Episode 205 “Scarification”
[photos: Jessica Miglio/Fox]
Every episode Gotham’s sophomore season I watch, I am hoping for magic. The sets, wardrobe and cinematography are amazing. The writing, I feel, is stiffing the acting gems we have gotten sporadically. This episode is no different; both beautiful and horrific to watch.
Penguin tries his best to convince Theo to release his mother, citing that he could be a better asset if he was not worried about her. Theo is unconvinced and dismisses the frustrated Cobblepot.
Captain Barnes leads a raid on the Penguin’s money counting operation intent on crippling the self appointed crime lord. The strike force is surprised by their target’s resourcefulness, deploying a rocket launcher in a counter attack. The team avoids injury and takes out the operation. Aside from the brief rocket attack, scenes like this attempt to capture the procedural element of the show. They succeed only marginally, still failing to present any real danger or consequences.
Penguin is furious about being dismissed by Theo and struggles to develop a plan that will give him some leverage. His rant is interrupted by the news of the counting house’s raid. Flying into a rage, he brutally beats the messenger. And suddenly, in the midst of the beating, Penguin has a moment of inspiration.
Gordon gets rooked into a double date with Edward and Kristin, much to his dismay. Lee does her best to assure him that it will not be awkward. Theo visits Gordon at the precinct seeking his endorsement for mayor. Gordon respectfully refuses, citing his apprehension to mix politics and work.
Tabitha Galavan visits the Penguin to give him his next assignment – arson. Butch recruits Selena to make introductions to a group of local firebugs. Selena is past schoolmates with Bridget, the arsonist’s adopted sister. The writing falls flat trying to build a significant connect between the two in a matter of minutes. Sadly they use tired tropes to tug at our heartstrings and fail. A real connection takes time, at least an episode or two.
GCPD raids a known illegal weapons wholesaler. Gordon and Barnes corner one of the firebugs and open fire when he draws a gun. Secretly smuggling out a brick of inert explosive, he magically disintegrates in a fireball (which is scientifically impossibly). Which leads to more canned, predictable dialog that this show is becoming known for.
Normally Edward Nygma is a bright spot in the episode; however, he fails to deliver during the forgettable double date. The firebugs recruit Bridget as their point man and proceed to wire the first target up with enough C4 to level the entire block. For some reason arsonists in Gotham use explosives to start fires. The writers try to explain it away as thermite in a later scene, but one of the firebugs clearly identifies it as plastic explosive. Sigh.
The next day Barnes blandly discusses the destruction of five buildings in one night as if it’s a petty crime. They struggle to figure out the motive cementing their place as the worst crime procedural on TV. Selena visits Bridgett and tries to convince her to get away from her stepbrothers as soon as possible. This scene looses any impact due to the previously failed setup. Selena’s reasons for trying to help Bridget are one-dimensional, hollowing out their delivery.
An relic-like knife is delivered to Penguin by the firebugs with the intention for it to be passed on to Theo. While in his possession, Cobblepot tries to find out what he can about the blade. Enlisting a wise collector named Edwige, we are treated (or tortured) by a flashback to early Gotham’s high society. A tangled tale of scorned lovers and banished families gives purpose to Theo’s machinations. In a few short vignettes, they manage to dispel any opportunity to create mystery or suspense about Galavan’s motives or true intentions.
Penguin relies on Butch’s brainwashing to craft a brutal plan to infiltrate him into Galavan’s organization, hoping to learn the location of his mother. Harvey and Gordon’s hunch pay off as they catch up to the arsonists. Bridget has fashioned some fireproof gear with an uncanny insect motif. This will naturally lead to her eventual moniker as Firefly.
Abandoned by her stepbrothers, Bridget is grappled by a member of the strike force. During the struggle he is badly burned. Selena helps Bridget escape capture. Galavan is visited by an old friend or mentor from the religious sect that his exiled family sought shelter with. Theo updates him on the progress of their master plan for revenge on the Wayne family.
What’s not working?
The relationships of Gotham‘s core cast are struggling to develop. Most seem like plot necessities rather than rich character growth. It’s been clear to me that Butch’s brainwashing has been overlooked this season. It plays an important part in this episode and indeed this may be the event that explores his programmed loyalty. But it’s long overdue. Essentially I don’t care about the pursuits or even lives of most of the characters. Sure some, like Harvey, would be missed if they perished, but only fleetingly. The writing staff needs to take a hard look at these characters choose to make them more than afterthoughts.