Gotham 2.5: Scarification
Gotham is a dangerous show to recommend. I like it, and I think most of the stories are pretty damn good. If they’re not good, they are least refreshingly strange. Even when there’s that one story line I absolutely hate (you know, like that story at the end of last season involving Fish Mooney as she tried to escape that island; all filler), there’s always another one going that I find myself compelled to see through the end. Through all of that, the production values are excellent for a television show. Though the show is obviously a prelude to the Batman’s story, I find that one of the main appeals of Gotham is that it really feels like a strange comic book turned to live action without looking or feeling like a superhero comic.
Those come at a dime-a-dozen. Recently I tuned into a new episode of The Flash, wherein Barry Allen meets his counterpart from another dimension, and a female cop who wants to investigate strange occurrences that could be attributed to people with powers is kidnapped. I knew I wouldn’t be too interested in the story, but I like superhero shows well enough to know when such a story makes it across the finish line with life in it. What I wanted to see was how the show was told. In a sense, I wanted to see how much the people behind the show seem to like the material they are working with. What I got is an exercise in the mundane. The story was okay (as far as formulaic superhero episodic stories go) and the special effects were actually quite good, but everything else was uninspired. The performances were flat, the blocking was atrocious (there was a conversation with an over-the-shoulder shot and the man whose shoulder we are looking over, well, his head was cut off in half by the edge of the frame. Do they not look over this stuff in editorial?) and everyone just kept their hands at their sides as they delivered expository dialogue. None of it had any kind of edge to it whatsoever.
That’s not the case with Gotham. Even the lamest or most ridiculous episodes of Gotham look stunning. The lighting, the atmosphere, everything. What’s more, the odder, crazier stories that a lot of people I talk to seemed to hate still have great dialogue and perfect one-liners that play to that material so well. So, yeah “Scarification,” the new episode, didn’t start off with a great hook, but that visual zest and edgy dialogue was still there. What’s more, the show had a pretty interesting ending.
I just love it when the people behind this show are inspired. This episode was the most Tim Burten-Batman ’89-esque episode of all, and, like that film, there’s something comical about the presentation, and how the music isn’t afraid to play up those comic notions a bit. There’s a scene set in a hardware store, only it’s not a hardware store.. it’s a store where they sell equipment for explosives, as well all kinds of other weapons top to bottom, and it’s bigger than the giant Home Depot down the road from my house. “Can we get a price check of brass knuckles in toxic green?” Makes you realize what level the writers of this show are working on!
Oh, and the scene ends with the cops busting the entire store, and a loser tries to steel explosives by shoving them down his pants. He gets outside to the fence before being shot, and the blood spurts out from him like a fountain. The next shot the cops fire he blows up in an explosion. Tarantino, are you taking notes?
The episode gives us one hell of an exposition dump – and normally that wouldn’t be a good thing – but I love it here, as we see a flashback to the early days of the city as if through one of the cruddy old video cameras of the time – and we learn a bit about the rise of the most powerful families of Gotham, including the Galavans and the Waynes, and it ends with a man’s forearm being cut off mid-bone. I am not sure if the creators are getting any of this lore from the Batman comic books, but I’m gonna guess right now: no.
I don’t even feel like going into the plot of the episode; it’s kind of all standard stuff, about how the Penguin is trying to find something he can use against Galavan, and about how Galavan is looking for Gordon’s support (just like any evil mayor wanna-be would try to do). It’s the kind of plotting you’d see in (surprise, surprise) a comic book. I want to talk about the moments.
The Penguin recruits a group of thugs from the Narrows to commit some arson and larceny of some Wayne buildings at Galavan’s request, so these thugs force a shy young woman – the kind of woman with no family at all who has trouble asserting herself – whose a friend of Selina’s to do the dirty work. “Once you light the fuse, you’ll have a minute and a half” they tell her over the radio, and once she lights it, they tell her to go to the safe, because it’s time to steal whatever’s in there (remember, the fuse has already been lit). It’s here where she seems to lose contact with them. Turns out, they were just playing and psyching her out. It’s a throw-away moment that exists for the sake of itself, and made me appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making a show that is just this side of twisted.
There’s a moment where Gordon is looking at a large map, where the buildings that have been burned are all marked and they form a kind of line that he can trace with a marker, and he simply points to the next building in that line as the obvious next target. Ha! Reminds me of that scene in the “Red Hood” episode where he comes onto the scene of a bank robbery and starts looking around. He seems to have an idea of what to do next when he looks up and realizes that the bank has a camera system installed. Or how about way back in “Balloonman” where Gordon and Bullock somehow don’t know that whatever goes up (even what’s attached to a balloon) must come down. I know critics try to use these moments against the show, but I think these moments are just the show’s way of satirizing the cliches of the hard-boiled cop shows.
Kind of like the moment in this episode where Gordon and Bullock set up a stakeout. The stakeout bit lasts all of two minutes of screen-time, and was clearly written is so Bullock could say “Yay, stakeout, I’ll buy the donuts.” Yes, there’s a great multifaceted character there in detective Bullock, but it’s almost more entertaining to see him be the cliche we all know he is.
My rating: 3.7/5