Midseason Recap: Gotham

Time for the second installment of Midseason Recap. Up this week, Fox’s Gotham.

The plot of Gotham revolves around the titular home city of DC superhero Batman. The central character, surprisingly enough, is Jim Gordon, future Police Commissioner but currently a humble detective in the GCPD. The time period is right after the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne. It’s not so much a superhero TV show as it is a prequel to such a show.

Overarching Plot, General Strengths and Weaknesses 

Most of what we’ve seen so far in Gotham is a lot of corruption, infesting the police department, the city government and even Wayne Enterprises, all tying back to the city’s organized crime families and their interest in the renovation work to be done in the Arkham district. It’s not yet clear what the greater game is but the build up to it promises to be interesting.

While the general plot of Gotham is strong and it moves at a really good pace what Gotham lacks is fleshed out characters. The show’s weakness is how one note much of the cast is. Jim is almost always grim and determined, Fish is stylish but angry, Cobblepot is simpering and creepy. Surprisingly enough, with the exception of Harvey (and him only in one episode), the only cast to show great nuance are the younger characters and Alfred. Hopefully as things begin to settle into place we’ll see some improvement on that score. In the mean time, the show is rather young and has a large cast so it’s forgiven. For now.

Favorite Character: Bruce Wayne

Bruce is a supporting character, at least in theory, but his status as future-Batman in the making has assured his character a lot of attention and the show has lavished it’s attention wisely. While he starts as a shellshocked boy grappling with grief in a huge, empty house Bruce quickly begins to transform. First his desire to know what happened to his parents and why prompts him to begin digging into the records of his parents’ business and we begin to see shadows of the world’s greatest detective. From there, other aspects begin to take shape. The incident with The Goat presents him with the idea of a totem animal to strike fear with. Then he goes back to school and realizes he has no idea how to fight. The young man who will travel the world to become Batman is taking shape before our eyes very quickly and I love it.

Least Favorite Character: Barbara Kean 

I don’t know what’s going on with this character and I honestly don’t care. That’s how poorly she’s been executed in this season. I’m not even sure what she does when Jim’s not around, she just seems to exist to be an albatross around his neck. She’s emotionally a huge gaping hole in his armor and she seems to be determined to do everything she can to make that weakness as pronounced as possible and I can’t think of a single thing she’s done to make that okay.

Look, not every character has to be a tower of strength and conviction, make wise choices, be uber personable or what have you. But there has to be something likable about the character or they’re wasting time that could be spent on other characters. Barbara isn’t adding anything to the series right now.

Her attempts to help and support Jim just wind up backfiring and I have no idea what he’s supposed to see in her other than a pretty face. Their relationship is on hiatus as of episode 11 and I’m kind of hoping it stays that way. Yes, a character can grow and evolve over the course of a series and if that happens to Barbara, that’s great. But right now the writers have a long, long way to go.

Barbara’s a big factor in all the things I really disliked about this season so I hope you’re ready to hear a lot more about her… But first!

Favorite Character Dynamic: Bruce Wayne/Selena Kyle 

Honestly I was thinking about putting Jim/Harvey in this spot, or maybe Bruce/Alfred or even Cobblepot/Fish, but then Rogues Gallery came along and completely changed my mind. Bruce and Selena hung out for a few episodes and I enjoyed watching them feel each other out and try and get a grip on their feelings but, in a show that has a lot of interesting character dynamics, they didn’t really stand out.

But when Bruce hit the streets with Selena the conflict between the two went to the next level. It’s funny because while Selena has been on the streets for a long time there’s a lot of ways she’s still more naïve than Bruce, whether by choice (as in the case of her believing her mother is coming back for her) or education (she doesn’t value loyalty or stability like Bruce does because she’s never had them).

At the same time Bruce isn’t a hard enough of a person to deal with the people on the streets in a way they’ll understand. He’ll have to become that person if he’s ever going to be the Batman we know and Selena is rubbing that in at every opportunity. It’s great stuff.

Least Favorite Character Dynamic: Barbara Kean/Jim Gordon 

The Gwen Stacey Fallacy is what occurs when one character in a relationship decides to not talk about how dangerous their relationship is, usually because one of them is influential in some way and the other might be used as leverage against them. I call it this because Peter Parker demonstrates this behavior all through The Amazing Spiderman 2 and many of his other relationships in other continuities. It’s a behavior that frankly drives me nuts.

Barbara and Jim are both demonstrating it in Gotham. I hate the Gwen Stacey Fallacy because it’s such a shortsighted thing to do but more than that, at least in modern storytelling, it’s presented as a positive thing. When talking about Scorpion I mentioned that I loved the relationship between Cabe and his ex-wife in part because it avoided this behavior – Cabe and Rebecca had clearly not only talked about the danger in their lifestyle but planned for it.

Barbara, on the other hand, has recklessly meddled in Jim’s job twice. Once when she leaked information to the press and once when she came back to town and confronted Don Falcone. With no plan or strategy in mind. Both times she compromised Jim’s ability to do his job and then she left him because she couldn’t handle the consequences of her own actions.

For his part, Jim has never sat down and talked with Barbara about the dangers she might face as his fiancée or wife and didn’t support her at all after her attempted abduction by Fish’s men or her later enforced stay at Falcone’s. He’s frequently distracted and rarely affectionate.

Again, I get that overcoming character flaws is important for character growth. But these flaws have little to do with the story of Gotham and just feel distracting. And a romance that overcomes obstacles feels worthwhile. But only when the characters involved are trying to overcome those obstacles – but these two are just sort of muddling along. The whole relationship is annoying, unbelievable and, frankly, disappointing from a series that otherwise has very strong character relationships.

Least Favorite Episode: Penguin’s Umbrella (S01E07) 

This has all the makings of a great episode, the showdown at the police station, Jim going rogue and the reveal of Cobblepot’s duplicity. Problem is, all the feeling of forward motion comes to a screeching halt in the middle when Barbara’s shortsightedness halt’s Jim’s mad rush. It makes it look like Don Falcone won because he was lucky and Jim was unlucky, not because Falcone was a menace capable of exerting any kind of leverage over Jim he wanted. And it ruined the forward momentum of the plot without diverting it into new channels. All in all, a disappointing episode.

Favorite Episode: Lovecraft (S01E10)

This is everything Penguin’s Umbrella was not – great action with a great resolution that still leaves lots of places for the story to go. We see the best of everyone involved from the heroism of Bruce, Alfred and Jim to the deviousness of Cobblepot, Fish and whoever was behind the Wayne murders. If the series is trying to hit a major action beat I’d rather they be more like this.

Other Stuff:

While I don’t think Gotham is quite as well written as Scorpion, mainly because of a certain character who shall remain nameless, it does outdo that show in a number of other respects. Cinematography is beautiful and the slightly dated look of everything is a great touch – it feels like it could be the tale of the last ten years of Gotham history.

Also, the acting is of a universally high quality here. The villains are gleefully loathsome, the heroes manage to portray some depth even in a relentlessly grim story.

Special props are due to David Mazouz and Camren Bicondova for doing a great job portraying a wounded and conflicted young man and a hardened but equally wounded young woman. Serious TV shows shy away from giving younger characters much screen time because finding young people to portray them well is very difficult. Mazouz and Bicondova are both up to the task and make Gotham stand out among competing shows.

All in all, I like Gotham a lot. It has it’s flaws but I’m optimistic that, as time goes by, they will iron themselves out and the show will tell a brilliant coming of age story – for both Jim and Bruce.

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