Much of the disappointment with Gotham has been due to its zeal. It (and therefore the writers), is clearly excited to have the reins to a relatively untapped period of time in Batman’s grand history. While excitement is usually welcome, in this case it has led to an overabundance of storylines and characters clogging the pipes, when they likely would have been better off sitting on the bench for a season or two. The result has been numerous underwhelming episodes that failed to deliver because they had no idea what they were delivering in the first place.
Episode 16, “The Blind Fortune Teller,” is the next addition in what has become an increasingly long list of mediocre hours from Gotham. It was far from an awful episode, as few have been in this inaugural season, but it certainly wasn’t an inspired one, either. Even the meaty proposition of introducing a young Joker (though “The Blind Fortune Teller” was careful to never refer to him as such) failed to inject the show with any sort of excitement. Once again, the prime culprit was the revolving door of storylines, all of which did little more than get in the way.
The A story this week centered on the murder of a traveling circus’ snake dancer. It featured the well-known Flying Graysons and, for once, the show handled this comic tidbit with some sense of subtlety but, sadly, the true stunner of a reveal wasn’t a stunner at all thanks to Fox’s overt tease at the conclusion of last week’s episode. The snake dancer (Lyla), we learn, was a lady with numerous suitors whose heart-teasing ways deepened a riff between two of the circus’ families (the Lloyds and Graysons, acting as the circus version of Capulets and Montagues). The assumption was that a member of one of the families killed Lyla because she had chosen someone else to love. Thanks to some decent detective work from Gordon and, really, Dr. Lee Thompkins (Morena Baccarin), we find out that neither a family had anything to do with Lyla’s death, but it was her own son, Jerome (Cameron Monaghan), who had dealt the fatal blow. The interrogation scene between Gordon and Jerome was the best moment of the night, if slightly spoiled by last week’s promo. Monaghan clearly did his homework, delivering a chilling turn as a young Clown Prince of Crime (though, again, the show never outright stated Jerome was a young Joker, and it easily could be a red herring). After seeing the strength Monaghan possessed to play a twisted, apathetic psychopath, I was saddened that he was given so little screen time. Really, I was saddened the entire investigation was allowed to get lost in the shuffle, but that has become commonplace with Gotham. The show has so many characters in the mix, each with different agendas, that often the main storyline fades to the background, not given the proper time to become something that will bounce around your head for the next week.
A nice development to come out of the otherwise lackluster main narrative was the relationship between Gordon and Lee. The two have been dating for a few weeks now and, while their relationship has been too cutesy at times for my taste, Lee is clearly a better fit than Barbara Kean ever was. From the beginning, Barbara was a clear weak link in the cast and a burden for the writers, who failed to give her any sort of believable action or dialogue. I have longed for her to leave the show since essentially the first episode, and the writers have teased that possibility numerous times. Sadly, Barbara returned this week and I can’t help but think she will soon attempt to disrupt the fledgling relationship between Lee and Gordon. Comic book shows, as well as all those based on works from other mediums, are often held to an unfair standard with their adaptations. But great shows realize when there is a need to break from canon, and there is no larger need for Gotham than the failings of Barbara. In her short time with the show, Morena Baccarin’s Lee Thompkins has proven to be a sharper character than Barbara, one who isn’t afraid to call Gordon on his tendency to slip into casual misogyny. Even more importantly, though, Baccarin has developed a nice chemistry with Ben McKenzie, and the scenes between Gordon and Lee are far more palatable than those from earlier in the season involving Barbara. Hopefully, canon be damned, Dr. Thompkins is here to stay.
Meanwhile, there’s the issue of Fish and the dungeon. After escaping the grips of Falcone’s henchman (who had to be the worst torture specialist in the history of torture specialists) and the odd Rocky III freeze-frame ending in which she faced off with some sort of pirate, Fish has been spending her time in an underground dungeon. I cannot decide if I like this storyline, or if I hate everything about it. Part of it is intriguing because, unlike what’s happening in many of the ongoing plots, the writers haven’t telegraphed their intentions and thus ruined any of the fun but, at the same time, the outcome seems inevitable. Fish has already gained power in the underground world and this week she furthered her standing in the eyes of the mysterious leader who put her there. She’s going to break free, one way or another, without consequence, and return to Gotham looking for heads to hunt. At the same time, I find myself curious as to who exactly this mysterious pirate (or warlord, or something) is, and why he has stashed all these people underground. Though, at the rate this show unrolls its stories, Fish may not return to Gotham this season, and we may not find out what’s happening in the dungeon until next fall.
The only other advancement worth noting was the return of Butch, Fish’s loyal henchman. Thought to be dead, or something resembling death, he reappeared as an altered man last night. Having had his brain jumbled by Zsasz, Butch is now apparently at the whim of Falcone’s deranged mercenary. What’s really important here is the lack of consequences that Gotham continues to enforce. Batman’s most famous rule is that he doesn’t kill, but that has never applied to his city. Gotham has five episodes left until the season finale, the moment I’ve been waiting for for weeks now, hoping it will enact some true change. Up to this point, the show has shown a lack of bravery when it comes to damaging its characters. A show that envisions itself as dark and gritty as Gotham does cannot go on forever without injecting some pain along the way. In short, someone needs to die. Without consequence, what’s the point?
Gotham, over its first 16 weeks, has shown a lot more fear than promise. It’s afraid to affect its characters in any lasting way, afraid to break canon even though its premise perfectly allows it to do so and afraid to let even a single week go by without updating the audience on every one of its myriad storylines. This leads to hours that are ready to burst, packed so tight that main narratives get squeezed out in favor of other plots that, frankly, don’t deserve to be there. Luckily we’re closing in on the end, which isn’t to say that we can exult in our pain being over, because the show hasn’t been painful, per se. But hopefully the setting sun will force the writers’ hands and, as the light fades, they’ll create more than a few fireworks to light the sky.
Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.