Monday, September 18, 2017

Gotham: The Complete Third Season Review


At last it looks like the promise that Gotham made at the beginning, that we would not see Bruce Wayne become Batman until the series finale, is if not actually broken at least then slightly altered.  We may not see Wayne don the cowl of The Dark Knight, but for all intents and purposes he is deep into becoming Batman.

It does make one wonder why Gotham didn't just start out being Wayne-centered rather than Gordon-centered.  Making Gordon the central character does make it look a bit like we had to throw in the future villains of Penguin, Riddler, and Mr. Freeze, all of whom are old enough to be Wayne's father.  Even Poison Ivy needed a little more upgrade to be closer to Gordon's age than Bruce's age (and that's considering she started out younger than Wayne when we saw her first).

Some things Gotham simply couldn't do.  They couldn't make Selina Kyle, the future Catwoman and Batman's frenemy/love interest, older.  They couldn't make Jerome Valeska, the (more than likely) future Joker that much older.  Given that Joker and Batman are the primary villain/hero combination, they had to be something like contemporaries.

As a side note, I understand people are working on a Joker origins story.  Why bother, when Gotham has given him a strong one already?

As I take a last look at Season Three before Season Four begins, there are things to admire, things to criticize.  In the former, we have a tighter focus on storylines.  Especially in Season One, things, while good, seemed to be all over the place, with 'freak of the week' stories.  Now, we have a more steady stream where Point A leads to Point B and so on.  Sometimes those storylines do feel like they are dragging, but given there are twenty-two episodes to fill, we can cut them some slack.

Another positive is the performances.  Out of all the actors and actresses on Gotham, I think the best one is David Mazouz as Young Master Bruce.  Especially in Season One, when they were determined to get their Gordon-centered show, Mazouz and Wayne seemed like they were irrelevant.  Now, Mazouz has become a bigger, better player in the goings-on in Gotham (even if he has a strange habit of getting himself kidnapped: thrice at least, once by the Mad Monks of Galavan, once by Jerome, and once by the henchmen of Ra's al Ghoul).

More on that later.

Mazouz this season not only had to play Bruce Wayne, but his doppelganger.  In other hands, this could have come off as almost camp or parody, but Mazouz did such an incredible job, changing his voice and manner to where the whole thing is believable.  Mazouz started out with a weak child in Bruce, which is what he was: he saw his parents get blown away.  Now he makes Wayne a growing man: strong, determined to fight his path in life.

Mazouz is matched by Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle.  Gone are the trappings of calling her 'Cat' or making obvious references to her future role as the conflicted, complex Catwoman.  She, like Mazouz, has given a deeper, more complex and nuanced portrayal.  We see the genuine hurt and sadness within, hidden by the tough exterior.

Whenever these two get together on screen, it becomes an acting dance, seeing two people work so well on screen.

They manage to outshine a good number of the adults, no small feat given that we now have the double-act of Cory Michael Smith and Robin Lord Taylor as Edward Nygma and Oswald Cobblepot respectively, better known by their nom de guerre The Riddler and The Penguin.  I know a few have not been pleased by making the Penguin gay and having him fall in love with the very heterosexual Riddler (to where Penguin had the Vertigo-like romance of Ed's killed).

Let me discuss that a bit.  I'm not such a puritan for Canon that I go all to pieces at the thought of a gay Penguin.  I do, however, think that if you are going to have a gay character, especially a major character, just to have a gay character, just to have 'representation', then that isn't a good reason to have that character be gay.

I've seen this on Doctor Who, where the Companion Bill Potts either mentioned she was a lesbian or her sexual orientation was referenced in 5 out of 12 episodes, and where the main character of The Doctor was changed from male to female 'because it's time we had a female Doctor'.  Representation to have representation gets you only so far.  A character's being eventually has to be more.  You have to have a full person, not just 'the gay person', the 'Asian' or 'Hispanic' person.  A person's sexuality and ethnicity is an important part of who they are, but it can't be all they are.

Nothing on Gotham suggested that Penguin, to quote Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby, just 'went gay all of a sudden'.  He never had any romantic or sexual desires shown or mentioned on screen.  As such, he never can be accused of being 'outed' when he was never in or out: his sexual desires, if any, were never brought up.  If anyone could be gay, it could be him.

However, as much as people may celebrate this openness, with reason, we do draw from stereotypes in how Penguin is gay.  He was excessively attached to his mother, down to having her bathe him.  He could be violent, but he also could be extremely weak.  He also went gaga over someone who had never given him the time of day when, as the Master of the Criminal Underworld, there could have been a cacophony of young men to satisfy any sexual urges he never acknowledged openly or showed.

That's the curious thing about Pengy: we never did see him express or show any kind of sexual or romantic desires towards anyone, so now he suddenly loses his mind over someone he knows is totally straight (as far as I can tell, Nygma has never given a clue that he is anything other than straight, let alone bisexual).  If this was a way to make Penguin essentially come out, it seems to me a bit clumsy.  Why not introduce a character who could reciprocate Penguin's love or sexual desire?

It also isn't as if Gotham was starving for gay characters.  We have Barbara Kean and Tabitha Galavan. They form perhaps the strangest love triangle, with Tabby playing with both Bonkers Babs and the very heterosexual Butch Gilzean.  Is it me, or does our wicked pair have their own baggage: the stereotype of the crazed, criminal lesbian?

It's a bit hard to know exactly what Babs is sexually speaking.  In Season One she seemed content with Jim, down to being catatonic, although she had same-sex urges and cheated on Jim with another woman, Detective Montoya.  Once she's unleashed, she goes full lesbian with Tabitha, for as far as I remember she never did have any other relationships, unless you count taunting Jim and going so far as to abducting him for some unhinged white wedding.

I don't think Bonkers Babs was bisexual.  I think she was a lesbian who was obsessed with Jim Gordon, and one can be obsessed with someone without being sexually attracted to him.

To wrap up this side turn, despite their best and commendable efforts it looks a bit like Gotham is relying on stereotypes for their gay characters: for men, the mother-dominated, weak figures, for women, the crazed, criminal figures.  It will be interesting to see where and how things develop.

In the negative side, sometimes things on Gotham can be a bit repetitive.  There's the aforementioned 'Bruce gets abducted' bit.  Then there's the constant barrage of attacks at the Gotham City Police Headquarters.  The GCPD HQ has been attacked at least four times (the Maniax, the Electrocutioner, the Executioner, and the Mad Monks of Galavan).  You'd think the GCPD would learn by now that it is highly under-protected.

On a more serious note, one thing that continues to bother me, to trouble me, and to make me wary about Gotham is the extreme level of violence on the show.  We've seen stabbings, beheadings, people shot point blank, blood everywhere, people having their faces removed and then stapled back.  I understand there has to be some level of violence on a show like Gotham, that takes place in a world overrun with darkness and crime.

However, at times they go too far for my point of view.  Some of the beheadings, particularly a dock worker, to me was almost-ISIS like in both its graphic nature and delight in sadism.  Alice Tetch's death by being impaled was similarly gruesome.  Some of the violence, though perhaps not as graphic (such as when Kathryn gets stabbed in the hand and shortly after beheaded), is still highly disturbing to me.

Gotham sometimes goes overboard with how much it shows.  This has been a continuing problem, especially since when we saw a person literally explode.  I hope and urge Gotham to pull back from how it depicts the violence.  Sometimes less is more, and leaving things to the imagination works better versus showing us heads rolling or getting lopped off in really brutal ways.

Gotham Season Four has been highly successful in shaping the Batman mythos to new levels.  It has strong acting throughout, a lot of good stories going about, and its cinematography still remains among the very best on television.  I do strongly urge more restraint when it comes to how violence is shown, and would continue to advise parents that no one under 16 should watch Gotham, Batman or no Batman.

There's so much good within Gotham, but the graphic violence continues to be a source of trouble and worry.

Next Episode: Pax Penguina

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