Monday, February 16, 2015

REVIEW: 'Gotham' - Jim Visits the Circus While Bruce Addresses His Company's Board in 'The Blind Fortune Teller'

FOX's Gotham - Episode 1.16 "The Blind Fortune Teller"

Gordon takes Dr. Thompkins to the circus, but the day turns quickly when the circus comes under attack. Falcone enlists Butch Gilzean to help Oswald with the night club, while Fish is otherwise occupied. Bruce schedules a meeting with the Wayne Enterprises board.

Gotham has been relentless in promoting the case of this episode as being "no joke." That of course brings up the idea that the show is going to start introducing The Joker to its mythology - the most recognizable villain in the Batman universe. It's a story one would expect Gotham to cover at some point during its run. But is it too soon? The show literally just got done telling the origin story for The Scarecrow just a week ago! Is the show simply stockpiling too many iconic villains and hoping that familiarity will drive attention? It doesn't help narratively all that well. You have to go into this episode expecting The Joker story to be told as well as knowing that the two bickering circus co-workers and lovers are the eventual parents to Robin. It's fan service that has absolutely no bearing on the actual narrative of Gotham the show. It's serving the greater community of this property but at the hindrance of becoming anything consistent.

The storylines that Gotham has cultivated over time are largely just simmering in the background throughout this episode. Those are the narratives that the show has been building its arcs around. Fish is off gaining new control and respect in her prison. Bruce finally gets to address the board of Wayne Enterprises. Barbara returns to the apartment and becomes pals with Selina and Ivy. Oswald is struggling with how to run a nightclub. All of these stories are important to this season. And yet, they are never asked to be the main focus. They are the things that the show has set up and is doing things with. But the show's primary focus is telling a story that will ultimately not have much bearing on the future of the show whatsoever. How is that smart business?

It's well known in the comics that the Joker doesn't rise until Batman becomes a vigilante in Gotham City. That makes it all the more difficult to tell his origin story because he's a character that has always been shrouded in mystery. That's a part of the character's appeal. He came to be who he was because of what Batman did for the city. That's a cause and effect that has worked well for decades. And now, Gotham is trying to show what he was up to long before Bruce Wayne put on the cape. We are never going to see Bruce become Batman. So we are never going to see Jerome becoming the Joker. Unless, of course, Gotham wants to really re-invent the mythology of the characters. The Joker could become a part of this universe moving forward.

And yet, that has never been the way that Gotham tells its stories. It is an episodic procedural where the details from one case don't even really come back to cause problems for the main characters. Jerome and the trip to the circus feel like the exact same thing. Cameron Monaghan has a regular job over on Showtime's Shameless. At best, he could only do a handful of episodes. It's a decent performance. But it's also lacking in nuance. This investigation felt like it got more time spent on it than the average case-of-the-week. But that focus was so often on Jim, Lee and their relationship, that it didn't have the time to fully go into Jerome's head. That's suppose to be the point too. He's first presented as a distraught kid mourning over the death of his mother. And then, he's revealed to be his mother's killer - with some help from the blind fortune teller who was actually his father. It's a messed up family dynamic. But it's also pretty cut-and-dry. Jerome does have the personality shifts that's to be expected of the Joker - granted that he's actually playing the Joker. The show has teased that fact but we don't exactly get confirmation about it either. He does the laugh and the personality change just so the audience can see how this character could be the future villain. And yet, it comes across as hand holding the audience through a reveal too much.

And yet, the show is also putting some major work into the Jim-Lee relationship. The show never worked this hard in making us care when he was dating Barbara. She was simply the girl he was in a relationship with before the series started - and the woman he eventually marries. His dynamic with Barbara never had any nuance because the show always had to make up contrivances to keep her as a relevant character. With Lee, it's just so much easier because she is allowed the opportunity to stand in opposition and become a focal point in Jim's professional life - which is the aspect of his character that the show is always more interested in. She is a driving presence to the procedural aspects of the show. So the show doesn't have to cut away to Jim's romantic life and thusly take time away from the investigation. With Lee, the two are intertwined. That complicates their relationship in a way that feels natural. A description that can never be used for Barbara.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Blind Fortune Teller" was written by Bruno Heller and directed by Jeffrey Hunt.
  • So, the two families are feuding. And yet, they're still able to work together for the circus? How was this the first time that they had a brawl during a performance? It was just such a clunky detail to add to the story.
  • I'm convinced the feuding families was simply to make Robin's parents star-crossed lovers. They had no real purpose at all in this story. This fan service is starting to get really tiresome. They even needed to have the line about having a son. None of it really works all that well.
  • I'm so grateful that the show didn't feel the need to cut to the board members of Wayne Enterprises saying something ominous about their hidden interests once Bruce left the room. That scene was all about him and rising above the situation as someone who shouldn't be underestimated.
  • So, Fish's story is playing out just as I expected it too. Now, she has an opportunity to meet the Manager - whom I'm guessing she's going to kill sometime soon after his introduction.
  • The show spent all this time setting Butch up as a character to only later rip him of his entire personality? Now, he simply does everything anyone asks. It's not rewarding or heartbreaking because the character development never really worked in the first place.
  • Of course, Barbara had to walk in on Jim and Lee kissing. I mean how more predictable can this show become?