Fox’s “Gotham” has broken a lot of eggs on its way to making a Dark Knight omelet, but for the most part the show has shied away from veering too far off the path of what most consider the core elements of the Batman story. With this week’s ponderously yet nonsensically titled “These Delicate and Dark Obsessions,” the series has finally gone off the road and into the ditch on that front. They stole away what makes Batman into Batman.
Things start out familiar enough. The Court of Owls has assembled to vote on some mad master scheme to destroy the city of Gotham – supposedly only the latest time they’ve had to destroy the foundations of the place in order to “save it.” The delivery is dull and the setup is one we’ve seen from Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy to “Arrow,” but the scene contains one slightly intriguing twist: the true head of the Court isn’t even there. So who could that be?
From there, the episode is mostly the show in its old familiar patterns with the same kind of minor tweaks to add novelty to the mix. The main focus is on Jim Gordon – struggling with the truth of his father’s death. While Jim has believed for years that a drunk driver killed his dad, now his estranged uncle has hinted that the whole thing was a setup perpetrated by the Court. Gordon’s investigation is a classic example of plotting from “Gotham’s” early procedural episodes. That is to say, every clue leads the detective straight to the absolute proof – no mystery needed.
Was the driver a setup? Of course, and Harvey can prove it with an anecdote about liver disease. Who pulled the trigger on the killing? Why it’s Carmine Falcone, who also provides a convenient excuse to drag Jim’s broken-hearted ex Lee into the proceedings, though she does little more than awkwardly bump into him at what must be the only cemetery in town. But why did Carmine call the hit? Because Jim’s own uncle asked him to! But when confronted with this awful truth, the uncle doesn’t deny it but insists that the only play left for the Gordons now is to stop the Court from unleashing their doomsday doohickey.
The B-plots of the hour travel in a similarly straight line. The Penguin tries to shake off the goofiness of the now adult Ivy Pepper and reclaim his criminal throne, but of course his men hate him now. There’s never any doubt in the series of crosses and doublecrosses that ensues that Ivy will eventually use her super pheromones to help Oswald win the day (villain team-ups are the go-to move, of course). But at least Ivy’s middle school mentality makes for some humor on the path to the pair bonding over being “freaks.”
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne wakes up in a strange mountain fortress – another comic plot that’s been used and reused in recent years – but this time the execution goes off into another place entirely. Bruce is kept under the thumb of a mysterious man the casting sheet calls “The Shaman” but who has no name spoken over the hour (played by “Justified’s” Raymond J. Barry in the shows latest round of character actor olympics). And while the solid hint of the story points to this man being the secret ruler of the Court of Owls, most of the thread is spent making Bruce relive the memory of his parents’ murder via spooky magic headtrip stuff.
Again, up to this point this story is well-worn territory. Batman and any number of character have spent their time in mystic Tibetan purgatory on their path to enlightenment, overcoming what holds them down emotionally. The problem with the execution this time around is where the show places the power of the transformation. The Shaman isn’t here to torture Bruce, really. He doesn’t want to destroy the boy in the name of villainy. No, he wants to recruit the young Wayne to be something more than another faceless member of the organization. He wants him to be Gotham’s protector – an idea that Bruce seems totally baffled by.
The idea “Gotham” is going for here is that this represents one more stone on the path towards Batman’s birth. But in the way it plays out, the story actually destroys that path all together. Batman has always been about the idea that anyone could become this great a hero if they had sufficient motivation, and the motivation always came from Bruce making a vow after his parents died. Now, that motivation has been stolen. It’s no longer that Bruce realizes what he wants to do in order to save Gotham. Now there’s a mysterious force – a villainous one, no less – whispering in his ear that he could become a symbol to rid Gotham of fear.
No matter how the show plays this, it goes against the core of the character. Sure, we all presume that Bruce will outwit the Court and the Shaman. He’ll go on and become Batman on his own terms. But no longer is the origin of this hero in his own hands. No longer do we have him making a solemn vow at his parent’s gravesite. No longer is his conception of fear driven by the fact that he wants to strike it into the hearts of a “cowardly, superstitious lot.” Bruce Wayne doesn’t become Batman on his own in this story anymore. So can he really still be Batman?
It’s only the latest misreading in “Gotham’s” history, to be sure, but it is their biggest one ever. Luckily, it seems that the show is guiding the plot to tie up all the series loose ends soon. Jim lies to join the Court in his final moments while Penguin and Ivy will return to the Indian Hill lab that’s also supposedly given birth to the Court’s weapon. With these full-circle moves, “Gotham” could easily wrap its entire run this season, and for Batman’s sake, it’d be great if it did.