a gun in the other, all while charming every lady in sight. With such a well-established character, one quesiton was how to craft an elegant, smart, yet different reboot. Trying to devise a modern look and feel for James Bond was an attempt that could have become disastrous. Luckily, Casino Royale plays its hand well and definitely wins.

By way of background, I have never seen the original 1967 Casino Royale which starred the Pink Panther himself, Peter Sellers, as Bond along with Orson Welles as the principle villain. However, as I understand it, the 1967 film was a comedy and more of a spoof of the Connery films than a true blue James Bond story. Once more, I have never seen this film, so my review of the 2006 “remake” is based solely on its own merit. (I use the term “remake” loosely as the 2006 version is not a comedy and, other than recycling some character names and basic plot elements, is its own creative product.)

Plot-wise, Casino Royale (dir. Martin Campbell) is James Bond’s origin story as we see how he becomes a 00-ranking agent within MI6. As his first mission, Bond is tasked with tracking and taking down Le Chiffre, a corrupt banker who funds global terrorists. As their paths converge, Bond finds himself caught up in a high-stakes poker game, pitting his chances and luck against the calculating Le Chiffre. Working alongside Bond is the lovely but enigmatic Vesper Lynd, who quickly captures Bond’s fancy as well as his affections. In the end, Bond uncovers a far thornier web than what he’s been led to believe and realizes that he can essentially trust no one.

Overall, it’s a premise and plot line that work, maintaining a lively tone complete with good doses of suspense and action as well as intentional, subtle humor (watching super-suave James Bond drive a Ford and be confused as a valet were some of the comedic highlights for me) all while remaining rather basic. This isn’t a criticism as I’m not sure the James Bond films are supposed to, nor designed to, offer up complex plots. So the lack of a Gordian knot-type narrative here isn’t a negative. For comparison, it reminds me of why I loved the Fox counter-terrorism drama series 24: it wasn’t so much for the plot but the characters, particularly the tough-as-nails Jack Bauer. The same holds true in Casino Royale: the narrative is easy to engage because the highlight of the story isn’t the plot but its players.


It’s only fitting to isolate this 2000s iteration of James Bond, played by Daniel Craig in his first outing with the role. For starters, I’m not going to compare Craig to other actors (namely Sean Connery) who have donned the Bond mantle. While such juxtapositions and fine, ultimately one must judge an actor on his own performance of a character rather than contrasting it with those of his predecessors. James Bond is a particular character type; but each version of him is a unique interpretation originated by the actor who assumes the role, hence no two versions of Bond will be alike and nor should they be.

I read mixed reviews of Craig’s portrayal of such an iconic character, but in my opinion he owns the part. It’s an updated look but many of the traits we’ve come to associate – for good or not-so-good – with James Bond are solidly in place. He’s an intelligent spy, a formidable fighter, and a determined individual. Also retained here is Bond’s affinity for female company, which hasn’t been given that much of an upgrade. Granted, Vesper Lynd holds her own, but she’s essentially yet another entry in a long line of Bond girls.

That caveat of Bond’s character aside (which, to be fair, isn’t unique to Craig’s rendition), what is worth discussing is Bond’s inherent weaknesses (though I might include his womanizing ways among them). Craig’s Bond is a dogged agent, and in most cases this enables him to make his own decisions in the field. This works against him at times, and it’s something a few characters never hesitate to remind him of, particularly his handler and overseer, M (Judi Dench). Bond is warned that his ego gets in the way of him asking for help or knowing when a decision has gone too far. What makes this all the more compelling is that we’re not merely told this is an issue for Bond but we’re also shown. At times, Bond runs recklessly headlong into a situation without consulting others or seeking assistance. In short, he believes he can handle things on his own. This becomes borderline hubris as Bond seems too stubborn or prideful to read a situation differently. I appreciate the fact that Craig doesn’t portray Bond as a well-dressed tough guy with no cracks in his veneer. Instead, he allows us to glimpse past the posh exterior to spy some fatal flaws that I sense will come back to haunt him in future installments with Craig at the helm. Overall, Daniel Craig clearly has fun playing James Bond and, in turn, creates a character who is equally fun to watch.


However, my initial interest in Casino Royale wasn’t to see this new take on Bond but to check out its principle villain, the enigmatic Le Chiffre, played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen.

Any semblance to the 1967 counterpart played by Orson Welles has been abandoned here, turning Le Chiffre into a villain who possesses a silent, sinister quality more so than an ostentatious personality. We don’t get to know much about Le Chiffre, which arms him with a mysterious air. This lack of information adds to his shadowy character’s equally shadowy presence. (For instance, we’re never told the origin of his scarred/damaged eye, though based on the violently mercurial nature of his business, I can take a good guess as to how he acquired such an injury.) (Curiously, Le Chiffre’s namesake continues the tradition of Bond character names as puns: the word chiffre refers to a numeral or figure, so it’s fitting that a banker – was well as a gambler – would be tied into numbers through his namesake.)

Past Bond villains seem to lean in the direction of being more akin to comic book baddies whose chief quality is a bold presence, visible gaudiness, and/or a boisterous attitude. Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre embodies none of these traits and, instead, comes across all the more threatening because of it. His lack of dialogue is a blessing rather than a bane because it allows Mikkelsen to treat audiences to a style of acting that is rarely seen anymore – the elevation of quiet, subtle physical cues over flagrant expressions of emotion or dialogue.

Mikkelsen is simply brilliant in this role. It requires a certain sense and level of discipline to be so focused and in control rather than allowing a performance to go off the rails. Bond villains have a bit of a reputation of being grandiose at times, but Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre breaks this mold by being an enigmatic figure who is verbally and emotionally reserved. The poker scenes are easily some of the best moments in the film and it’s here where Mikkelsen shines as he acts almost exclusively through micro expressions. (The clip below has no major spoilers.)

In another actor’s hands, I sense this character would have been over-exaggerated, but here he is played with careful, intense restraint. Watching these scenes, even in isolation, might serve as a good primer to young actors on how the simplest curve of the mouth or glance of the eye can speak volumes more so than any amount of dialogue.

I am new to Mikkelsen’s repertoire but I am deeply intrigued and eager to dive into his other films. Judging by this performance alone, I will say that there’s something special about him and I’d like to uncover what that is. It’s an undefinable quality that I’ve seen embodied by only one other actor, a living legend and my go-to gold standard, Al Pacino. For me, to declare that another actor is on the same level of talent as Al Pacino is the highest possible compliment I can give. There are similarities here that Mikkelsen displays that remind me very much of Pacino’s own technique, so I’m intrigued to see what other roles Mikkelsen can tackle and how he fleshes those out.

The female leads, Eva Green as Vesper Lynd and Judi Dench as M, also offer up solid performances. Granted, Lynd is eventually reduced to a pawn sacrifice, but she is redeemed by Green’s on-screen chemistry with Craig as well as the fact that she’s a more modern Bond girl who at least is given something to do in the grand scheme of the plot (albeit most of the time it’s to sit and look pretty). On the other hand, Dench’s M is marvelous and her non-nonsense attitude coupled with an undercurrent of motherly instinct towards Bond is a pleasure to watch.

Philosophically-speaking, Casino Royale is not a deep film filled with introspective moments (and I don’t know what Bond film is, to be honest) but it avoids being mindless entertainment. We are treated to an undercurrent of Bond’s discovering that his ego needs to be reigned in and a sense that his wanton impulsiveness might become his undoing. It is a nice touch that causes this incarnation of Bond to feel more human and less like the comic book-esque spy he sometimes became in earlier films. Judging by this rebooted entry, I’m interested in seeing the rest of Craig’s Bond catalogue as I think this serves as a solid introduction to a smartly revamped franchise.

Overall, Casino Royale is an enjoyable film that pays respect to the iconic character and world of James Bond while being its own creation. To its credit, while its heart is a spy story, it never takes itself too seriously nor becomes dark for very long, showing a nice balance in terms of tone. While the plot isn’t the hallmark of the film, the performances of Craig and Mikkelsen in particular make this first entry shine with class and elegance.

Content: Casino Royale is rated PG-13:
Language – Profanity usage is minimal and sporadic with chiefly PG-level words used and very few PG-13-level words spoken. Some British profanities/insults are also uttered.

Violence – Most of the violence is confined to the usual non-graphic action-style shootouts, chases, and explosions, none of which breach the confines of a PG-13 rating. Two of the movie’s biggest set pieces involve an extended foot chase/fight where Bond and other characters are in peril. Bond (as well as a few other characters) gets into sundry fisticuffs, some of which involve improvised weapons and/or guns. A few characters are shot but are either wounded and recover or are killed without excessive blood or gore (aside from a brief glimpse of bullet wounds). Bond is tortured in an extended scene where his genitals are whipped (off-screen) as he sits, naked, in a chair (see more below under Sexual Material). One character dies by drowning, but this scene is more emotional than violent. Lastly, one character nearly dies after being poisoned but is eventually revived and is unharmed.

Sexual Material – While there are no actual sex scenes, James Bond’s way with the ladies is a trait that’s not diminished here though it avoids becoming explicit. Sex is implied in at least two scenes (one of which is dryly comical). Hence, most of the content is more sensual than sexual as Bond and some female characters caress, kiss, cuddle, and trade innuendos. Some women don gowns or clothing that show cleavage and/or bared midriffs. Other characters, including Bond, are glimpsed wearing bathing suits. While any outright nudity is avoided, in one scene Bond is seen naked from the side (in dim lighting) as he’s tied to a chair and tortured by having his genitals whipped (off-screen, so we only see and hear Bond’s facial and verbal expressions of pain and nothing else). Elsewhere, Bond and a female character tumble out of bed, clearly unclothed, but no nudity is shown.

Book Review · Books & Reading · Story & Characters

Book Review – “Thrawn”


Five Stars out of Five [GoodReads: “It Was Amazing”]

Seeing this book when it was initially released caused me to be curious about Thrawn as he’s not a part of the Star Wars film canon, so I wasn’t familiar with him. However, his name seemed to evoke a sense of genuine respect among fans, some of whom claimed he is an even better baddie than Darth Vader himself. Hence, I perused all of Zahn’s original Thrawn novels: the Thrawn trilogy (Heir to the Empire [1991], Dark Force Rising [1992], and The Last Command [1993]); the Hand of Thrawn duology (Specter of the Past [1997] and Vision of the Future [1998]) Outbound Flight (2006) (which events occurs before the original Thrawn trilogy), and Choices of One (2011) and Survivor’s Quest (2004) (neither of which feature Thrawn much as a character, if at all, but I was so hooked at this point that I didn’t care). Before I launched into this novel, I had already proclaimed Thrawn as my favorite villain of all time. All Thrawn did was capitalize on these sentiments.

While perusing Outbound Flight and the original Thrawn trilogy is helpful in grounding Thrawn’s character, they’re not absolutely essential before diving into this novel. Story-wise, Thrawn is a character study of Mitth’raw’nuruodo, an alien from among the Chiss who later simply becomes known as Thrawn. When the novel opens, Thrawn is discovered on a distant world and retrieved by Imperial forces who see him as both a prize and a source of intrigue. Emperor Palpatine is impressed by the blue-skinned alien’s level-headed demeanor and logic, so Thrawn is swept up into the Imperial Academy on an accelerated track to become an officer. During this time, Thrawn is accompanied by the rather unlikely Eli Vanto, an ensign who is basically assigned to be Thrawn’s translator and personal aide. However, both men’s lives ends up following a similar path. Comprising the novel’s secondary plot is the rise of Arihnda Pryce (a character introduced in the animated television series Star Wars Rebels), who evolves into scheming political upstart. While Thrawn and Pryce’s plot lines are initially distant, they eventually intersect and create a compelling character combination.

The star of the novel is, of course, the Grand Admiral-to-be himself, Thrawn. Interestingly, even if the Star Wars elements were removed from this novel, it would still hold up as a fascinating science fiction character study that doesn’t present its central subject as a flawless figure. It would have been tempting to turn a Thrawn origin story into one that elevates him to a nearly impossible standard, but that’s not the case here. Zahn smartly balances scenes displaying Thrawn’s incredible Sherlock Holmes-esque intelligence and keen attention to detail with moments where he faces racism (for being an alien) as well as political red tape. Likewise, not every plan Thrawn devises succeeds as there are hurdles to navigate which Thrawn does sometimes well and sometimes imperfectly. However, even when he fails, Thrawn is a quick study who adapts to his circumstances and who knows how to learn from his oversights and the mistakes of others.

Thrawn has always been upheld as a villain in the Star Wars canon simply because he serves the Empire rather than the Republic/rebels. However, he’s a villain in designation only as he’s never an evil character nor even a morally bad person. Thrawn belongs to a category of villains I like to call Conflict of Interest. These villains, under different circumstances, might not have been villains at all and are only deemed as such due to their alignment against the story’s heroes, thus creating a moral conflict of interest. Thrawn fits perfectly inside this category as he possesses many positive traits such as a high level of intelligence, incredible foresight, astute military tactics and strategies, a distaste of brutality for brutality’s sake, an ability to command respect, and a curious mind that appreciates and analyzes art. Thus, what makes him a villain at all is that he serves the Empire rather than the Rebels’ cause. Despite this, Thrawn harbors personal reasons for joining the Empire’s service, namely the ability to gather intelligence on potential threats and an opportunity to combat said threats should they pose as dangers to the Chiss. While this isn’t a motivation Thrawn lets known to too many people, it’s an inherent drive that urges him to do what he does in terms of big picture decisions. He isn’t an evil or a bad person: he’s simply chosen the wrong side in a conflict but has made this choice for, what he believes, is the good of his fellow Chiss.

It is this aspect of Thrawn that the novel develops, piece by piece. Seeing as this is the first book in a series, we don’t get to glimpse Thrawn’s full background here. Instead, this novel lays the groundwork and sets up Thrawn’s rise through the ranks. It is worth noting that much of the “action” driving this novel is not space fights and shootouts (though there are a few). Instead, this is a more cerebral story where power plays – political and otherwise – take center stage. Ordinarily, these sorts of narratives don’t appeal to me, but what Thrawn does smartly is isolate its focus as to how these machinations impact or relate to Thrawn, especially as one such central power struggle evolves between him and a notorious space pirate. There is also an interesting parallel here between Thrawn and Arihnda Pryce. Both are treated as outsiders to varying degrees and both prove their mettle in different ways. However, both characters end up needing each other as Thrawn doesn’t grasp the concept of political backscratching, and Pryce wants some naval muscle to back up her own cause. On paper, it sounds like a testy relationship, but it’s one that’s entertaining to witness as it’s developed from the ground up.

Certainly not to be overlooked is Eli Vanto. Eli shares some parallels with Thrawn as both are proverbial fish out of water as they come from different backgrounds than most of their Imperial compatriots and hail from galactic backwaters. Yet Thrawn’s and Eli’s arcs are neatly entwined. Eli starts out as Thrawn’s translator but later becomes a valuable aide and, in the end, a friend upon whom Thrawn entrusts with a mission (which the novel saves as a cliffhanger). I enjoyed Eli as a character because he’s an everyman figure, someone whom readers can relate to. Initially, determined yet grounded and sensible Eli despises walking in Thrawn’s shadow but eventually comes to learn valuable lessons during his time waiting in the wings, so to speak. Likewise, Eli makes for a good gateway character for Thrawn to engage Human culture as the latter is sometimes marginalized simply for being an alien. In contrast, Eli treats Thrawn as a person and respects him for that alone, and it’s Eli’s actions that often put other’s treatment of Thrawn to shame.

Speaking of which, I highly admire the way Zahn tackles the subject of racism in this novel as it never  becomes a social justice soapbox. Instead, it’s a theme that is organically sewn into Thrawn’s story by default. Thrawn is an alien among non-aliens in the not-so-alien-friendly Empire. He is occasionally bullied, criticized, marginalized, and even attacked simply because he’s non-Human. But rather than use this as a sob story through which to wring readers’ sympathy or a means by which to hammer home a socially-conscious message, the novel has Thrawn treat these incidents coolly as he knows his inherent worth as a tactician and an officer stands on its own and speaks for itself. Revenge isn’t his modus operandi, and the best example of his levelheadedness in this matter is when he suggests that some former tormentors be reprimanded in a low-key fashion that speaks to his ability to read others and see their ultimate value. Hence, the novel depicts Thrawn as a self-motivated individual who is driven more by his own personal goals, sense of duty, and honor than bemoaning his lot or seeking reparation.

(In an aside, it’s worth noting that Thrawn was given the comic/graphic novel treatment, which I’ve also read and enjoyed. While the graphic novel is a condensed version, it’s still worth checking out after reading the novel itself just as a visual adaptation. The basic skeleton of the story remains, the artwork is eye-catching, and Thrawn makes for a striking figure indeed!)

Overall, Thrawn is a fascinating look into the rise of one of Star Wars‘ best “villains.” I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it to be a well-paced read that’s populated by smart characters and driven by an entertaining mix of power struggles, solid character development, and good old fashioned showdowns. Fans of Thrawn who want to see where his story began will likely enjoy this novel as well as novice fans who want to be introduced to the great Grand Admiral himself.

Content:
Language – Very sporadic PG-level words (nothing worse than what one might hear in a Star Wars film). (The graphic novel also has sporadic PG-level words but there are even fewer profanities due to the reduced amount of dialogue.)

Violence – There are some typical sci-fi fight/action scenes as well as perilous moments where characters face sundry threats. The type of action here is akin to a Star Wars film and is devoid of graphic blood or gore. Early in the novel, Thrawn sets booby traps, some of which involve explosions, to deter unwanted persons at a campsite. Elsewhere, Thrawn is ambushed and attacked by some fellow cadets but he doesn’t come to any real harm. (The same applies to the graphic novel as, while there are scenes of action, these are not drawn to be graphic or realistic.)

Sexual Content – None. (The graphic novel also contains no sexual content or nudity.)

Media · Story & Characters

Movie Review – “Umberto D.” (1952)


Five Stars out of Five

**Spoilers may be present throughout**

Umberto D. (dir. Vittorio De Sica) was a film I discovered by pure happenstance while browsing iTunes’ $0.99 movie rentals. Being a dog-lover, I was inherently drawn to this story, which focuses on an aging Italian man and his canine companion. However, watching this movie became less about a cheap way to pass the time and more of an introduction to a simple yet powerfully profound work of cinematic art.

Story-wise, Umberto D. focuses on Umberto D. Ferrari, an Italian senior citizen and retired civil servant, who is doomed to face homelessness if he’s unable to pay his rent in full and on time. His landlady seems determined to evict him, displaying little to no mercy or compassion to his plight. Umberto is essentially a loner save for his little dog, Flike, who serves as his sole friend and constant companion. Ultimately, the two find themselves kicked to the proverbial curb and are forced to take to the streets in search of work or charity. Being too proud to beg, Umberto considers suicide as a way out of his dire predicament; however, he refuses to do so unless he is assured that Flike can be cared for, not wishing to leave the dog to fend for itself. But no matter how many times Umberto attempts to pass Flike off to a new owner, Flike always finds his way back into Umberto’s arms. And, in a way, this small dog becomes Umberto’s rather unlikely savior.

One of the most striking features of Umberto D. is its simplicity. While I wouldn’t call this a minimalist film, it relies as little as possible on decorative scenes, overstated set pieces, and excessive dialogue in favor of realistic backdrops, organic emotion, and essential conversations where only what is necessary is spoken. Everything here fits and works like a neatly constructed jigsaw puzzle with nary a piece out of place. Umberto D. is as far from being a cinematic spectacle or showpiece as one can get, yet there is an understated beauty here that seems to epitomize Italian neorealism. By way of background, this particular cinematic movement was “characterized by stories set amongst the poor and the working class, filmed on location, frequently using non-professional actors [and] mostly contend with the difficult economic and moral conditions of post-World War II Italy, representing changes in the Italian psyche and conditions of everyday life, including poverty, oppression, injustice, and desperation. ” [1].


Umberto D.
demonstrates these qualities first and foremost through its delivery, design, and sparse/non-professional casting. Most notably is its lead performer, Carlo Battisti, who was, in fact, a septuagenarian university lecturer with no prior acting experience [2]. However, the depth of emotion Battisti conveys through physical expression speaks to a far deeper, truer level than any amount of dialogue his character delivers. So much of this movie’s sentiment is conveyed through non-verbal cues, micro expressions, and gestures, whether it’s a look of frantic searching or a display of pure joy, all minus any dialogue. Likewise, Battisti doesn’t turn his character into a dimwitted oldster, comic foil geezer, or taciturn aging grump. Nothing about Umberto stems from a cliche, which makes him feel so real, striking a chord of familiarity, as if he could have existed as an actual person.

His struggles come uncomfortably close to home as they touch on a universal fear of existing in a world that has decided it has no purpose for you. When faced with such a prospect, how should one respond, the film muses. Where does one go to obtain, or regain, purpose? Why remain in a world that has seemingly cast you aside? These are questions Umberto contends with, not through dialogue or dry exposition, but small, subtle gestures and emotional reactions and insights into and towards his own circumstances. Undoubtedly, Umberto D. is a deeply emotional movie that steers clear of becoming melodramatic or trying to force the audience to produce a given emotional response. Instead, it respectfully allows viewers to ponder these unsettling questions on their own terms.

Though Italian neorealism is partially characterized by exploring particular social themes, Umberto D. fulfills these aims but never clubs the audience over the head with sermons or soapbox-worthy sentiments. Instead, it simply “is what it is” by presenting issues such as poverty and social injustice through the narrative of Umberto’s life. We’re made to care about Umberto but we’re never asked to pity him or blame him for his predicament. The film never judges or presumes to know how he arrived at this point – all it inherently asks is that we glimpse into this man’s life and draw him near as his society pushes him away.


Umberto D. is, at its core, a story that explores a deceptively simple question – what is the measure and value of a person’s life? How can someone like Umberto see any reason to persist in his existence when he has no physical offerings that make him valuable or desirable to society: he isn’t wealthy; he has an essentially non-existent social circle; he is no longer a youth; and he is retired and, thus, a drain on economic resources. Hence, Umberto possesses no external value and, as the film progresses, Umberto himself begins to adopt this belief. However, this is where the “character” of Flike comes into play as he serves as Umberto’s eventual purpose, and it’s fitting that a dog is chosen to represent the qualities of perseverance and unconditional love. Flike never despises Umberto but loves him simply because Umberto is. Easily the film’s best and most poignant moments arise from watching Umberto do nearly anything to ensure that no harm comes to Flike. In this we see an intriguing parallel: Umberto has been cast aside by society for being a person of no outward value, yet he himself goes to great lengths to provide for a dog that equally has no value. Yet to Umberto, Flike means everything and this connection is keenly felt throughout the entire film.

Without delving into spoilers, it is Flike who, in a sense, saves Umberto and allows him to see that life still has meaning even if it’s of no great visible consequence to the rest of the world. In a way, this echos the Christian belief that all people inherently have value simply because we are made in the image of God and are His special creation. Similarly, Umberto is depicted as a man of value beyond how society defines value; however, he has to go through a traumatic experience, which he endures with little Flike, in order to realize this. As such, the movie does have a happy ending but it’s not in the traditional sense where all of Umberto’s problems get resolved. Instead, the film concludes Umberto’s tale by showing him, and, by proxy, the audience, that a person’s life can have an intrinsic purpose – not for what he has but simply because he is.

Overall, Umberto D. shines brightly in its simplicity and is a story that “is most simply itself, and does not reach for its effects or strain to make its message clear” [3]. I love this film – from its simply-stated design, to its true-to-life characters, to its emotional story and message – and I am so glad I decided to check it out as it has earned a top spot among my favorite movies. Umberto D. is a true cinematic gem that deserves to be seen, admired, and appreciated as well as adored.

Content: Umberto D. is unrated but seems like PG-rated fare based on the following:
Language – Essentially none. If there were any profanities in the English subtitles, they did not breach the confines of a PG rating and were few and far between. (Italian profanities might have been spoken that were not shown in the English subtitles.)

Violence – None in terms of physical violence or bloodshed. However, there are numerous tense moments, from the threat of homelessness that lingers over Umberto to a few occasions when Flike gets into some stressful scrapes. In one such scene, Flike goes missing and Umberto visits the pound to find him. While there, he sees animals in cages, some of whom are being taken away to be euthanized because they have been unclaimed by their owners. However, no animals are ever euthanized on screen and no images of deceased animals are ever shown. Also, it’s worth noting that Flike is never harmed or abused and is alive at the end of the film. Lastly, one character tries to commit suicide, but the attempt proves unsuccessful as the character decides not to go through with it.

Sexual Material – None. We’re told that Umberto’s landlady leased his room out to a couple for a rendezvous, but nothing sexual or sensual is ever shown or discussed. Also, the maid in Umberto’s building has a worthless boyfriend whom Umberto advises she cut ties with. She’s never shown being mistreated or abused; instead, it’s implied that her beau is simply a bum and she is too good of a person to be with someone like him.

Thematic Content – This film deals with issues of homelessness, loneliness, and social isolation, especially among an aging population. While this might spark conversation among older viewers and mature older children and teens, it will probably be lost on or misunderstood by younger or less mature viewers.

 

Books & Reading · Story & Characters

Favorite Books of 2018

Snoopy reading book
It’s that time of year again when I like to share my favorite books of the past year. (Just to clarify, this list doesn’t represent every book I read in the past year, and placement on this list doesn’t necessarily mean a book was published in 2018. Instead, these are books I read for the very first time in 2018.) So with that out of the way, on to the list! 🙂


8. The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin
I usually don’t gravitate towards nature books, but I enjoyed this essay collection which explores aspects of the American Southwest – from flora and fauna to urbanization – through vivid description and a storytelling style. It was a pleasant find that was also a free Kindle book.


7. Starlight Nights: The Adventures of a Star Gazer by Leslie L. Peltier
I remember seeing this book advertised years ago in a Sky & Telescope magazine, but it took me this long to finally read it! I thoroughly enjoyed this as Peltier relates his passion for stargazing and astronomy in a warm, inviting way that I could perfectly relate to as a stargazer myself.


6. Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
This was one of the first books I read in 2018, and I knew early on that it would earn a spot on my year-end list. This is a lovely retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen that explores the bittersweet process of growing up by taking a creative spin on how getting older can be both exciting and sobering. It was a very engaging read as well as appreciatively thoughtful.


5. The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor
My only caveat with this novel is that it contains a brief rape scene near the end, but I ultimately forgave it because it ties into the story. That aside, I really enjoyed this novel, which has the lead characters taking turns weaving their respective story threads among each other. I’m usually not fond of multiple POVs, but these were easy to follow and it helped that the cast itself was engaging. While the ending wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, I think it’s a perfect fit for this frothy, atmospheric read.


4. Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
After reading the Divergent trilogy and being less than impressed, I wanted to see what else Roth could do because I think she’s a capable writer. This novel takes some of the flaws with the Divergent trilogy (particularly world-building) and significantly improves upon them. Likewise, I enjoyed the dynamic among the three lead characters, particularly between Cyra and Akos, as well as the creative focus on personal talents as powers. Overall, Carve the Mark was solidly entertaining SF.


3. The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
This novel surprised me with how much I liked it as it possesses two story elements I normally shy away from, an ensemble cast and a character-driven plot. However, I instantly connected with the characters, especially Frank who takes his love for music to a whole new level that sees music as a means by which to soothe and nurture the soul. I’m someone who listens to certain songs at times because they match my mood or I find them helpful in getting inspired to write; so to see this reflected in Frank’s character was very relatable for me. Likewise, the plot was pretty straight forwarded yet highly enjoyable thanks to the colorful cast and ends of a well-deserved happy note. I really couldn’t ask for more!


2. Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn

This was my most anticipated new release of 2018. It certainly didn’t disappoint and provided even more fascinating insights and depth into Thrawn as a character, his motivations, and the Chiss themselves. This book was a great, hit-the-ground-running follow up to its predecessor, Star Wars: Thrawn, and lays the groundwork for more Thrawn stories (hopefully!) to come.


1. The Devil’s West trilogy (Silver On the Road, The Cold Eye, Red Waters Rising) by Laura Anne Gilman
I started out reading Silver On the Road and was prepared to write it off as yet another run-of-the-mill YA coming-of-age tale. But was I wrong! It captured my attention and drew me into its Weird West world that’s vibrating with temperamental, malicious magic. Izzy and Gabriel are one of the most interesting character pairings I’ve run across in a long time as they come from different circumstances and have very different paths in life despite sharing the same road. Also, their mentor-apprentice relationship avoids the usual cliches and contrived romance (of course it helps that they are several years apart). (Sidebar: I kept picturing Gabriel as actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan – not exactly a bad mental image to have, by the way. 😉 ) Overall, this trilogy was a much-needed breath of fresh air and will be a series I look forward to diving into time and again.

*****
Confession time: 2018 was a book drought for me.

I struggled to compile this list as I just didn’t read that many new books this year in general, and most of the titles I did read were re-reads, which I don’t include on my year-end list. Sadly, as the market is flooded with cliched, recycled tales and politically-motivated/feminist/social justice/”diversity”/lqbt-agenda fiction, I’m finding it harder and harder to locate new books that are even remotely within my reading tastes as authors now seem more intent on delivering a “message” by appealing to social justice warrior sentiments or advocating the social “cause” hashtag of the day as opposed to just telling a good story with timeless characters minus any ulterior motives.

Hopefully, 2019 will bring some much needed originality.

Well, we can always hope at least! 😀

Media

“Gotham” – All Reviews (Seasons One and Two)

[Note: This post is an amalgamation of all of my old “Gotham” reviews for season one, half of season two, and my final “Gotham” post. I’m trying to de-clutter my blog, so I decided to put all of my reviews into one post. The only “Gotham”-related posts not posted here are my Scarface/Penguin comparative analysis and my “Gotham” self-made playlist. Both of these remain their own separate, separated posts. Spoilers abound below.]

GOTHAM
I know, I know – “Gotham” is already two episodes in. But I recently decided to post reviews of each episode. Normally, these will be relegated to one a week, but I have to play catch up so this week you’re getting two. These will not be in-depth, detailed analyses – just my own thoughts touching on the highlights and low spots.

Pilot
Hallelujah
This was one of the best pilots evah! It lived up to the hype and met all of my expectations –  truly a perfect 10 that fired on all cylinders. I was awed by the film-like quality of the show from the start. Likewise, I thought the writing was spot-on and, plot-wise, reminded me of a good, old fashioned detective story. While there were many characters introduced here, I felt these were solid introductions, especially for Oswald Cobblepot who, in true future Penguin form, reveals his tendency to act as an informant to further his own cause. A surprise favorite for me was Harvey Bullock, who I swear is related to Daryl Dixon in some weird parallel fictional universe because they’re both tough, brainy gents who speak their minds and your feelings be darned. Overall, I thought the pilot set some fairy high expectations. But let’s see how it followed through…

Selina Kyle
Pro or con
Well, it’s hard to follow up the sheer momentum of the pilot but that’s to be expected. If the pilot was a ten, I’d rate this episode a 6.5 to a 7 mainly because the whole kidnapping plot seemed a bit flat to me but it wasn’t bad. I kept asking, “Who the heck is the Dollmaker?” and I hope we find out later on. I loved the fact that Selina (aka Catwoman) got her own episode so to speak because she was one of my early favs. But to tell the truth, any time the attention deviated off of her or Oswald Cobblepot (or Oswald’s mother), I mentally checked out just a tiny bit. And speaking of Oswald…wow. Just wow. He’s shaping up to be one seriously bad gent and I loved every second of it! (Actually, it kind of felt like seconds to me because his part was so small.) My favorite scenes, aside from watching Selina’s arc take shape, were witnessing Carol Kane have a field day as Oswald’s doting, kooky mother and, of course, when Oswald unleashes his deadly genius on the idiots of the world.

Also, as a side note, I thought the maternal parallels here were interesting. First, Oswald’s mother seems the type who believes her son can do no wrong yet would love him regardless of what he does. On the other hand, the dumb frat kid (I have no sympathies for him) has a mom who obviously could care less and believes her son is always up to no good (as evidenced by her off-screen response to Oswald’s threats and demands). That was an interesting contrast between maternal instincts and makes Momma Penguin come off as looking like the more concerned parent. Also, I’m curious to find out if Oswald purposely doesn’t tell his mom everything to hide his criminal activities from her or to protect her (just in case some of his antics go south ). Maybe it’s like how Jack Bauer from “24” wouldn’t tell Chloe O’Brian or somebody else everything; if things went badly, then he’s the only one that would directly affect, not anyone else. I can’t make a call on what Oswald’s intents are regarding keeping his mother in the dark at this point, but maybe future episodes will help me speculate more.

GOTHAM

The Balloonman
watching balloon
No, not that kind of balloonman!

Okay, first up, this episode had the best opening scene so far. Our exiled Penguin gets back into the kingdom and admires his home turf. May the first ever Gotham Hunger Games now commence – and may the odds ever be in Oswald Cobblepot’s favor!
THG Salute

Story-wise, I liked this episode better than the previous one (“Selina Kyle”). At first, I thought the whole balloonman idea was a bit goofy but then I got it. It kind of harkened back to some of the campy stuff from the Batman of old, so that was a nice touch. The way Jim handles this killer was also spot-on and I love that as, so far, they’re not compromising his character to get down and dirty with the rest of Gotham’s scum. Likewise, this episode sets the groundwork for the whole principle of vigilantism that drives the Batman franchise. Is it ever okay to take the law into your own hands, especially when those upholding the law can no longer be trusted? It’s a fair question and not one with a easy answer, so I think this will be a great grey area for future episodes to work with.

I also have to say that I’m really diggin’ Jim Gordon. I wasn’t prepared to like him as much as I do, but he’s an honest, moral guy who I think will go out of his way to do what’s right. For that, he makes a great protagonist. It’s hard to pull off moral characters without turning them into goody-goodys, but Gordon escapes this so far. He also delivered one of the best lines in the episode when he remarks, “Everyone has to matter or nobody matters.” Wow – what a great line! And he’s absolutely right. It’s easy to pin down certain “sinners” as being deserving of punishment, but favoritism can lead to trouble because it starts dealing out justice at random and delving into questionable territory that, all too often, eliminates mercy and grace from the equation. I believe that’s what Jim shows the Balloonman as he insists on bringing him in alive, not sending him miles into the atmosphere.

Just one mild criticism regarding the character department here – where, oh where, is Ed? You know, Riddler-to-be? Cory Michael Smith (who plays Edward Nygma, the creepy, weedy forensics dude) has yet to stay on screen for five minutes and deliver more than five lines. By now, it’s time to see some serious screen time devoted to him because he just seems so cool. Plus the Riddler is one of my favorite Batman villains.

And, of course, this review wouldn’t be complete without calling attention to the continuing saga of Oswald Cobblepot and his fight for Gotham’s throne. It’s fitting, and a bit touching, to hear him assert that Gotham is his home and destiny and that the city needs him. Truly, he embodies the city in all of its dark and, yes, light moments. (Penguin isn’t all bad, so it’s time to show him play an ethical card here or there, albeit it won’t be for the most moral of reasons.)

Oswald gets three big moments in this episode, the first being that opening scene. That was epic.

The second was his interaction with Maroni. It was quite ironic to hear Maroni claim Gotham is a city of opportunity and then tout how he started from the bottom, now he’s here.

Wait…did he just channel a Drake song?
drake-dance
Oh, well. Maybe not.

Anyway, this was a great visual parallel between the old school gangster and the new crime lord of the (not-so-distant) future. Maroni isn’t telling Cobblepot anything he doesn’t already know. Trust me – that’s why he’s ba-ack! And it wasn’t just to snag a tuna sandwich from a food truck either. Tuna…that was cute.  ‘Cause penguins eat fish, get it?

If I could find one fault with this episode, it would have to be *the* scene between Renee and Barbara.
Shocked face

Look, I know Renee lives an “alternative” lifestyle, shall we say. But as a heterosexual woman I really don’t want to see that!

Oh, and I almost forgot my third favorite Cobblepot moment – the ending.
Whoaaa
Seriously, that last minute and a half was a holy blankety-blank-blank moment. I was not expecting Oswald to show up and he would have been my absolute last guess at who was at Jim’s door. In fact, I figured he’d try to stay away from Jim, so I was totally floored. It really makes me wonder what on earth he could have up his sleeves (other than possibly sharp instruments) and how he plans to use Jim or who he’s going to pit Jim against to advance his future kingdom’s cause.

Hey, ladies – trick or treat night just came early!
Dashing Penguin2
I’m guessing his visit will have a little of both – Oswald can be a clever trickster and it’s a treat to see him on screen!

GOTHAM

Arkham
First off – again, that opening scene! Jim looks like he’s seen a ghost. Robin Lord Taylor is absolutely killing it as Cobblepot. We’re just four episodes in and I’m already calling it – Taylor’s take on the Penguin is one of the best character adaptations of all time. Of all time!
I don't know
Sorry, I didn’t mean to get into a Kanye West tirade there but he deserves it. I’d love to know what goes through Taylor’s head while he’s perusing the script or how he gets in the right frame of mind to play this character because he can really command a scene. No disrespect to Ben McKenzie, but Taylor just stole the opening again. And that wasn’t all he stole – keep reading…

I do want to dissect this opening scene because it’s the equivalent of a guitar rift that propels everything else. First, Cobblepot is often filmed at a low-angle. This cinematic technique is often used to portray subjects as larger-than-life or in command. I think both inferences apply to his character as he’s larger-than-life and he seeks to be in control of whatever situation he finds himself in.

Penguin v Gordon 2
I also admired the lighting used. Quite against the typical technique of painting the villain in darkness and the good guy in light, Gordon is the one drenched in shadow here whereas Oswald gets the full light treatment. Could this be a hint of things to come – that Gordon might show a darker side and Cobblepot might reveal he has a bit of good in him, however questionable his motives might be? Only time will tell.

It’s fairly obvious that Oswald is playing Gordon like a chess piece though I tend to think there is some truth to what he shares here. He admits he admires Jim’s honesty and his status as possibly “the last good man in Gotham” and feels a certain obligation to him because Jim spared his life. I’d say Cobblepot does feel a sense of duty to Gordon as that would only be logical. But how can a thug/future crime boss admire a person for his morality? My theory is that Oswald knows Gordon can be his trump ace when it comes to catching and clearing out the criminal competition and he’s willing to use it. Yet he also respects the fact that Gordon isn’t corrupt. In contrast, Cobblepot admits he’s honest but his grasp on honesty isn’t the same as Gordon’s. Oswald tells the truth to ultimately get what he wants while Gordon tells the truth because it’s the right thing to do.

Again, this episode showed us Cobblepot’s tendency to act as the snitch, which enables him to do good he doesn’t truly intend. Ratting on who is killing off the city commissioners is a good deed since it does, in the end, save lives. But does Cobblepot spill the beans because he truly cares? I doubt it. It’s to foster a relationship with Gordon so he can keep Jim up his sleeve. Cobblepot reasserts his honest tendencies, but in the words of Tony “Scarface” Montana, Oswald always tells the truth, even when he lies.

As far as the rest of the story goes, “Arkham” was a soft-hitting episode (as opposed to hard-hitting) and, to be fair, you need those once in a while. Sometimes you need to quiet things down at times and lay some groundwork, and I sense this whole Arkham business is just starting to get thorny. If I had one minor complaint with the show thus far, it’s that I hope it doesn’t retain this police procedural plot all throughout as the formula, thus far, has gone a little something like this: Crime happens; Insert character development; Gordon wants to go get ’em; More character development; Case unfolds; Criminal caught/killed; Wrap-up; Prep for next week. Of course, if a formula works, why change it? But sometimes you have to break the mold lest everything becomes predictable. I felt the same way about the first two books in the Harry Potter series: great, but if the rest of the series retained the “let’s solve a mystery” element, I wasn’t sure how well I’d like it. Then along came Prisoner of Azkaban and I ate my words. So I hope I eat my words here, too.

I’m really missing the Waynes, aren’t you? The only good thing is that young Bruce is no pampered, spoiled rich kid . I strongly suspected David Mazouz would be able to pull off this role and, so far, he’s done exactly that. First of all, the writers do a great job of making him sound believable yet mature and wise for his age. He’s not the sort kid who lounges around the house, snapping his fingers for Alfred to bring him chips and dip while he plays his Xbox. Nope, Bruce is right in the thick of it, making sure his family’s legacy is not forgotten or trampled upon. Not to mention Mazouz is a great young talent and I hope we get some episodes down the line that utilize his character more. He is the future Caped Crusader, after all!

As far as Arkham is concerned, the Waynes wanted to transform it, turning the old (infamous) asylum into a proper mental hospital to help the least fortunate. By proxy, this would give hope to the entire city. Bruce is just as selfless as his parents were, and it’s shown here at the very end when the final vote on Arkham is revealed. Speaking of which, I’m glad the show didn’t give us a “happily ever after” scenario. First of all, I doubt anything ends that way in Gotham, and, secondly, it sets the stage for the future mob war. But more than that, it reveals a very true fact – sometimes evil triumphs. Sometimes bad guys win. But it won’t be forever and redemption is always possible, which is what Gordon reminds Bruce of. As long as he’s still alive, he can make a difference, and that’s a great message to us all.

King Oswald 9
The Best Line of the Night Award goes to Oswald Cobblepot: “War is just politics by other means, and isn’t politics just money talking?” Not only is this true in real life, it also becomes ironic considering everything that leads up to the ending. Because in Gotham, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, you get the women. Okay, that was another Scarface rip off but I think it applies. What’s Oswald’s first plan then? Get the money, of course! Then he’ll get the power and then maybe some ladies. Or chicks. Get it? Penguin chicks? Never mind.

The entire Maroni fiasco, at first, seemed like the usual mob hit that gave Oswald a chance to reach a spot closer to the crown, so to speak. But Falcone actually  had nothing to do with it as the robbers openly admit that Oswald “wanted” them to strike the restaurant. The question, though, is who was really calling the shots.

There are two possible scenarios:
1). Falcone hired some thugs to rob Maroni and shoot up his restaurant. Yet at some point Oswald took up the reigns unbeknownst to Falcone, seeing a chance to make a move as well as track these robbers down and leave them high and dry. And dead.

2). Oswald staged the hit all by himself, having three random thugs bust up the joint, kill one of Maroni’s associates, and steal most of the money, only to reclaim a higher position and confront the thieves later with lethal results.

Scenario One is likely but Scenario Two is downright brilliant and only a true criminal genius (with grandmaster-like smarts, everything to gain, and intimate knowledge of Gotham’s underbelly) could pull it off. Hence, my vote goes for Scenario Two. For starters, these thugs weren’t professionals. They were average, uncouth street criminals with guns. That doesn’t seem like the type of men Falcone would ever hire, especially to lash out at a big enemy. Likewise, if Gotham is Oswald’s “home,” he, over anyone, would know where to round up some expendable thugs.

Secondly, how did these guys know where the money was? We never see them casing the restaurant out yet one of them says it’s in the restaurant’s back. In fact, the only gent other than Maroni’s crew who knows about this money is Oswald. He gets caught spying on it, but he’s spying with that slick grin on his face. And you know what that means…

Thirdly, it seems coincidental that the restaurant manager gets killed (who, in a previous scene, chastises Oswald and calls him a “worm”) and guess who’s there to take his place? Oswald has already proven he will kill to take what he wants; so this logic of having some dudes bump off someone to get him one step closer to gaining control is definitely something he would do. Not to mention he doesn’t take too kindly to name-calling.

Fourthly, these thugs recognize Cobblepot when he comes to call, joking about the robbery and accepting his “gift” of food without protest. If they were Falcone’s men, even from the start and even at the lowest rank, why act chummy? No matter how dumb a thug you are, there are still things you don’t do – chatting it up with a potential enemy and eating anything an enemy might give you are two of them.

Fifthly, Oswald ensures there are no witnesses, not only to him taking the cash, but also so no one squealed that they saw him. I suppose you could say he took the money back for Maroni’s sake but nope. A bag full of cash? It’s his for the taking and Maroni be darned.

Money bags Penguin 4
I love that look he tosses behind his shoulder as he takes off with the money, leaving the trio of thugs to rot. He kept it cool on the outside but inside, Penguin was probably like…
Money
Actually, Oswald seems a bit obsessed with money. He’s taken it from people before and doesn’t turn down a few Benjamins when someone gives them to him. My guess is Cobblepot is at Scarface’s Stage One for World Domination: Get the money. But if getting money is this brutal, what will Penguin be like when he finally gets power? Or women?

Oh – and a quick shout-out to the poisoned cannolis as Honorable Mention for Best Weapon. (Gotta love the Godfather reference here – only in this case, I don’t think you’d want to keep these cannolis.) Once more, Cobblepot shows how he can become master of his immediate domain by manipulating practically everything in a given situation to make it work to his benefit. If this was a taste (pun intended) of Penguin’s tactics-to-be, then being under his employ is a risky venture indeed. And this was probably just me, but this scene reminded me of the part in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets where Harry and Ron leave out enchanted cupcakes for Crabbe and Goyle who eat them and pass out. In the immortal words of Ron Weasley, “How thick can you get?”

Fingers crossed for more awesomeness, especially from the Cobblepot camp. Robin Lord Taylor steals the show week after week, and this episode had more Penguin in it than what was seen since the pilot. I marvel at how he can play such a conniving character who is the perfect balance of creepy and charming.

Just hand him an Emmy. Or else we Penguin fangirls might have to gatecrash the Emmys and pull an “Interrupting Kanye.”
Kanye Crashes

Until next week, fellow Gothamites!

GOTHAM

Viper

You mean like the car?
Two thumbs up
Sadly, no.

In this episode, Viper is not a muscle car but a street drug that gives users an incredible sense of euphoria and physical strength. I viewed the whole drug plot as a metaphor for Gotham’s current state. While we’re never given the full backstory, it’s safe to assume that somewhere along the line, criminals, thugs, and mob bosses were given control, inch by inch. Instead of being stopped in their tracks or contained, they were given free reign. And the police force, the entity supposedly on the side of the innocent, law-abiding citizens, becomes infected with corruption, too. Very much like a drug creeping through the human body, crime, chaos, and corruption have seeped into Gotham and it’s caused people to do some pretty crazy stuff – sometimes as a license to do wrong, other times just to survive. But after the first time you sin, it’s always easier to do the same thing the second time and so on.

But one theme that’s being brought up in each episode, directly or indirectly, is redemption. The biggest question is can Gotham be saved (as young Bruce asks Gordon in a previous episode). It’s fitting that Bruce asks this rather than a grown up since he’s the next generation of Gotham. His concern for his home turf isn’t so much for himself, I think, but for his fellow citizens. He knows there are good people in Gotham and he wants to make sure this remnant is either spared the coming bloodshed or takes a stand. To go back to the drug metaphor, an addict can be redeemed, but the first step is to purge the controlling substance from the system. In the same way, Gotham can be saved by eliminating its criminal element.

gotham
Speaking of young Bruce, I want to call special attention to him in this episode. At first, I feared his character was going to become either the token kid character or the token young Batman with nothing to do. But thus far, his character is being incorporated little by little in each episode. Here, we see Bruce hone his in-born curiosity, smarts, and budding detective genius. He’s not just a kid character brought into the show for face time: he actually does stuff. Important stuff. Not just eating cookies and bossing Alfred around (probably to fetch him more cookies). If Bruce embodies the next generation of Gotham, then it’s a bright future indeed: his heart is in the right place as he wants to learn the truth about how Gotham works, for better or worse, not seek revenge for his parent’s murder. That revelation in this episode speaks volumes about Bruce’s moral fiber. As future Batman, he seeks justice, not revenge. So kudos to the writers for introducing that element because it plays a huge role in the superhero we all love.

But to justify having a hero, you have to have villains. Enter Gotham’s principle baddies, the mob. Thus far, this element has been well done and takes cues from other fictional mobsters, from gangsters a la The Godfather (the Cannoli Incident from “Arkham” anyone?) to brash Scarface types (the Al Pacino version, not the 1930s movie). The older mobsters of Gotham carry the Corleone vibe – old school, classy, but certainly dangerous. In contrast, the younger mobsters, such as Fish Mooney and Oswald Cobblepot, are more like the Scarface variety – unpredictable, brutal, and flashy. I like the contrast and it definitely works because within Gotham’s criminal underbelly, there’s a movement to chuck out the old and usher in the new. The only question is whose new brand of mobster wins the crown – Mooney’s manipulative, dark, brutal approach or Cobblepot’s cunning, resourceful, ambitious hand. And if you’re familiar with any amount of Batman lore, you already know who wins that battle. Fish Mooney isn’t in any of the comics, I’m just sayin’.

And speaking of Oswald, he sure likes to play with fire, doesn’t he? Though at least he manages to get scarred instead of charred. One wonders if Maroni can’t see past what Cobblepot is doing – digging his heels in deep enough into Maroni’s “family” only to take the don out when the time is right. For now, Maroni seems willing to let Oswald prove himself but at what cost? Is he keeping Oswald close only to cast him out later or is he truly that clueless? Whatever happens, Cobblepot’s take over is imminent.

It’s also interesting to witness the evolving dynamic between Gordon and Oswald. Gordon gets called on by Maroni to corroborate Oswald’s “story” that he was once in the employ of Fish Mooney until Falcone’s attempt to kill him caused some bad blood. (How could it not?) In theory, Gordon could have lied and made Oswald suffer. Instead, he does the right thing and tells the truth, to which even Oswald thanks him for. Gordon didn’t have to spare Oswald’s life a second time but it goes back to Gordon’s moral makeup: he’s an honest man in a dishonest world, and even to an enemy he’s not going to play dirty. That makes Cobblepot in Gordon’s debt for double measure now, so I’m very much interested to see where this relationship goes.

Lastly, there is an intriguing parallel between each major crime families’ “weapons.” Fish has her girl (Liza) whom she’s molding to become the femme fatale to work through the chinks in Falcone’s armor, and Maroni thinks he has Oswald in his pocket as a weapon against Falcone. (Nobody likes Falcone much, do they?) In comparison, both Fish and Maroni think their respective “weapons” will work for them, not against them. But as we all know, weapons can backfire. Fish’s girl is easily manipulated and hasn’t shown any signs that she’s allowing herself to be manipulated for some greater “good” (term used loosely). This is quite unlike Oswald, who, even in situations where someone else is calling the shots, you know he’s putting on the act of being submissive. He allows himself to be used so he can, in turn, use others so that, in the end, he never truly was used but was, actually, the user. If that makes sense.

So overall “Viper” was fairly solid. I’m still waiting to see how some or all of these puzzle pieces from past episodes come together, but we’re still only five episodes in. One thing is for sure though – I’m always left eager for more!

Just as a quick note, the actors here clearly care about making their respective characters realistic within their story’s world. Jim Gordon is more than just a cop – he’s conflicted. Harvey Bullock is more than just Jim’s partner – he’s gruff, rough, tough but has a slice of a heart. Bruce Wayne is more than just a kid character – he’s struggling with his parent’s murder and seeking to make a difference. Oswald Cobblepot is more than just a villain – he’s a criminal mastermind who plays anyone or anything to get what he wants. Even Fish Mooney is fun to watch because she’s quite the two-face (and we haven’t even seen Harvey Dent yet!). Overall, these characters are more than just faces who show up to fill a scene; there is always a reason why they’re present.

Likewise, even though “Gotham” so far has been more akin to a police procedural, at least even this type of plot has a purpose. You want to know what happens and you want your favorite characters to make it through relatively unscathed. Everything fits with an actual story – it’s not just moving from set piece to set piece. Set pieces (like chase scenes and action sequences) are fun but you have to have more.

And “Gotham” gives you more.
Dwight yes
Until next week, fellow Gothamites!

GOTHAM
Spirit of the Goat

Scared back
This episode was clearly the darkest so far and it possessed the best twist. It took me completely by surprise and I’m usually pretty good at figuring out plots. It’s so good and clever, I’m not even going to spoil it for you. Nope – not one iota!

But what I will share is that it was great seeing Harvey Bullock steal the limelight and he commanded every minute of it. His old partner, Detective Dix, might assert that Gotham’s “Golden Rule” is “No heroes,” but he’s wrong on that account and he’s wrong when it applies to Harvey. Bullock can be the hero when he wants to, but I sense he’s so entrenched by trying to play to Gotham’s dark side that it takes something traumatic to pull it out of him. I went into “Gotham” without any knowledge of Bullock’s character and was prepared to mentally set him aside. But now I love his character! He’s gruff and tough with a dry wit that I adore but inside he has a heart of gold.

Speaking of characters getting a chance to shine, how about Ed Nygma, everyone? Since the start of the season, Gotham’s favorite riddle-spewing forensics tech has been hiding in the shadows of the GCPD, if he was present at all. But in this episode, Nygma gets some well-deserved extended screen time. Robin Lord Taylor might be the top dark horse of “Gotham” for me, but Cory Michael Smith comes in a close second place. He brings a fresh, intriguing twist to a classic Batman villain and I  look forward to seeing more of him in coming episodes.

And to top it off, turns out God made two of ’em!
Kringle Ed Nygma
The award for Cutest Screen Pairing goes to Nygma and Christine Kringle. First of all, it was nice to see Ed interact with someone other than the series’ big dogs and, second, this was just so darn cute! The awkward chemistry here was thoroughly fun to watch and I hope Kringle and Nygma get paired up again.

And speaking of on-screen pairings, this episode finally showcased my most-anticipated partnership: Oswald Cobblepot and his mother, Gertrud. Acting-wise, you’ve got a brilliant comedic actress in Carol Kane and a up-and-coming star in Robin Lord Taylor. Even though the scenes were brief, Oswald’s relationship with his mother is telling. Her encouragement to him is admirable but maybe a bit too far. There is something to be said for unconditional love but even that has to be tempered with tough love once in a while. Granted, Oswald doesn’t exactly tell her what he’s been up to (he calls it “business” but we know better), so her underlying sentiments that her son can do no wrong aren’t being discredited. At least not by Oswald.

Speaking of the Cobblepot clan, some reviewers pounced all over this dynamic and, to be fair, it’s juicy, but not in the way you suspect. I want to clear this up right now – even though Oswald and Gertrud share a different kind of mother-son bond, it’s not incest. Period. I know some folks were probably thinking that but, no. The comics show their relationship as being closer than average but it definitely doesn’t go there.

Penguin and Penguin Mama
Oswald and his mother share a non-traditional relationship chiefly because she’s a single mom. According to the comics (though there have been variations), Oswald’s father died from pneumonia when Oswald was a child. (I’m assuming this is the slant “Gotham” is taking seeing as Papa Penguin is nowhere in sight.) This caused Oswald’s mother to become over-protective but think a helicopter parent to the nth degree. The most noted of her actions (in the comics) is her insistence on little Oswald carrying an umbrella at all times (since his father died as a result of being out in the rain too long). Oswald got chewed out viciously when he didn’t. And you thought not wearing a jacket when it’s cold outside was bad.

In this episode, Oswald first gets fussed at for not checking in with his mother and then accused of being in the company of loose women (or “painted ladies,” as he more delicately calls them), which he denies and is clearly irked that she thinks that of him. This is the classic smother mother tactic where Gertrud sees all women as threats who might take her son, her only company and source of security, away from her. On one hand, it makes sense that a mother is going to be protective of her only child and mindful of the company he keeps. It’s another to never let him get hurt, make mistakes, or be around bad people. It’s clear Gertrud doesn’t view Oswald as an adult as he’s still a little boy in her mind. She either doesn’t like to think of him as an adult or can’t think of him that way. Granted, parents always view their children as their children, but there’s a time to stop being a boy’s mother and become a man’s mother. In some respects, Gertrud is not unlike some parents today. She believes her son still faces “bullies” who resent him out of sheer envy and spite and is always willing to take his side. But tell her that her son just blew up the Earth and she’s likely to insist he’s a good boy and wouldn’t do that.

“I’m gonna be somebody in this town,” Oswald asserts. Why? Because all his life he’s clearly been told he’s the best. And if you always tell your kid that he’s the best, failure comes much harder when the rest of the world fails to see his awesomeness. Granted that’s no excuse for bullying, but Oswald’s ego isn’t exactly humble. Oddly enough, the song played over the bathtub scene is “Accentuate the Positive.” And that’s exactly what Oswald tries to do by making his “business” matters sound legit, thus manipulating what his mother thinks of what he’s up to. Part of him might be doing it to protect her but I suspect it’s just his mind-game playing nature.

But let’s not put all the blame on Gertrud here. Oswald isn’t exactly complaining when his mother treats him less like an adult. He opens up to his mom, which is good. He likes being told he’s destined to do great things (also good but maybe tone down the whole destiny vibe). He likes being cared for and babied – fair enough. But oh, gosh does he like it! A grown man playing in a tub? That was cute, funny, and…kind of sad – sad that Oswald, in many ways, is like a big spoiled kid. And who do you think made him that way? I’ll give you three hints and the first two don’t count.

Speaking of this scene, this is the first time we see Oswald stripped down (literally and figuratively) where his emotions are on raw display. His bullied childhood has clearly scarred him and he desperately wants to make something of himself. I have to credit Robin Lord Taylor’s deft hand at presenting Oswald as a human with a heart who hates being pushed aside and pushed down. Yet he loves the security of the old apron strings. It’s clear he manipulates his mother, chiefly by not being entirely honest and by not insisting she start treating him like a grown up.

Some commentators jumped on this and yes, while his mother’s actions seem a little out of place, especially towards an adult man, they’re not sensual nor are they entirely unfamiliar. Remember Marie from “Everybody Loves Raymond”? Marie did the same thing as Gertrud does here: she mollycoddled her sons, Raymond and Robert, treating them like they were still her little boys instead of her two grown men. Sometimes Raymond and/or Robert would insist she start treating them like adults, but most of the time they ate her affections right up. Oswald is doing the same thing and my theory is that he feels his mother is the only person he can trust though, oddly enough, he’s not 100% honest with her. Personally, I was eager to see these two characters get one-on-one screen time and it did not disappoint. Besides, with mother having his back, Oswald can take on the world. Or at least just Gotham. More power to the Penguin!

And how about the ending, folks? Does Oswald know how to make an entrance or does Oswald know how to make an entrance? When he shows up at the GCPD HQ in all his glory with every eye in the place staring at him…
Penguin Returns
Until next time, fellow Gothamites!

GOTHAM

Penguin’s Umbrella
For starters, I love this episode’s title because it works on two levels: first, as an overt reference to the Penguin’s signature prop and, secondly, as an inference. The word umbrella can refer to either “something which provides protection” (such as defenses in an attack) or “something which covers or embraces a broad range of elements or factors.” Thus, Oswald’s “umbrella” is more than just an item he carries – he’s playing Gotham’s big dogs so his life and aims are protected as he’s clearly trying to construct an empire of his own.

Now let us begin as the only proper way we can. Oswald, be a dear and show us how.
Penguin Take a Bow

I think the proverbial can of worms has officially been opened. To be fair, Harvey’s initial anger is justified: all this time, he was under the impression that Jim was being honest with him. Now that he’s caught him in this giant whopper, it’s a wonder if Harvey will ever trust Jim again. Yet Harvey proves he’s a bulldog with a heart as he comes to Jim’s defense. The dynamic between these characters is very believable and it’s a joy to watch even when they’re expression the most repugnant of sentiments. I have to hand it to Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue for their performances: these two characters would have been either decimated or reduced to bickering drama queens in the hands of other actors. But these gents provide a perfect balance of wit, logic, maturity, and heart.

Probably the dullest character of the series thus far is Jim’s squeeze, Barbara. She just doesn’t do anything except fuss at Jim and make doe eyes (or both). She’s not compelling to watch (as a character – nothing against the actress) and she isn’t dynamic. Maybe that’s to be expected from a minor character, but even Moaning Myrtle from the Harry Potter series was a minor character and she had more personality. And she was a ghost.

I have nothing against female characters being put in situations where male characters must save them, but when that’s your only claim to fame thus far, well…
Gurl Fish
You gotta start doing something. Other than running into trouble or else you’ll be condemned to damsel-in-distress mode forever. And we don’t need another Bella Swan – one is bad enough.

As a whole, I’m picking up on an interesting theme here, especially in this episode. “Gotham” presents a study in contrasts as it tries to define what honesty should look like. For Jim Gordon, this means taking the moral high ground and telling the truth. Yet for other folks, honesty isn’t quite so clear cut. Maroni asserts, “There’s nothing more dangerous than an honest man,” and his rival, Falcone, claims, “I have many faults but I’m not a liar.” Let’s break both of these statements down. Maroni’s assertion is that honest people can be threats because they won’t stoop to dishonest talk or behaviors. They speak the truth and truth can become a weapon. In contrast, even though Falcone seems to agree with Maroni, he still sees being a liar as a less-than-honorable trait. In reality, I think what Gotham’s criminal element fears most is not a man who is moral but the truth itself. Truth forces people to take a side, whether to believe it or reject it. The criminals at play here give an appearance of the truth but we know it’s all smoke and mirrors. So when a man demonstrates the real deal, he becomes a threat to their way of life.

Speaking of Gotham’s criminal element, this episode marks the debut of another Batman nemesis, Victor Zsasz who, to his credit, has a really cool-sounding name. It’s pronounced “zazz” as in, well, this…
44923-Sheldon-cooper-hes-so-zazzy-ca-lKRi
I had never heard of this villain before until this episode so I briefly researched him. This villain’s trademark, evidently, is that for every life he takes, he makes a physical mark on his body. So over time, Victor is literally covered in cuts. Talk about really getting into your work. What makes him so sinister is the fact that he just straight up kills people. He’s not like, for example, Oswald Cobblepot, who spills blood to either cover his tracks or obtain something he wants. There’s a big difference between that and trophy killings. Oswald kills for a reason (however flawed it is) whereas Victor kills for sport. Still, he sounds very dark and disturbed and I’d like to learn more about him, so hopefully this won’t be his only appearance this season.

And while we’re on the subject of our man Oswald, remember how back in Episode Six, he asserted to his mother…
Do dope things
Well, something like that. Now he makes good on his promise in being the world’s dopest (translation: greatest) snitch!

My, what a tangled web Oswald weaves! Both the writers and Robin Lord Taylor have to be credited here. Just when you think you’ve got Oswald’s scheme figured out, he lobs another curve ball or pulls another wild card from his sleeve. It makes me wonder how he’s going to put it all together to come out on top. I won’t spoil the twist at the end of this episode but I definitely didn’t see it coming and it makes me love Cobblepot’s character even more for his ingenious unpredictability. He’s such a contrast to both Falcone and Maroni in that he represents a new generation of power yet embodies Maroni’s strong armed tactics and Falcone’s level-headed sensibilities. I also love how he’s incorporated with some old school gangster flavor yet keeps it fresh, from the Godfather-esque score to even the traditional kiss of “respect” upon the head of an enemy.

Speaking of which, I think this deserves clarification. Have you ever seen The Godfather trilogy or similar movies? There were guys (i.e. gangsters) kissing guys (usually other gangsters or associates) in non-sexual ways. That look Maroni’s associates give Oswald isn’t driven by “homophobia,” as one reviewer claimed: it’s a look of horror that Cobblepot isn’t to be trifled with. Also, his declaration that “Love conquers all” is meant metaphorically, not as a statement of affection: what you love will consume you, for good or bad. It’s a follow up to Oswald’s initial observations that what a man loves can be the very thing that will kill him as deep-seated desires can simultaneously morph into weaknesses.

This episode also marks the reunion of Oswald and Fish, which, to some viewers might seem to come a little too soon. Why does this meeting come to a head now? Keep in mind that this episode would have been about the halfway mark if “Gotham” was running with its original sixteen episodes. Once Fox bumped its order up to twenty-two, we’re not near the midway point now. So expect more fireworks in the future. This will certainly be a powerful set up seeing as Oswald has a big target on his back. Likewise, persons in power are always looking over their shoulder, so it will be interesting to see if Falcone or Maroni suspect what Oswald is up to. One thing is for sure, nearly everyone he comes across is a piece in his one-player chess game, even when it seems like he’s a piece on someone else’s board. And this grand Gotham chess match includes Jim Gordon whom Oswald is convinced he can make him “see the light.” This season thus far concerning Cobblepot’s take over is like watching someone play chess against a computer opponent set at a moderately low intelligence level – it might beat you at times but more often than not, you win.

Overall, this episode was a great follow up to “Spirit of the Goat” and it was a fun departure from the typical formulaic story we’ve been encountering thus far. In fact, some reviewers are hailing it as the best “Gotham” episode to date and they wouldn’t be wrong. All it does is make me eager for the next episode. And the next one…and the next one…and the next one…and the next one….

GOTHAM

The Mask
No, this has nothing to do with the Jim Carrey movie of the same name. Though if you ask me, both of these dudes are creepy:
The Mask Gotham The Mask JC
I can’t decide who I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. Probably both.

Anyway, welcome everyone to Office Space meets The Hunger Games! (So, would that make it The Office Space Hunger Games or The Office Hunger Games or The Office Hunger Space Games, oh, never mind!) And you thought you had to fight for a job! Naturally, this serves as the crime of the week – what sick nutcase is making these guys fight to the death for the right to earn glory and supplies for their district…um, I mean a cubicle. I was a little disappointed to see “Gotham” return to its usual formula, especially since the past two episodes broke the mold in a very good way. Granted, this is a police procedural at heart but change is good sometimes.

Change like incorporating more Ed Nygma in this episode (which is definitely a good thing):
gotham_season-1_episode-8_the-mask-3
Poor Ed. He’s a brilliant mind but he’s so misunderstood and marginalized. I know he eventually becomes the Riddler but he gets no respect, y’all. (Though I suspect this is what will drive him into villainy. I’d hate to be on his bad side when that happens. Another good reason to be nice to everyone, nerdy forensics experts included.)

So now, “Let the games begin!” And can I get a “May the odds be ever in your favor”?
Katniss running

Actually, those comparisons aren’t that far off, not that I’m implying the “Gotham” writers purposely took anything from Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. But I’m picking up some very Panem-like vibes in this fictional city, both in this episode and in the series thus far.

For starters, much like Katniss Everdeen, Jim Gordon serves as a symbol of bravery. His fellow officers were made to feel like cowards in light of his actions in the previous episode (though, to be fair, I don’t think I’d really want to stand in the way of a dude like Victor Zsasz). If it’s not too much of a stretch to compare Jim to Katniss, it is fitting. He takes a stand against a power greater than himself, just as Katniss defies the Capitol. Jim is willing to face death in the hopes of exposing the truth of how deep the corruption goes, also like Katniss. Though he could have used her help in that office space “arena” ’cause all it was missing was the Cornucopia!

Going back to “Gotham” now, Gordon and Bruce also have an interesting parallel. Bruce wants to learn to fight, to prove himself and defend his parents’ honor. I can already hear some critics in my mind – “Bruce is wimpy! Bruce is a weakling!” Well…duh! It’s unfair to expect Bruce to be at superhero level now, just like Luke Skywalker wasn’t a Jedi Master at the first go and Harry Potter wasn’t a wizard extraordinaire from the start. All heroes start from humble, unlearned beginnings but possess a thirst to prove themselves, which is what Bruce is doing. And I can’t think of anyone better than to prep him for the fight than Alfred.

Go, kick-butt butlers, go!
throw-your-fists-up
Bruce’s determination to right wrongs is similar to Gordon’s views here, which echo what Bruce will eventually become: you shouldn’t love fighting but it’s unwise to be afraid to get involved when it’s necessary. Evil rarely goes away if you confront it politely. Sometimes you have to take a stand. I can definitely see now why Bruce and Jim become close later on. Granted, “Gotham” is taking liberties with their relationship here but it’s not too hard to believe.

Along those lines, I would note that my suspension of disbelief was a little stretched. In the past few episodes, Jim Gordon was as good as a marked man. Now he’s been welcomed back into the GCPD as if the whole Oswald Cobblepot incident never happened. To me, it would make more sense to keep Gordon on the fringes rather than heading up investigations just like old times. But who am I to argue with Jim Gordon? Especially when he can take dudes down with office supplies and a sword.

Another gent I wouldn’t want to cross paths with – at least not on a bad day – is, of course, Oswald Cobblepot, but only because of how fast he can turn that charm switch on and off. He might be a crime boss in the making but he still can’t forsake his thuggish roots, which equip him to tackle the best (or should I say the worst) of both worlds of thug-like street tactics and business-minded murder. Interestingly, his confrontation with the rich, snobby chick was a nice nod to his penchant in the comics to be a thief. And I don’t care what you say, that lady deserved to get her tacky stuff stolen. And it’s this divide between the haves and the have-nots in Gotham that drives some of the series’ themes. People who have the money and the power (such as the mob families and the politicians) take all, and the folks who have next to nothing or who are just average citizens are at their mercy or stuck under their thumb.

And speaking of getting stuck, Fish Mooney sure doesn’t know how to take too kindly to nice (but tacky) gifts. I get the feeling Falcone’s pronouncement that Oswald is untouchable really eats at her, so she’ll do everything she can but kill him. Or maybe she confused his hand for a Voodoo doll.

Geesh, I’m sorry but that pin really was ugly!
Mockingjay Pin
It was no Mockingjay pin, I’m just sayin’.

I do find it interesting that Oswald retracts his peace offering from Fish and gives it to his mother instead. Fish constantly asserts she’s like a mother to everyone. She is the mother of all evil in Gotham but not the sort of mum you want to buy a card and flowers for on Mother’s Day. In short, Fish Mooney is a faux parent – she bosses everyone around and puts on the care and concern act when it only benefits her (usually to force or weasel information out of someone). But none of it is genuine (except for the bossing part). Compare that to the love and attention Gertrude lavishes on her son. None of that is phony. It’s a bit overbearing at times, especially since Oswald is no longer a child, but at least Gertrude cares about him and has a lioness’ heart when she senses injustice is being done to him. Say what you want about her, I’d vote for a doting momma over a fake, violent momma any day.

And speaking of fake, there are a lot of phony people in Gotham. As the chief villain in this episode observes, masks hide the face but bare the soul, ergo masks speak the truth. But it’s a concealed truth, a half-truth, and it obstructs both your view of the world and how others perceive you through your lies. You can live life as a facade, a secret of sorts, that you can be convinced is real and honest but, in reality, it isn’t. So in the prolific words of George Costanza…
It's not a lie

Even Oswald recognizes that everyone conceals things and has secrets, but the trick in his mind is to use these hidden things against his opponents. At least we see now where he gets his penchant for ratting – the family genes! His mother relates a story from her youth when she told on a rival student as a means of revenge. Oswald seems impressed, perhaps both by her nerve and the fact he, essentially, has done the same thing.

And if that wasn’t enough, we were treated to some cool symbolism as Gertrude traps a literal rat that’s been scuttling around her apartment. Coincidentally, she manages to nab the tricky little fellow during her son’s visit.
Oswald v RatRat
Et tu, rodent?

Oswald at Home
As a side note, I’m really enjoying seeing Robin Lord Taylor and Carol Kane interact on screen. They definitely play off of each other and, performer-wise, it’s a great pairing. Sometimes it can be tough to match two actors and make their chemistry seem authentic. Other times the connection falls into place. This holds true for Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue and the same can be said for Taylor and Kane. I hope we delve deeper into their characters’ relationship and I secretly wonder if Gertrude suspects her son is not telling her everything. On the surface, she seems to believe him, but it might be fun to see what happens if she ever catches him in a lie.

While we’re on the subject of secrets, it’s funny to watch Oswald eat an apple, of all things, while his goons beat up Timothy.
Oswald and the Apple2
Traditionally, apples are seen as mystical fruits. In A Dictionary of Symbols, J. E. Cirlot has this to say: Being almost spherical in shape, the apple signifies totality. It is symbolic of earthly desires, or of indulgence in such desires. The warning not to eat the forbidden apple came, therefore, from the mouth of the supreme being, as a warning against the exaltation of materialistic desire. Hence, apples symbolize a mindset that views things, people, ideas, etc. as commodities to be bartered, sold, retained, manipulated. Does that sound familiar? Exactly; so of all the symbols to associate Cobblepot with, the apple makes a perfect choice!

Before I go, I did spot another Hunger Games similarity and I alluded to it earlier regarding the ugly pin lady. There is a clear distinction between Gotham’s upper crust and the crumbs. They dress nicer, talk about their trips and trinkets, and act like they own the place. It reminds me of the people of the Capitol regarding the unabashed display of wealth and disregard (or at least lack of genuine concern) for human life. Liza, Fish Mooney’s girl, sums it up perfectly: “You are rich. People are afraid of you. Is that not enough?” The answer is no. People like Fish and others are always searching for that elusive “More.” But for those who might not have much to begin with, that concept of “More” is nothing more than an elusive dream; but without it, they lack the ability to speak for and defend themselves.

In short…
Odds are never in our favor
True for Panem, and true for the underdogs of Gotham. But maybe Gordon and Bruce can change that!

Overall, this was a solid episode that continues to peel back the layers of Gotham, both the good and the bad. Normally at this point, I’d make predictions or indicate what I hope to see happen since we’re nearing the halfway point, but I’ll pass. I love being surprised! I will say that Gotham, the city, is shaping up to be a dystopian empire after all. All we need now is for President Snow to visit!

If he did, do you think Oswald would smarmy up to him? I mean, penguins love snow, right? Now that I think about it, that might not be a good idea. Gotham has enough power-hungry folks. Though it would make for a cool cage match. I’m not allowed to bet, but if I could, I’d bet on Penguin.
Cinna-Approves

GOTHAM

Harvey Dent
Well, here he is folks – meet Harvey Dent.
Two-Face-Bar-Gotham
Though Dent does vaguely remind me of Jim from the U.S. version of “The Office.”
jim-the-office
No? You don’t think so? Okay, well, just call me weird then.

In any case, Harvey Dent (played by Nicholas D’Agosto) has officially been inducted into the “Gotham” universe and he does carry his signature coin in this week’s episode. I always wondered why Dent carried a coin (though I totally get the whole two-sided/two-faced/Janus imagery). But maybe it’s also because a Magic 8 Ball is too big and bulky to carry around.

Like the rest of the casting, I think D’Agosto was a good choice. He fits the bill that Harvey Dent is supposed to be an attractive man with a passion for justice mingled with a conniving mind. I loved the way how, in some shots, his face was filmed in half-light. That was a nice touch as a nod to Dent’s future villainous identity as Two-Faced. Overall, it was cool seeing him fleshed out as his younger self and I hope he gets some recurring screen time.

Speaking of his coin, Dent’s coin has two heads (so too bad for you if you call tails). This is rather obvious symbolism to what he becomes, physically and in name, but I believe it’s also a window into Dent’s personality. On one hand, he believes in fairness, but on the other hand he uses deception. Much like with his coin where the chooser only has one choice, which isn’t fair, Dent gives the impression that flipping for it is fair. Similarly, he cares about justice but employs deception to achieve those ends. In his mind, a story is powerful even if it isn’t entirely true; but as long as it achieves a desired outcome, it’s worth it. Hence, he really is two-faced. So, overall, Dent was a fun character to watch and he has some interesting angles I hope the series explores.

To be fair, the crime-of-the-week story thread was a bit weak since what this episode is really devoted to exploring, finally, is the Bruce/Selina dynamic. I had been hoping to see a good episode on Selina and I got my wish! Carmen Bicondova is a miniature powerhouse – I love her look, wit, and overall treatment of this iconic character. Haters gonna hate but I can’t find a single flaw with this take on the future Catwoman. Other than, up until now, she hasn’t been given much screen time or stuff to do. But it looks like things might finally be changing around here.

The scenes with Bruce and Selina were some of the strongest character pair-ups of the season and they proved to be the shining highlight of this episode. (Aside from Oswald’s precious few scenes – hey, I gotta rep for Penguin here, you know.) Bruce and Selina provide a good balance to each other as Bruce’s strengths are booksmarts, an inquisitive mind, manners, and a desire to become a stronger person; whereas, Selina is a lass of the streets who isn’t afraid to challenge authority, is a tad uncouth, and takes no issue in employing ruthless tactics. Yet it’s this contrast that works and I was impressed that such young actors were able to present a realistic and mature performance. Overall, this dynamic paints an image of their future selves – Batman/Bruce Wayne is all about what is good, strong, and right, and Catwoman is a cutthroat though she’s not utterly evil. Not to mention Mazouz and Bicondova are a bundle of talent and a treat to watch.

Oh, and the best part?
Food Fight
In all seriousness though, this week’s episode – as it’s name implies by introducing a two-sided character – had duality as the running thematic thread, and Dent’s intro and his coin and Bruce and Selina’s character parallel were just the tip of the iceberg.

First, Ed Nygma was like…
play video games
I could see Bullock putting in hours with a Lara Croft installment for the, um, “visuals.” Gordon is more of a Call of Duty guy. But what does Ed play? Jeopardy for Xbox 360? This might seem like another off-the-cuff comment but Ed’s remarks about video games being a challenge bring up an interesting point. Video games are simulated realities where the gamer manipulates characters and events to achieve a desired outcome. This idea ties into the duality theme as Harvey Dent creates a false sense of choice by manipulating the outcome ahead of time.

And speaking of manipulative characters, enter Oswald Cobblepot, the master of manipulation himself. And at picking locks, evidently.

In this installment of Penguin’s Takeover Part 9, Oswald decides to snoop around Liza’s apartment. (In the previous episode, he determined that Fish Mooney had someone keeping tabs on Falcone, so he was able to discern that it’s the unlucky Liza.) Most people when they want to connect the dots go buy a coloring book. But not Oswald – he just ups and breaks into girls’ apartments!

First, I have to point out the cool avian parallel here – can you spot it?
Oswald Snoops3
On the right is Penguin and on the left is an owl statute. (Maybe Liza tried to apply at Hogwarts and got rejected.) Not only did I find this super-cool, I also thought it was quite fitting. Owls are traditional symbols of wisdom, intuition, and intelligence. Interestingly, other cultures viewed owls as messengers of secrets as well as secret-keepers. Oswald might bear a different avian moniker but he definitely possesses owl-like inferences: he’s intelligent, intuitive, and knows how to both keep and share secrets. Hence why he was even in Liza’s apartment in the first place.

Later, after Oswald confirms his suspicions that Liza is, indeed, Fish Mooney’s mole, he threatens to expose Liza’s secret and holds her captive to it. This is yet another bit of duality we get in this episode. In the minds of corrupt men, a lie can be more powerful than the truth so exposed secrets can hold someone captive. Much like a video game, holding secrets and information against someone puts you in control and enables you to manipulate the situation, something Oswald is quite adept at doing. Basically, Gotham is like one big video game and Oswald has all of the cheat codes. Talk about a literal Gangland.

It’s also very appropriate that mirrors get some usage here.
Oswald Snoops
Oswald Snoops2
Oswald Snoops6
Mirrors visually open up a space. But in this case, they serve to symbolize a double nature. Just as a coin is two-sided (and Dent’s coin can purposely manipulate a choice), so mirrors represent two sides of a person. We get to see what they see (right in front of them) as well as what they can’t see (the background). In Oswald’s case, he’s acting as a double agent by playing both sides of Gotham’s mob families. Yet this is an outward illusion as he’s really acting out of his own interests. Just as Harvey can manipulate the outcome of a coin toss, so Oswald can manipulate how other people view him. Outwardly, he gives the illusion of submission while inwardly he knows he’s the one who has the upper hand.

Good thing Oswald doesn’t use a coin to make decisions.
Coin flip
I think he’d go all No Country for Old Men on everyone.

So that was my take on “Harvey Dent.” Overall, it was a little slow but I can definitely see some of the narrative architecture taking shape for the season’s back half. Now, you might be asking yourself – why do my reviews talk about symbolism? Why not just recap the episode? Well, for starters, I figure there are plenty of feeds and wiki articles that do that. Secondly, I love delving into the deeper meanings of stories and characters. Relating what happens in a book, movie, or TV show is no fun , so what I do find fun is making connections though I try not to go too far out in proverbial left field and start touting things that don’t make sense within context. So these are my interpretations and you’re free to accept or reject them as you see fit. Regardless, I try to look for what “Gotham”‘s story is really telling viewers through its setting and characters, no matter how subtle it is.

GOTHAM
Lovecraft

Oh, no. It’s here! The fall finale of “Gotham” is here!
sobbing

No more Bruce Wayne, no more Jim Gordon, no more Selina Kyle, no more Ed Nygma, no more Harvey Bullock, and no more Oswald Cobblepot until next year!
Scream of defeat
Now
what am I going to do with myself?

Okay, okay. I’ve calmed myself down enough to get on with the review.

It is very fitting to have a character named Lovecraft stuck in Gotham. For us bookworms, this name has some significance. H. P. Lovecraft was an American horror author who focused on the reality and power of evil, particularly it’s ability to destroy and corrupt. This is certainly a fitting description of what is wrong with Gotham itself as it is plagued by evil and fallen people who have surrendered to their base desires. It truly is a sin city but is not devoid of good, even if sometimes this good comes from less than pure souls. Though Gotham certainly is a place of horrors, true to Jim Gordon’s words to Bruce Wayne in the pilot, “There will be light.”

The Bruce Wayne-Selina Kyle dynamic from the previous episode is expanded here and, once more, it’s a delight to watch. And what’s even better? Witnessing Alfred enter the fray! And even better than that? Alfred verses Butch.
Data yes fist pump
Enough said.
This episode, as well as this first half of the season, presents many of the same themes. Aside from the inherent struggle between good and evil, we see the continued theme of truth. In an odd turn of events, Falcone praises the value of trust and the truth while the mayor condemns Gordon for wanting to stick to the truth about Lovecraft’s demise. Odd how the very persons who would inherently fear the truth prefer some degree of openness while those who should embrace it flee from it.
But can I just say that Gordon’s response to the mayor’s assessment of events was just as cool and tough as when Rick Grimes on “The Walking Dead” uttered these words…
Rick's Famous Line
And made this happen…
world-exploding-o
Congrats, Jim. May the lily-livers ever cower in your shadow!

Lastly, our man Oswald Cobblepot didn’t get much screen time but I’m eager to see how he gets Liza to break – probably by doing what he does best, playing head games. And if that doesn’t work, now he has minions to send after her.
Minion Faceslam
Um, wrong minions.

Oswald’s parting observation that “Timing is everything” proves true for not only his eventual takeover (it’s a’comin’!) but for the evolution of all of these iconic characters – the heroes, the villains, and the folks in between who will be forced to take sides. If I may add to the words of Jim Gordon when he lands eyes on a safely returned Bruce Wayne – thank God for Batman because he teaches us how good can come out of evil, how truth is better than deception, and how ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

Since this is the midway point (or close enough to it), I want to close by highlighting some of the things I’m loving about “Gotham” in general thus far…

The Design
gotham-screen-cap
Most television shows seem to be low-scale, meaning they concentrate on the heat of the action as opposed to where the action is taking place. But not “Gotham.” It’s big, epic, and expansive. One thing that impressed me from the start was its epic quality, which is more befitting a film’s scope. The settings are gorgeous – realistic yet with a touch of the unfamiliar. You feel like you’ve seen a place like this before only it’s more like a dreamscape where the real world becomes crystallized and saturated with color and light (or darkness). On the same token, the costumes, lighting, and set designs are sublime. Everything blends so nothing feels out of place. You could just watch “Gotham” for the visuals alone because it truly is a work of art.

The Characters
“Gotham” offers up an expansive cast that, for the most part, is a cohesive effort. I wasn’t surprised that I would like young Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, and Selina Kyle. But later on, I even liked Fish Mooney, who is delightfully over-the-top. Normally, that’s an unforgivable acting sin for me but Fish kind of deserves to be played in a larger-than-life fashion because she views herself as a queen – that is until King Cobblepot dethrones her.

One surprise favorite for me was Harvey Bullock, who I knew nothing about going in. He is a perfect balance of a law man who usually ends up doing the right thing and a guy who tries to play the scratch-the-mobsters’-back card. From the pilot, I knew I’d like him – his dry wit is hilarious, his chemistry with Gordon is perfect, and his intellect is admirable. In the same way, Gordon, who I, at first, wasn’t prepared to like, is a great conflicted character as he does his best to be a moral man. Overall, the actors are some of the best I’ve seen in a drama series in a while, and Fox seems to have a knack for selecting good casts. Most of the actors here I either had never heard of before or was only familiar with in name only, but they’re all clearly dedicated, seasoned performers, including the youngest of the lot.

I really could go on and on here, so I’ll just end it with this…
I love you all
Ah! But only one gent can get all the love….

The Penguin
Oops…I mean, Oswald Cobblepot. No, wait. He’s cool with his nickname now. Get it? Cool. Penguin. Never mind. But seriously – he’s my favorite character. Not so you’d notice.

First, regarding the look – it’s hard to believe there were people who complained about Robin Lord Taylor’s version in terms of appearance. But I think seeing his character on screen and witnessing his take on Cobblepot have silenced these naysayers. Even in some of the comics, Oswald didn’t start out looking like Cartman from “South Park.” Though if you gave Cartman a nose, dyed and doofed up the hair little bit, you’d have a pretty decent Penguin decoy.
Cartman as Penguin
Or maybe not. (This is what happens when a weird idea crosses paths with boredom on your lunch break and access to Microsoft Paint. )

In any case, Taylor’s interpretation of this classic Batman villain is perfection. Most versions of the Penguin are either campy or campy with a side of angst, both of which are cool. But Taylor’s take is a totally different breed – dark, edgy, ambitious, intelligent, and courtly. To be fair, Cobblepot was the driving force behind my wanting to watch the show in the first place to witness his evolution into a future crime lord. And Taylor definitely doesn’t disappoint. He sets a new standard that may never be broken or bested and it’s right up there with other actors’ take on the Penguin. I can’t find a single flaw in his performance. I feel really sorry for anyone who tries to do a young Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin after him; Robin Lord Taylor sets such a high bar that I’d dare someone reach or top it. Translation: don’t bother. And forget the formalities – somebody just go ahead and hand him an Emmy. You know he deserves it.

Until later, my dear Gothamites!

GOTHAM
Rogue’s Gallery

At the start of the series’ back half, I’ve got three words for you…
I'm back baby
And while it wasn’t with a bang, it certainly wasn’t with a whimper.

I don’t know about you, but I think Arkham belongs on the list of Fictional Places I Wouldn’t Want to Visit. Kind of like this…
Fictional places
Just add a slot for Arkham: “Gotham” Fans: “No chance in you-know-where!”

Architecturally-speaking, I love Arkham’s look as it mixes a Gothic style with a cold, modern feel. It transmits a genuinely creepy, don’t-open-the-door type of vibe yet avoids turning into a stock horror movie set. I’m anxious to see what transpires here and I hope Arkham becomes a centerpiece in future episodes. I enjoyed my “stay” in this episode, and I hope to return. Only in my head – not literally!

Plot-wise, this episode took a different spin on the whole crime-of-the-week structure, this time with Jim investigating atrocities committed against inmates inside of Arkham. The twist was a bit of a surprise, which is a good thing because the fastest way to disappoint me when it comes to whodunits is when I can pretty much guess who actually did it. I had my suspicions about Jack Gruber, but he seemed so sane and genuine that I kind of let him slip as far as possible suspects go.

I mean, look at this guy…
Jack Gruber
Doesn’t he have that kindly grandpa kind of look to you? But I suppose it’s the perfect cover for whatever diabolical plan he’s hatching. It does leave me wondering (and worrying) what could come from this. (And what Batman villain Jack Gruber is or will become. Hmm…I think I need to do some more comic book homework now.)

Speaking of new faces, this episode also marked the first appearance of Dr. Leslie Thompkins, a physician typically assigned to the ladies’ ward at Arkham but who is willing to serve patients whenever and wherever she’s needed.
Leslie_Thompkins_001
Up front, I like that about her character. It shows she has a heart and isn’t out to make a name for herself. I’ll confess that I don’t know much about her as far as the comics go, but if I remember correctly, I believe she’s one of the white hats, the good guys/gals who assists Batman later on. Played by Morena Baccarin, Dr. Thompkins’ introduction was strong and I hope she sticks around as a series regular. I loved the chemistry between her and Jim and it felt very genuine, more so than his interactions with Barbara. While at this point I’m not sure how I would feel about adding romance to their equation, I do sense Jim and Leslie are on the same page when it comes to their worldviews – that people are deserving of respect, kindness, and justice no matter who they are or where they’ve come from. Overall, it was a great setup for her and I sense only more good will come of it.

Our younger Gothamites, Selena Kyle and Ivy Pepper, make brief appearances, but I like the dynamic that’s being established. In the comics, I’m not sure how much interaction, if any, Catwoman has with Poison Ivy, but having these two young ladies team up here was a delight and I’d like to see where their interwoven story arc might go. While Bruce Wayne might not have been in this episode, Selena appears to be making good on her actions towards him in the previous episode “Lovecraft” as she tries her best to be nice. Here, she sees an ill Ivy to shelter rather than leave her on the street. That shows a degree of heart in Selena as she could have just left Ivy alone in the alley; instead, she has a moment of kindness by taking Ivy in. Granted, she breaks into Jim’s apartment but I suppose the ends justify the means, thus proving that Selena can be nice when she wants to be.

Speaking of the ladies of Gotham, I’m still not feelin’ Barbara’s storyline here. No offense against Erin Richards, but the character she plays really isn’t given much to do other than have emotional tantrums. Though I confess it was fun to watch Barbara get ticked off at little Ivy on the phone.

Hey, Babs…
Jealous
Jealous of a little girl, no less.

Though this reveals something deep-down I’ve disliked about Barbara all along – she’s just not that smart. She’s two crying fits away from becoming TSTL. (That means “Too Stupid To Live,” in case you were curious.) Such as in this case: seriously, Babs, you can’t tell that was a little girl on the other end of the line? Okay, maybe she might make a mistake like that if she was emotional and didn’t think it through. But that’s my chief issue with her – Barbara doesn’t think things through and, instead, relies more on emotion rather than logic. Overall, I feel her character is just a set piece without much to do and, in my opinion, she has had the weakest character development of all.

But moving on now from the weakest character development to the strongest. Poor Oswald Cobblepot just can’t seem to catch any breaks as of late. Especially in this episode, in which he has very little screen time but, as always, what little he’s given is a joy to watch. While I’m not sure that Maroni’s “lesson” to Oswald regarding keeping his ego in check will stick, I do think Oswald knows how far he can push when it comes to his own assertions of power. To be fair, Oswald did need a dose of humility but, to his credit, he’s not one for flagrantly acting like a big head all of the time. Though he has no doubts about what he hopes to achieve as even in the comics, Oswald displays a slice of over-inflated self-confidence at times, such as when he asserts about himself, “The Penguin was ever destined to be the true king of Gotham crime!” (That’s from “Secret Origins, Vol. 1” and it took me forever to find. Hey! I did my homework this time!)

Except, Oswald, why would you try to tax fishermen? What will the Penguin do without his fish?
Boss Penguin2
(I will note that the subtle fish jokes are all rather cute and clever. I appreciate good in-jokes if they’re done right and not splattered in every episode. It would be tempting to write in cold, ice, and fish jokes for Oswald every time but, thankfully, the writers have the wisdom to show restraint.)

In the end, Maroni has to make sure he’s still one of Gotham’s top dogs. “You’re the monkey,” he tells Oswald. “I’m the zoo keeper.” Naturally, Oswald isn’t going to contradict him to his face, but that look he gives at the end when Maroni is looking the other way? Priceless.
Angry Penguin
As a whole, I think Maroni’s attempt to turn Oswald humble just made our dear Penguin angrier. Kind of like stomping on a hornet’s nest to get the hornets out.

But let’s get to what everyone might be asking – what they heck was that song the Arkham inmate was singing to open the episode? As it so happens, that “song” comes from The Tempest, one of William Shakespeare’s plays. More notably, this passage is referred to as Ariel’s song: not Ariel the singing mermaid but Ariel the spirit, a bound servant to the magician Propsero who saved Ariel from a witch’s encasement spell. In summation, The Tempest is about Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, who have been stranded on an island for years after Propsero’s brother deposed him and set him to sea. The play has intersecting narratives as Propsero works his magic to maroon his conniving brother and his crew, enslave the monster Caliban, and contend with his own actions. I won’t spoil the ending for you as it’s a great play and I’d encourage you to read it some time.

In any case, “Full Fathom Five” (as it’s commonly known) is the second stanza of Ariel’s song. In terms of placement, it occurs in the play’s first act and is sung to one of the shipwrecked crewman whose father has drowned. This second stanza, then, goes as follows:
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.

(To borrow from Harvey’s remark, “I can dig that.” Can you?)

To translate, this stanza refers to how the drowned man is no longer himself but transformed by the water. In a literal sense, it means the corpse will no longer resemble a recognizable human body (plus when you add salt water to the equation…yeah, not pretty). Yet Ariel’s words seem to imply the transformation is “something rich and strange,” not creepy, thus giving a more poetic edge to a tragic situation.

So what does all of this have to do with “Gotham”? In terms of this episode, the Arkham inmates put on The Tempest and that certainly describes the turbulent environment inside the asylum as well as the city itself. The seemingly unrestrained influx of evil has caused a storm of sorts that threatens to “drown” anyone who gets or stands in its way. Due to this prevailing influence of moral darkness, folks have been transformed from living, caring souls into power-hungry, greedy, violent people. Yet there is still value in even the most despicable person. Note the reference to coral and pearls in the song, substances from which fine jewelry can be made. For bones to be like coral and eyes to be like pearls, a person’s inner workings, metaphorically-speaking, have been hardened yet there is still something of worth there. I think this mindset is best embodied by new-comer Dr. Thompkins who believes patients are still people and, thus, deserving of help.

To continue with the metaphor, Gotham’s corrupt underbelly has transformed its people into “something rich and strange.” The word parallel here is worth mentioning, as “rich” brings to mind wealth or a degree of fullness, and “strange” is, of course, weirdness or a sense of the unknown or the unfamiliar. Thus, to be transformed into “something rich and strange” means to turn into something possessing a sense of deep-seated value that is also a bit unnerving or outside the typical mold. Put it together and you’ve got a fitting description of the denizens of Arkham: folks who have, through some means, been transformed, yet are still people and possess some degree of worth on the inside through they outwardly express a sense of the unknown, the unusual, and even the unrecognizable. On a large-scale application, many of the characters in Gotham fit the same bill: they are people with internal value yet express attributes that are outside some sort of norm or established set of rules, whether it’s a penchant for speaking in riddles, sneaking around alleyways, striving to overthrow an old system of power, or even just trying to do the right thing no matter the extreme cost.

Overall, I thought “Rogue’s Gallery” was a good (but not great) return for “Gotham” and it has, as always, left me eager to witness its next chapter.

Until later, fellow Gothamites!

GOTHAM
What the Little Bird Told Him

This episode marks the second appearance of the sinister Jack Gruber, who, in my review of episode eleven, I claimed looked like a kind grandpa. But I now believe he looks like a homicidal maniac with a penchant for creating sparks.
firework
Oh, you wish.

Nope, this week Jack returns to Gotham under the moniker the Electrocutioner. Get it? Because he’s good with electricity? And he kills people, like an executioner.
Todd ugh
Okay, moving on.

I will say that, for the first time this season, I was fairly underwhelmed. Granted, the mob plot is always compelling but that’s because I have a soft spot for gangster movies. In my view, I was expecting Jack’s two episode story arc to be something really high stakes. Instead, it just fizzles out – literally. The crime-of-the-week formula’s resolution ends, not with a bang, but a whimper and reminded me of times on “Star Trek” when the best way to resolve a potential catastrophe in Engineering was to eject the warp core. Fairly simply and kind of…
Tired and bore

Also, I’m not even going to get started on the “science” in this episode. I’ve always seen Gotham as larger-than-life, like some sort of alternative world where the extraordinary (within limits) can happen. But I will say that being electrocuted does far more damage than what it did to everyone here. In reality, Oswald should be dead from a damaged heart, a fried nervous system, or both. Yet he merely passes out (twice) for a few hours and comes to without any medical assistance or lasting aftereffects. In order for you to die by electrocution, the current has to pass through either your heart or your brain; if it takes a different route, you could possibly survive, so Oswald obviously got lucky. But that crossed the line of the suspension of disbelief for me. Yes, almost anything can happen in Gotham, but him simply coming to without being resuscitated or treated with defibrillation (at the very least) and without suffering permanent damage doesn’t make sense within the rules of the story’s world as we know them and it’s messing with my fundamental understanding of reality.

Not that I’m wishing Oswald dead! I have a list of characters they could kill off (hey – one they actually did!) and he’s nowhere to be found there. Though I suppose this proves Oswald is actually stronger, and more powerful, than we give him credit for. Talk about a super-villian indeed! Maybe all this time I was wrong. Maybe Oswald Cobblepot’s closest fictional cousin isn’t Tony Montana. Maybe he’s more closely related to Jack Bauer, the only man to be imprisoned, tortured, electrocuted, shot, and brought back from the dead only to have it happen to him time and time again.
Like a Penguin Bossbauer-glasses-1421676188
Well, probably not. But at least you have to admit they’re too very cool cats who appear to be indestructible. And very much like a cat, Oswald has proven he has nine (probably more) lives. Though hopefully, this will be his last shocking experience.

Overall, this was the weakest episode by far but it’s weak like your least favorite song on your favorite album or your least favorite book in your favorite book series – not horrible and you don’t avoid it but it’s far from memorable and you don’t get excited about it. Except the ending when Penguin gets his day – that was worth tolerating the other forty minutes of air time!

Something else that was worth its few minutes of time was watching poor Ed Nygma try his best to make Christine Kringle his new squeeze. I sense Nygma could be a big, breakout character if he was just given more stuff to do. Granted, perhaps this is trying to lay the groundwork for the man who will become the Riddler. But, for me, he seems far from reaching that goal right now. Yes, he’s a bit of a goofball and looks like a forgotten “Big Bang Theory” cast member, but it’s fun to see how he will inwardly turn the rejection he faces into a desire for revenge and respect. Actually, Ed and Oswald are a little bit alike: both are, their own ways, bullied, marginalized, and misunderstood or underestimated. Those ingredients make a good villain because they’re very human traits. Nearly everyone has felt kicked around, pushed aside, or under-appreciated; it’s just a matter of what we do with these feelings, meaning do we hold them inside and let them fester or do we allow them to make us better people. We’ve already seen what Oswald intends to do, so time will tell what path Ed takes on the road to official villain-hood

But getting back to the principle plot, it turns out that, much to my surprise, Gruber’s target isn’t the cops, who I figured it would be, but Maroni, his former boss. To be fair, I can see Falcone having more enemies than Maroni – Falcone strikes me as a hard, cold business man with a Grinch-sized heart. Maroni, on the other hand, while ruthless, seems more amicable, or at least willing to extend a fair second chance before hiring someone to blow you away. Or pull your teeth out.

Speaking of surprises, I hate to say it but I think I’ve uncovered “Gotham”‘s mojo. What do I mean by that? It means that I’ve been able to figure out some of the show’s narrative twists and turns, at least as far as this episode was concerned. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Not always, but I love it when I’m surprised most of the time. Take, for example, Fox’s own “24.” I started watching that from season three and it wasn’t until season five that I was able to figure out its narrative patterns. Early on, I spent most episodes picking my jaw up from the floor, but then those jaw-dropping moments thinned out. Granted, “24” always managed to pull a real shocker out of the bag but, in most cases, I could predict it ahead of time.

I sense the same is happening with “Gotham.” Again, that isn’t automatically a negative. I have books that I was able to piece things together before the final chapter but I still enjoyed it. But the fact I kind of have this show’s patterns almost pegged so early on does give me cause for concern, especially since it’s been granted the green light for a second season.

Granted, “Gotham” has offered its share of jaw-dropping moments, most notable for me was when Oswald gives Jim a surprise visit, decides to crash the GCPD, and, of course, “Penguin’s Umbrella.” Those were moments that left me feeling…
Like what
But not so much in this episode and I sense it tried really hard to deliver the shocks (no pun intended…okay, maybe). Again, I’m not saying that’s bad, but I do like a good surprise. For starters, there were three “surprises” here I saw coming very early on. What were they? Well, how about…

Hey! Jim Gordon meets Leslie Thompkins while Barbara’s gone AWOL – I bet it will turn romantic.
Okay sign 2
Check.

Hey! Oswald Cobblepot starts off working in Fish Mooney’s nightclub – I bet he’ll eventually take it over.
Okay sign 3
Check.

Hey! Liza puts off “never beam down in a red shirt” vibes – I bet she won’t live to see the end of this season.
Perfect okay sign
Check.

Granted, I’m certainly not sorry to see Jim paired with Dr. Thompkins. At least she actually does stuff. As in important stuff. Not whine, cry, or run back home to mommy and daddy (as a certain former Gordon squeeze does here). So that wasn’t a big shocker for me. Concerning Oswald’s club takeover, I had that theory in mind ever since the pilot. After all, this harkens to the comics where Penguin owns multiple nightclubs plus a casino or two. So it only makes sense he would need to be shown as getting his start here. I say we just go ahead and rechristen Fish’s joint the Iceberg Lounge. All we need now is for Lark (his right hand woman in the comics who dresses like Trinity from The Matrix) to show up and I’ll be quite pleased.

Lastly, poor Liza. Actually, no – no poor Liza. She was a vapid tool in terms of a character (no offense against the actress). Was I surprised she died? No. Like I said, I had her pegged as a “red shirt” from the start. What’s that? Well, if I can sidestep into some Star Trek lore, the phrase “Never beam down in a red shirt” referred to when no-name cast members on the “Original Series” were designated to die by wearing a red uniform. Unfortunately, fans caught on to this and were no longer shocked when Ensign WhoCares got slaughtered by a Gorn. So the show stopped with the whole red shirt technique. But the term stuck and it now applies to any character who has no bearing on the plot and you just know is to get the boot before long.

Likewise, I wasn’t surprised that Liza had been groomed as some sort of younger, weird fill-in for Falcone’s mother. That was fairly obvious to me early on, too, judging by how Fish taught Liza to talk, sing, and (I’m guessing here) dress. Nothing about Liza screamed seduction to me, so I kind of figured that, based on her old fashioned manners, she wasn’t supposed to be a femme fatale. Honestly, this just makes things even creepier but at least it was original: rather than using sex to ensnare Falcone, Fish hoped to use good, ol’ motherly charm though that doesn’t have the weaponized edge she claimed it would. I guess too bad that didn’t work out.

And too bad Liza didn’t die by a Gorn…
gorn
I actually would have paid to see that.

The only thing that confounded me was that Fish seems so lenient. This was the woman who wanted to take Falcone down and out with her hands and teeth. Now she just wants to shoo him out of town? Is it conniving? I suppose. But it seemed out of character for her. Why the sudden soft heart? What made her change? Characters who have deep-seated hatred for another character have been known to change their minds. Take, for example, in Mockingjay when Katniss Everdeen kept insisting she wanted to kill antagonist President Snow, makes killing Snow one of her priorities, and even ensures she’s guaranteed to kill Snow only to let her executioner’s arrow fly in a different direction. Is that what Fish was doing here, being easy on Falcone while hoping to hit a different target or take him out later? I can’t say for certain but I will say this – Miss Everdeen she ain’t!

In any case, Falcone has shaken things up when the final act goes all Godfather in a good way, so it will be interesting to see where the whole mob family saga goes, especially with Oswald in the middle. One thing I will say is that I’m impressed with the amount of finesse the writers have given his character concerning his victories and set backs. If Oswald’s plans were always right and always worked, you would hate him. I would hate him. Why? Because that would make him obnoxious and that’s not realistic: it doesn’t allow room for his character to grow and learn from mistakes. So the fact that Oswald’s misstep in the previous episode is topped off with this makes me all the more excited to see where his character’s story carries over into the next season. I hope though that Oswald’s vow to Maroni, which he swore upon his poor mother’s life, won’t come back to bite him in a very painful way. Poor Gertrude. We can only hope she survives to witness her son’s ascension to power. But if the comics are any indication…well, I’ll leave that be.

Until later, fellow Gothamites!

GOTHAM
Welcome Back, Jim Gordon

Face it, folks, you know what’s coming so…cue music!
sweathog-victory-Kotter-happy dance
Welcome back/Your dream was your ticket out/Welcome back…

Okay, okay – if you’re too young to know what I’m referring to (or if you’re young but never caught it in reruns) then I apologize. Sort of – because that was too good of an opportunity to miss!

But welcome back Kotter, Gordon, and “Gotham” indeed!

I thought this was a step in the right direction again as opposed to the shocking events of episode twelve (electricity pun  intended). Even though I basically had the crime-of-the-week solved within the first four minutes of the show, I still had a blast. I sense that when the mystery/crime is easy to figure out, then you’re meant to focus more on the characters and how they handle the situations they find themselves in. Jim Gordon is gaining more and more respect from me as a character (not that I initially disrespected him) and I love how his tough side is starting to shine through. I think he’s finally realized that Gotham isn’t a place for the faint of heart, but he knows that doesn’t necessarily mean you become heartless.

One great Gordon character-building moment for me was when he sees a murdered man’s widow enter the station to pay her husband his last respects. She breaks down, unabashedly, while Gordon looks on from afar. There is absolutely no dialogue from him to her or anyone else, but you can see it in his face: even though the murder suspect might be a cop, and it’s a huge no-no to finger one of your own, Gordon knows that policy, to uphold justice, is way more important than politics. So he lays down the law in one of many showstopping scenes.

And this episode was full of those! So let’s keep going.

Ed and Kringle
Ed Nygma fans (myself included) rejoice because he’s finally getting more screen time. Cory Michael Smith has been a dark horse this whole season thus far, so it’s good to see him being given more scenes and more character-development stuff to do other than help solve crimes. My gut tells me his character won’t fully take flight until next season as this season has rightfully belonged to Penguin; so for now, they’re laying the groundwork for who Nygma will become. But until he turns into a full-fledged baddie (and dons that neon green body suit…but let’s hold off on that as long as we can), we can witness his budding romance with Christine Kringle.

My non-spidey senses tell me this is a doomed pairing but it can at least be fun to watch while it lasts. I will give Ms. Kringle credit for this – she stands up for Nygma as bizarre as she finds him to be, so at least it shows she’s not mean-spirited. But one thing is for sure: just in case this whole Riddler business doesn’t pan out, Nygma could land a job at American Greetings, no problem.

Sadly, anyone hoping for romance to blossom between Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle got their hopes dashed just like that snow globe. Granted, in the comics we know there is sexual tension between their adult selves but nothing much further. It stands to reason that, since they reside on opposite ends of the ethical spectrum, it’s time to establish that line of demarcation here. You really do feel for Bruce as he hits yet another dead end when it comes to his parents’ murder.
You Wanna Hug
Well, Alfred doesn’t deliver hugs but he does deliver some straight talk when he tells Bruce to move on from his “breakup” and get on with more important things. I do wonder how Bruce is going to come at Gordon later for seemingly stringing him along. Poor Bruce. Please tell me we find out who killed his folks by the end of the season so he can get some peace?

Speaking of a character not feelin’ the love is Fish Mooney. From the start I hated her, not for her character or her character’s portrayal, but for everything her character represents. Fish embodies what’s wrong with Gotham and serves as the perfect symbol for its dark, unfeeling, calloused heart. For me, she didn’t suffer enough in this episode though it’s a nice change of pace to see her in the hot seat.

If you ask me, Fish escapes far too soon. That got me to thinking: this would have made for a good “24”/”Gotham” crossover moment. If Jack Bauer had been in charge of Fish’s capture and torture, she wouldn’t have escaped. Or if she had, she would have been missing a body part. Or two.
Jack hacksaw
And a duffel bag. Don’t forget the duffel bag.

The next show stopping moment of the night was, of course, when Penguin shows off his newly-acquired venture to his mom.
Proud Penguin
Besides Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock, my other favorite character pairing is Oswald and his mother, Gertrude. They are quite different in personality as Oswald tends to hold in what he’s feeling and thinking (most of the time) while his mother has no problem gushing over everything her son does. I get the feeling both of them, in their own way, feel this accomplishment of Oswald’s ushers in a new dynasty and destiny for the Cobblepot clan. Gertrude seems to want glory for her son and, let’s not kid here, she’s going to bask in some of that herself. I sense that “humble” and “Cobblepot” aren’t terms you’ll find used together in the same sentence. Or paragraph.

Mother and Son Hug
Yet it’s these moments when Oswald is more himself as a person. He still retains a facade in front of his mother either because he knows she’ll chew him out for getting caught up in criminal business or she’ll possess knowledge that might make her a target. But I sense more of his deeper personality, other than his surface conniving ways, gets to emerge when he interacts with her. Though I do feel sorry for Gertrude as she seems to have no idea of the depths her son will go to get what he wants; however, she’s clearly the only person in Gotham who truly believes in him despite the nature of his accomplishments. Without his mother as his only trustworthy ally (as I sense he trusts her over Jim Gordon), it’s a wonder what Oswald might become.

Speaking of Jim Gordon, I thought it was a great touch to see a foreshadowing of who Oswald becomes to Gordon: his own personal snitch. In case you’re unfamiliar with Penguin’s general storyline in the Batman comics, the primary reason Oswald stays out of legal trouble, despite the fact he deals in some very illegal matters, is that he’s willing to spill the beans on fellow criminals to Batman and Jim Gordon. Make no mistake – Oswald doesn’t do these things to protect his fellow Gothamites. He does it to save his own skin since, in return for information, Gordon and Batman look the other way when it comes to  Penguin’s operations. So it’s a win-win situation for Oswald, at least in the comic books. For now, Oswald hasn’t quite risen to that level of power, but he can make a start at being Gotham’s most valuable informant.

These were, without a doubt, some of the best Penguin scenes compared to the past few episodes where his role was reduced to more of a background figure. But this time he gets to drop the mic…
Penguin at the mic
Mic drop
Right after he hits the sauce and goes nuts.

I’m serious – these were some of the best non-dialogue scenes Robin Lord Taylor has delivered this season, mainly because he gets to go crazy. As in drunk crazy. Much like Jim Gordon’s silent exchange when he sees the slain witness’s widow, this sequence contains no dialogue as Oswald literally pops bottles in ‘da club and completely loses it. It was fun to see him so uninhibited as he relishes in his glory.

But like many of his triumphs, Oswald gets a reality check when he gets too cocky (and drunk) for his own good and Fish Mooney returns to make threats. (I guess the club really couldn’t handle him. At least not right now.) I honestly didn’t figure she would trek to her old stomping grounds for fear that Falcone’s men might be in place. So that’s proof that either Fish is crazy or she has a gut of steel. Or both. Well, she can run pretty fast in heels, so I’ll give her that much.

Oh wait, turns out everybody’s favorite psycho killer, Victor Zsasz, and his all-girl posse arrive to break up the party. But before Fish and her ever-present sidekick Butch tear off, Oswald admits he has been working for Falcone all this time.
No no no
What? What did you tell her all of that for, Oswald?

At least that’s what I was shouting at him inside my head. Sometimes Oswald’s bravado gets too big for its own good, and when it does, it turns around to bite him.

Overall, this was a very satisfying episode and served as a return to what makes “Gotham” great: a chance to witness more layers pulled back on some of my favorite characters who live in a larger-than-life world where good and bad collide. War really is coming. It’s just a matter of who wins. And loses.

Until later, fellow Gothamites!

GOTHAM
The Fearsome Dr. Crane

Ah – the fourteenth episode of “Gotham”!

Fourteen
But let’s act a little more excited about it, shall we? Because it really does deserve some hype!

Turns out this week’s episode is actually a two-parter, and I sense that since “Gotham” was initially slated to be sixteen episodes, this would have served as a two-part set up to the finale. But since we still have more episodes to go until the end, this will now serve as just a cool two-part episode. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

Interestingly, beneath all of the suspense, set ups, escapes, and moments of hilarity (trust me – when “Gotham” gets its comedic timing down, as it does here, it gets it right), this episode touched on a topic nearly every human being has had to deal with – fear. Granted, this emotion has been at work in the background, an elephant in the room of sorts, but until this episode it’s never been directly addressed. While fear isn’t an evil power in and of itself, it can be crippling, especially when it comes to phobias, which are normal fears magnified to debilitating levels. Dr. Crane (a.k.a. Scarecrow’s Daddy) takes advantage of people’s fears and uses them against them as an excuse to commit murder. Oh, and also harvest their adrenal glands.

Dr. Crane, the Credit Union has a position open in the Bio-Repossession department. Care to apply?
film-jude-law-remy-repo-men
Actually, I think they’ve got it covered. (Sorry for the Repo Men joke – carry on!)

Anyway, what I took away from this episode was a big metaphorical question: can fear actually kill? Maybe not physically, even though anxiety can cause physiological distress and damage, but it can cripple us, causing us to remain inert. “Everyone has a thing,” Bullock’s new potential lady squeeze remarks, meaning everyone has something they fear, whether that’s heights, drowning, or pigs (that dude must have eaten a bad pork chop or two). But it turns out that hard-shelled, crusty Harvey Bullock is afraid of the Big One – death itself. And it’s not just dying that scares him, it’s the fear of dying alone in an unfamiliar environment. This reveals a great deal about Bullock’s psychology that, to be honest, I never would have guessed and it makes me curious to know why he fears this.

blog_gotham_bullock
If I may delve into the realm of pure speculation for a moment, I’d like to share my theory as to why the writers might have given Bullock death as his greatest fear. Consider his surface personality (not his core) – rough, gruff, and sarcastic. He’s the type of guy you’d peg as being afraid of something silly or minor, if he was afraid of anything at all. Hence comes the delightful truth: Bullock is a figure of many shades, not just one color. In other words, it’s easy to put him in the trope box of “rough and tumble cop” but he’s more than that. Bullock’s own admission of his greatest fear wasn’t done to poke fun at people he figured were nutters. It was genuine. Bullock really is afraid of death and you wonder if working in homicide has put that worry inside of him. He doesn’t want to end up like one of the many victims he sees, so perhaps by exuding a tough exterior, he thinks he can protect himself. This was a very vulnerable moment for Bullock and it added to my enjoyment of him as a character.

Just as you wouldn’t peg Bullock as having any fears, I also wouldn’t have pegged him to act the hero, which he does so here when he saves a drowning woman. Granted, you could argue that Bullock was just doing his job and probably trying to score a date whenever she came to and dried off. But that’s not the impression this scene gives. In fact, consider the alternative: Jim Gordon, who seems more likely to put himself in harm’s way, could have dived in and saved her. Yet it was Bullock who decided to. Why? Because it goes against what you expect from him. Gordon has accused Bullock of being lazy and uncaring, and at first glance, that description seems accurate. Yet many times Bullock’s actions – far more so than his words – prove these assumptions wrong. Thus, Harvey Bullock is a character of contradictions, in a good way, and he really has become one of my favorite semi-white hats of the season.

Oddly enough, I also sense this episode was fitting because I think it’s safe to say that every character on “Gotham” harbors some kind of fear. Bruce worries whether justice will ever be extended to his slain parents. Alfred worries for Bruce’s safety. Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock now have new reason to fear possible retaliation after taking down a high-level officer within the GCPD. Even the more notorious (or notorious-to-be) characters possess certain fears. Oswald’s fears are two-fold: one, that he won’t attain the power and respect he craves and, two, hoping he will live long enough to see that happen. Ed Nygma’s concerns are also split where I sense he worries over how well Ms. Kringle likes him and frets that he’s not given the respect and responsibilities he feels he’s due. The mob bosses also fear as nothing makes you a bigger target than the man who holds all of the proverbial cards. I sense even Selena worries over her own survival. And the list goes on. In short, everyone really does have a “thing,” but it’s the degree of control this “thing,” this fear, has over them that dictates their decisions or lack thereof.

Whew! That was some pretty heavy stuff.
Oh my gosh whoa are you kididng me
Let’s lighten it up a bit, shall we?

Now, my fear? Well, as far as “Gotham” goes, I fear Fish Mooney will become a pirate queen based on those last few minutes. As long as she’s packin’ Jack Sparrow as a wingman, I guess I could be cool with that.

Ahoy, Mooney mateys!
Jack Sparrow
Otherwise, having Fish roll into town with a band of gun-totting pirates to take down Falcone, Oswald, and anyone else who looks at her cross-eyed would be (dare I say it?) lame. Let’s hope the show doesn’t go there.

One fear that has been put to rest is Ed Nygma’s marginalization as a character. I sense Nygma’s character has been overshadowed by Cobblepot’s development, but I always sensed he could bring more to the (medical examiner’s) table. These past few episodes have given Ed more things to do as well as pull back the curtain onto his psyche. Unlike Oswald, who seems like he was born to be a criminal mastermind, Ed needs more prodding. Right now, he’s a bit of an oddball who can drop a comedic moment in here and there, but you can see something coming on the horizon. And since he’s destined to become the Riddler, it won’t be good.

I appreciate the inclusion of figures like Ed and Oswald who are marginalized by their fellow characters. They’re a bit unorthodox and demonstrate nerve, cunning, and brains that those around them appear to lack in abundance. Yet their inability to connect with others or act within the confines of social mores cause them to be somewhat ostracized. Granted, there are persons who do stand up for and believe in them: Gordon seems to trust Ed’s insight and Oswald’s mother serves as his own champion. But both of these villains-to-be demonstrate how, firstly, social circles seem to push aside those who don’t fit into a given mold and, secondly, even odd or less than moral people can still do good, even if it’s not purposely intended.

That makes for well-rounded characters. That and if they got into a massive crate of doughnuts and ate them all.
Eating doughnuts hungry food
That would make them well-rounded, too, but it wouldn’t be the same.

If Ed’s central flaw is his insecurity, then Oswald’s is certainly his own ego. In this episode, he admits he might not be good in a fight but he possesses some steely nerves. A good trait to have but it can come back and bite him, which it does so here. Just as Bullock’s hardened exterior can detract from his soft heart and Ed’s awkwardness takes away from his inner genius, so Oswald’s bravado can work against him. I will give Maroni credit for this: he is genuinely scary. At first, I had written him off as a goofy gangster type, but I was way off. Maroni proves he’s not to be trifled with and nearly kills Oswald when he finds out he’s been played. (How many kill attempts does this make for Oswald now? Then again maybe he does have a smidgen of Jack Bauer genes….)

In any case, I think it’s fair to say Oswald fears death, too, so his quick thinking (and talent at making threats because, as stated, physical combat isn’t his forte) saves his life. Overall, his journey has been an awesome roller coaster ride and it’s gotten more enjoyable and thorny the closer we get to this season’s finish line. Let’s just hope that as it cruises into port, we’re left with more to love about him as we enter the second season.

At least for now he got found by some church ladies, so maybe something good might rub off. Besides, if Fish Mooney becomes a pirate queen, shouldn’t Oswald at least take a crack at singing in a church choir?
Huh um okay
Um…, no. Stick to snitching, Oswald. Penguins really can’t carry a tune to save their life and you’ve already had one too many close calls as it is.

And speaking of close calls, guess who meets face-to-face for the very first time next week?
Oswald meets Nygma
Yep. You’re not seeing things and this screenshot wasn’t doctored.

So, ahem…please cue appropriate response….
Screaming freak out

GOTHAM
The Scarecrow

Aww! You mean this awesome guy?
scarecrow
Oh, you wish. That would be far too pleasant.

Nope, this breed of Scarecrow is more scare than crow. To recap from episode fourteen, Dr. Gerald Crane sees it as his life’s mission to rid the world of fear-infected people (plus harvest their adrenal glands). Turns out, he’s unknowingly training his son to become the future, much-feared Batman villain, the Scarecrow. I actually didn’t know anything about this Batman nemesis, so I had to look him up. In brief, the Scarecrow is Dr. Jonathan Crane, a psychologist, who uses fear as a weapon. Ironically, he becomes addicted to fear after his antics make him immune to it so the only person he genuinely fears is Batman, thus he seeks Batman out just to confront the Caped Crusader and feel afraid.

Scarecrow Jr.
For now, young Scarecrow-to-be is a tortured, teenage soul, but I thought his set up here was well done. I might not be as familiar with his character as I am some of the other more notorious denizens of Gotham, but I hope we see more of his tragic story unfold later on, perhaps in the second season.

But the real focus here is on Jonathan’s father. Turns out Dr. Crane’s wife died in a house fire and he failed to save her (hence his horrific flashbacks). Thus his greatest fear is shame (which, true to his earlier admission, relates to failure in a way). His solution, as it were, is to eradicate the world of fear, which he sees as an unnecessary evil. But this raises a good question – is fear essentially a bad thing?

Aristotle would say that fear can actually be good in moderation. Think of the virtue of courage (what we’d like to think is the absence of fear but more on that in a moment) as a straight line and the line’s ends are its extremes, which Aristotle would call vices. One on end would be brashness, which is no fear at all. In a sense, this is what Dr. Crane is advocating. But when you live utterly fearless, you end up doing stupid stuff. Case in point: remember how in New Moon, Bella kept doing dangerous things just to hear Edward’s voice in her head? That’s the epitome of foolhardiness and Aristotle would have some choice (Greek) words to say to her. So living with no fear isn’t good because it puts you and others at risk.

On the other end of the spectrum is timidity, which is where phobias reside. It’s fear when fear is given free reign and takes over. Granted, Dr. Crane tries to do the right thing by overcoming his shame because living in the past gets you nowhere in the present, but his solution to move from being paralyzed by fear to eliminating the fear drive altogether is unwise. At least that’s what Aristotle would say. So how can we put fear into a proper perspective? By keeping it in check, and that’s where courage comes in. On our spectrum, courage resides in the middle so it’s neither a state of fearlessness nor is it a state of fearfulness. Contrary to popular belief, courage isn’t the absence of fear but fear under control. As Jim Gordon once said, “Fear tells you where the edge is,” so it’s actually a good thing when it’s kept in check.

Okay, enough philosophy. Let’s get to what was probably the most Tweeted-about moment, at least between Penguin and Riddler fans. While fangirls of both characters probably did this…
minion fangirl
(I’ll admit I did, too…but in moderation), I couldn’t help but notice the interesting visual parallel this on-screen coupling made. Character-wise, Ed and Oswald are outcasts within their respective social circles. They are held to some degree of respect, but the majority of the people they come into contact with brush them aside as either weird or weak. Neither summation is entirely correct, but that’s what happens when fictional characters try to put other fictional characters into boxes.

In terms of these character’s natures, both become iconic Batman villains, which means they possess more darkness than light at their cores, but their backgrounds are different. Ed, to his credit, gets his start dealing with crime from the law enforcement angle as a forensics tech; whereas, Oswald’s immersion has been in the criminal underworld from the start. Hence, Ed’s moral compass is a little more grounded in terms of right and wrong. Oswald’s compass on the other hand…well…I think he lost his.

Lastly, while both characters possess a high level of intelligence and insight, Ed’s mind leans towards the abstract, combining an expansive mental data bank with a love for solving puzzles. In contrast, Oswald is concrete and doesn’t care to deal in the theoretical though he’s more street-wise than Ed. So to put it into perspective, Ed would fare well at a trivia contest while Oswald would oversee beating up the nerds out in back.

heat_pacino_deniro
I was immediately reminded of an iconic scene from the movie Heat (side bar – awesome movie, go watch it!) where Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro were first seen on screen together. (Fun factoid: the first time these two Hollywood heavy-hitters were billed together was in The Godfather, Part II but they never actually shared any screen time. Okay, end of fun factoid – I’m starting to sound like Ed now!) Oddly enough, in the case of Pacino and DeNiro’s characters (Vincent Hannah and Neil McCauley), the former was an L.A.P.D. detective and the latter was a criminal mastermind. Nothing makes a more intriguing match-up than law and lawlessness, which is what we get in both of these pairings.

Oswald and Ed 3
Notice how these four characters are visually contrasted. In the diner scene from Heat, we see Pacino’s character (Vincent) seated to the viewer’s left and DeNiro’s character (Neil) seated to the viewer’s right. Similarly, when Ed and Oswald are paired side-by-side, Ed (representing the law) is on the viewer’s left and Oswald (representing the criminal underworld) is on the viewer’s right. Both of these pairings mess with Plato’s, Aristotle’s, and most folks’ fundamental understanding of left-right symbolism: traditionally, right is viewed as “good” and left is viewed as “bad.” But these pairings blur that assumption. Hence, by messing with this left-right pairing, what we’re shown is that Ed is just as capable of doing wrong as Oswald is of doing right. In a sense, these aren’t stark good-bad characters, which makes them relatable as well as realistic, at least morally-speaking.

Oswald and Ed 2
Furthermore, as far as the scene in “Gotham” is concerned, consider how Oswald and Ed are initially paired up. As (I hope) you can see from the above screenshot, Oswald starts out on the viewer’s left and Ed arrives on the viewer’s right. Talk about switching things up! This shot utilizes the traditional left-right mold: Oswald is the villain, so he’s on the left, and Ed is still on the side of the law, so he’s on the right. But they don’t stay that way and eventually switch sides directionally-speaking. Thus, even on screen, we witness how both characters are not all one thing: Ed isn’t destined to remain a good guy and Oswald isn’t 100% evil. Overall, it was a pretty cool cinematic, and directorial, trick!

Though I don’t suspect Oswald and Ed will be hanging out anytime soon. Ed, two things you need to learn are (1). don’t stare at people – people tend to dislike being stared at, and (2). Penguin doesn’t like actually being compared to penguins. (“Did you know that male Emperor Penguins keep their eggs warm by balancing them on their feet?” I know that and you know that, but that doesn’t mean Penguin wants to know that. Nor does he care to.) Now give him a tuna sandwich as tribute. (Final fun factoid: actors Cory Michael Smith and Robin Lord Taylor are pals in real life, so this was all part of the show, folks. No hard feelin’s!)

It’s interesting to see the flux of power here, especially between the haves, the have-nots, and the almost-haves. The haves would be the mob bosses who think they have it all on lock. The have-nots, like Ed, don’t have the drive or means to want to be in charge (though some respect on the job would be nice). Oswald is an almost-have as he possesses an intimidation factor around the right people (chiefly the have-nots) yet knows it would be foolhardy to make any overly brash moves into becoming a have. (He has, to be fair, but so far that’s not worked out so well.) Though I think Falcone’s remark that Oswald is “clever enough to know that a freakish little man like him is never going to be the boss” might turn around and bite him.

Now if I can close out by going back to the topic of fear, we see that Bruce Wayne conquers some fears when he ventures out on his hike. Two fears manifest themselves here, one that’s been brewing all season and the other confined to this episode. The over-arching fear is that his parents may never get justice, and the immediate fear is that he will not be able to save himself when he takes a tumble and sprains his ankle. Even though the former isn’t resolved here, the short-term fear is alleviated as Bruce makes it back to the top, only to discover Alfred waiting on him.

Camp Wayne
His reunion with wise Alfred was a touching image of how “perfect love casts out all fear.” Was Alfred being cold and mean by not coming to Bruce’s rescue? Not at all! He was trying to teach Bruce how to be brave, to overcome adversity, thus molding him into the courageous hero we all know he comes to be. Alfred displays “perfect love” in that there are no strings attached when it comes to him and Bruce. He cares for Bruce and protects him as he would his own flesh and blood, and I sense nothing Bruce could do would dislodge that. Hence, Alfred’s love is unconditional. How does this put fear to rest? Because Bruce doesn’t have to earn Alfred’s favor. He loves Bruce just because, not because he has to.

In the end, Bruce’s nighttime ordeal ends by getting to witness the sunrise. So, no matter how dark and scary the world can be, to quote Jim Gordon, “There will be light.”
There will be light
And that light can dispel any over-powering fear.

Overall, this was a great episode! During the past few episodes, I found my attention wavering slightly but this one had me glued. It’s fascinating to watch the future villains and heroes endure various triumphs, trials, and tribulations that mold them into the characters they eventually become. Good stuff all the way around!

Oh – and before I forget, consider this a postscript of possible awesomeness for next week…
Joker
See this kid? Let’s play multiple choice and see if you can guess who he might be?

a). Isn’t that Scut Farkus from A Christmas Story? Does he have yellow eyes? So help me, yellow eyes!

b). A poster child for gingervitis awareness, proving that gingers really don’t have souls. (I jest – I wish I had red hair!)

c). The Wendy’s Girl’s demon-possessed brother who, no, doesn’t want fries with that. Stop asking.

d). An iconic Batman villain – probably considered to be the most iconic Batman villain. Sans makeup.

e). Someone you think is an iconic Batman villain but really isn’t an iconic Batman villain. Made you look!

f). I’m just messin’ with you. This dude isn’t from “Gotham” at all – but have fun making a meme out of it.

You can guess but, come on, the answer is fairly plain…it’s obviously the Wendy’s Girl’s devil spawn brother!
Laugh and no

Oh, well. We’ll find out soon enough.

GOTHAM
The Blind Fortune-Teller

This week, “Gotham” goes to the circus and, as expected, it gets a little crazy. Both in Gotham and wherever Fish Mooney has been holed up at for far too long.

Here, we meet some folks who become important in the Batman mythos: John and Mary Grayson (well, she’s not a Grayson yet), who are part of a family acrobat act. Why are they important? Well, they just happen to be Robin’s parents. You know, as in Batman and Robin – yes, that Robin.

While the heart of this episode is the mysterious slaying of Lila, a snake dancer, one side plot is the reason why the Graysons aren’t on the best terms with another circus family, the Lloyds. Turns out they are at each other’s throats thanks to a decade’s old feud regarding a stolen horse. It sounds petty but it serves as proof that sometimes old grudges and sins, if left not forgiven, can taint the next generation. It’s not so much the sins of the fathers getting passed down, but if each generation is given a license to hate, then they’ll continue to do so until the chain of bad behavior is broken. As Gordon rightfully observes, “What good is this feud doing you?” Answer: absolutely nothing. Luckily, both families are atoned for as the Graysons and Lloyds are merged in the ultimate way through the impending marriage of John and Mary. So kudos for giving peace a chance.

But that’s not the only messed up family here. We’re also introduced to the rather enigmatic Jerome, son of the murdered snake dancer. At first, Jerome is a quiet, polite young man who you kind of feel sorry for. His only family is his mother (a notoriously loose woman), whom he claims is “perfect” despite her sexual sins and drunkenness, and he asserts, “The circus is my family.”

That’s so sad. Isn’t that so sad?
Sad Jerome

That is until you learn, from his own lips, that Jerome killed his mother for being a nagging drunk whore (I guess being a drunk whore was okay). Jerome’s admission pretty much slams the brakes on any feelings of sympathy for him. But let’s get to what everyone has been talking about concerning this episode: have we finally met the Joker? Seeing as I’m not an expert regarding the Joker’s origins, I’m not going to state definitively whether he is or is not the Joker. But I will offer some hunches.

First, the Joker has been hailed as an unreliable narrator, meaning the character doesn’t tell the truth even when it comes to his own origins. As the Joker himself has touted, “Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another. If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!” In Jerome’s case, his “origin” is that he grew up in a single parent home with a hooker for a mom and a blind psychic for a dad. (Imagine those family reunions – they might make the Grayson-Lloyd brawl look like a picnic!) He’s a nice kid up front but, once he confesses his dark deed, we see a whole other side and it’s creepy, to say the least.

I can see why Jerome might be teased as the Joker. He’s connected to the circus (so hanging out with all of those clowns is sure to have an impact), his family life is in the toilet, he sees things as funny when they’re not supposed to be funny (like murder). He’s even vaguely associated with a Satanic cult as he used an axe bearing their mark to kill his mom and probably knows as much about snakes as Harry Potter‘s Lord Voldemort, so you can’t get any more openly associated with evil than that!

But does all of that mean Jerome is the Joker? Maybe…or maybe not. The next episode also teases the villain Red Hood, with whom the Joker’s origins are also tied. So it’s possible Jerome was an off-his-rocker murdering kid. Yet the attention on him and build up in promos seems a bit too obvious to brush his character under the proverbial rug. So I suppose as far as this possible revelation is concerned, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, Fish Mooney is trying to scrap together a new “family” for herself. It is ironic to consider how far she’s fallen, from being a high-profile member of one of Gotham’s underworld to the makeshift leader of a ragtag bunch of ruffians and hobos. Quite a fall from grace, I must say.

But in all honesty, I’m tired of Fish’s story arc. As in, this tired of it…
Angry 1
Well, okay maybe not to that extreme but close enough.

Seriously, what more can they do with her? What purpose does her character serve anymore? And even if she does find her way back to Gotham, what is she planning to do? Take down Falcone, Oswald, and anyone who looks at her cross-eyed? She’s not a canon character and, thus, shouldn’t be given the same status as a canon character. From the start, I took no issue with adding a non-canon character since she fit in with the spirit of the show and didn’t take too much time away from the canon characters who rightfully belong front and center. But now Fish has worn out her welcome and I hope she isn’t included in the season two cast. From all the time spent trying to develop whatever scrappy storyline she’s been given now, we could be seeing more development with the real villains like Catwoman, Penguin, and Riddler.

In three words – Fish must die. And soon. (Okay that was five.) She was fun in the beginning and served her purpose, but now she’s like a patron at an all-you-can-eat buffet bar who has eaten everything edible in sight but still refuses to leave. It’s time to shove her out the door and write her out of the picture. Ideally, I’d love to see some kind of showdown between her and Oswald with the latter putting her character out of her misery. Or just let her get eaten by a shark.

Heck, even Left Shark.
left shark dancing
Something. Anything. Just make it stop!

Fish Mooney is not a canon boss, so it’s unfair to the other canon bosses to be put on the back burner while we watch her shoot her mouth off and act all high and mighty in what looks like Fox’s unused set for the Panamanian prison Sona from the third season of “Prison Break.” Speaking of bosses, Oswald has been given some outside help for his new club from none other than Butch. (What did Zsasz do to him to addle his brains? On second thought, never mind – I don’t want to know.) So this should prove to be a fun combo.

But one character who’s got his boss on right now is young Bruce Wayne. His meeting with the board was brief but it proves he is all business and no bluff. His accusations ring loud and clear but it’s obvious no one is paying him one wit of attention. That doesn’t stop Bruce from being determined to stand up for what’s right rather than be discouraged. When he’s called out for being young, he retorts, “My youth is not relevant.”

Boss Bruce 1
His response reminded me of a Bible verse that admonishes youths to not let older people think less of them just because they’re young, but serve as an example “in love, in faith and in purity.” (I Timothy 4:12 in case you’re curious). That’s sort of what Bruce does here: he won’t let himself be talked down to just because he’s a kid. These corporate bigwigs could learn quite a bit from his level-headed, business-like demeanor that pulls no punches and openly seeks the truth.

Overall, this episode was just okay. I really would like to see where the whole Jerome story goes and I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a dead end. But for now, we can only speculate who or what he might become, if anything.

Crazy Jerome
But one thing is for sure – Jerome does his fellow gingers no favors when it comes to the (fictional) debate over whether or not that have souls. (No offense to anyone who has red hair. I wish I had red hair! So don’t hate me. Red hair is awesome.)

Until later, fellow Gothamites!

GOTHAM
Red Hood

No, not as in Little Red Riding Hood. Unless Little Red Riding Hood held up banks.

Instead, Red Hood is (in this episode) a gang of bank robbers who take turns wearing a seemingly symbolic red hood. Oddly enough, the hood seems to cause (or, I think a better description would be, encourage) the wearer to act charismatic, even to the point of behaving like a modern-day Robin Hood who takes a bank’s money only to spread the wealth around to random Gothamites. These thugs would like to think there’s something magical about the hood. (Actually, it kind of reminded me of the Elder Wand from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as it gives its bearer unbeatable power, is highly coveted, is passed along mainly through death or defeat, and has a bloody history. Okay, it’s not a perfect connection but it was the first thing that popped into my head. I really have read way too much Harry Potter. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you.)

Naturally, the red hood is “magical” only in the eyes of the wearer, and I sense the brashness comes from the fact that no one can see the robber’s face. A hidden face means no one can recognize you, so basically you’re given a license to do whatever you want. Red is an odd choice though since it’s a bright color, but there is interesting symbolism connected to the color red. Red is seen as a “color of extremes” (according to an article on the site Color Matters) as it represents polar sentiments  – love and violence, passion and anger, adventure and danger. Also, interestingly enough, red “symbolized super-human heroism to the Greeks,” which fits with the Red Hood gang in a way. So why red? Not only is it flashy, it also compliments the contradictory way these guys commit crimes yet share the spoils. So it’s a good fit, both as a fashion statement and as a deeper meaning.

Bullock makes an interesting comment regarding this good-bad nature of such criminals: “When crooks become more popular than cops, that’s anarchy.” How so? A basic, brief definition of anarchy is that it’s a social “system” devoid of law or leadership where every person is his own boss. Even the word anarchy means “without ruler” in the original Greek. So to break down Bullock’s statement, when criminals are hailed as semi-heroes by the public, this can instigate a system of lawlessness and a lack of clear governance. And he would be right. Of course, I think it’s safe to say that Gotham has been existing under such a regime for quite some time. That’s what makes the dynamic of the city so fascinating: it’s a case study of what might happen if people really did rule themselves and made up their own laws. Rebels would be viewed as heroes but men of integrity might be seen as threats to one’s way of life. It’s not a pretty picture but it’s not completely unsalvageable. Men like Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and even young Bruce Wayne act as dams against the tide of malcontents who would otherwise be given free reign. So in a way, what Bullock is expressing is a fear of what could be but, luckily, doesn’t exist yet.

But let’s bring up what you might be wondering – if Jerome, the deeply disturbed, soulless ginger from the previous episode, isn’t the Joker, could this be the Joker?
Red Hood
After all, Red Hood has connections to the Joker’s origins (as he once donned the hood himself in some of the comics), though the Joker’s origins are muddled at best. So the best answer is…maybe.

Mainly because the Joker isn’t the only figure to be tied to this infamous head gear. Red Hood was also an identity assumed by criminal Jason Todd, a resurrected Robin who had initially been slain by the Joker. Furthermore, the Red Hood Gang was actually formulated as the result of the Waynes’ deaths. So the whole Red Hood business isn’t clear-cut. Hence, “Gotham” could be setting up any one of these angles from the comics as well as creating its own mythos. Whichever is the case, I hope we’ll see more of the Red Hood hoods later on as I’m curious to see which story track “Gotham” decides to take.

But one storyline that needs to be put six feet under is Fish Mooney’s tale. Evidently, her story arc is doomed to intersect with the nefarious Dollmaker, who sounds like a more psychotic version of Victor Frankenstein. Say what you want about Dr. Frankenstein, but he at least took parts from dead people. But the Dollmaker harvests organs, tissues, and limbs from living, unwilling donors. But just when I thought Fish might meet her end, she pulls a fast one and pulls out her own eye. With a spoon. Then stomps on it.
freak out face can't believe it
Yeah, I know. That was a moment worthy of “The Walking Dead.” And it kind of surprised me as, until now, “Gotham”‘s gore level has been relatively confined to the usual shoot-em-up, mob movie sort of violence. But this? This was a bit much, and this is coming from someone who loves “The Walking Dead” and has watched every episode to date. I’ve come to expect the level of violence from “The Walking Dead” and it fits with the overall story and its nature and tone. But not from “Gotham.” This level of gore is sorely out of place in the city of Batman, so this disappointed me.

Though speaking of “The Walking Dead,” I suppose if there’s any consolation here, at least once Fish Mooney enters the fictional characters’ afterlife, she will have something in common with the Governor…
the-governor-the-walking-dead_0
Maybe they might get matching eye patches!

Speaking of less-than-stellar female characters, enter Barbara, who has decided to let Selina and Ivy shack up with her in the penthouse. Barbara tries to have some girl time and even opens up her wardrobe to the young ladies, which seemed like a nice gesture. (No coincidence that Ivy went for the green jacket, right?) But I have to admit, some of the comments Barbara makes to Selina, given Barbara’s on-again/off-again…um…relationship preferences, were a tad creepy. However, Barbara does make a rather intriguing comment as she tries to get Selina to model a black sequin dress. She advises Selina to use her appearance like a weapon, thus confirming that Barbara really is as shallow and superficial as we (okay, I) thought. She sees a woman’s value as only in how she looks, not by how smart, kind, or honest she is.

Thus, Barbara is making an introspective comment: she sees herself as just a pretty entity who tries to use clothes, makeup, and doe eyes to get what she wants. To be fair, Catwoman, does use her looks as a lure, but Selina is still growing up and far from the Trinity-esque cat suit-wearing lass most Batman fans recognize her as. Thankfully, young Selina here isn’t buying it as she retorts, “What good’s it done you?” Even Selina recognizes the flaw in being just a surface-minded lady as looks clearly aren’t everything. Barbara could learn a lot from her, but I don’t expect a mental awakening any time soon.

Speaking of character transformations, consider Butch, who now assumes a quasi-mentoring role as he helps Oswald build his club and seems to hold no grudges against Penguin. (Though part of that might be due to whatever mind job Victor Zsasz did on him.) Instead, Butch feels indebted to making the club flourish again, and he hopes to make the vision succeed by showing Oswald the ropes.

So now it’s time for Lesson One: How to buy booze in Gotham:
gangsta-o
(A). You’re probably better off not doing so.
(B). If you absolutely have to, be prepared to make nice with Maroni.
(C). In order to make nice, buy Maroni a puppy. Everyone loves puppies.
(D). If you can’t make nice with Maroni or he hates puppies or he just hates you, then think of Plan E.

Plan E is where Butch comes in.

I had often wondered how loyal Butch really was to Fish and whether or not some of his actions were motivated more out of self-preservation than trying to advance her cause. This is especially interesting since Butch now feels Fish got what she deserved. Granted, this could be Zsasz’s reprogramming talking, so it’s unclear whether Butch is expressing his true sentiments or if he’s been reconditioned to think differently. In either case, a nice Butch is a nice change of pace.

Quite appropriately, Oswald muses to Butch if it’s our enemies, not our friends, who truly define us. In some respects, he might be right. Friends are people who like us, maybe even love us, so they’re not going to test us or push us to our limit. But enemies (or people who don’t like us) sometimes help us see our flaws or cause us to develop stronger character traits such as courage or integrity. In his case, Oswald has educated himself about the gears of Gotham’s underworld from Fish and Maroni, so now he can glean a better understanding of how its minor parts work from Butch. So in a way, Oswald has learned more from his foes than his friends (whoever those might be – and Mama Penguin doesn’t count).

Along these lines, Alfred discovers that sometimes friends make the worst enemies when he takes in an old war buddy only to be…well….

I’ll just sum up the collective look made ’round the world when Alfred got stabbed…
Oh no
This was a verbal gasp moment for me as I didn’t see it coming. (Yes, I had my suspicions about Alfred’s friend but I wasn’t sure until the penultimate scene.) One thing I don’t doubt is that Alfred will live. He is, after all, Bruce’s mentor who helps make Bruce into the man and superhero he becomes. So Bruce can’t lose Alfred – he just can’t! Because if he does, Pennyworth fans (such as myself) will scorch the Earth.

I’m guessing Alfred will pull, but in case he doesn’t, get those torches ready, folks!
torch and pitchforks riot angry mad
And pitchforks. Don’t forget your pitchforks.

Overall, this was a good episode, minus the useless bits with Fish Mooney and despite the dwindling storyline for Penguin. But something tells me that the closer we get to the finale, the higher the ante will be raised and the greater the action will be. I suspect we better buckle in now because it might turn out to be a race to the finish.

Until later, fellow Gothamites!

GOTHAM
Everyone Has a Cobblepot

I had to chuckle at this episode’s title – it makes it sound like some kind of bizarre disease! Though perhaps that is true in a way – Penguin fever has swept the ranks of Gothamites everywhere!

Okay, to be fair what the title is really alluding to is how Commissioner Loeb has dirt on nearly every officer in the GCPD. In Jim Gordon’s case, his “dirt” (manifested in the person of Oswald Cobblepot) is still alive and, as such, has freed Jim from his secret. He no longer has to live under the umbrella (no Penguin pun intended) of “killing” a man: Oswald is alive and well, thus removing Jim from Loeb’s influence.

But not every other GCPD officer has been so lucky. Such as in the case of Harvey Bullock, who admits to falsifying evidence and tells Jim he did so because it was what he had to do to save his own skin and reputation. His “dirt,” as it were, was that he was ordered to kill a mobster and succeeded. “My Cobblepot didn’t come back,” he says, and insists nearly ever officer has a similar proverbial skeleton hanging over them. Obviously, blackmailing cops isn’t right and, as it turns out, Loeb is tied in with Falcone. So who to help Jim and Harvey with this pickle?

Hmm, I wonder….
Penguin Club
Natch. 😉

My biggest complaint with his storyline during the season’s back half so far is that it’s been almost non-existent. For Oswald to be such a critical character in the Batman mythos, he’s essentially been given a backseat role. Thankfully, Oswald gets his hands dirty here by getting out of the club and on a mini-road trip to Loeb’s hiding place. And who does he get to pal around with? None other than his reluctant buddy Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock (also reluctant but obviously not qualifying as a buddy). Here, Oswald does what he does best – barter information and secrets but making sure the tide turns in his favor. His character is in his element when he’s placed in these types of situations and especially when he’s victorious (as Jim promises Oswald time to peruse Loeb’s files plus a favor in the future – not a bad trade off, I think).

I sensed Jim always knew he would have to enlist Oswald’s help somewhere along the line, but he was prolonging that for as long as possible. Sort of like when you have to sneeze while driving: it’s going to happen eventually but you hate it when it does because it means you close your eyes for a split second, and that split second can be scary. In the same way, Jim has no choice but to trust Oswald, which could be scary. But it’s fun to watch the crime boss-in-training act as Jim’s only hope.

Oswald isn’t the only one acquainted with Gotham’s underbelly. Bullock’s encounters with the city’s dark side have inflicted some deep scars. “You tell yourself I’ll just do this one bad thing,” he tells Jim. “But all the good things I’ll do later will make up for it. But they don’t. There’s still that bad thing.” Thus, in his mind, one can never be truly free or redeemed from past mistakes, no matter how much good one does. Harvey’s philosophy, it seems, is that good deeds can erase bad deeds. That’s good in theory but not in practice as deeds, for good, ill, and all points in between, have consequences. It’s ultimately up to the individual to make good choices from the start or at least learn from their mistakes. I can definitely see Harvey living by this mindset as he tries to do the right thing, normally succeeds, yet there is a hint of doubt emanating from him that his good deeds are somehow insufficient. Now we know why. Yet in Jim’s case, we see this good deed-bad deed philosophy turned on its head. True to these words that “the truth will set you free,” Jim stands with a clean conscious and doesn’t view his good deeds as trying to cancel out his bad ones. Accepting this truth, that we’re defined by the choices we make in the present, not the past, is a choice, a choice Harvey certainly is capable of making but perhaps isn’t ready to at the moment.

As it turns out, Loeb has skeletons of his own, namely, a mentally unstable daughter named Miranda who is cooped up in a house with an elderly couple in charge of her care. This whole set up reminded me of some events in the classic novel Jane Eyre where Rochester kept his mad wife locked away from the rest of society, all out of the fear of public shame. I sense that is what Loeb has been doing, especially since Miranda inadvertently killed her mother, which is a one-way ticket to Arkham. Now, she spends her days locked away, making jewelry out of bird bones. Truth be told, I found her story to be very sad as she’s essentially a prisoner in her own home and her mind.

But this was one of the best moments of the night – Miranda calls Oswald out for looking like a bird only to pronounce that she loves birds. Like, she really loves birds.
Miranda
Sounds like a keeper to me, Oswald. Go ahead – ask her out. Just mind your neck though.

In the end, Jim achieves a massive victory as he gains leverage on Loeb and gets nominated as El Presidente of the police officer’s union. Granted, Loeb’s decision is driven out of fear that Jim will drag his own skeletons out of the closet, so it’s not a gesture of good will. But Jim’s proclamation of it being a new day for the GCPD was a hint of things to come. In a way, Jim is being rewarded for being a man of integrity – he’s not perfect but he tries to do the right thing for the right reason. Plus he doesn’t have to fear about any dirty little secrets coming back to haunt him. Returning again to Jane Eyre, as Jane herself observed, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”  The same can be said for Jim, Harvey, and the other officers he’s set free from any unpleasant skeletons in the closet. Gordon is going to try to redeem the police department and, by proxy, Gotham itself, so it is no longer ensnared by the nets of evildoers.

As far as the tale of Fish Mooney and her new freak eye goes, I’ll sum it up for you:
I don't care

Though I thought this was a rather interesting parallel to open the show: while a recovering Alfred is surrounded by those who care about him (Bruce and Jim Gordon) in his hospital room, Fish wakes up in a hospital setting to no friends or family. It was a good contrast to show what real friends and family look like: they care for and look after each other rather than beguile or use threats to remain top dog. Instead, all Fish gets to converse with is a highly disturbed doctor who is a cross between Dr. Victor Frankenstein and a Bio-repo man from Repo Men. Trust me, what this doc does makes Eric Garcia’s artificial organ repossessing Bio-repo men look nearly harmless.

But you know who isn’t harmless, nearly or otherwise? Penguin, who apparently can tout a shotgun with the best of them. Country singer Miranda Lambert might have claimed that “little girls” were made of “gunpowder and lead,” but I beg to differ. Penguin is made of the same grit. (And you kind of have to be to take out an old lady.)

Go ahead – I know you’re thinking it, so cue music…
Shotgun Penguin
I’m goin’ home/gonna load my shotgun/Wait by the door and light a cigarette. And you can bet we ain’t seen Oswald crazy yet! (My second-place caption would have been, of course, “Say hello to my little friend.”)

Until later, fellow Gothamites!

GOTHAM
Beasts of Prey

Okay, so what’s goin’ down since we last left the other city that never sleeps? Well, in this episode, we’re introduced to a serial killer known as the Ogre…
Shrek
No, not that Ogre. Trust me, Shrek is much too nice!

I researched the Ogre as far as Batman villains go and, as it turns out, he’s not a big presence in the comics. (In fact, the only thing I found on the Ogre was that he was a genetically enhanced man who was often paired with another character called the Ape.) Evidently, the Ogre only made one documented appearance in a comic, so the character showcased in this episode is essentially a new creation. But he certainly works as he has the right blend of pretty boy charisma and psychotic charm that makes a good freak-factor villain (as opposed to a villain, like Penguin, who is more cerebral and less into blindfolds and handcuffs). Again, some viewers and fans might take issue with tacking on another non-canon character, but I’m cool with non-canon characters provided they (a). don’t take time and attention away from the canon characters and (b). they fit in with the spirit of the piece. This certainly held true for the Ogre as he didn’t hog the limelight (unlike some other non-canon character who simply refuses to go away) and his overall dark vibe, which fits in with the city of Gotham just fine.

Likewise, his character seems to embody, in a twisted way, the driving underlying force for many characters on the show: the desire to be loved or respected. That’s all good and normal, but the Ogre’s stance on this subject is murky. In his mind, any woman who refuses his advances or who is less than perfect has broken his heart, hence why he leaves a literal broken heart at the scene of the crime as his calling card. Thus, the Ogre’s drive is more about control and fear and less about finding The One.

Also, it’s interesting to note that ogres, aside from being fairy tale and folklore figures, are also metaphorical images. Persons who do horrible things are labeled ogres due to the fierceness and terror associated with the same creature of lore that is most remembered for eating humans, primarily children. Likewise, Gotham’s Ogre seeks to devour his victims figuratively-speaking as he seems to obsess over a lady who eventually doesn’t meet his standards and then goes all diabolical on her. I suppose it’s true what they say about picking up strange guys in bars – don’t.

Overall, his arc is one that is set to play out over the next few episodes, so it will be interesting to see where it goes. Especially considering the completely twisted ending. Normally, I can spot set-ups right away, but in this episode, I never would have suspected that someone was luring Jim Gordon into danger. Evidently, there is a reason why no GCPD cop has dared to crack the Ogre case. Reason being is that the Ogre not only targets young single ladies but also anyone with whom a meddling police officer has ties to. In an act of revenge against Jim’s stand for justice in the previous episode, the Commissioner strikes back, making Jim feel like there are people in the police department who want to stand by his side. Turns out it was all a ruse to propel Jim into the Ogre’s cross-hairs, only it won’t be Jim he targets. With this thorny new development, it should be interesting to see how Jim makes good on his threat to the Commissioner as well as protect his new lady love.

Speaking of cross-hairs, turns out that Penguin has his sights set on a rather mighty target – his former boss Maroni. Talk about trying to spear a large fish! I do wonder what sort of snag Penguin might hit while trying to carry out this ploy as he’s known for biting off more than he can chew at times. In some cases, his risks have paid off and at other times they have nearly gotten him killed. I sense Maroni isn’t thick enough to be easily cornered but we’ll see. Penguin has gotten himself out of some fairly gnarled situations before using his quick thinking and slick talk, so if anyone can attempt a big catch like Maroni, it’s him. (And, yes, all of the fish puns here were intended.)

Let’s see…what else happened upon our return to Gotham? Oh, yes – I see that Fish Mooney still refuses to die.
Make it stop I can't listen
Seriously, her plot line now is a waste of air time. No offense to Jada Pinkett Smith (as she does do a good job playing a very over-the-top character and I will never be able to watch anything else she does without envisioning her as Fish Mooney) and no offense to the writers (they are awesome). But her arc takes away from everyone else who deserves to dabble in the spotlight. The same could also be said for the Dollmaker. Again, what point did his plot even serve? It seemed like filler but it’s possible he might come back since he survives Fish’s prison break. But if he does return, I hope he’s actually given something to do other than skulk around in a lab coat and make threats. Though he’s no fool, that’s for sure.

But going back to Fish, as I now look forward to verbally lambasting her any chance I can get. Fish likes to think she’s being clever but I wonder when she’ll learn that anyone she’s tried to set up has always/usually caught on to her. She rarely tricks anybody, including me, as I could see her betrayal coming a mile away and I had her plot figured out in the first few minutes. So one of the sneakiest criminal masterminds she’s not.

And where did she learn how to fly a helicopter? From The Matrix?

Oh, wait….
MatrixNiobe
Okay, for the love of The Matrix trilogy (as she played the character Niobe) I’ll let that one slide.

Side note: Rick Grimes, Jr. was kind of cool…
RGJR
Seriously, that was the first thing that came to mind. Too bad there weren’t any Walkers around to gnaw on Fish’s face.

All face-eating imagery aside, another element I enjoyed in this episode was Bruce and Selina’s team-up. Their parallel personalities are a great match and it’s always good to see Bruce out on his own, trying to sort matters out. It would be tempting to turn a pre-teen character into a wimp or a pouting emo boy, but thankfully Bruce is no softie nor a cry baby.

It was a fairly tense moment when Bruce struggled with whether or not to push Alfred’s attacker out of the window but, in the end, I was glad he thought better of it and I was rooting for him not to. Granted, grown up Batman is not perfect but his heart is steeped in justice, not killing just for the sake of taking a life. Selina, on the other hand, is rough-and-tumble and isn’t afraid to fight dirty, which shows her future Catwoman side. That being said, I wouldn’t call Selina cruel. Her moral compass just isn’t as on-point as Bruce’s and it’s this that makes their dynamic fun to watch as well as establish the foundation for their future relationship where Batman and Catwoman are never best pals but they’re not sworn enemies either.

In closing, I liked the metaphor in the episode’s title. Obviously, one of the “beasts” here is the Ogre, but the word is plural, so who or what else could it refer to? A beast of prey is one that goes after or hunts down weaker creatures to attack or devour, much like how an eagle or a wolf hunts animals weaker than themselves. In a metaphoric sense, a “beast of prey” could be a person who does the same, tracking down and hurting/killing persons they deem weak or inferior. In the case of Gotham, we see various “beasts” – Fish Mooney is willing to kill and trick to get what she wants, Jim Gordon vows to go after anyone who threatens harm, and Penguin has his own schemes for revenge. In all of these instances, we see characters who are strong (or think they’re strong) seeking to take out or neutralize other characters who have invaded their turf or done them harm. While some of these folks seek revenge for revenge’s sake and others pursue justice, their drive causes them to not cower and accept what appears to be their fate. They’re movers and shakers, and while some of them (with any luck) won’t be successful in the long run, others will prove that in Gotham, you either have to survive or die.

Overall, I would put this episode in the middle of the enjoyment spectrum – not jaw-droppingly great but not a snooze-fest. I sense the momentum will pick up now as we near this season’s finish line, so all bets are off as far as what might happen.

Until later, fellow Gothamites!

GOTHAM
Under the Knife

If last week’s show served to set the finale’s stage, this one ensures it will be a bloody, rocky ride to the finish line. I have found that the episodes that hold my attention the most are the ones involving more characters, and this episode contained at least five story arcs. So let’s dive right in.

This episode, for starters, marked the return of Barbara, who has been AWOL for the past several weeks. Here, she becomes the Ogre’s new crush. While this new dark, vampy Barbara is more interesting than her original personality, which was as intriguing as drying paint, it still carries with it the same issues I’ve always had with her character: she doesn’t really do anything other than chew scenery.

(Quick sidebar and speaking of scenery, the cinematography in this episode was marvelous and had “epic” written all over it.)
Gotham shot
(Okay, end of sidebar.)

Granted, not every character can be the center of attention all the time, but where exactly did Angry Barbara come from? Was it from being spurned by Jim Gordon and seeing him kiss Leslie? Maybe – but that doesn’t seem like that would be strong enough to cause her to do a complete 180; and if so, then Barbara is way more immature than I thought.

Likewise, Barbara tells the Ogre that if he found out what she was really like, he’d run away screaming. But why? What exactly has Barbara done that was so hideously awful? I mean, being a milquetoast isn’t all that bad.
there there it's okay

Thus, my biggest problem with Barbara is that she’s vapid and has no clear motivations. She simply changes her personality as swiftly as her wardrobe without any defining catalyst or logical reason. From the start, she was annoyingly timid but now she’s annoyingly reckless. This isn’t the same as having, say, a cowardly character suddenly turn brave – there just has to be an obvious progression to that point. I don’t feel like her character has been given enough screen time to do that, so Barbara’s change is head-scratching and makes me feel like I missed something. (And I might have.) Plus, she’s just not likable and can be a catty jerk. But bless Jim Gordon’s soul for caring enough about Barbara to not want to see her harmed. At least one person in that relationship acts like a grown up.

Ed looking up
Moving on to Ed Nygma, whose development this season has been anything but meteoric, but that’s actually a good thing as it’s given us time to get acquainted with the future Riddler and determine what sort of person he is and what drives him. Based on what we’ve seen so far (excluding this episode for a moment), he’s an eccentric young man who’s clever and intelligent but definitely not the life of the party at the GCPD. He’s been more of a background figure, sometimes with nary a word spoken in an episode, or he provides the occasional dose of comic relief. But Ed wants to be respected and appreciated for his genius, so during this season’s back half, he’s been coming into the foreground. And in this episode, Nygma proves his character is no longer a dark horse.

It’s been no secret that Ed has a crush on Kristen Kringle, who maintains the records room. But, try as he might, she’s just not into him. Nygma has seemed reluctantly content to take this all in stride until he uncovers evidence that Kristen’s new police beau is abusing her. So, Nygma deserves a rousing round of applause for calling him out and declaring that his actions are wrong.

However, Ed takes things one step further and decides to erase the punk’s soul from the earth.
Ed and knife
But did Nygma go too far?

His motives must be called into question here. On one hand, it seems he was trying to protect Kristen, albeit it leads him to murder. On the other hand, one could say that Nygma was driven by a certain obsession with Kristen and killed her abusive boyfriend to remove the competition. Personally, I lean towards a mixture of both motives: Nygma obviously cares for Kristen and doesn’t want to see her come to harm, but his actions towards her (if this was a real workplace) would be borderline harassment. I mean, exactly how flattered would you be if someone you worked with handed you a cupcake garnished with a bullet? Me, I’d be pretty freaked out. Though it’s important to note that Nygma’s actions towards Kristen were never with malicious intent – just geeky awkwardness.

In any case, the dying officer’s final proclamation of called Ed the “Riddle Man” and the torn look of horror and restrained glee on Nygma’s face were a perfect way to catapult his character from a background figure into a potentially major player. And kudos to Cory Michael Smith for having seriously wicked fun with this character as this episode showcased some of his best acting thus far.

Bruce and Selina
Another interesting arc is the budding relationship between Bruce and Selina. While I like the fact it’s not been a saccharine “romance” (as these characters are, after all, minors), I do like some of the wink-wink moments the season has delivered. Such as when Alfred drops a comment about noticing Selina’s like for leather. (Can you say Easter egg?)

But seriously, how cute of a couple do Bruce and Selina make? Kind of makes you go…
ohm oh man check it out no way

I’ve already expressed my appreciation for this pairing many times, so I won’t repeat myself here. But sometimes the best match-ups are the ones with two dissimilar characters. And you can’t get more dissimilar than Bruce, who plays by the rules, and Selina, who tosses civility and worthless punks right out the window. As Bruce tells her, “There is a line and I will never cross it,” meaning he’ll do his darndest to not fight fire with fire, so to speak. But Selina avows that she would cross that line every time if given the chance. To me, her actions are more about survival as opposed to cold-blooded murder or thievery. While that doesn’t put a stamp of approval on stealing or killing, it does provide a better backdrop for her character’s morality. Contrary to what Selina might think, she does live by an ethical code: it’s not as stringent as Bruce’s, but it does prevent her from going all serial killer on us.

Speaking of serial killers, I have to say that, at first, I thought this whole Ogre plot would be a dud. But I’m actually digging how this is going, especially in terms of this character’s development. In this episode, we’re given a glimpse as to why the Ogre seduces and kills women all in the name of “love.” Apparently, he had a fantasy childhood where his adoptive mother concocted some crazy story about how he was this super-special, beloved rich kid when in reality he was a deformed child who was probably just your average boy.

In truth, she didn’t love him. Before she died, she confessed the sham; thus, the Ogre learned that women can’t be trusted and unconditional love is a lie. Neither assumption is true, of course, but those are the untruths he has believed. In order to redeem himself, so to speak, the Ogre had plastic surgery to fix his face so he has the perfect weapon for snagging more women so he can put them in their place. But even though the Ogre tries to be suave and puts on a good front, his attempts to repair his outside can’t fix what’s wrong on the inside as “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt” (Jeremiah 17:9).

That brings me to say one thing about the villains, collectively, this season – most of them (with a few exceptions) are not cardboard cutouts. They are not just bad because they’re supposed to be – they possess depth and a sense of realism as past or present circumstances helped make them the way they are. This holds true for the canon villains, such as Penguin and Riddler, as well as newcomers like the Ogre. Something has happened to them that was bad, but when given the choice as to how to respond, they react in a less than scrupulous fashion. This creates a better villain in that it humanizes them as it’s their choices that determine how far down the rabbit hole of badness they fall, not the fact that they tout the villain label alone.

Club Oswald and Mom
The last plot arc focused on Oswald’s scheme to eliminate Maroni, which gets even thornier when Maroni shows up at his club and starts making nice with Gertrude, Oswald’s mother. Obviously, his ploy is to get under Oswald’s skin by attacking Oswald’s character (or lack thereof) in front of his mom.

Naturally, Gertrude thinks her son is the greatest and believes he’s a cut above the rest. In a blink-or-miss-it moment, she explains to Maroni that the reason no other kids wanted to play with Oswald when he was growing up was that he thought he was too good for them. (Sometimes I think Gertrude really needs her rose-colored glasses checked.) Maroni, however, doesn’t buy her over-the-top compliments about her son nor does he care. He knows the truth about Oswald’s character and uses that to mentally (and physically) torment Gertrude. The further Maroni pushes with his questioning of how well she really knows her son, the more she breaks. In the end, she’s left unharmed but embedded with doubts about what Oswald is really up to.

In my character study where I compared Oswald Cobblepot to Scarface‘s Tony Montana, I explored the relationship of each character to his mom. While Tony’s mother quickly suspected her son was up to no good, Gertrude has been trying to hope the best about Oswald. Now she’s starting to have doubts. Their confrontation at the end was an emotionally charged scene and I sense this tiny rift between her and Oswald will have damaging consequences. She no longer seems quick to believe that he is “just a nightclub owner” though she doesn’t denounce him as vehemently as Mrs. Montana does to Tony.

Home Oswald and Mom
In the end, Oswald makes a split-second decision to either tell the truth or lie and insist he’s a nightclub owner, nothing more. I have to hand it to Robin Lord Taylor as he makes this decision look genuinely tough. For a moment, I wondered if Oswald, in his distraught state, just might tell the truth this time; but in true Penguin fashion, he refrains and tells a half-truth instead. In my Oswald/Tony post, I explored some theories as to why Oswald keeps his mother in the dark. The first is that he fears losing his mother’s support as she is his one and only ally (Jim Gordon notwithstanding). The other reason may be to protect her, as the more she knows, the bigger of a target she becomes. We saw evidence of that here where Maroni ponders if Gertrude’s ignorance is all an act. When she proves it isn’t, he leaves her be. But imagine what might have happened if it was an act and she really did know about her son’s dealings? Oswald isn’t stupid, so I think he would prefer to wear the target. Whatever his reason, this makes for some awesome character dynamic and newly-forged tension between mother and son; so it will be interesting to see how long Gertrude remains in the dark before she sees the truth for herself or how far she might go to see exactly how honest Oswald is being with her. I’ll give her credit for this – Gertrude might be a delusional mom who thinks her son can do no wrong but she’s far from being a dunderhead.

Along these lines, an interesting theme that I picked up throughout this episode was protecting the ones you love. This was witnessed in different scenarios and in varying degrees: Jim strives to ensure Leslie is safe from the Ogre’s clutches as well as hoping to keep Barbara out of them (though she seems eager to jump right in); Oswald uses lies to protect his mother from his enemies and his personal dealings; and Ed protects Kristen by killing her good-for-nothing abuser. Thus, one take-away message is that the people you love are worth protecting at any cost, though every action and reaction have a consequence (which we might see in future episodes, either now or in next season).

wait a second hold up
In closing, and in all seriousness, I want to add a special thanks to the “Gotham” writers for shedding a tiny bit of light on domestic abuse. In an age where 50 Shades of Gray and other seemingly pro-intimate partner violence media have assumed a place outside the backwaters of popular culture, there are mixed messages floating about that abusive actions in “romantic” relationships are okay, even “sexy.” But in this episode, as brief and maybe as unintended as it was, Ed Nygma takes a stand in declaring Kristen’s boyfriend’s treatment of her as not deserved nor an expression of “love.” Though Nygma’s ultimate actions go to the extreme for the sake of drama, I appreciated the fact that domestic abuse is not a joke in Gotham.

Until later, fellow Gothamites!

GOTHAM
The Anvil or the Hammer

One down, one to go!
Happy Critic
The finale is coming, ladies and gents!

But before we get there, we have to start here with this episode, which ends with a promise of sheer epicness.

Once more, this episode showcases the evil schemes of the Ogre, who is eventually put in his place as well as six feet under. I was perplexed by Jim’s insistence upon saving Barbara with whom he has had little contact in the grand scheme of things and even less chemistry. I’m not sure if this is because that, deep down, Jim harbors feelings for Barbara or he simply doesn’t want her to come to harm (though he confesses to Leslie that, if given the choice, he would save her over Barbara). In any case, it at least casts Jim in a good light that he’s willing to save and protect someone who, essentially, spurned him without good cause. I doubt this will do anything to mend what’s already been broken but, again, Jim is acting like the mature adult as he should.

Unlike Barbara who goes from vixen to snob to whiny lass to I-don’t-know-what – a cross between a wide-eyed Barbie doll and a zombie? This series of rapid-fire emotions showcases what a transient character Barbara is: in the previous episode when she first meets the Ogre, she’s a cross between a vixen and an ice queen who doesn’t seem fazed when she first enters the Ogre’s white room of horrors. In this episode, it’s obvious they have spent the night together (and, no, probably not playing Scrabble) yet she turns into her prissy little self and wants nothing to do with him. Naturally, that propels the Ogre to snag her in his clutches, hence Barbara is turned into the wimpy damsel in distress…again.
Facepalm
Barbara, Barbara, Barbara…will you ever learn?

In a slight twist, I wasn’t expecting Barbara to have the Ogre kill her parents so that she might live. I really suspected that when the Ogre asked her who she wanted him to kill for her, Jim’s name would have been the first on her lips. But nope, it’s good ol’ mom and dad.

I feel like I missed something here – exactly why did Barbara hate her parents so much that she wanted them murdered? The Ogre said he promised to kill Barbara’s “truth” and set her free. But her parents? What exactly had they done to her that was so bad? We were never told that she suffered abuse as a child, only that they just seemed like typical snooty rich folks. Is that good enough reason to kill someone? Obviously not, but since when has logic ever been one of Barbara’s strong points. On the other hand, it’s possible she harbors feelings for Jim and decided not to name him as the one whose blood got spilled. But, geesh! Talk about not honoring your mother and father. Then again, maybe that’s why things haven’t gone well for Barbara.

Speaking of characters for whom things have been bumpy for, Ed Nygma is now having to contend with his actions from last week when he stabbed Kristen’s abusive beau. In this episode, the former police officer/woman beater has been reduced to zombie food and, later on, nothing but bones. In Ed’s final scene with the last piece of the deceased cop’s remains – a skull, no less – his posture and postulating reminded me of an iconic moment from Shakespeare’s Hamlet where Hamlet ponders over the skull of Yorick, the court jester, and laments that the man he knew so well is now gone. Ed does the same but is far less sentimental. The skull imagery here is particularly appropriate as Ed works around death all of the time, and even Kristen wonders how he can stand it. Traditionally, the skull was a momento mori, a symbol of the Medieval reflection on mortally (which, translated from Latin, means “remember that you must die”). Hence, not only does the dead man’s skull serve as an obvious reminder that its owner was once alive, it also ties Nygma to his future as a villain as the Riddler isn’t always full of fun and games. Sometimes death is part of the equation, too.

Another character who isn’t playing around is Penguin. Honestly, I didn’t see this twist that ignites a gang war that promises to continue into the finale. I assumed that Maroni’s cronies would be slaughtered while he, somehow, would have escaped. But that wasn’t the case at all and I liked it as, once more, Oswald proves he’s a genius. Not always perfect but always perfectly calculating. Instead, Oswald wants to be the criminal king of Gotham, and in order to do that, he has to sic his enemies upon themselves. Clever indeed. Thus, he’s determined to kill two birds (Falcone and Maroni) with one stone…or make that bullets. Time will tell how well his strategy will play out (as his plans often contain holes or backfire in ways Oswald doesn’t see until it’s too late), but please at least let him take out Fish! Preferably with a baseball bat but any other weapon would be fine.

I’m not going to speculate, but after seeing promos for the finale, it looks like Penguin might finally get his Scarface moment…
say hello to my little friend scarface
Which thrills me to no end! Just hopefully he won’t end up face-down in a reflecting pool.

Young Bruce also gets a twist when he discovers that his father might not have been the upstanding man he thought he was. Evidently, criminal dealings are nothing new at Wayne Enterprises and are, in fact, business as usual. This angers Bruce, who is starting to wonder exactly what his father was up to. Yet when he’s told that his father “kept his best self hidden,” you can bet that Bruce will not rest until he clears his father’s name or decides that his dad was not the noble man Bruce thought he was. (And what is this secret, you might ask? I’m not sure but I have my fingers crossed for the first reveal of the Batcave!)

Lastly, the episode’s title is interesting considering its imagery, which alludes to two tools of the blacksmith trade. The anvil was the device upon which molten metallic objects were forged, and the hammer was the tool directly responsible for the shaping. Thus, the forging of metal, or, metaphorically, the transformation of one object into another, is a fitting image for all of the trials and tribulations the central characters of “Gotham” have faced as well as the city itself. I think it’s fair to say that none of them have remained the same as they were when the season first started. But notice the implication through the use of the word or here – the anvil or the hammer, not the anvil and the hammer. These characters are either one or the other, not both: they either serve as the anvil, the device upon which something greater is forged, or they’re the hammer, the device doing the forging. (Fun factoid: hammer is also the term for the last stone thrown in a curling end, and whoever has the hammer usually is guaranteed to score points; so you could also say that whatever characters here who are “hammers” are guaranteed to advance or score some much-needed clout. Okay, probably not, but, curling fan that I am, I had to throw that in.)

Now about the finale. I’m usually not one to speculate or say what I do or don’t want to see happen because sometimes it plays out according to my theories and often times it doesn’t. I will confess though that final episodes always make me nervous. It’s like waiting for the last book in a book series you’ve read and loved: you hope it will be a satisfying end that answers critical questions and gives characters their proper due. Case in point: one of my all-time favorite final books in a series is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows because (I think) it does everything a final book should do and it does those things right: it wraps up all of the character’s story arcs in a way that’s fitting, it answers critical questions that had been posed early on in the series, it contains shocking and emotional deaths and departures, it possesses good twists and turns, and it makes sure that the characters who have done the most evil get theirs in the end.

So I hope “Gotham” takes the same route, not by inviting wizards, giants, and Death Eaters to the party (though how cool would that be?) but by addressing some of the early questions (like who did kill Bruce’s parents and why), wrapping up (for now) some of its main characters’ arcs, laying groundwork for season two, throwing in some fun surprises, and eliminating characters who deserve to go (not merely for shock value).

That’s not to say I think every character should ride off into the sunset nor do I think killing off everyone is wise. Instead, I appreciate a good balance with unseen twists and turns but an ultimately satisfying and fitting end, and I hope that’s what “Gotham”‘s finale delivers. There are characters who deserve to die (and I sense you can tell who I’m rooting for to kick the bucket) and there are characters who deserve to live because their arcs have been fun to watch. There are story arcs and questions I hope get resolved and answered, and there are others I’d like to see get carried over into season two. Thus far, I haven’t been disappointed by what “Gotham” has given us, so I can only hope the finale lives up to the hype I’ve created for it in my mind.

So here’s for an epic finale:
rajsmile happy got you i'm cool i'm back

Rest well until then, fellow Gothamites!

GOTHAM
“All Happy Families are Alike”

Well, this is it, folks. This is the end.
Exploding No
I know, I know. It seems like the first season has just flown by. And believe me, I will feel the pain of “I-must-wait-until-fall-for-Gotham-itis,” too. It was one wild and crazy ride to be sure, so let’s see how it all ended, shall we?

From the start, my gut told me that “Gotham” was going to be a good series judging by the trailers, concept, characters, and overall cinematic look; and I’m glad my gut was right. With the slew of “reality” television programs that have glutted the small screen for years, it’s rare for me to find an original/fictional story program that I really like. In most cases, I try out a new show, watch a few episodes, get bored or disappointed with it, and stop tuning in. Sometimes I’ve watched an entire first season only to check out the second season and give up. Rare is the series I watch from beginning to end, and I’m proud to say that “Gotham” has now joined that list. Time will tell whether season two will or won’t fall into the sophomore slump, but judging by the design, momentum, writing, and characters of this season, I have very high hopes indeed.

The season one finale had three chief plot lines that meshed together perfectly: the culmination of the mob wars; Barbara’s transformation; and Bruce’s discovery of his father’s secret. The action scenes (and there were plenty) were cast against quieter moments, which kept it from being a total head rush from beginning to end. There was a nice balance of frantic momentum and moody tranquility that blended nicely and actually played off of each other.

Let’s start with the ladies. Here, Barbara is talked into having trauma counseling with Leslie. The two ladies chat it up and Barbara finally reveals (somewhat) why she is the way she is. Evidently, her parents broke her down until she was nothing left emotionally and then she made the choice to live in darkness. Doing so has clouded her internal vision as she sees good men as “scary” and seems unable to understand that there are genuinely good people in the world. In her mind, all people are bad or frightening because her perceptions have become so muddied that she can see no good anywhere.

This reflects upon the entire workings of Gotham. The city itself has been broken down by corrupt men and women to the point where it has become dark, a place where criminals rule supreme yet evil does not have full reign. But just as Leslie subdues Barbara before Barbara can kill her, so Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and others put criminal forces in check – not forever but long enough to stop the proverbial bleeding. In truth, there are forces for good in the world, but in Gotham it takes a careful eye to find them.

But Barbara isn’t the only one having fits here. Ed Nygma also goes mental after he fears that Kristen suspects he did away with her abusive beau. This scene seemed to set the stage for what Nygma’s character might become in season two. Gone are the days of him lurking in the halls of the GCPD. Now he has emerged as a man with serious internal issues that threaten to tear him apart. Ed’s exchange with himself reminded me of Gollum’s/Smeagol’s breakdown in The Lord of the Rings. Just as Gollum wars with his good side, Smeagol, so Ed’s moral side tries to contend with his base nature, the side of him willing to go to extremes. This is demonstrated visually as Ed goes back and forth (much like Gollum did), alternating between arguing with his sane side and his deep-seated fears, insecurities, and moral indiscretions. It was cool to watch. (Now if only Ed would have uttered, “My precious!” That would have killed it!)

The chief plot here, though, is the culmination of the war instigated by Penguin between Falcone and Maroni. The fact Gotham is even in this state of open combat is thanks to its pent up darkness so, when allowed to release, it explodes into violent chaos, much like how Barbara and Ed burst when their darker natures seep through. Likewise, this is a great visual display of going out with the “old man” and in with the “new man” as the two old-hat mobsters are checkmated, making way for Oswald Cobblepot to ascend the throne as Gotham’s new criminal king.

Evidently, Maroni was the character teased as the villain who was to be killed off. (In the comics, I believe Maroni is put on trial and is the one responsible for turning Harvey Dent into Two Face by throwing acid on him). To be fair, Maroni’s death wasn’t a huge shocker but I was still surprised. I was equally surprised that Falcone rode off into the sunset, especially after Oswald brashly confessed that he had been plotting Falcone’s demise from the start. Perhaps Falcone saw this as a losing battle and would rather leave the city with his pride and life intact than try to fight a new rival. In a way, Falcone gets what deserves as it was he who so callously said that Penguin was an “odd little man” who could never become a boss. However, to his credit, Falcone admits the error of his ways and tells Jim that, “Gotham needs a law man, not a criminal like me.” Thus like Barbara, Falcone doesn’t believe people can truly be good as he gives Jim a knife that Jim’s father had passed down to him. In Falcone’s mind, no place is safe as he says that Jim’s father was a good man but even he carried a knife.

So that was two mobster heavyweights down. What about the third? Fish Mooney returns and places her bid to become Gotham’s queen and even garners Selena Kyle as an ally. But, of course, she has to contend with those pesky rivals. I have been hard on Fish and, truth be told, I liked her inclusion early on as it provided a sinister camp factor that fit in with the show’s tone. But after Falcone uncovered her plot to dethrone him, I felt her character arc should have ended. What really irked me was her almost constant presence in every episode after that, which took time and attention away from the canon characters. But I am glad she stuck around because she provided me with two redeeming bits in the end – comic relief and poetic justice.

First, Fish has a Barb Wire moment when she insists that Maroni not call her “babes.” But the best moment was, of course, when Penguin finally got his just desserts against his former boss.

And Penguin finally, finally got his Scarface moment!
Penguin's Scarface Moment
Thank you, “Gotham” writers. Thank you.

The showdown between Penguin and Fish was nothing short of perfection, and I couldn’t have imagined it going down any other way. Aside from her death marking the end of an era in Gotham, it also contained interesting parallels. Rather than shooting or stabbing Fish, Penguin decides to heave her from the rooftop into the churning waters below. This was especially fitting as a watery grave would have been Penguin’s fate had Jim not, at the last minute, spared him in the pilot. (Not to mention that penguins are predators and fish are their chief diet, so it only makes sense for a penguin to slaughter a measly fish.) This was justice at its best and makes me all the more eager to see how Penguin handles matters now that his major rivals are gone. Because if there’s one thing about a crown, it’s this – there will always be folks who want to snatch it away. But for now, the kingdom belongs to Oswald Cobblepot.

All hail the new King of Gotham!
King of Gotham
Wouldn’t his mama be proud?

The last plot line was Bruce Wayne’s desperate attempt to uncover his father’s secret. In the end, he figures it out and while it’s essentially masked from view, there’s no mistaking what it is…
Wait for the reveal

The Batcave!
Data yes fist pump
Truly a cool moment and a cool way to close out the first season, leaving us some tasty morsels of what’s to come.

In the end, I believe Bruno Heller said that the characters on the show are broken people and that’s certainly true. But what’s more fascinating is seeing how these broken people elect to piece themselves together. If I may sidestep into literature for just a moment, this whole set up of seeing flawed people try to fill their lives with sundry things is akin to the emotional and spiritual overtones of J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. While not my favorite work of hers, she touches on a good point that everyone has a “vacancy” on the inside and people will try to fill it with whatever they can. In the case of the characters of “Gotham” this runs the gamut from respect, to love, to power, and all points in between.

But what keeps some of the characters on track – and others in check – is that despite the darkness, there is light through the good deeds the characters do or when they do good they don’t intend. Likewise, the fact the good guys and gals haven’t packed up and gotten out of Dodge (or make that Gotham) is that they have hope that the city can be redeemed or at least its darker forces can be kept under control. In one scene, Loeb asserts to Jim that, “Hope is for losers.” But Loeb is mistaken. It is hope that keeps people moving on and continuing to do good. In fact, the virtues of faith, hope, love, and even grace are at work behind the scenes in Gotham, which keeps the city afloat: it’s not a lost cause and it’s worth saving and fighting for.

Overall, the season one finale hit every high mark I was hoping for. This was right on par with a “24” finale with its grandiose dramatic scope, unexpected surprises, adrenaline-infused pacing, and overall wrap-up that’s satisfying but leaves you wanting more, not out of a sense of lack but out of sense of what happens now?!?
gif-i-must-know-princess-bride
But, alas, we must wait.

So how to sum up “Gotham”‘s season one finale? In a word…
Perfect

In closing, I want to express my gratitude to all of my blog’s readers and visitors who have perused my meandering “Gotham” musings. I hope, if for nothing else, you gleaned a nugget of fresh insight or a cool ponderable about the show, its themes, or its characters. That’s why I decided to jot down these reviews because I love to analyze pop culture. It’s nothing fancy but I hope it’s been fun. I looked forward to writing these reviews every week, and I will miss doing so during “Gotham”‘s summer hiatus.

So from me to you, I extend a big, warm, virtual hug:
Race hug
Have a great summer fellow Gothamites, and remember, “There will be light.”

gotham_header_h_2015
“Damned if You Do”

Here it is, folks – the first episode of “Gotham”‘s sophomore season. Allow me to describe my sentiments…
club can't handle me dance happy
Just give me a second to compose myself……………..Okay, I’m good.

The episode begins (after a flashback to last season) by giving us a quick glimpse into what some of our beloved Gothamites have been up to: Bruce Wayne tries to uncover more about his father’s secret bat/man cave; Jim is working as a traffic cop; Harvey Bullock is a now a bartender; Penguin stretches his wings (pun intended), trying out his new-found powers; and Barbara is headed off to Arkham – in style of course.

So where does it all lead?

The main focus of this episode is seeing Jim Gordon’s new “dark side,” as it were – how far he’s willing to go in order to get his rightful job back and, thus, start dealing out justice once again. His hands are a bit tied as a traffic cop and he knows that’s not where he can make the biggest difference. After an altercation with a fellow cop, Commissioner Loeb, who has a serious beef with Jim anyway, fires him and sends him packing. Or so Loeb thinks. Not being one to take things lying down, Jim decides to go to someone who’s good at getting things done and pulling strings.

S2 Penguin
Enter the current reigning king of Gotham, Oswald Cobblepot, who is relying more on his avian moniker these days.

Watching this younger version of Penguin is always a treat because it’s fascinating to see how he became his famously smarmy self, and his interactions with Jim here allow this to shine. Oswald (okay – Penguin) is ready and willing to lend a hand, but it comes with a price. In this case, he’s more than happy to help Jim get his old job back because he genuinely likes Jim and admires his integrity – something Penguin lacks. But Jim isn’t off the proverbial hook: in exchange, Penguin wants him to rustle up some unpaid debts from a former business associate of Falcone’s.

Initially, Jim struggles with what to do as working for or with Penguin in any capacity isn’t something he would normally feel comfortable doing. But desperate times call for desperate measures. In promos for this new season, it was teased that we would witness a darker side to Jim – not that he would go full-on evil but he would feel forced to cross some lines that, back in season one, he would have skirted. For me, seeing a character struggle with whether to do the right thing or to get his hands metaphorically dirty to make things right in the end is a fascinating dilemma and generates great tension both within the character and without. Even Harvey assures Jim that he’s a moralist, someone who wouldn’t stoop so low as to collect a debt for a crime boss just to get his job back. But to Jim the “reward” (the ability to start fighting crime again) is worth more than the risk. One big feather in Ben McKenzie’s cap here – he does not make this choice look easy nor does he act flippant about it.

But before Jim makes his decision, he goes to Bruce Wayne to apologize for failing to catch his parents’ murderer. But Bruce isn’t having it. Gone is the backwards boy of season one and in comes a braver lad, which takes what I loved about his character and makes me love him even more. Bruce tells Jim that “sometimes the right way is the ugly way,” meaning sometimes in order to make good happen, something bad has to occur first. This doesn’t excuse immoral behavior but it does paint a mini-portrait of redemption: in order to serve as Gotham’s savior (or at least one of many saviors), Jim will have to swallow his pride and roll up his sleeves to do what’s necessary. Thus, redemption is not without cost and the cost is usually high. Jim does collect the debt and Penguin makes good on his end of the bargain, which cements Jim in a position to help stave off the tide of evil that is sure to breach Gotham’s shores.

Speaking of which, this season is being touted as the rise of the villains, and one villain who continues to skyrocket to the top is, of course, Penguin. Personally, I think his character seems more fine tuned this season. Not that Robin Lord Taylor’s acting was sloppy or incoherent last season. But this time around it’s fun to see him in the driver’s seat rather than on the sidelines as an underling. Instead of pretending to cower, Penguin displays blatant power and it’s scary to see how Taylor morphs into this character. Penguin’s ability to keep a person the likes of Victor Zsasz in check and strike fear into the hearts of underlings is truly impressive.

And who knew Penguins liked peanut butter? Hey, Jif – I think I found a new spokesperson for you!
Penguin likes Peanut Butter
Yep, that could definitely work.

Another actor worth praising is Cameron Monaghan, who plays Jerome. While Jerome isn’t technically touted as the Joker (at least for now), it is a bit hard to envision him as anyone else. Quite frankly, I would be upset if they tried to pass him off as just a crazy nobody because his character is totally how I would envision a young Joker. We first met the ginger gent in the back half of season one (in “The Blind Fortune Teller”) when we learn that he killed his own mother for being a, in his words, “nagging drunk whore.” Now we see that this crime has landed him in Arkham Asylum where the worst of the craziest criminals are kept.

Even though we didn’t get to see much of Jerome here, I have a feeling he’s going to be stealing the limelight soon, and I predict he will become the next dark horse much like Taylor’s Penguin and Smith’s Nygma were in season one.. Monaghan is just freaky fun and cool to watch! He’s clearly having a blast playing this character and it shows. Jerome is as loose a cannon as they come, and even though he’s poised to become a major thorn in Gotham’s side, I’m on the edge of my seat to see what his character will do next.

Actually, I’m no stranger to Monaghan.
Cameron malcolm-in-the-middle-10
Turns out he played a role in the early 2000s Fox sitcom “Malcolm In the Middle.” In it, he portrayed Chad, a student in Dewy’s gifted class who was known for donning oven mitts and wearing a sign on his chest warning persons on approach of various things not to do, from feeding him to alerting them that he could turn bitey. (I therefore move that Jerome now don oven mitts and wear a sign on his chest – hey, it’s just a suggestion!)

This episode also introduced us to brother and sister power duo Theo and Tabitha Galavan, played by James Frain and Jessica Lucas. Since we didn’t get to see much of their characters here, I can’t gauge how much I suspect I’ll like them. Theo seems deviously cool but he’ll have to do something incredible to set himself above the typical evil businessman trope. Likewise, Tabitha seems like the typical bad chick and, likewise, will have to do something to set herself apart and not fall into that trope.

I am interested to see their dynamic and how it plays out. Though I think their characters’ name pairing is interesting: Theo is derived from the Greek and means “god” or “divine,” and Tabitha is from an Aramaic word that means “gazelle.” It’s clear that Theo has a serious ego problem and sees himself as godlike in terms of wanting to control Gotham, and Tabitha has grace and speed though, unlike her name’s meaning, she’s nicknamed the Tigress, the hunter rather than the hunted. So as far as these folks go, I’m taking the wait-and-see approach before I pronounce my like or hate for them.

Theo clearly has sinister plans in store as he breaks out six (eventually whittling it down to five) inmates from Arkham. He tells the inmates that he sees “brilliance, charisma, and power” in them. Admirable traits under normal circumstances and in normal people, but we’re talking crazies here. As in not just one fry shy of a Happy Meal crazy but more like a whole side of fries, a small shake, and a toy shy of a Happy Meal crazy. Clearly in Theo’s mind, brilliance, charisma, and power are merely tools to be manipulated for his own purposes, so I’m curious to see what he plans to do with it.

And his motley crew includes Jerome (yipee!) and…sigh…Barbara.
Booo critic ugh no
Really? Do we have to contend with Babs again?

I didn’t care for Barbara in season one and I don’t like her now. Granted, maybe she might be given more to do this season (other than pout) but I still think her character tries too hard to prove she’s bad and dangerous. Actually, when Barbara tries to be all gruff, rough, and tough it comes across more as comical to me rather than menacing.

Take, for example, her “threatening” phone call to Leslie, Jim’s new squeeze: “I hope you die screaming.” Umm…
Ooo scary critic huh
Scary? Not to me.

Actually, it reminded me of the “Seinfeld” episode (“The Summer of George”) where a co-worker leaves threatening messages on Elaine’s answering machine: Elaine…I am going to find you. If not in your office then in the xerox room or the little conference room near to the kitchen… if not in your apartment then in the laundry room or the ATM in the building across the street or the WATCH SHOP!
Funny but Not Laughing huh
Let’s move on.

Lastly, Bruce breaks into his father’s underground study using brain power, a great deal of sweat, and a whole bunch of explosives! (Seriously, I think the Bruce-Alfred dynamic is going to be awesome this year.) We don’t get to see much of what looks like a dusty, cobweb-festooned room littered with computer parts, but Bruce does find a note his father left with the assumption that if Bruce ever read it, then his father was no longer alive.

‘”You can’t have both happiness and the truth,'” Bruce reads. “‘You have to choose.'” That’s certainly true as happiness usually involves a disconnect from bad circumstances (unlike joy, which isn’t the same as happiness); but sometimes the truth about a situation or person may not be pleasant to learn or know, thus eroding our happiness. In the end, Bruce’ father begs him to “‘choose happiness, unless you feel a calling. A true calling.'” No better words could be spoken to set up what Bruce will later become. Granted, he can choose happiness because that will protect him from the harsh realities of the world, but Bruce is not content to just sit back and chill. He’s on his way to becoming a man of action, a man with a plan, and that plan is to right Gotham’s wrongs and prevent evildoers from gaining a foothold. Thus, Bruce will choose the truth because he feels called to do something greater than just hiding away in a mansion. And, after all, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

So how did this first episode stack up? On a star scale of five to one, with five stars being super awesome and one star being boring, I’d give this episode four stars. Very good for the most part, good in other parts, but not what I would call stellar or the episode to end all episodes. But I think it sets the stage fairly well and it’s a good start.

In music, there is this thing known as the sophomore slump which refers to an artist’s second album when it doesn’t live up to the expectations or quality that their debut work had. This is all relative of course, but in some ways I think it’s true for any art form, from albums to books, from television to movies.

So will “Gotham” avoid the sophomore slump? Well, judging from this episode, I’d have to say…
clapping applause happy good job
Job well done so far!

Until next time, fellow Gothamites! 🙂

gotham_header_h_2015 season two banner
Knock, Knock
**Spoilers Throughout**

Keeping true to his promise to unleash chaos upon Gotham (or, in his words, use “monsters” to cleanse the city in “blood and fire”), Theo Galavan does exactly that by turning his gang of crazed criminals (led by Jerome) onto Gotham. This group goes by the moniker the Maniax (a play on the word maniacs) and they commit heinous criminal acts all around Gotham. At first, Galavan’s motives seem a tad out of whack, but his end result appears to be to gain control of the city. Everything that drives him and the Maniax sounds good on the surface; but underneath, their aims are as thorny as a brier patch.

To start, Galavan’s view of “salvation” is subverted. In his mind, salvation isn’t brought on by trying to fight evil with good or redeeming others – it’s about fighting evil with evil, then coming in to sweep up the mess as the city’s savior. In just these two episodes, it’s clear that Theo is a force to be reckoned with, so it will be interesting to see how the other power-holders (namely Penguin) stand up to him.

Actually, this episode seemed to be about opposites – opposing viewpoints and counterpart characters. On the character front, we see Ed Nygma contending with his inner evil voice. I love what they are doing with his character as this sort of Gollum/Smeagol approach has been done before (obviously because I just referenced The Lord of the Rings!). But while I’ll never insult the written word (as I am a writer and a bookworm, after all!), I do think visual media has a leg up on being able to depict a character’s internal conflicts. In a story, usually the author has to resort to a different font, section/chapter breaks, or a split narrative in order to depict a character with a split personality. But in a visual medium, this conflict can actually be shown, usually as a doppelganger or a dual-sided nature that argues with itself.

gollum confused
Again, the best example of this would be what Peter Jackson did with Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films. In the novel, it’s Sam, Frodo’s traveling companion, who overhears Gollum arguing with himself and it’s Sam who relates what he’s seeing and hearing. But in the film, we get to witness Gollum war with himself as he converses both as his “good” side (Smeagol) and his “bad” side (Gollum).

Ed is getting the same treatment here as his “good” side, the nerdy Ed we all know and love, battles his “bad” side, an image of him minus his glasses and less nerdy. This is a fun and fascinating technique and I hope it’s put into more use as the season progresses. Ed’s darker side keeps urging him that, by giving in, he can become confidant and charming, something that will endear him to others, particularly Kristen Kringle. But “good” Ed knows that’s a subterfuge. To his credit, “good” Ed wins the day when he saves Kristen from the gun-totting Maniax. Thus, he proves to himself that he doesn’t need superficial charm or a cocky confidence as bravery and a concern for others is far more attractive. Though let’s not be hasty here – just as Gollum ends up overruling Smeagol, so will “bad” Ed overrule his good side as he becomes the Riddler.

Another good pairing was, as always, Bruce and Alfred. But their relationship seemingly comes to a halt when Alfred tries to destroy the computer in Bruce’s father’s bat/man cave. Bruce is devastated and fires Alfred even though Alfred maintains he did so to protect Bruce from knowledge that could get him killed. I love the dynamics here as Bruce is clearly warring with mixed emotions and doesn’t quite know how to properly vent them. This imperfection endears his character as it makes him realistic as well as reasonably immature. After all, you can’t expect young Bruce Wayne to act like grownup Bruce Wayne, so by depicting him as flawed and sometimes a bit hasty causes Bruce to be a malleable young man who still needs guidance and wisdom from others who are older.

But all’s well that ends well as Bruce apologizes and admits he needs Alfred’s help, thus the Dream Team is reassembled.
Bruce and Alfred dream team

But secretly I suspect Bruce’s real reason was more like this…
Bruce and Alfred meme
Okay, maybe not.

[Fun fact: I saw this article on Comic Book Resources that showcased some memes inspired by the show. Turns out this meme above, which I originally created, was showcased in their piece (it’s listed at number five, entitled “Where’s the Griddle?”): Excerpt from the article: This meme imagines a scene where Bruce and Alfred become estranged before they reunite. Bruce then admits to him that he needs his old butler back because he already forgot how to butter two pieces of bread, put cheese between them, and set it on a griddle to cook. How cool is that? I’m famous! Well, kind of. :)]

But Alfred doesn’t make tracks back to Wayne Manor right away. Instead, he ropes in the help of Lucius Fox (played by Chris Chalk), whom we briefly met in season one. According to the comics, Lucius is the CEO of Wayne Enterprises and, more importantly, is responsible for funding and inventing the various gadgets and gear Bruce Wayne uses to fight crime with. I suppose you could say Lucius is a bit of a background figure yet his role is by no means less important. In a way, his name is a fun play on words: Lucius comes from the Latin and means “light,” and a fox, symbolically, is seen as a sly creature. By combining the element of light (which is traditionally seen as good) and the image of a fox, perhaps this paints a mini portrait of Lucius’ inner character – ultimately he is a good man but he has to be sneaky in the ways he helps Batman as you have to be shrewd when fighting equally shrewd foes, much like how Jesus instructed his followers to “be wise [or shrewd] as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Alfred does his best to test Lucius to ensure he’s trustworthy and says there are two types of people in the world, those you can trust and those you can’t. Alfred’s observation is spot-on as people are either reliable and honest or they’re not. There’s no room for a middle ground. Lucius, as a canon good guy, will be the former, but it will be interesting to see how he proves himself as his intentions at this point remain unknown to our characters.

One guy you’d trust about as much as you could pick him up and throw him is Jerome, who is becoming more Joker-esque, especially during the climactic assault on the GCPD. The sheer level of cruelty here is utterly despicable though the police station makes for a logical target in Galavan’s grand scheme of things. (We’ll assume he’s the real shot-caller as Jerome hasn’t quite earned his stripes, but he’s certainly making an effort to earn them fast and soon.) By attacking the police, the Maniax (and Galavan, by proxy) are sending a message that nothing is sacred and no one is safe. If even the city’s protectors cannot protect themselves, then all is lost. Once the city gets to that point of total desperation and outrage, I sense Galavan will make his move to step in and offer to “help.”

But, again, Galavan’s plan of salvation (as it were) for Gotham is twisted, and his view isn’t the only thing that possesses a double-edge. There were some other such backwards statements that stood out to me:

jerome-cameron-monohan-gotham-season-2-trailer
What is courage? Grace under pressure.
Jerome utters this when he gleefully plays Russian roulette in Galavan’s penthouse. At first, this sounds okay. Courage is defined as both “the ability to do something that frightens one” and “strength in the face of grief or pain.” However, Jerome’s view of courage is marred by a showman’s recklessness. Holding a gun to your head and bragging about it doesn’t make you courageous – it makes you a careless showoff. The difference between courage and recklessness is that courage enters the fray with the head held high and isn’t self-serving, but recklessness is merely putting on an act to mask inner cowardice. In the same way, grace, as Jerome understands it, has nothing to do with elegance or unmerited favor – it means an ability to look brave and cool when doing something foolish, which, again, is not courage but cowardliness in disguise.

barbara-gotham
I’m not sick. I’m free.
Barbara proclaims this to Jim Gordon when she corners him in the alley. His pronouncing her as sick isn’t meant to be a jab but a true statement – Barbara is unwell in both mind and spirit and needs help and healing. But to her, her internal infirmities are marks of being unrestrained. This equating of internal problems (perhaps sin might be a better word for it) with freedom on the surface sounds like passable logic. But when you delve deeper, it’s simply a smokescreen so one doesn’t have to fix a deep, internal problem. As long as she stays “sick,” Barbara can do wrongful, hurtful things as her conscience resides on the mental back burner. If she were to get well, she wouldn’t be able to hurt others and, thus, would become a “slave” to morality (at least that’s how she sees it). Once again, Barbara’s “bad chick” persona seems forced, but at least now I see why she just doesn’t care. She enjoys being evil and I think she fears that any sort of rehabilitation might steal her new-found “power,” no matter how destructive it is.

Crazed Jerome
Sanity is a prison.
Much like Barbara’s observation, Jerome’s statement takes something negative and tries to make it positive. In this case, he equates a sound mind to a prison. Why? Because insanity gives one license to behave as one likes without fear of consequence or punishment. After all, if you don’t know something is wrong, how can you be held accountable for your actions (at least that’s his internal logic)? But just as Barbara’s “sickness” is not true freedom, so sanity is not a prison but a protective boundary intended to keep one safe from doing dangerous or crazy things. It’s a restraint that protects both the self and others, but just as Barbara relishes her sinful nature, so Jerome enjoys his lack of mental stability because it “frees” him from guilt and an obligation to behave morally.

Overall, these parallel themes make for some cool miniature philosophy moments and further prove that the evil plaguing Gotham isn’t without aim and purpose – it’s sneaky, sinister, and shows no desire for redemption and not a shred of remorse. And that can be the most insidious type of evil of all.

RIP Essen
In closing, one sad character death to make note of is Sarah Essen, former police captain and (for a brief time) commissioner of the GCPD. Though I never touched on her character in my reviews as her scenes were brief, she remained a vital influence in the overall story and always seemed to have Gordon’s back. Here, she makes her last stand as she squares off against Jerome, showing bravery in the face of deplorable evil. Granted, her departure is to make way for a new face (more on that in the next episode, I suspect), but I will still miss her strong presence and kind words of wisdom.

Rest in (Fictional) Peace, Commissioner Essen…
RIP honor died critic

Until next time, fellow Gothamites!

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The Last Laugh
**Spoilers Throughout**

What again critic ugh gross huh
Well, that was…interesting, to say the least. Shall we get started?

Theo Galavan is staring to get under my skin and we’re only the third episode in. That’s not a complaint, mind you, at least it’s not a huge one. After this episode’s events, I’m interested to see how he intends to become Gotham’s savior, yet at the same time he’s a fairly easy bad guy to spot, which irks me to a degree. I was afraid of this, but it seems like he’s toeing the line into becoming a trope. He has some sort of ancestral claim on the city, so he wants to take it over (of course). He wants to eliminate anyone who might/will interfere with this plan (of course). And he wants everyone to think he’s an awesome, super, wonderful guy (of course).
Good grief not again eye roll bored meh
We’ll see how long it takes before someone sniffs him out. ‘Cause he’s already stinky if you ask me.

This was another Jerome-heavy episode, which is cool because he’s becoming one of my favorites. He exudes just the right balance of creepiness and charm and is fun to watch. Seriously, why do we even need someone like Galavan? Just let this season be about how Jerome goes nuts…but more on that in a minute.

Most of the action this week centers on a charity event and a (botched) magic show to benefit the Gotham Children’s Hospital.
I-Love-Magic
But apparently Bruce Wayne is not a fan, and I doubt he will be after nearly being killed when Jerome comes disguised as a magician. Nothing like the threat of death to shake up a party. Except if it was a Deathday Party (sorry, Hogwarts-related humor; just keepin’ with the magic theme, folks).

At the event, Jerome’s disguise name is Rodolfo, which is Spanish for “famous wolf.” Naturally, he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing here, but it goes deeper than that. I can’t say whether or not the “Gotham” writers are consciously aware of these choices, but I thought this name was a fitting description of Jerome’s character. Wolves are predators and reside at the top of the food chain. Symbolically, especially regarding American Indian beliefs and folklore, the wolf was a creature to be both feared and revered as it represents strength, craftiness, and leadership as well as ferocity. Hence, this serves as a mini-snapshot of Jerome: he’s a criminal, a predator, and possesses a strong sense of resolve, cunning, and an ability to lead. He is vicious, unafraid of consequence, and utterly heartless, yet he’s not so insane that he can’t try to reason (using his own brand of logic) why he does what he does. And, of course, Jerome makes a name for himself through his various atrocities. So his stage name here is a perfect fit.

But before we get into what happens to Jerome (and we will – trust me!), I want to call attention back to Theo Galavan, who uses the staged events at the gala to cement himself as Gotham’s savior-in-waiting.

Theo Galavan
In his own words, Gotham needs a hero and he speaks the truth. But Galavan’s concept of heroism and Bruce, Alfred, and Jim’s ideas about the same are quite different. Galavan, like what we explored last week, believes evil can stop evil. By unleashing chaos upon the city, he hopes the city will cry out for a savior and that’s when he will make his move. Not for any benefit to Gotham’s citizens, mind you, but to secure himself a seat of power.

At the gala when he stands up (in a purposely over-the-top moment) to call out Jerome’s actions, Galavan labels Jerome a “small, vicious man with a pathetic need for attention.” Hmm…et tu, Brute? Galavan needs to take a good, long look in the mirror because he could easily turn those words back on himself. He’s small in terms of being small-minded as he’s only out for personal glory. He’s vicious because he uses criminals to pave his way to the top. And he has obvious ego issues where he wants to make a show of things to prove he can save the day. Thus, in the aftermath of the gala, it’s interesting to see Galavan standing on the outside of the inner circle of Jim, Leslie, Bruce, and Alfred – the real heroes. Their efforts to protect strangers, friends, and loved ones show true bravery, which requires a willingness to sacrifice personal comfort and safety for the protection of others. It’s not as flashy as Galavan’s oration, but it’s genuine and comes from a morally-attuned heart, not a calculating mind.

Speaking of calculating minds, one mind that refuses to rest is Penguin’s. Though I’ll admit I’m disappointed to see how little his character is being used thus far. (As a sidebar, I can see how Penguin gains his future physique if all he does is sit around and watch TV. Just get him some Ring Dings and Pepsi and he’ll be set. But is that the best TV he could get? Penguin, as King of Gotham, you deserve a plasma screen and at least an 85 inch.)

Penguin made a scant appearance in the first episode, nary a show in the second, and a brief confrontation with Bullock here. Though it was fun watching their dynamic as Penguin hasn’t had much one-on-one time with Harvey. But this isn’t a friendly chat. Bullock has choice words for Penguin and seems intent on not forgiving him for killing Fish. This adds an interesting level of tension between Bullock and Penguin that, until now, didn’t exist. Granted, Bullock’s disposition towards Penguin bordered on flagrant mistrust and disdainful dislike. Now he seems to have thrown down the gauntlet and dares Penguin to ask further favors of Jim. So I hope these characters have a few more run-ins down the road; and you can trust that Harvey won’t be happy to lend a helping hand should Penguin need one.

Though, I’m happy to note, it appears Penguin finally got himself a throne…
King Penguin 22
a la Scarface‘s Tony Montana, whom I have labeled Oswald’s fictional cousin. Sadly, this throne doesn’t appear to be monographed. Still cool though.

Now for the not-so-cool moment – Jerome’s far too early exit. As a deviation from the “plan,” Galavan stabs Jerome in the throat, thus ending the mad young man’s short-lived reign. I honestly figured Jerome was going to be a front runner guest star, but, as it turns out, his character only got a three-episode gig.
no bad ugh kill it sad
‘Cause if I had known, I wouldn’t have had so much fun watching him!

On one hand I’m really, really annoyed by this…
Angry 1 critic frustrated mad
Jerome made the perfect Joker – he looked the part, he was nuts, and he had that signature, crazy laugh. Not to mention a few homages had been sprinkled throughout. But, alas, it wasn’t to be.

I’ll confess – even though it was never confirmed that Jerome was the Joker, I still feel like this was one big tease. And I do agree with one review of this episode – “Gotham” is going to have to really offer a big, compelling character (or characters) to fill the void and I teeter on calling this kill-off a mistake. Granted, we don’t know the season’s story arc, but still, it felt like I had been punked.

On the other hand, there were hints that Jerome’s actions would inspire who would eventually become the Joker and he did seem a bit obvious. In that way, it reminded me of how I finally concluded that Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series (another reference – they don’t stop, do they?) was not a bad guy. In chapter two of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (“Spinner’s End”), Snape, whose allegiances were always in question, dialogues with Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange, followers of Lord Voldermort. Bellatrix demands to know where Snape’s true loyalties lie, so Snape gives a lengthy answer but it’s so clear that he’s trying to be portrayed as a bad guy that it’s obvious that he’s not a villain. Rowling was never that direct in her writing, so to have a whole chapter try to convince readers that Snape was bad actually convinced me he was good.

I bring this up because I had similar feelings about Jerome not being the Joker. All of the connections, from his look and mannerisms to his criminal antics, seemed a bit too on the nose. After all, the other super-villains in this series were clear from the start: no one was guessing who Penguin was, or the Riddler, or Catwoman. We knew who they were. As for Jerome, he was always just Jerome. This lack of subtly, as well as having no confirmation from the show’s writers, made me wonder if Jerome wasn’t a lead-in, an opening act if you will, to the real Joker.

Cue music…
have your attention look eminem slim shady
So won’t the real Joker please stand up, please stand up, please stand up….

However, Jerome is not entirely gone. His father, the blind circus fortune teller, asserts before he dies that Jerome will become “a curse upon Gotham” and that the young man’s “legacy will be death and madness.” True to his words, Jerome’s demise inspires young men around Gotham to emulate his laugh and engage in senseless, bloody violence. Thus, his legacy is one that will encourage heartlessness and cruelty. Even Penguin isn’t keen on this kind of criminality. He claims Jerome “has no interest in building things. He’s chaos for chaos’ sake.” In other words, Jerome’s brand of villainy doesn’t care about making executed power plays and laying down a legacy. It’s unbridled violence and madness, methods even a criminal mastermind like Penguin would deem crude.

But this comparison between subdued villainy and full-on insanity proves that these characters become who they are and get to where they end up through their choices. In the real world, we aren’t born evil but we have the penchant to sin and to be selfish. Even Bullock observes, “Every evil [person] in the world was a kid once,” meaning everyone starts from the same place – young and innocent. It’s through living and making choices that we develop our inner character, whether for good or bad. All of the characters on “Gotham” – the good, the bad, and the in-between – make choices to do what’s right, what’s wrong, or nothing at all. These decisions have ramifications, and it’s these consequences that form the backbone of the stories we see, whether or not we always agree with the direction they take.

But still – just when I was starting to like Jerome’s character!
why what for huh confused meh no

Though this final shot…
Smiling Jerome
Opened pits of hell critic scared

“The plot thickens” indeed.

Until later, fellow Gothamites!

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Strike Force
**Spoilers Throughout**
What a tangled web the “Gotham” writers weave! Let’s dive right in, shall we?

For starters, let’s take a look at the changes for the GCPD, which are sure to have their fair share of ramifications. This episode introduces us to Captain Barnes, played by Michael Chiklis (who is probably most known for his work on The Shield, so he seems right at home here). While I like his character and his no-nonsense attitude, I fear he will become the tough cop trope. I did admire his character’s purging of the GCPD though as his sentiments echo the ideas of Aristotle who taught that it’s okay to get angry. In fact, there are situations where righteous anger is necessary, and Barnes identifies that here. He shames the officers, telling them that anyone who isn’t embarrassed and angry about the Maniax’s attack on the GCPD should resign. One thing I will say – he’s no sissy and that’s always an admirable trait in a character.

To help clean up the city and the GCPD, Barnes decides to assemble a strike force of four fresh-faced police academy cadets. He selects young people on purpose because they are full of “faith and hope in the system” and haven’t been corrupted by outside influences or cynicism. The fact he places Jim Gordon in charge over them is a smart move. Looking a little more deeply into it, four is a number rife with symbolism and is most commonly tied to the four elements (i.e. earth, wind, water, and fire). If you count Jim among their number, that brings the total to five; and in keeping with the element connection here, five is seen as the “number” for spirit, the binding agent that keeps the elements, which are seen as in conflict, in line. It is way too early to tell whether or not these recruits will branch out and become less than background cast, but it’s easy to see how Jim will be the moral glue to bind them together – provided these aren’t just “red shirts” slated to be killed off in the weeks to come.

Some bad signs to me of this already are:
a). They don’t appear to be canon characters and
b). Do you even remember their names? I don’t.

So all signs, for me, point to…
redshirts bad news not good star trek
But time will tell.

However, as good as Barnes’ intentions are, they possess one flaw. His aggressive nature, tactics, and mentality are all focused on justice and judgment. That’s good and there is nothing wrong with that. “Crime unpunished is a crime in and of itself,” he asserts, which is certainly true. Yet his philosophy seems devoid of forgiveness or mercy. Just as believing that you won’t be held accountable and judged for your actions is a bad thing, so is believing that people don’t deserve mercy.  Jim Gordon has proven he can be merciful, so I wonder if he isn’t being set up as a contrast to Barnes’ hell-fire and brimstone mentality. Again, justice and judgment for wrongdoing are necessary, but so is forgiveness and the willingness to extend a second chance. For example, rather than allowing the corrupted officers Barnes calls out to be given a chance to redeem themselves or ask for forgiveness, he kicks them to the curb. Was it the right move? Perhaps. But I sense the chink in Barnes’ armor will be this lack of compassion, so his parallel to Jim will be an interesting one.

Ed on Date
In other news in this episode, Ed Nygma finally gets the nerve to ask Kristen out with a little coaxing from Gollum-Ed (that’s my term for his “dark side.” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just check out my review of episode two.). Gollum-Ed insists that Kristen owes Ed because he saved her life and urges Ed to take what he “deserves.” If this hasn’t been evident before, it is now: Gollum-Ed is Ed’s sinful self or his Id, if we were to evoke Freud. Deep down, Ed feels life is just about him yet his timid nature does him a favor by keeping this cocky side in check. I sense Ed doesn’t really want to act like a self-centered jerk, which is what Gollum-Ed is proposing, yet behaving opposite of what he has been all this time seems appealing.

It’s like the Seinfeld episode “The Opposite” where George decides to do everything contrary to what he’s done before. “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right,” Jerry tells him. So George decides to give it a go: he openly approaches women, proudly admits he’s unemployed and lives with his parents, calls attention to his baldness, and even chews out a prospective employer. And every time he does the opposite, it seems to work.

I have always sensed this has been Ed’s inner dialogue with himself (normal Ed, not Gollum-Ed):
seinfeld george opposite
Ed wants to be liked by his co-workers, seen as a valued member of the GCPD, and doted on by Kristen. However, his life is the opposite of these hopes and dreams: his co-workers think he’s weird, he’s underappreciated, and Kristen holds him at arm’s length. So with Ed buying into what Gollum-Ed is telling him, he is behaving like George and doing the opposite of his natural inclinations. While in George’s case this was strictly for comedy (because we all know George was doomed to fail due to his self-defeating mindset), Ed’s continuation with this philosophy will have grave consequences, both for himself and for Kristen and others. So we’ll see what happens as this inner battle continues.

At last, Kristen agrees to go out with Ed and the two enjoy dinner at Ed’s place which is nicely illuminated by a very Riddler green-tinted lighting (props to that!). Things turn slightly sour when Ed lets it drop that he’s glad Kristen’s abusive beau is dead, which seems to trigger suspicion from Kristen as she assumed the jerk simply skipped town. Ed tries to cover for his slip but it seems too late. Later, Ed apologizes and confesses, “I have this voice inside my head. A sort of stronger version of me that keeps me in line because I’m such a klutz.”

After this revelation, Kristen admits she understands. “I think we all have a voice like that,” she says. True enough – we all have voices that pull us in sundry directions. Not literal voices or manifestations (as in Ed’s case) but urges and nudges that tell us to go right, go left, etc. Some of the stuff we hear in our heads is good, some is morally neutral, and some is not so good, or, at the very least, negative. Ed is wise enough to recognize there is another force within him at work, which is better than denial. But he seems to relish it because it gives him a license to behave in the opposite fashion. Since we all know he’s the future Riddler, time will tell when he makes that final step into villainy. But one thing is certain – he’s well on his way.

Someone who has already grasped the reigns of villainy and refuses to let go is Theo Galavan. While he’s not one of my favorite characters this season, his over-the-top mentality and desire to play the “hero” are entertaining because they’re built on a shaky, dualistic foundation. In his mind, to be a good guy you have to do bad things. To clean up a mess, you first have to make one. And in order to rebuild Gotham, he first must destroy, not merely buildings but lives. And he wishes for Penguin to be his “destroyer,” but Penguin, to his credit, insists that’s not his M.O. – he’s a “builder, a problem-solver,” meaning he approaches his villainy like a businessman – calculated, precise, and controlled. Sadly, Galavan doesn’t share his sentiments and reveals his next step in reclaiming Gotham – becoming mayor. This, for me, relegates Galavan to being a near-trope villain: he’s “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” but why? What pushed him over the edge? We might get answers later on, but for now he’s at the back of the bad guy pack for me. Trope characters have their place, which usually is not at the front of the line, as they’re not intended to be interesting. This has been my concern with Galavan and now Barnes – they have their unique signatures, but beneath the surface there doesn’t seem to be much to explore. That could change though, as it so often does in Gotham.

To clear his path to candidacy, Galavan all but orders Penguin to eliminate two current candidates plus take a shot at him to make it not look staged. Penguin wouldn’t have obliged him on that alone as I think Oswald has a good sense of who is legit and who is a poser. Legit criminals, businessmen, and the like he can stomach and he’ll work with to achieve his own aims. But posers just waste his time. Galavan’s plan to become Gotham’s “savior” (term used loosely) is, as stated, to be the one and only candidate for mayor. Not wanting to leave anything to chance though, he enlists Penguin’s help. Not by asking politely, mind you, but by kidnapping Gertrude, Oswald’s mother. If there is anything Penguin holds near and dear to his heart, it’s his mother, whom I’ve always seen as his Achilles’ heel and I wondered when someone would try to use her to gain leverage over him. Galavan’s bargain is simple – help him clear the field and he’ll let Mama Penguin go.

In truth, Penguin does what anyone in a situation like that would do – he acts under duress and partially succeeds. But he knows that won’t be enough. His unbridled scream at the episode’s end was the perfect way to cap this episode. One thing you can say for Penguin – he is not a cardboard cutout character. He’s multi-faceted: cocky when he needs to be, compliant when the situation calls for it, but always with an aim for control. To see him emotionally vulnerable makes him stand out among Gotham’s baddies. While Gertrude’s fate remains vague for now, it’s easy to see that Penguin is upset with himself that he’s failed and is equally enraged at Galavan. After cutting himself free from being an underling, Oswald doesn’t relish the thought of going into that role again. He doesn’t like being seen as weak, but the fact he failed to save his mother (at least this time) proves he’s not infallible. One can only imagine what he has in store for the Galavans and how he’ll play these conniving twins.

Personally, I hope it looks a little something like this…
bart-getting-choked ugh upset
‘Cause the Galavans deserve what’s (hopefully) coming to them. Nobody messes with Mama Penguin, you sick thugs!

Oddly enough, Penguin is the only principle cast member to be given scenes where he interacts with or even has a parent who’s a part of his on-screen life. (Barbara’s quick scenes with her folks in season one notwithstanding.) Granted, Bruce and Alfred could be counted as a family unit, but Alfred is presented as a paternal figure, not a fill-in father. Thus, the “Gotham” cast is a bit like a Disney movie – mom and/or dad are dead. So why does Penguin get singled out? It might be for nothing else but to add another layer to his character: having a loved one present softens his edges, so to speak, and makes him more human. And if there is one thing I like to see in my villains, it’s a weak spot – not to be exploited but to remind us that they’re not entirely evil.

As stated before, Gertrude, his one and only true ally (excluding Jim Gordon), is the only person who loves Oswald unconditionally. Yes, Oswald has kept the truth from his mother in an effort to retain her love and protect her from the dangers he dabbles in (though I doubt she thinks he’s just a nightclub owner now!). But all in all, she means the world to him. Penguin might have been speaking prophetically towards another character in season one when he asserted that what a man loves becomes his greatest weakness. Or perhaps it’s been better stated as, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). In other words, what you value the most is what your care and concern will be focused on. In Oswald’s case, he loves power, but he’s willing to put that aside for the sake of protecting his mother. Hence, he loves his mother more than he loves to be in control, meaning she is his heart’s treasure.

Even when he’s drenching his hands in blood, his mother’s safety is what motivates him. When one of the candidates pleads for her life, saying she’s a mother, Oswald gives pause, as if seriously considering what he’s about to do. But he makes his choice and tells her that he, too, has a mother, before stabbing the candidate. Hence, it’s his love for his mother than causes him to choose, not the fact he has the power to take a life or not. All in all, this episode contains highlights of Taylor’s fine acting and I can’t wait to see what he does next. In the end, the aftermath of this episode will prove most interesting, as well as thorny.

Just one last thing, though, Captain Barnes –
leave penguin alone

Until next time, fellow Gothamites! 🙂

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Scarification
**Spoilers Throughout**

At the end of this episode, I have four words for you:
hot on fire uh oh no bad
Hot enough for ya?

While this one was slightly tame on the action but heavy on info-dumping (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), it did hearken back to the story formula used in season one where an oddball criminal element is introduced. In this case, this new villain emerges when Galavan persists in using Penguin to get his revenge against the Waynes by burning down businesses and buildings bearing their namesake. This time around though, it’s not Penguin getting his hands dirty but a band of rag-tag firebugs called the Pike Brothers. Yet while these goons eventually flee the scene, it’s Bridget Pike who I feel has potential to be a good novice baddie provided her storyline isn’t cut short (à la Jerome).

Firefly Bridget
For starters, I loved Bridget’s set up: she’s a step-sister to the arson-loving Pikes who treat her more like a servant than a half-sibling. You are made to feel sorry for her but she’s not painted as a pathetic figure. Rather than allow herself to be constantly bullied, Bridget eventually stands up for herself. I hate using the term “strong woman” as I think this phrase has been used ad nauseam, but I do think it fits here. Bridget starts out as a mousy girl who allows herself to be pushed around by her step-brothers. On top of that, she’s afraid of fire; so in this episode, she’s made to confront her fears. Actually, if she wasn’t intended to be a villain, Bridget’s evolution is not unlike that of a hero. But once you start toasting cops, you’re no longer on the good girls list.

Speaking of which, the death of one of the Strike Force’s members was sad but I totally called it last week.
red shirt ouch bad
I knew they were red shirts!

But going back to Bridget, as she’s easily one of the more memorable moments in this episode. Turns out that Bridget and Selena are/were friends and these scenes provided a good chance for Selena to interact with someone more her equal. Their dynamic also works on another level if you examine their names. Selena is a Greek name derived from Selene, which means “moon,” which evokes all things night-related and cool (as the moon doesn’t produce its own heat or light but only reflects sunlight). In contrast, Bridget, which comes from the Irish name Brighid, means “exulted one” and was the name of an Irish fire goddess. Once again, I have no idea whether or not the writers are aware of these parallels but they’re fun to look into. In this case, we have two young ladies who represent polar opposite personalities: Selena is emotionally cool and level-headed and has a knack for slinking around in the dark, but Bridget quickly becomes emotional or upset and enjoys taking risks, plus she overcomes her fear of fire. Hence, their differences generate a balance that enables them to get along for the most part.

Even though Bridget appears older than Selena, it’s Selena who imparts some good advice. During a spat, Bridget counters Selena’s enjoyment of being on her own by saying, “What good is freedom if you’re alone?”. In Bridget’s mind, having some sort of family (as dysfunctional and fractured as it is) is better than no one. But Selena asserts, “What good is family if you’re a slave?”. Thus, Selena’s unspoken implication is that Bridget’s “family” is not a true family because she’s never treated as an equal. Hence, there is no sense in staying where she isn’t wanted. This seems to be the catalyst Bridget needs to transform herself from a timid lass to a potential danger on Gotham’s streets, granted it’s strictly by accident and she’s driven by a sense of self-preservation in the moment.

But talk about a girl on fire!
firefly-michelle-veintimilla-gotham-season-2
I think even Katniss Everdeen might steer clear of her. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the Hunger Games reference!)

In reality, Bridget is Firefly, a canon villain from the comics who is normally male in all of the character’s incarnations (save this one). Seeing as I’m not familiar with the original Firefly, I can’t take a strong stance on whether or not this gender switch works. But I do think she’s an intriguing character in her own right and I hope she reappears. Bridget strikes me as an accidental baddie, meaning she doesn’t seem like she wants to willingly be bad, which is a form of villain we haven’t seen yet on the show. Time will tell where her arc will go, but for now she is a nice addition to the cast.

The second element of intrigue in this episode was the history lesson about Gotham’s sordid past, which is brought about after Penguin procures an antiquated blade that Galavan instructs that he wants. Being the villainous genius that he is, Penguin doesn’t hand it over right away. Instead, he employs the aid of a Gotham historian who tells of the dreadful tale. Evidently, over 200 years ago Gotham was ruled by five families who comprised the upper crust: Elliott, Kane, Crown, Dumas, and Wayne (the most powerful). When a tryst was discovered between members of the Wayne and Dumas families, the lass involved, presumably to save her own good name, lied and asserted she had been raped. Thus, the Waynes punished the fornicator by chopping off his hand with the blade. To this day, the blade is seen as a cursed object due to its bloody history.

The name of Dumas was then stricken from the city, forcing the descendants to change their surname to…
Wait for the reveal critic
Galavan – no surprise, right?

Even though a good chunk of time here is used as an info-dump, I actually liked the history lesson as it explains how Gotham is so corrupt. Its very origins are drenched in sin, deceit, and blood – no wonder it’s a breeding ground for bad guys and gals! That’s not to say people are doomed to repeat past sins because everyone makes their own choices, but, as the old adage says, “Garbage in, garbage out.” If you immerse yourself in bad influences, chances are you’ll pick up some unwanted habits. Thus, it takes a very strong constitution to be a moral person in Gotham as even Jim Gordon is starting to make slip ups, such as aligning himself with Galavan.

Turning back to Penguin, he certainly is treading deep waters but it’s something he’s good at as Penguin has navigated thorny situations before (and, as he cheekily remarks, deep water is “where penguins thrive”). Hence, he concocts his own scheme to avenge Galavan and rescue his mother. Knowing Galavan’s past and his personality, Penguin deduces that Theo is a man ruled by emotion, which can be manipulated. So he sends Butch in undercover; but in order to make the supposed double cross look legit, he chops off Butch’s hand.
George is disgusted no way ugh gross shocked
Wow – eyes and limbs are just not safe in Gotham.

The episode closes with Galavan meeting with a priest of a mystical order (the Order of St. Dumas) who further twists Galavan’s view of salvation. The priest proclaims that the “day of redemption is at hand” and Gotham will be redeemed in blood. Notice the preposition used here: the city will be redeemed, not through the shedding of blood (as in an atoning sacrifice) but in blood, meaning violence with no redeeming purpose. It’s not a messianic sacrifice where one person willingly lays down his life for others; instead, it’s a massacre that ensures Galavan and his goons are the last ones standing.

All in all, this was my least favorite episode of season two so far. I struggled to come up with good discussion points as I didn’t feel like it presented much of anything new save for the addition of Bridget’s character and the background on Gotham’s dark, bloody past. Also, I’m kind of surprised at the level of gore “Gotham” gets by with. While it’s not enough to cause me to cease watching, it just seems out of place regarding the show’s tone.

Overall, this episode wasn’t awful but it was just sort of interesting with a side of meh.
meh clap so so just okay

Until next week, Gothamites!

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By Fire
**Spoilers Throughout**

It’s another hot time in Gotham with the return of Firefly (a.k.a. Bridget Pike).
firefly 2 gotham
I stand by my remarks regarding the previous episode that I like Bridget as a character, mainly because she follows a very hero-esque evolution. However, she’s not intended to be a moral hero though I would argue she’s not 100% pure villainy. Proof of that comes through Bridget’s guilty conscience when she and Selena rob the flesh trade show. Because Bridget knows what it’s like to be kept captive, she feels for the girls who are being sold at auction there. So when Bridget opts not to do anything about it at the moment, I had a gut feeling what she might do something before the episode’s end, and I was glad she made the choice that she did to wreck havoc.

Selena admits that she see some of herself (her “doofus” side) in Bridget, who does seem to hesitate when it comes to committing actual crimes. Bridget alternates between her mousy self and her stronger identity as the Firefly (which she never actually calls herself), which is fun to watch. Granted, her actions reflect the new philosophy that Jim Gordon adheres to – Gotham possesses grey areas where sometimes in order to do something “good,” one must first do something “bad.”

Later, Bridget tells Selena, “I’m not myself anymore. I’m free.” She equates this freedom with being able to do as she wishes, not out of spite but out of a sense of vengeance, something she claims she feels “born to do.” In truth, Bridget isn’t really a villain, at least not in the true sense of the word. Instead, she’s more like a vigilante as she sees it as her aim to go after the city’s “pervs and bullies” and persons who target the lowest rungs on the social standing ladder (i.e. persons such as herself and Selena). In a study of contrasts, Selena seems to only look out for herself whereas Bridget cares about others. Though, contrary to what she might say, Selena does care deep down inside because if she truly possessed an utterly selfish heart, she wouldn’t have done anything to help Bridget.

In the end, I was disappointed to see that Bridget’s story line (for now) went up in literal flames. At first it appears that Bridget kills herself after a stray bullet punctures the fuel line on her suit and she inadvertently sets herself on flames. However, in the end we learn that she’s still alive, is being hailed as a fireproof gal, and taken to the ominous Indian Hill  laboratory for “testing.” All I can say is I got a bad feelin’ ’bout this place. And I sense we haven’t seen the last of it either.

Bridget’s story arc, which filled up two episodes, reminded me a little bit of how Jerome’s plot was played – masterfully executed until the characters themselves were, well, executed (though technically Bridget is still alive). It seems to me that this season, the temporary characters are having more appeal to me than the old standbys, though I appreciate the development of Selena and Ed Nygma. Otherwise, characters such as Jim, Harvey, and even Penguin tend to bleed into the background without much to do other than deliver their usual performances, which haven’t seemed to progress much. While we’re not even close to this season’s halfway mark, there is still hope that something will come along to shake these characters up; otherwise, I worry that my favs might be reduced to scene-stealing soundbites.

As stated, Ed has been given a chance to shine this season and quite early on, I might add. His relationship with Kristen Kringle has taken off but there is trouble in nerdy paradise, it seems. In this episode, we learn a little bit of what makes Kristen tick. She admits to Lee (unaware that Ed is eavesdropping) that she really, really likes Ed but he seems a little too nice. Kristen admits she likes men to possess a little “fire,” a little danger. In other words, she likes “bad boys.” This might have explained part of the reason why she remained with her former boyfriend as he certainly qualified albeit it was to her detriment. Oddly enough, when most ladies confess they like a “bad boy,” what they really mean is that they like the head rush and forbidden quality of being with someone who is less than morally upright. But in reality these types of attractions fall apart, either when the sense of danger looses its appeal or the lass in question ends up hurt or worse because her “bad” beau truly was bad.

Thus, Ed is out to prove that he’s not Mr. Nice Guy and, in a very intimate moment, confesses to Kristen how he killed her abusive beau. At first, she scoffs and thinks it’s an act because Ed isn’t the type of guy who could stand on his own in a fight. However, when Ed produces her old boyfriend’s badge as proof, she changes her tune and calls him all sorts of names, “stalker” and “psychopath” among them. And, as it turns out, Ed is just a little too dangerous for even her.

Ed and Kristen
In a desperate attempt to explain that he killed, not out of jealousy but out of love for her, Ed takes things too far and inadvertently kills Kristen. His response to her death at his hands (albeit by accident) showcases some of Cory Michael Smith’s best acting to date and I honestly didn’t figure Kristen would die. I always suspected that she and Ed never would make it as a couple, but Ed’s actions truly surprised me. He seems torn between wanting to believe that his past actions haven’t affected him and that they were morally okay, yet at the same time he can’t cope with his repressed subconscious memories. What I sense might be up the road for Ed is a questioning of who he really is as a person – can he still see himself as a “good guy” or has he finally gone “bad”? We know he is the future Riddler, but his progression towards this final aim shows how the best and most intriguing villains are the ones who make a series of bad choices and suffer or endure the consequences. Ed has done just that, so I’m eager to see how far down the proverbial rabbit hole he’ll go before this season’s end.

Elsewhere, we witness Galavan’s attempts to make nice to Bruce Wayne and prove to Penguin that he won’t be trifled with. The episode ends with a promise for an action-packed follow-up where it at least appears Penguin might gain an upper hand over Galavan, who holds his mother captive. However, I don’t have very high hopes that Mama Penguin will make it out this season unscathed, but we shall see.

In closing, a song that kept playing through my head while I was watching this week’s episode is, appropriately enough, Hozier’s “Arsonist’s Lullaby.” The song, on the surface, seems to be about a person who became an arsonist, starting with an early fascination with fire and the power it held as a destructive force. However, a deeper reading causes the song to carry a less restrictive meaning – it’s about a person who made choices that haven’t always been the right ones to make. The chorus depicts this when it states that all the speaker has is his fire (his outward means of control) and “the place you need to reach,” meaning the place, perhaps morally-speaking, the speaker really wants to be. However, his inner demons keep this attainment at bay. The chorus’ words of “advice” – that one can never tame the sinful/evil nature inside but one shouldn’t give it totally free reign – I thought are a perfect fit to not only some of the characters on “Gotham” but the show’s overall theme this season thus far. Gotham is full of folks who have inner demons, some of which will never be tamed, but because there is an underlying moral compass in play, the evil within just might be kept at bay.

Until next week, fellow Gothamites!

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Mommy’s Little Monster
**Spoilers Throughout**

Now this is the canon character episode I had been waiting for!
Dwight yes fist pump good cool
So far this season, the most interesting characters for me have been the temporary ones, the folks who get one or two episodes devoted to them but are never heard or seen again. (Case in point: Jerome. I’m still furious over that exit!) So it was great to see Penguin and Ed Nygma command center stage. But, my oh my, what a tragic stage it was!

I mentally predicted Butch’s betrayal, especially after Theo Galavan started questioning the mind job Penguin (via Zsasz) had put on him. Exactly what Butch hopes to attain by switching sides remains to be seen. Perhaps he’s tired of being Penguin’s gopher or figures Theo will be the new big boss in town and wants to be first in line to get on his good side. Or maybe Butch wants to be a boss all on his own, which seems to be the most likely scenario given the fact that Butch tries to scrounge up his own gang (albeit briefly). Whatever the reason, bad blood has now formed between Butch and Penguin, so it will be interesting to see where it goes. While Galavan has become Penguin’s new target, you can bet that the King of Gotham won’t forget old unkindnesses from Butch.

As stated, the center of attention here is Penguin as he locates the warehouse where Galavan has imprisoned his mother. While I was surprised that this opened the show, it does pave the way for the rest of the story and is a moment certainly worthy of some serious feels.

Be warned – here goes a spoiler…
oh no no way upset scared
Mama Penguin doesn’t make it. You are now excused to grab some tissues and sob.

Penguin in Mourning
As sad as that moment was, it did showcase Penguin in a quasi-heroic role. Penguin’s actions during the exchange for his mother show that he’s not 100% pure villainy. He’s no hero as his moral compass is too off kilter for that, but he’s not always selfish, at least not most of the time and certainly not here. This comes across loud and clear when Oswald pleads with the Galavans to spare his mother’s life in exchange for his own. That’s a pretty hefty statement coming from the self-proclaimed King of Gotham as his death would mean giving up his kingdom and his power. Thus, Penguin’s willingness to lay down his life for his mother paints him in an admirable light. If he was utterly selfish, he would be willing to sacrifice her to keep his grip of power. Instead, in a moment of emotional rawness, we see that Penguin’s heart’s treasure is not power, wealth, or control but love.

Sadly, even though Gertrude is secured a few seconds of freedom, it’s not to last. Galavan literally stabs her in the back and she dies in her son’s arms. As sad as Gertrude’s death is, it was necessary for her to die in order to push Penguin into a place where he has every good reason to take Galavan down. It makes sense to present Galavan as a rival to Penguin’s empire, but to cause Galavan to commit an unforgivable sin against Penguin adds fuel to the fire. (Gee, where is Bridget the Firefly when you need her?) Later, in his showdown with Jim and Galavan at the episode’s end, Penguin reveals yet another selfless moment as he claims he has made his peace with dying. He’s no idiot – he knows going after a big fish like Galavan may mean he comes to his own demise. Oswald’s willingness to give up his own life once more shows that he believes justice against his sworn enemy means far more to him than holding on to his own life.

Luckily for him, and in the nick of time, Gordon starts suspecting that Galavan isn’t the spotless white knight everyone  thinks he is. Early on, Galavan twists the facts of Penguin’s attempt on his life to Gordon, Bullock, Barnes, and Harvey Dent to cement his sway over the city. In order to hunt down his would-be killer, Galavan has Dent scrounge up a warrant for Penguin’s arrest and intends to put the city under martial law until his “nemesis” is found. It’s then that Gordon thinks Galavan is getting a bit too big for his britches, and I was happy to see Gordon was smart enough not to be bamboozled by Galavan’s smooth talk. In the end, he calls Galavan a monster and seems determined to put Galavan squarely where he belongs.

But for killing Gertrude, I think the Galavans really deserve a good dose of this…
bart-getting-choked ugh upset
And that’s the nicest image that came to my mind.

Ed and Gollum Ed
The second major canon character story arc in this episode explores the aftermath of Ed’s accidental killing of Kristen Kringle in the previous episode. I figured it was only a matter of time before Gollum Ed (please see past posts as to why I call him this) reared his head again – this time making his “good” self engage in a sick scavenger hunt for clues regarding the fate of Kristen’s body. At first, Ed accuses Gollum Ed (who is nothing more than a projection of his own corrupt nature) of hijacking him and demands to know how this form of mental torture could possibly be good for him. Gollum Ed insists that what he’s going through is a way by which Ed can discover who – and what – he truly is. In the end, Ed and Gollum Ed merge to become a single entity, no longer a split personality. Ed, fully himself, discovers that getting away with murder was exhilarating and the fear of getting caught and killing again is “beautiful.”
scared uh oh no bad afraid
Serious creep out factor here, folks. I am now scared of little ol’ Ed Nygma. Who would have thought nerds could be so dangerous?

Overall, this was my favorite episode of the season so far. I love Penguin and was happy to see him finally become a more active participant in events (as there’s only so long he can hole himself up in his fortress and watch TV). I also think Ed’s evolution has been brilliantly executed through its slow, steady build up. The Riddler is an important canon character who many fans like because he’s a criminal, a killer, and crazy but not quite as dangerous and insane as the Joker; thus, the Riddler is nuts but also fun in a dark, twisted way. So developing his character in a methodological fashion, as what “Gotham” is doing is respectful to the character people know and love.

But the best moment of the night had to be the attack of the killer Penguin clone army (sounds like the name of a good b-movie!)
Penguin Army 2

Oddly enough, on the same day I saw this episode, I ran across this little book:
Penguin book cover
So remember, my little Penguin Clones:
If you were a penguin . . .
You could swim really fast and toboggan on ice.
Sing a happy duet, once or twice.
Or shoot guns and terrorize the town –
wouldn’t that be nice?

That last bit was from me, of course.

Until later, fellow Gothamites!

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Tonight’s the Night
**Spoilers Throughout**

Oh, great – it’s a Barbara-centered episode!
Sleepy time critic bored
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).

So have my opinions about Barbara changed?
Don't Think So no way shake
Ehh…nope.

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…
My soulmate 1 love confused huh
to this:
I hate him so much character no way frustrated angry critic
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.)

Crazy Babs
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.

Ed's Toast
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.

As far as another Babs-centered story is concerned…
Never do that again critic upset
or I just might go crazy.

Until later, my fellow Gothamites!

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A Bitter Pill to Swallow
**Spoilers Throughout**

I want to preface this review by stating that it’s going to be a bit on the negative side – something I really haven’t done since watching “Gotham.” Overall, this was a hard review to write but I strive to keep my reviews honest. So below are my honest – and personal – opinions.

Is it just me or has “Gotham” started to lose a little steam? And you don’t know how much it pains me to say that because I loved the show during its first season and still mostly enjoy it, but my admiration is starting to wane.

This episode introduces yet another baddie, and one I suspect we will never see again or only see one more time. Eduardo Flamingo is a canon character, and according to Wikipedia he’s described as, “an emotionless, unfeeling killer” with “an impeccable kill record.” Kind of sounds like your run-of-the-mill hitman, right? Except Flamingo “has a tendency to eat his victim’s faces after he’s murdered them.”

And in case you were hoping “Gotham” might ignore the whole cannibalism thing…
ugh gross no way whoa surprised
No such luck. Just be glad he doesn’t get that much screen time.

Sad Jim
Sadly, Jim Gordon’s story arc this season has turned into a cul-de-sac where he’s placed in cyclical situations that possess momentum but ultimately don’t lead anywhere. First, he had to contend with outrageous death threats made by his former flame, Barbara, in the last episode; now he has to deal with a gang of assassins. It’s not that I dislike Jim – I don’t, and I think Ben McKenzie does an excellent job. It’s just that Jim hasn’t been given much to do other than moment-by-moment dilemmas to solve or threats to neutralize. In fact, that’s been my chief complaint this season so far – the principle cast isn’t given anything long-term to deal with. For instance, last season Jim dealt with whoever the baddie was for the week (the short-term arc) as well as try to find out who killed Bruce’s parents (the long-term arc). This formula applied to almost every other character last season, including Penguin: he had a minor victory or setback (the short-term arc) but kept his goal of ruling Gotham’s underworld in sight (the long-term arc).

Essentially, the only primary “plot” this season has been that Theo Galavan wants control of the city because of a centuries’ old dispute where his ancestor got caught cheatin’, got punished for it, got his hand chopped off, got ticked off, and vowed revenge.
Really critic huh
That’s not compelling – that’s just petty.

At least the first season’s mob war among Maroni, Falcone, Fish Mooney, and Penguin held more weight and merit. They were logical, cruel, determined folks who wanted power for power’s sake. Galavan just seems like a spoiled little rich kid to whom people were weally, weally mean and now he’s out to take over the world. Again, I don’t find that enthralling, I find it annoying. I was willing to give Galavan time to develop as a baddie but he’s failed to make an impression on me. Yes, he’s sneaky, twisted, and evil; but right now he’s a mustache and a top hat away from becoming a Snidely Whiplash-type of bad guy. That worked for “Duddley Do-Right” but it doesn’t work for “Gotham.”

This season, it seems as if the characters are aiming strictly for short-term goals and I think they are starting to run on fumes because of it. Such as in this episode with Jim and Barnes. I gave Barnes a chance to be a fun character but, ultimately, I’ve relegated him to the tough cop trope. Any attempt to even extend to him a story arc (such as what happens here when he gives Jim a morality lesson – kind of) is essentially discarded airtime. He’s a background figure and nothing more, which disappoints me because I was looking forward to Chiklis becoming a part of the cast.

As far as Jim is concerned, his character deserves to be given something long-term to do rather than weekly installment story arcs. Granted, I grasp why Tabitha wants him dead, but to have Jim’s entire story arc be about how he evades – and miraculously fights off – multiple assassins felt like dead weight. It doesn’t move the story forward, does nothing to develop the season’s overall plot (what little there is), and just feels like padding. In short, Jim himself and other characters need to stop telling us how dark and bad he is when, at the end of the day, Jim usually does the right thing. That doesn’t qualify a character to be “dark” and “monstrous,” in my opinion. By way of comparison, “24”‘s Jack Bauer was a good man who did some dark stuff and genuinely suffered for it, but viewers weren’t constantly reminded via exposition scenes about how “bad” and “dark” Jack was becoming – we saw it for ourselves. So this is a classic case of telling us about Jim’s character rather than showing us.

Essentially, the whole let’s-kill-Jim/Jim-escapes story arc was yet another…
Pointless moment no bad ugh
And “Gotham” is starting to rack a bunch of these up, not just in isolated scenes but in whole episodes where there wasn’t much of a point to it at all. If you eliminated everything in this episode that didn’t add to a character’s growth, then most of Jim’s storyline – the principle plot, mind you – would be gone and only Ed and Penguin’s arc would stand (more on that below ). As I stated in my review of the previous episode, the writing is starting to get sloppy and that’s not good.

To put it bluntly…
Bored meh
Again, you have no idea how hard it is for me to say that. I started off loving this show and I still love its lead characters but am saddened by the quality of their stories. There is a great deal of talent here, especially from the villain camp. Likewise, I think the stories can be solid and have been in the past (as season one’s “Penguin’s Umbrella” stands out as one of the show’s all-time high points). But for now, I feel like there is no new territory to explore even though there is the whole fictional city of Gotham to dive into.

My sentiments towards “Gotham” now are akin to how I felt about the early 2000s “Star Trek” series “Enterprise.” “Enterprise” had a ton to work with because it was a prequel, and while the show did take advantage of the expansive “Trek” canon, it eventually started to either repeat itself in terms of story or devote too much time to non-canon events and characters. (Such as the Xindi. You have the whole spectrum of “Trek” aliens, characters, and history to work with and the writers chose to invent an alien race called the Xindi? Not to mention the whole Temporal Cold War thing. Don’t even get me started on that!) Unless a massive sucker punch comes before the fall finale, I fear “Gotham” might be moving in a similar direction. It has the potential to be great – and it has had its shining moments – but in the past few episodes, it has fallen slightly from grace for me. Again, it pains me to say that, but I strive to keep my reviews truthful, so I’m just being honest.

I also have to say something about the level of violence this season. Yes, I expect “Gotham” to be violent as it is, first and foremost, a police drama. Yes, I believe violence can be a necessary element if it’s used to show either a recreation of actual/historical events or how violence is a mark of a morally depraved, sin-infested soul or society. Hence, I’m not against violence in and of itself – it’s all in how and why it’s used so the medium (i.e. the violence) doesn’t override the message (i.e. what’s meant to be communicated through it all). For instance, the movie Scarface is violent in order to emphasize the levels of callousness and depravity the drug lords will reach to “protect” their “business.” But in the end, these bloody means are shown as fruitless and ultimately acting violently turns against the ones who live that way (after all, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword” [Matthew 26:52]).

My issue, hence, is this: “Gotham” is a network prime time show that is supposedly intended for ages fourteen and up (though I, personally, wouldn’t allow a 14 year old to watch it.) While last season’s goriest moment was Fish Mooney’s extraction of her own eye, the rest of the content was the usual shoot outs and an occasional stabbing that didn’t go too far. This season has grown, not so much more violent, but gorier, complete with more extracted eyes, severed heads, mutilated body parts, slit and bitten throats, and even cannibalism. However, this level of violence it feels disassociated with the rest of the show. After all, this is a Batman story, and while Batman has had multiple incarnations, I can’t recall anything reaching this level of goriness. Batman is known for its camp factor and “Gotham” retains a subtle campy tone at times, which I appreciate.

Therefore, having abject gore on a show that doesn’t require it (as it’s a show intended for a teen and adult audience); isn’t designed around a violent premise; and possesses a subtle campy tone just doesn’t fit. Some reviewers remark that this step up in the gore department sets “Gotham” apart from other comic book-derived shows in a good way; and while I agree that “Gotham” possesses a darker tone that’s certainly fitting, the gory scenes are off-putting. Gory moments on “Gotham” are like being splashed awake with a bucket of ice water. They’re a shock to the system and completely unnecessary. I’m not going to belabor the point, but I am disappointed that the show feels like it has to ramp up the gore factor when it doesn’t need that.

Likewise, this season has expanded its sexual content to include subtle references to some racy topics – a bit too racy for a TV-14-rated program, if you ask me. First we have possible incest as the Galavan siblings seem a little too close albeit no such relationship has ever been confirmed (though Tabitha did remark that Theo is a “monster” in bed but didn’t clarify what she meant by that). Secondly, there have been subtle allusions to bondage, mainly between Barbara and Tabitha. As if Barbara’s bisexual kick wasn’t annoying enough, this season ramps up the sex factor by, not so much showing us anything (other than Babs’ affections for both Tabitha and Theo), but implying it and strongly at times. While it manages to avoid outright smut, “Gotham” is introducing elements that are starting to not sit well with me as the content has no bearing on the story or characters. While I’m not forsaking the show at this point, I’m starting to take issue with some things and wonder how far the envelope will be pushed.

This review has been very negative thus far and I realize that. But seeing as we’re entering into fall sweeps, I’m hoping the show will offer something cool and exciting in its last two episodes for 2015. I still believe “Gotham” can be awesome as it has had its awesome moments.

Penguin and Riddler
Case in point here: the Ed Nygma and Penguin pairing (affectionately known as #Nygmobblepot). This provided the best story and acting of the night, and I was pleased to see these two future super-villains together.

Ed takes it upon himself to bring Penguin back to his apartment where he can nurse his wounds and his ego. Granted, Penguin is still reeling from his mother’s murder but the aftermath of his failed attempt on Galavan’s life seems to have had the opposite effect. Rather than being driven to avenge his mother’s death, Penguin falls into a funk and doesn’t seem to care about anything or see the sense in continuing with any of his plans. But leave it up to good ol’ Ed to bring him out of his slump. The fact Ed doesn’t kill Penguin and nurses him back to health shows Ed still isn’t that far morally gone. After all, how easy would it have been to be rid of a wanted man or, at the very least, hand Penguin over to the police? But Ed doesn’t do that and, instead, tries to do the right thing – the word right being used very loosely.

What really struck me was the raw emotion Penguin expresses as his grief boils over and reaches its breaking point. He just doesn’t care anymore, sees no point in living, and even wishes to die. What a change between this man and the one who could get knocked down and come back up fighting. Now Penguin admits to Ed that the path of violence is one that “leads to nothing but destruction and pain.” We’ve never seen Penguin this emotionally low before and the devastation and heartache he feels bleeds through in a way that’s organic and respectful to the nature of grief. It truly causes this super-villain and crime lord to fall from his pedestal and show his frail, human side.

Ed’s attempts to usher Penguin out of his grief are a bit unorthodox but seem to do the trick. Rather than him seeking guidance from Penguin in How to Cope with Being a Killer 101, Ed gives Penguin a pep talk in stages. First, he captures one of Galavan’s lackeys and encourages Penguin to do as he wishes to the man. At first, Penguin accepts the knife from Ed’s hand but ultimately drops the weapon, claiming he’s done with it all and insists upon leaving Gotham. So Ed’s attempt to appeal to Penguin’s darker side don’t work and tries something else. In a second attempt, he plays a song he heard Penguin humming in his sleep. The tune, as Penguin reveals, was a song his mother sang to him every night when he was young. He explains how she was the only person who ever loved him and stood by his side. With her support no longer here, old insecurities are mounting. While Ed’s intent is to get Penguin to see that holding on to memories won’t do him any good, Penguin instead says his memories are all he has but are a cold comfort and “daggers in my heart.” That’s two strikes against Ed but he’s not given up yet.

Ed has one final card up his sleeve. He argues with Penguin, claiming love isn’t a source of strength for men like them but a “crippling weakness” as it (in his mind) prevents them from realizing their full potential. For that, he claims they are “better off alone,” a trait common to many classic villains. Such characters may have throngs of admirers or minions but no true friends or loved ones. The reason? They see love as a weakness because it requires humility and a casting aside of pretenses, something a villain, by nature, isn’t able to do. Thus, Ed asserts that, “a man with nothing that he loves is a man that cannot be bargained, that cannot be betrayed. A man who answers to no one but himself. And that is the man that I see before me. A free man.” In other words, with no one to love him, Penguin is unencumbered and can operate selfishly without fear that he will be disappointing anyone. I wonder if Ed isn’t also speaking about himself during this speech as the shoe certainly fits. But in the end, his words ignite a spark of determination in Penguin and, after breakfast, the two chaps decide to amuse themselves with Galavan’s lackey. (I’m guessing they didn’t save any bacon for him.)

Essentially, those were the best moments, and even though they encompassed the B story, they were still better and more emotionally charged than the principle plot. This was, by far, my least favorite episode this season and my least favorite overall to date.

And just when I didn’t think it could sink any lower, the cast of “Assassin’s Creed” (aka warriors from the Order of St. Dumas) shows up at Gotham’s docks….
What laughing no way critic huh can't believe it funny
I know this is supposed to be dark and serious but, I’m sorry, I couldn’t keep a straight face. This is getting too ridiculous, even for me, and I have a high tolerance for ridiculousness.

I know this review has been harsh, and I don’t mean to come across as petty or hateful. I just feel like “Gotham” has lost some of its thunder and that saddens me. Can it get it back? Absolutely, but it will take a big storm to shake things up.

wave goodbye minions so long over bye
Ta ta for now, Gothamites!

gotham_header_h_2015 season two banner
The Son of Gotham/Worse Than a Crime
**Spoilers Throughout**

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, I’m doubling up my reviews this week.

My review of episode nine was rather long, quite harsh, and honestly tough for me to write. So did these last two episodes of 2015 fare any better?

Well….
Eh um nevermind huh meh
Maybe I should just jump right in.

For starters, there weren’t too many surprises in episode ten, “The Son of Gotham”: Galavan got off the hook, Galavan captured Jim Gordon and beat the tar out of him, and Bruce realized that Silver St. Cloud is a complete tool. Essentially, this episode was so predicable that it’s probably a good thing I’m combining my reviews as I really don’t have much to say about it. Essentially, “The Son of Gotham” continued with the lackluster plot development that seems to be a hallmark of season two thus far. Everything that happened was as expected, which didn’t make it very shocking, exciting, or even fun to watch.

Admittedly, one of the intentionally funny moments (because the whole Order of St. Dumas plot thread is hilarious and not in a good way) was what little interaction Ed Nygma and Penguin had. (Who knew penguins liked spicy mustard, but what exactly did Oswald try to flush down the toilet? Forget it. I don’t want to know.) The highlight for me was Bruce and Selena tag-teaming against Silver St. Cloud. Silver is one of these love-to-hate characters for me, so seeing Bruce con her was entertaining and added a twist I honestly didn’t see coming. I appreciate the fact that Bruce is taking more of a hands-on approach when it comes to investigating his parents’ murders rather than waiting for Jim Gordon to do it. It shows Bruce has initiative as well as an investigative mind. Though Bruce has had precious little screen time this season (odd considering he is the future Batman), I’ve enjoyed watching his evolution. David Mazouz has done a stellar job balancing his character’s emerging maturity while still acting his age; so while Bruce makes adult decisions most of the time and keeps a level head, he doesn’t act like a grown up trapped in a young person’s body.

Aside from those moments, “The Son of Gotham” was another humdrum episode in what’s been a string of humdrum episodes for me. But can episode eleven, “Worse Than a Crime,” which serves as the fall finale, bring “Gotham” out of its slump?
hmm thinking maybe meh ehh
Well, it at least had a few more memorable and funny moments (some unintentional, I think). So I’ll say that much in its favor. In short, while this mid-season finale wasn’t terrible, it still hit too many flat notes.

Obviously the main plot in this episode is to save Bruce Wayne from the hands of Theo Galavan, who has kidnapped him and wants to murder him under the guise of a quasi-religious sacrifice for the “atonement” of sins. Thus, the story’s action is split between witnessing Bruce prepare to die with Silver by his side and Jim Gordon and Penguin gathering the troops to go after Galavan. In time, the show’s most familiar faces arrive as Jim, Penguin, Harvey, Alfred, Selena, and Penguin’s minions unite to take down Galavan and save Bruce. Overall, I really liked this aspect of the plot and it was some of the more memorable (albeit brief) moments of the show.

And, is it just me, or did this scene seem kind of familiar?
Gotham Bad Blood

You know, as in…
bad blood taylor swift walk
‘Cause baby, now we got bad blood.
All it was missing was a Taylor Swift cameo! In any case, it was very entertaining and cool to see some of the show’s iconic heroes and villains team up. I only wished the episode would have focused more on them as these scenes contained god character interplay and snappy dialogue, even allowing for a few comedic moments.

Another highlight for me was the quick moral question of the night raised, interestingly enough, by Penguin. When Jim is faced with the choice to either let Galavan go through the legal system once more or kill him, Penguin tells Jim to consider the greater good. Rather than seek revenge against Galavan for all of the times he tried to hurt Jim, directly or indirectly, Penguin advises Jim to “think of Gotham.” This is a curious departure for Penguin, who has a working moral compass but it’s often askew. Most of his decisions are made with his own self-interests in mind, not the good of others. While I don’t entirely believe Penguin 100% genuinely wanted what’s best for the city, I don’t think his remarks are entirely an act. Penguin knows Galavan plays dirty and doesn’t want this slimeball running his hometown into the ground. Not to mention there was the risk that his mother’s killer might go free. So in the end, Penguin borrows a few pages from Fish Mooney’s book and takes several swings at Galavan with a baseball bat while afterwards Jim shoots him. Hence, it’s curtains for Galavan – for now.

Sadly, these awesome moments were far too brief as most of the episode was filled with Bruce-Silver exchanges, which felt like padding and really dragged for me though it wasn’t entirely without merit. It’s great to see Bruce assuming the early vestiges of the role of a sacrificial hero, retaining a sense of hope that he’ll be reunited with his parents in death should it come to that, and trying to save Silver by playing along with her act in front of Galavan. But Silver St. Cloud is, as previously stated, a tool. She’s boring, whiny, one-dimensional, and lets people use her without trying to fight back. Basically the only thing I like about her is her fashion sense.

Though she seems to always be dressed in either silver or cool-toned colors, especially blue. You know, ’cause her name is Silver and part of her surname is Cloud, and clouds are in the sky, which is blue? Get it? Get it?
Too subtle critic no way

I know, I know. Okay, moving on now.

My biggest issue with these moments between Bruce and Silver though is that it’s almost like they are supposed to be acting older than what they really are. It’s hard to take these scenes seriously as a). these characters are young teens, so it’s cringe-worthy to hear them talk about how they love/don’t love each other and b). they’re followed up by one of the most ridiculous moments on “Gotham” to date. I am, of course, referring to the ceremony where the “Assassin’s Creed” Cosplay Club – sorry – Order of St. Dumas call for “death to the son of Gotham.” Granted, this moment possesses subtle Messianic parallels where Bruce is willing to die even though he’s done nothing wrong, but it provides precious little discussion fodder.

I have a high tolerance for camp and kookiness but this was way too much, even for me. I know this whole ceremony was supposed to be dark and serious, but it’s so over the top that I wondered if you’re supposed to not take it seriously. I actually kept waiting for these monks to start chanting…
toga chant
Seriously, this was more like some kind of weird frat house hazing ritual than…well…whatever it was supposed to be.

And don’t get me started on the monk who tried to fly. What was he wearing under his robes? A pair of Air Jordans?
michael jordan jump basketball
That was the craziness icing on the ridiculousness cake, so I was glad that Jim and Co. wasted these guys.

And that was essentially it, other than a quick tease of Mr. Freeze (who apparently stole Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka glasses from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). I assume that Freeze will be one of the baddies slated to appear and wreck havoc in the season’s back half along with Dr. Strange, who evidently wants the (un)lucky job of experimenting on Galavan’s dead body.

Overall, while the mid-season finale wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t great as it had far too many slow moments and pushed the envelope in the absurdity department. As stated before, regardless whether the adaption is dark and somber or colorful and comical, Batman always retains a camp factor. But there is a difference between adding doses of comedy or cleverness (such as Penguin’s reaction to Lee’s pregnancy or his purple and black-striped, I-swear-was-stolen-from-Adam-Lambert, feather-collared coat) and having scenes of ludicrous action that have no bearing on the plot. Thus, I had a hard time fully engaging this episode as it was strongest when it focused on Jim and Penguin’s motley crew and was weakest when it slowed down for the sake of trying to drum up drama for a moment that made no sense and won’t be remembered.

So, once again, I fear much of this episode was yet another…
Pointless moment no bad ugh

You can probably tell that my frustrations with “Gotham” are mounting because I firmly believe the show can tell solid stories, have coherent plots that fit with the setting and overall tone, and present fun and intriguing characters. Season one blew me away and I had far more good things to say about it. I loved almost every episode and only found small elements to nitpick about here and there.

But this season…
sigh meh not sure confused
My sentiments have been rather cool and it’s with great reluctance that I say that. I had high hopes for “Gotham” in its second season but, so far, it hasn’t lived up to the hype inside my head. Granted, I’m glad they opted to have a different formula as opposed to the crime-of-the-week narrative that was present in season one. However, unlike last season, this season lacks a clear focus and solid motivation for its characters.

So with all of that out of the way, exactly what needs to change – at least for me – in the back half of season two? In the spirit of constructive criticism, I can think of two things…

Establishment of Long-Term Goals for Characters

Granted, this should have already been in place from the get-go but it’s never too late to try to amend a directionless story. I have made this observation frequently in my season two reviews as “Gotham” simply has no long-term goals or objectives in place for its characters. In truth, a story needs to have both a long-term goal and short-term goals for its characters. Without one or the other, a story either possesses no direction or keeps its eye on the big picture and neglects the small steps along the way.

By way of example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the long-term goal is that Harry seeks to protect said Stone from a thief working behind Hogwart’s walls. However, his various short-term goals, which develop his character as well as move along the primary plot, have Harry facing new challenges at school, making friends, contending with enemies, playing quidditch, and so on. If the novel didn’t offer any small-term goals, Harry’s character development would suffer; but if the novel had no long-term goal, then what we would be treated to would be a series of vignettes with no definitive outcome. In both cases the story would suffer, hence why long-term and short-term goals are necessary.

In season one of “Gotham,” most of the principle cast were given long-term and short-term goals. The long-term goals served as the motivator for their actions yet the short-term, episode-by-episode goals were what developed them as characters and moved them closer to the long-term goal. For Jim, this was trying to solve the Waynes’ murders. For Penguin, this was climbing to the top of Gotham’s criminal underworld. For Bruce, this was contending with corruption in his father’s company. And so on.

Season two, however, is functioning more on a thematic concept (i.e. the “rise of the villains”) and doesn’t have any long-term goals for most of its characters. Gordon flirts with danger but isn’t given anything overreaching to do. Penguin’s plot was, for a time, reduced to a revenge story, which ultimately only gave him a short-sighted aim. Bruce is the only one with a slightly long-term goal – resolution of parents’ deaths – but even this has, thus far, been relegated to the proverbial back burner. Above anything else, this lack of long-term focus has caused me to suffer a sense of disconnect with season two. Hopefully, the back half will give the characters something to work towards as opposed to just doing random stuff on an episode-by-episode basis.

More Compelling (and Long-Term) Villains

With the second season being touted as the “rise of the villains,” we have seen our fair share of Gotham’s underbelly but, sadly, not many neer-do-wells have stuck around. This has also caused a sense of disengagement with me as the story formula so far has been to introduce a baddie, give the baddie something to do in a single or two-episode arc, then either kill off the baddie or send him or her packing. Thus, just when you figure things might start getting interesting, the interesting element is removed.

The two most memorable yet short-lived villains thus far, for me, have been Bridget (aka Firefly) and Jerome (aka Joker Prototype 1.0). Bridget is still alive but Jerome was killed off far too soon, especially for all of the hype his character received. When Jerome was murdered by Galavan, I hoped someone even worse would be coming to take his place. Instead, all we got was a string of second-rate baddies who have been lucky to survive a single episode. While the Batman canon contains a plethora of villains to explore, there can be too much of a good thing. In “Gotham”‘s case, there have been too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, and none of them have stuck around. Rather than take a character and develop him or her, the person is promptly introduced and then promptly written out of the picture. So unless the season two finale promises to offer some sort of showdown where all of the baddies return to rain havoc upon the city, I feel like we have constantly had a carrot dangled in front of our noses but never had the chance to enjoy it.

In the second season’s back half, I’d like to see fewer villains introduced on a weekly basis and have the show focus on a few baddies, both the old (such as Penguin and Ed Nygma) and the new (like Bridget and even Mr. Freeze). This would make the stories tighter in scope and richer in character development. Also, the villains we meet need to be compelling and credible enough to be threats but distinctive and memorable. This was my biggest issue with Galavan, who served as the big baddie for the second season’s first half. Unlike the season one mob bosses who vied for control in the name of business, money, and power, Galavan just wanted his piece of Gotham (read: all of it) because of a slight against his family a long, long time ago. But Galavan lacked Falcone’s cool and collected business sense and didn’t have Maroni’s hot-headedness that allowed for some moments of comic relief. Hence while those two gents were memorable, Galavan was not.

In short, Galavan was a dud and had nothing about him to make him distinctive. (And having a gang of dudes dressed as monks follow you around doesn’t count. That’s just lame.) Rather than strike me as genuinely dangerous, Galavan was more like a winy little kid who expected the world to bow to his every whim. (And I’d never thought I’d say this, but thank you, Tabitha, for pointing that out.) It’s unattractive, uninteresting, and it turned him into a stock character. Even Fish Mooney was memorable thanks to her off-beat, smooth-talking charisma; brutal, backhanded tactics; and elegantly tacky fashion sense. But Theo Galavan even paled in comparison to her. What the back half of season two needs to do is to move on to bigger, better things. There are other villains in the Batman canon that I imagine viewers would be more intrigued to see. If we could be introduced to a very distinctive villain – one that could be tied into a long-term goal for some of the main characters – that might lift “Gotham” out of its slump for me.

Overall, I harbor ambivalent sentiments about season two and am actually mulling over whether to continue watching. With Galavan out of the way, maybe there will be room for a character I enjoy more. But in all honesty, the only characters who keep me coming back are Penguin and Nygma. Were it not for them, I would be willing to throw in the towel, and it pains me to say that because I loved season one. But season two, for me, has fallen into the sophomore slump.

So, in a nutshell, can “Gotham” recover? Yes, I believe it can as it’s proven that it can offer up interesting, insightful, cliff-hanging stories and compelling characters as well as pose good questions about morality and how our choices have far-reaching consequences, for good or ill. But it’s running out of time to redeem itself as there are only eleven episodes left.

So until next year, fellow Gothamites, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Gotham-Title
*Spoilers Throughout*

This is a different “Gotham” post as it’s going to serve as a “going away” of sorts regarding my episode reviews. Be aware that this is a long post but I felt like an explanation was fitting considering that I spent nearly a year and a half penning reviews of the show’s weekly episodes. I started out genuinely excited about “Gotham” and I loved its first season, its flaws duly noted, but my enthusiasm fizzled thanks to multiple issues, which I’m going to touch on below.

Granted, it wasn’t all bad. Robin Lord Taylor never failed to disappoint as Penguin. Bruce Wayne’s evolution, assisted by an enjoyable performance by David Mazouz, was smart and mature. Ed Nygma’s transformation was handled masterfully and Alfred Pennyworth was always a treat to see. There were also some good twists and the setting for “Gotham” was stunning, possessing a rich, cinematic quality. The architectural details and vast size and scope of the city’s environments are beautiful and impressive, and it was one element of the show I deeply appreciated and thought was consistently executed well.

But sadly, that’s where my complements end as the second season dragged under the weight of directionless plots, out-of-nowhere gore, an overly-serious tone, and too many baddies trying to command the screen, so much so that the second season’s “rise of the villains” felt more like a tidal wave. So I decided to put my viewership on indefinite hiatus, which is why you won’t be seeing any further episode reviews.

But for all of the time I spent looking into “Gotham,” I didn’t want to leave it at that. So allow me to divulge into some final analysis for old time’s sake. (Please note these are my opinions and are intended to be constructively critical, not mean-spirited.)

1. “Gotham” = Batman The Jim Gordon Hour
Sad Jim
For me, the most interesting figures on “Gotham” have been the secondary characters (a term I’m using here to refer to anyone who isn’t Jim Gordon). From the start, the antagonists remained the show’s highlight. Penguin was my absolute favorite and I thought his story arc in season one was well-executed. Selena Kyle (Catwoman) was an all-around fun character. Ed Nygma (the Riddler) got more attention in the second season, which I think was a wise decision. Harvey Bullock added a sense of gruff charm and was a blast to watch. Yet these interesting characters fluttered in the background at times and rarely got much focus as the not-quite-so-engaging lead took the stage.

That’s not to say “Gotham”‘s lead character, Jim Gordon, is boring or colorless as Ben McKenzie offered up a consistently good performance. Having said that, “Gotham” isn’t so much a show about Batman and his future baddies but more like The Jim Gordon Hour. For the most part, I was okay with this going in as the show’s premise wasn’t so much about the boy who would become the Dark Knight but the city itself – as if Gotham was a character – and for that it worked but up to a point. Bruce Wayne can seem more like a background figure at times and I wished that wasn’t so. In my mind, he should have been the show’s constant central figure, not Jim Gordon. After all, when I think of Batman I think of, well, Batman and his sundry baddies (Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman, the Joker, etc.). But Jim Gordon, not so much.

For a time, Gordon’s inner conflicts made for some great drama as well as philosophical food for thought as he is a morally good man fighting crime in a morality-starved city that doesn’t play by his senses of decency or even normalcy. You can tell this burdens Jim, who loves his hometown but refuses to look the other way and watch it be consumed by criminals. But sometimes the show’s constant mantra of this-city-is-a-mess-I-gotta-clean-it-up wore thin. Granted, the idea of having a morally good cop stuck in a morally corrupt city played out well in season one. It was a strong concept to work with as Jim was forced to contend with how far he would go to put Gotham’s evil-doers in their place, which usually put him in a bind where extreme situations called for extreme measures. But this was where things started to get cyclical, as well as slightly jumbled, for me.

It’s no secret that a typical “Gotham” story formula goes a little like this: something bad happens, Jim investigates, Jim uncovers a Gordian knot, Jim unravels said Gordian knot without crossing too many lines, Jim saves the day, Jim laments about how Gotham is a mess and he has to get his hands dirty to clean it up. Lather, rinse, repeat. While season two tried to veer away from season one’s crime-of-the-week format, it wasn’t that stark of a switch. The only difference was that most of the new baddies got two or three episodes devoted to them as opposed to just one or were simply reprised in the second season’s backhalf. But even more frustrating was the constant tell-don’t-show manner in which characters asserted Jim Gordon was a bad man and not as moral as you might think.

Really he asks critic huh confused ugh
Because I never got that. At least not to the extent the show tried to play up.

Granted, Jim was never intended to be an image of perfect morality, but I never saw him as being “addicted,” to use Barbara’s words, to darkness. Jim did morally questionable things but typically felt guilty afterwards as he didn’t want to become a bad man in order to fight bad men. As C.S. Lewis once observed: “When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right…..Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.” By this definition, Jim Gordon is a good man as he understands when he does something wrong and can recognize good from evil. In contrast, the villains don’t grasp their own badness and either can’t discern right from wrong (like Jerome and Barbara) or don’t care to (like Penguin and Ed Nygma).

However, we’ve heard a plethora of characters, even Jim himself, spout how “dark” and “bad” he is yet this never fully coincides with Jim’s actions. Hence, this serves as an intratextual sign of unreliable narration as what we hear about Gordon doesn’t always match what we see. By way of example, in Fox’s own “24,” a typical episode showcased Jack Bauer, the lead antihero, doing morally questionable things for the right reasons, but any commentary about how questionable this was came after the fact. In Gordon’s case, we’re told that he’s morally dark but his actions don’t always support such assertions. Thus, “24” utilized a show-don’t-tell technique as we were chiefly shown what type of man Jack Bauer was; but on “Gotham” it’s more like tell-don’t-show as we’re chiefly told the type of man Jim Gordon is but his actions don’t always support said observations. This generated a deep sense of disconnect with me and it’s something I couldn’t overlook in terms of a narrative device.

2. Stuff and Things
stuff and things go away rick
“Gotham” also stumbled into plotting issues where stuff and things happen, but as to what end and why I’m left to question. “Gotham”‘s stories progressed from being tightly structured to becoming sloppy, even to the point of introducing seemingly crucial elements but not bothering to address any proverbial elephants in the room. This has been another principle complaint with season two as it lacks both long-term and short-term plots. While each episode showcases any number of short-term storyarcs, they don’t point towards any long-term outcomes. Hence, it just becomes stuff and things. Sometimes it’s interesting stuff and things, but stuff and things aren’t synonymous with plotting and story advancement.

To use Penguin as an example, he was given a solid long-term story arc for the first season and short-term arcs that were introduced on an episode-by-episode basis. These short-term arcs led him towards his long-term goal, which was a grasp at power in Gotham’s criminal underbelly. In contrast, in season two Penguin fell from grace, sought revenge for his mother’s murder, tried to embrace his inner lost humanity, and was supposedly “cured’ of his inner badness only to become a full-fledged villain once more. That’s fine but to what aim? Where is his character supposed to be headed in the long run? I love watching Penguin do stuff and things, but his character is capable of doing so much more.

And it’s not just Penguin who has suffered from directionless plots as the same can be said for the rest of “Gotham”‘s characters: their short-term arcs are evident in that they do stuff and things in any given episode, but where are they going? What’s the goal that they’re working towards? What’s the point behind all of the stuff and things they do? What will be the ultimate payoff? The only character with any sense of direction in season two seemed to be Bruce Wayne, who pounded the pavement to solve his parent’s murder and uncover murky secrets about Wayne Enterprises. Personally, I like to have some sort of idea of where I’m headed to in a story. I don’t need to know everything up front, but a nudge in the right direction is beneficial in terms of looking at the story as a big picture comprised of smaller snapshots. Just because a story is operating under a theme or premise or that we’re told a character is going to become “badder” (not a word, I know) or “darker” aren’t enough. If there’s no payoff or no rhyme or reason to it all, it’s just stuff – and things.

3. Into Darkness
turn lights off scared
As a writer myself, I agree that not every story should be constantly cheerful. The best fiction doesn’t try to sugarcoat life but doesn’t tend to wallow in despair either. The Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, and The Hunger Games trilogy immediately come to mind as examples of how fiction can tackle dark subject matter but also contrast it with the good that life has to offer. These stories, and others like them, show readers that evil, sin, and death don’t always reign supreme and don’t conquer all.

“Gotham” initially followed this pattern as, despite its dark tone, there was an underlying promise that, to quote Jim Gordon, “There will be light.” Sin, evil, and bad choices were on display but the consequences of such were shown. Over time though, these consequences fell into the background and viewers were left to engage moral darkness without as much as a match light of goodness to offset it. Granted, some stories depict negative positives where negative actions are shown in such a way so readers or viewers are encouraged not to live in the same manner. The movie Scarface is a great example of this; however, even it manages not to be dark all of the time.

Hence becomes another issue I took with “Gotham” – the show steadily became darker, both in tone and its sense of morality. At first, I got used to the dimly lit locales and police procedural formula where violence was expected, even necessary, at times. However, the show’s usual cops-and-robbers/mob movie-style shootouts and stabbings eventually encompassed darker means of death and bodily harm. “Gotham” seems content to push the boundaries of its TV-14 rating; and while this doesn’t bother me so much on a visual level, it does concern me on a contextual level.

Visually, simulated violence is simulated violence – it’s 100% fake – but contextually-speaking, why is it present? What is the context and is it fitting? On “Gotham,” violence and torture aren’t met with a system of justice; instead, some of the violence feels tacked on as if it’s intended to serve as sheer shock value. This is what I took the most issue with – bloodletting for the sake of bloodletting. What purpose did it serve to witness Fish Mooney pluck her eye out? Why did the camera keep rolling when a character was blown literally to pieces? What point was behind showing Eduardo Flamingo bite out a police officer’s neck? Did any of these instances advance the plot? Was it intended to show the nature of evil that ultimately was met with justice? The answer to both of these questions is no – violence and gore were inserted seemingly for their own sake and nothing more. This is just cheap thrills, if you ask me.

In contrast, a good story shows people doing bad things, even violent things, but ultimately not getting away with them. I’m reminded of Samuel Coleridge’s poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” where the poem’s narrator recounts a dastardly deed for which he paid dearly. The poem is long, so I’ll let this meme summarize it’s overall message:
albatross bad time oh no
Thus, if characters do something wrong, their sins should eventually bring punishment (provided they don’t repent of their wrongs), not just happen without context or consequence. While violence in general doesn’t bother me, its context and nature can as “Gotham” became increasingly darker and veering further away from any source of moral light.

4. To Laugh or Not to Laugh – That is a Good Question
Funny but Not Laughing huh
I love humor, from slapstick, to parodies, to dry wit, to campy humor that’s purposely over-the-top but is still smart and clever. Batman has always possessed a certain camp factor, from the 1960s Adam West-led classic “Batman,” to Tim Burton’s Batman films, to even “Gotham” itself. “Gotham” is definitely not a sitcom nor even a funny action show like the Adam West series, and that’s okay because I don’t think that would work as the tone from which “Gotham” borrows is akin to the darker sense of realism found in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. But “Gotham”‘ isn’t entirely devoid of humor as it’s delivered intentional sarcasm and some funny wink-wink moments (Penguin likes tuna sandwiches – get it?). But it’s also offered up some moments where I find myself laughing but I’m not sure I’m supposed to be.

This is yet another element that caused disconnect with me albeit it’s minor. Like I said, I appreciate good, clever comedy; and at times “Gotham” has offered up intentionally funny moments, from Ed Nygma’s bumbling, to Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock’s bantering, to Penguin’s barbed wit. But these were delicately added and fit the tone of the story so they didn’t feel forced. This is a Batman product after all, so some camp is okay; but it has to fit with the type of Batman story you’re telling. If you want to make a Batman story that’s upbeat and colorful, then campy humor is appropriate. If you want to present a variation of the Dark Knight that’s more brooding, then the humor has to match. But a dramatic story has to be careful not to take itself so seriously that it ends up parodying itself.

I don’t like not knowing whether I should be laughing or if I should be taking something seriously. In an odd way, “Gotham” at times reminded me of Drake’s music video for “Hotline Bling.” The video is so goofy that you’re left wondering if Drake intentionally made it that way or if it’s just the way viewers interpreted it, as in Drake didn’t realize how corny his dancing was but people took it that way and went crazy making memes, vines, and .gifs.

Case in point:
Drake Hotline Bling Meme hurt crying
star wars drake hotline bling
Again, this is a minor point but I felt it was worth mentioning. The humor in “Gotham” has been a misfire at times, especially during the second season, almost as if it didn’t want to have intentional, clever humor so it replaced such moments with ridiculousness that wasn’t intended to be funny but you can’t help but laugh anyway. I could name several such moments: any time Barbara went nuts; any time Jim Gordon tried to be too brooding; anything having to do with Silver St. Cloud; practically anything Theo Galavan did or said; and the Order of St. Dumas (which I’ve renamed the “Assassin’s Creed” Cosplay Club for Men).

As you can see, most of the faulty areas lie within the second season’s new editions rather than the original cast. Ed Nygma can be funny because he’s awkward and that’s a part of who he is as a character. Harvey Bullock is genuinely funny because snark is a part of who he is. Even Alfred Pennyworth has an inner smart aleck ingrained in his personality. Moments of comedy from characters who possess something genuinely amusing or funny about their personalities always work. Thus, it seemed like the original cast didn’t have a problem keeping a balance between clever camp and drama. I wished “Gotham” would have retained this balance from season one where it knew when to be dramatic yet also knew when to inject genuine humor as opposed to the uber-serious tone season two dispensed with where any honest attempts at comedy are pushed aside for overblown austerity that you can’t help but chuckle at.

In the end, despite its faults, “Gotham” was an enjoyable show when it got things right by offering up tight stories, compelling characters, and a good contrast between moral darkness and goodness. But evidently that’s not the path the show wanted to continue to take based on my assessment. Again, all of this is just my opinion and I mean it as constructive criticism.

So to those of you who have read and enjoyed my “Gotham” reviews, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

*Update November 2016: I stopped watching “Gotham” after its second season’s midpoint though I’ve casually and sporadically stayed up to date on the show’s developments just out of sheer curiosity. However, apparently the writers, Taylor himself, and/or both parties decided to make Penguin gay after all, which is quite the departure from canon. I can’t help but feel this was done to pander to the PC crowd as well as accommodate Taylor’s own sexual orientation of choice as I sense this decision had some sort of motive behind it other than simply advancing the plot. I’m further disappointed that Taylor has shown harsh intolerance towards viewers (by, oddly enough, claiming they are intolerant) who don’t care for this angle regardless of reason (as some viewers felt it was too far from canon while others didn’t care for the gay dynamic). Rather than recognize that everyone has a right to their opinions and beliefs, Taylor labeled such sentiments as “horsesh–t” and accused anyone who didn’t care for the Penguin-Riddler “romance” as being homophobic. This is tasteless as Taylor could have been graciously tolerant by indicating that viewers have the freedom to feel whatever they wish and leave it at that. In the end, on top of this and the show’s steadily flawed format and depressing tone, it’s cemented my decision to never return to “Gotham.”