The Penitentiary Gang
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Harvey Dent is the best episode of Gotham, yet as per usual it is riddled with problems that I hope they go back and fix at least during their mid-season hiatus. The first and foremost problem is that there is nearly no subtlety on this show. Even Harvey Dent, who is supposed to be cool, calm, and collected explodes with an over-the-top bravado that belongs in a satirical Broadway musical, not a gritty dark drama about a crime-ridden cesspool of corruption. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but for the love of God, it’s ridiculous (and am I the only who’s having timeline issues with his appearance?). Anyhow, outside of Harvey Dent, ironically everything else works in this episode that can sort of be segmented into three different story lines that all manage to work and click on thematic, plot, and character levels. This is my first 9 for the show and it completely and utterly deserves it.
Last week I said that the murderer of the week scenarios from Gotham are largely weak, which hampers the show significantly considering that, you know, the show centers around two police officers from the Gotham City Police Department. But this week they struck gold. Bomb specialist Ian Hargrove undergoes the classic “being busted out while being transferred from prison” routine but the show makes it work. It’s a great sequence and the monster-of-the-week works because he becomes so innately integrated with the gangster element. It doesn’t feel arbitrary this time around and it’s fantastic. Clearly being set up by Fish Mooney to sabotage Falcone, Ian gets to work building some bombs as you will on a typical afternoon. But there’s a twist, he’s being forced to do it against his will. Ian is a bombs specialist who bombs ammunition warehouses in loud statements against the perpetration of violence.
In what is perhaps the most intelligent storyline that Gotham has ever pursued, the writers create a byzantine web around Ian that so far in this show they seemed incapable of doing. The writers manage to delve into the psyche of a man who would have been so easily written off as just being crazy. Ian, despite his fiery brilliance, is sick. Suffering from mental illness, the prison industrial complex threw Ian under the bus and continued to run him over day after day after day without any remorse. They probably even forgot that he existed. In our modern-day society, we have this ridiculous perception that we should treat everyone in jail as criminals and nothing else. There must only be punishment, yet we expect them to commit penance when they are released. Why do we expect this? If there is no effort at rehabilitation, hardened criminals are the ones who are released back out into the world. And the cycle continues. For mentally ill criminals and or inmates, it’s even worse. Mental illness is shrouded by society within the constructs of negative perception, a lack of empathy for those who perhaps need it the most. Patients suffering from mental illness further are estranged by society as if somehow they are responsible for their own condition. They’re left isolated at the outskirts. Ian certainly isn’t helped by the media, either, a victim of sensationalist so-called journalists who are more interested in turning him into an “urban terrorist” and a ratings grab over actually discussing the real societal problems that gave birth to his conundrum in the first place. It feels so real that it actually hurts and to Gotham’s immense credit, not a single moment in the storyline felt forced.
As noted above, Ian’s narrative arc that provided some of the most heartbreaking moments yet for this show also ties into the gangster boss wars that have ravaged Gotham to its core. Nor is that storyline in and of itself simple and straightforward, considering the use of the duplicitous Cobblepot as a central device for the narrative. Mooney and Cobblepot are in a weird sort of way working with each other, yet Cobblepot leaves no opportunity to muddle the waters and stave out something for himself. It makes sense for the underdog between these three major mafia bosses to try and carve out of his niche of survival. Nor does Mooney simply want to cut Falcone’s head off. It would be too simple, too neat, and to be perfectly honest would rob the show a lot of its tension. It’s also a standard device to prolong the life of your show, but considering how Gotham is truly getting its groove on with these characters, that is easily forgiven. And considering the crime bosses themselves, a quick and easy death isn’t simply their style.
I saved our final segment for Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle because I wanted to get the connected threads between Ian and the gangsters out of the way first. To make a point about these two central Batman mythology characters, the former of course being our famed, signed vigilante, the show largely has used them exceptionally poorly. There’s this debt Gotham feels towards its audience that we somehow need Batman references to clobber us over the head or at the very least introduced every hour in order for us to like the show. That’s not necessary in the least. This week is a great example. The famed Two-Face, Harvey Dent was easily the weakest, yet most famed link. What was really surprising to me is how phenomenally well the entire meeting between Selina and Bruce works. She moves into Wayne Manor, which I assumed has more than enough adequate space to house her, as a protection measure considering she witnessed the Wayne murder. It’s frankly remarkable how well these two problematic characters make Gotham into so much more than what it feels like on the surface. There’s an ease between the two that easily calls to mind the best portions of The Dark Knight Rises, when the adult Catwoman and Bruce have an electric chemistry despite being both friend and foe. The children here establish a genuinely sweet connection over a horrific event and the show never loses sight of that. But there’s something remarkably cathartic about Alfred smiling as the two squabble like the oldest of siblings, the most genuine of friends. I felt genuinely emotional as the frames faded to black and for once during this entire show, I had formed a connection with its characters that made me want to come back every week for their journey. Way to go, Gotham. Keep it up.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The future Arkham Asylum coming into existence
-Barbara and Montoya eloped apparently. For Christ’s sake, writers, are you kidding me? Is this supposed to count as a legitimate plot point? Because it’s been phenomenally developed (sarcasm). But it was such a small quibble that you might not even notice it actually happening.
Title: Harvey Dent
Written By: Ken Woodruff
Directed By: Karen Gaviola
Image Courtesy: IGN