Even though its characters are drawn from DC Comics’ Batman mythos, Fox’s Gotham has always taken its cues far more from mass media than sequential art. While the series has tapped comic-friendly faces like Azrael, the Court of Owls and (very recently) Professor Pyg, the show has mainly served as an homage to the likes of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan.
But tonight, Gotham‘s “Stop Hitting Yourself” broke precedence slightly with a story that alluded to a classic issue of Detective Comics, and the fallout will be huge for the future of Jim Gordon.
The issue in question in Detective #651 by Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan – the ominously titled “A Bullet for Bullock.” In that story, the gruff and ethically flexible detective Harvey Bullock has a target on his back, and the only way he can find his would-be killer is by teaming up with the Batman he loves to hate. The issue was the early definitive take on Bullock and proved so popular it was adapted into an episode of the ’90s Batman: The Animated Series, which more than anything put the detective on the map as an essential part of the Dark Knight’s cast.
Now of course, as all things cribbed from the comics, Gotham‘s latest isn’t a direct adaptation of “A Bullet For Bullock.” In the show, Harvey is struggling with the fallout of last week’s episode where he was duped into shooting some of his own officers on the hunt for Professor Pyg. The event had numerous fallout points this week, the biggest of which was Jim Gordon being offered the position of Captain of the Gotham Central precinct to replace Bullock.
But while the premises of the two stories were wildly different, both “Stop Hitting Yourself” and “A Bullet for Bullock” achieved similar goals with effectively similar iconography. In the original comic, usually blustery bully Harvey is shaken to his core by the threat against his life, and in the show, the wise-cracking Donal Logue character takes a fatalistic turn after shooting and crippling his own subordinate. Furthermore, both stories revolve around bullets haunting Harvey – the one meant for his heart versus the slugs picked out of the officer he maimed.
And ultimately, this episode is attempting to do for Harvey what Dixon and Nolan’s comic did for him so many years ago: elevate the character beyond a two-dimensional role. While the Bullock of the comics has become a beloved foil with layers and nuances over the years, Gotham‘s take has stubbornly been relegated to the role of black humor sidekick. It’s been a spectacular waste of Donal Logue’s talent if nothing else.
At episode’s end, Harvey balks from meeting with the cops he wounded both physically and emotionally, leaving Gordon to pick up the pieces and hand back the bullets pulled out of the harmed. When Gordon confronts his former partner, we see a more vulnerable side of Harvey than the show has ever given us as he drinks through tears and admits that if the job of Captain is one where you have to own your mistakes in front of the crew, he doesn’t want it. That’s the moment where Gordon decides he’ll take the top spot away from his pal, pushing the white knight of Gotham one step closer to his classic part as the GCPD’s reformer-in-chief.
But making that choice has also driven a spike between Gordon and Bullock. It’s the first major shakeup the show has delivered to the pair since they came to terms in Season 1, and it’s a rare moment of drama for the show that works without gruesome imagery or ridiculous scenery-chewing. While we’re certain that these top cops will bury the hatchet before long, the path to a better Gotham may lie ahead in more ways than one.
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