I AM ANGRY Because I’m Scowling, See?
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
There is something plaguing this show, despite how good it has the potential to be. It feels completely cluttered with a lack of tonal consistency basically anywhere and it can’t really make up its mind what it wants to be. You want to be gritty and grimy like the Gotham City in Batman Begins? You go for it. You want to be splashy and gaudily fun? Go for it. Batman’s universe has plenty of both across thousands of properties and so it appears does the team for this single show. In the case of the show, it doesn’t work. There’s no substantive reason why shows cannot have multiple tones, but often there is a thematic unity that allows for a dominant tone to emerge while giving other tones the appropriate space. Game of Thrones is dark, dark material but it finds room for comedy when necessary (Podrick and Olenna Tyrell come to mind). Louie has a dominant comedic tone, but it finds moments of deep emotional resonance. Gotham so far has absolutely no idea how to do that. Granted, it’s only two episodes in and some of the greatest shows certainly wobbled severely at the beginning but this episode is not the saving grace to make up for the weaknesses of the pilot.
Even more so than lack of tonal consistency, the complete loss of subtlety is absolutely grating. Everything is done in extremes, which would be fine if done with a couple characters and or over an entire season. But the entirety of the hour seems to lack any sense of grounding at all. Everyone is really angry and the way they show it makes it painfully obvious that they’re really angry, like when Fish Mooney arches her eyebrow and pauses way too long to give each word about a million times more emphasis than really is required by the script. Jim Gordon is the only competent police officer, which is basically a cheap narrative trick from Gotham to say quite loudly “HE’S OUR PROTAGONIST!” which is unnecessary. Mayor James is utterly incompetent as well and the way he treats the child victims of this week’s plot is palpably ridiculous. I know that corruption and lawlessness is the way many Gotham City stories operate and that in and of itself is totally fine. But there has to be someone else besides Gordon who can do his job. Making everybody else an idiot doesn’t help Gordon’s character at all.
The plot of the week revolves around a trashy, tawdry pair of kidnappers by the names of Patti and Doug. Their plan is to kidnap a bunch of children and sell them to a buyer named The Dollmaker, a terrifying figure from the comics whose face was cut off and then nailed to a wall by the Joker. It’s a terrifying and uncomfortable storyline that keeps you at the edge of your seat and then it ends as if everyone involved just said “Fuck it!” to rationality. Gordon’s sudden inspiration saves the day (no one saw that coming, I’m sure of it) and the children avoid being shot in cold blood and then washed down a hole. That was completely unnecessary. I get the terror of the storyline on paper and it works with the themes of abused and tortured children, but that was just way over the top. And then the mayor basically divides the children between foster homes and juvie, because fuck subtlety and rationality.
In an episode called Selina Kyle, there’s little of her character involved, but she does get her first dialogue that is sassy and snippy. It’s further evidence of how the team is using adult Catwoman’s personality as a tool here. It wouldn’t necessarily be a botheration, but sass and snip aren’t the only traits that could be used as foreshadowing. It’s a bit disappointing because often the go-to character traits for characters like Selina Kyle are sass and snip and you want Gotham to rise above such levels of predictability. She makes a note of threatening the GCPD with accusations of sexual assault, which is inherently uncomfortable as she is a young teenager but at least provides a look into how damaged and isolated Selina feels. The show would benefit from unlocking her psyche more and laying off on the sass quota.
This isn’t a terrible episode and there’s certainly enough material to keep you engaged, hence the score. But if Gotham wants to survive creatively past the first season (the ratings certainly suggest it will be back next year), it needs to figure out a couple of things. First, focus on a few characters and allow them to build up with the world around them. The audience needs to read and understand these characters before more are thrown into the mix. Second, decide on a dominant tone that drives the narrative forward. The constant back and forth isn’t helping anyone. Third, allow subtlety to reign. An expression on a character’s face can sell anger far better than yelling can. I’ll be back next week with the next episode, which will hopefully be an improvement.
Post. Script. I’m not trying to be too harsh simply because I’m a critic. There’s potential in this show, it just needs to realize it.
Post. Script. Two. Gotham, don’t feel obliged to have Bruce Wayne in every episode. His storyline this episode wasn’t executed well.
Title: Selina Kyle
Written By: Bruno Heller
Director: Danny Cannon
Image Courtesy: The Young Folks