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Gotham: So wrong, so right

February 17, 2015

[Spoilers up through The Blind Fortune Teller.]

Let’s imagine two worlds called Good and Bad, divided by a thin border. The inhabitants of this world are personified television shows. Some television shows live in the world of Good, some only in Bad. Some are in Good but sometimes accidentally wander into Bad when they aren’t paying enough attention. Some are in Bad yet somehow manage to trip into Good’s territory occasionally. Some shows are built on the border and we give them about a season. Gotham plays hopscotch on the border while everyone yells at it to come back to Good, where it’s nice and safe. Gotham ignores them.

“Uneven” might be the nicest word you can apply to Gotham. Despite its pre-built mythology and a truly stellar, talented-as-heck cast, Gotham makes more mistakes than it has any right to, yet when it’s good, it’s so very, very good that the fans are thus far unwilling to give up the fight.

This week’s episode, “The Blind Fortune Teller,” is a perfect example of Gotham throwing together its usual hodgepodge of mess and mastery. In it, we find new couple James Gordon and Leslie Thompkins out on a date at that place people in Gotham always go for dates: the circus. Specifially, Haly’s Circus, home of the Flying Graysons.

I held my breath through the Graysons’ performance, because we know that eventually, it doesn’t end well. But this performance goes off without a hitch, until the end, when there’s an acrobat/clown melee.

ACROBAT/CLOWN MELEE. This is why people watch Gotham.

We find out that a snake dancer named Lyla has been seeing men from the circus’s version of the Hatfield and the McCoy legend. (I once saw a commenter on a website who said they were from one of the families, and that they hated the perpetuation of the myth, which is why I use the word “legend.”) The Graysons and the Lloyds have been fighting since “before the Great War” over the theft of a horse, and it seems that the snake dancer, Lyla, is another excuse to fight. But then Jim uses Lyla’s snake to find her–


and she’s been murdered. Each side is blaming the other, and the only real love match between them, John Grayson and Mary Lloyd, has let the feud come between them.

So far so good, sort of. John and Mary are a bit over the top, but this is a show that just had an acrobat/clown melee, so they get a pass.

Then a creepy old fortune-teller–male!–tells Jim and Lee a cryptic message that he says Lyla told him from the beyond. Lee decides she knows what it means later, and insists they stop having a lovely meal together, that was supposed to be followed by sex, and go hang out in a park filled with homeless people in the hopes that they will stumble across something. They do, because Gotham writers are ridiculous, and although it’s supposed to be a red herring, meant to make Jim believe it was some sort of Satanic cult that hasn’t been around for a decade, Jim magically figures it all out in a moment so we can go on with the rest of the show. See, the blind man, Cicero, must have helped someone cover up the murder, but who? And why? Well, obviously, Lyla’s illegitimate child must be his, of course. It can’t be because of any other reason.

The kid, Jerome, then goes full-on Joker and admits to killing his mother, laughing manically, etc etc. Cameron Monaghan is perfectly cast in this role. He creeped me the heck out. BUT! it was too much. And this is where Gotham fails over and over again. It’s like someone stood over Monaghan and said, “Give me MORE! Give me MORE!” as if this would be the only scene he’d ever be in. And maybe that’s true; I don’t really read a lot of casting spoilers. But if Gotham were serious about building a world, rather than handing us one on a really obvious plate, it would’ve held Monaghan back. He would’ve been more effective with half the performance.

Meanwhile, Fish Mooney’s being held by parts pirates (is that a reference people get?) and no one was yelling at her to give more this week, so she was perfect. Jada Pinkett-Smith: the only woman who can give a rousing speech on freedom while standing on a man’s back. Mooney’s always on the camp side of things, but it’s almost always worked for her. Evoking Eartha Kitt has worked for her so far. She’s even wearing a catsuit, basically, although she’s got a shirt over it right now. I mean, look at her. She’s Catwoman. Can we find out her real name is Patience Phillips, and undo the damage done?

Meanwhile meanwhile, Barbara finally comes home in this episode, as well, to find Selina and Ivy camped out with Fruit Brute. She basically shrugs it off–


and decides to figure out what to wear to recapture Jim’s heart. The kids give her advice, which she takes because why not? (and they’re not wrong; that outfit was trying way too hard), and then sees Jim and Lee making out and is a Sad Panda.

MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE, Oswald sucks at having a club, so Zsasz offers a reprogrammed Butch to help out. But reprogrammed how? At what cost? We’ll find out later. But for now, it’s heartbreaking that Butch seems so…not like Butch.

MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE MEANWHILE, the Baby Batman goes to a meeting of his board to call them out for possibly illegal shenanigans. These are the same people (I guess?) that will one day think of him as too much the playboy to be Batman? I know there have been competent CEO Batmen before, but it never seemed to gel with the idea of the guy who was too frivolous to be taken seriously.

That’s a lot of stuff going on in one episode, and who knows if I missed anything. I don’t THINK so though.

The worst part about this episode, I think, was Lee. Like Barbara, they seem to have taken a character fairly set in her first appearance and made her do whatever the plot needs, which is basically the opposite of how you should write anytthing. I was reading this interview with Lee’s actress, Morena Baccarin, and this quote jumped out at me:

IGN: Do you know why Leslie is so gung-ho about doing what’s right? Do you know her backstory yet?

Baccarin: Actually, I don’t know. We haven’t discovered that yet. They haven’t told me too much so far. I kind of get things revealed to me slowly. But she’s somebody who really stands up for what she believes in and has a strong set of morals. She’s not a goody two-shoes or anything like that. I mean, she understands how things work in the city and how things sometimes have to get done. But I think she’s also trying to live in a world that she wants to live in and can be proud of. She’s not somebody who’s too precious about things. She can get down and dirty, and she does. And she wants to be a part of whatever force can make the city a better place.

First off, the first part of the question is stupid, IGN. But we’re going to let that be. Look at what Baccarin says about her character. Lee is so far from that in this episode. “Precious” is exactly the word to describe her. She’s a Manic Pixie Dream Doctor but without the quirky clothes. Given that Gotham‘s got a “multiple time period” thing going on (see: the cell phones, the clothes, the cars, the cereal), I wouldn’t even mind if they’d introduced Lee as quirky, but they didn’t. She went from assertive to a thrill-seeker in a few episodes, doing unprofessional things (!) with Jim giving in at every turn (!). Why? Because she’s so cute? Sigh.

This is truly the Barbara problem all over again. I believe I said in my review of the Gotham pilot that Barbara seemed to be one of the few characters where they had a handle on who she was, but that turned out to absolutely not be the case. Read Baccarin’s words again. “We haven’t discovered that yet.” “They haven’t told me too much so far.”

Look, I can get them not giving away plot points, but Baccarin should have a strong grasp on her character’s personality from the get-go because the show should. But they don’t. And it’s annoying to me that the women of the show seem to get this treatment more often than the men.

Barbara is a train wreck, but she was never a consistent train wreck. One week she was fine being a cop’s fiancee; the next she wasn’t. One week she’s dedicated to making things work; the next she’s left him and gone to her ex. We didn’t know her well enough to see WHY she was making these choices; by making them senseless to the viewer, they can’t be anything but that, and it’s sloppy and lazy of them.

Montoya is the same way. I was fine with her thinking Gordon was on the take, because lots of cops in Gotham are on the take. But then she was like “Oh, we can’t! Oh I guess we can. Now get out of my house” and all that. Poor Montoya. That character deserves so, so much better.

Gotham needs to get it together, but the fans keep saying that and it doesn’t happen. It’s hard to deal with this week by week. I wish the show had gone into a long winter hiatus, took its time, and planned better, but it didn’t. The best we can hope for is that the showrunners start reading the reviews, and listening to the fans, and get their shit in order. Until this week, they’ve been losing viewers every week because the show won’t stabilize. I feel sorry for the new viewers from this week, because they weren’t getting Gotham‘s best. But then again, I’m starting to wonder if they ever will.

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