Fox's pre-Batman drama Gotham has often played fast and loose with the traditions of the Dark Knight's legacy, and it's usually been to its detriment.
Last night, the show seemingly committed to a turn that will doubtlessly divide the DC Comics faithful. But by the end of the episode, "The Blade's Path," the question has to be asked: Is Bruce Wayne really a murderer?
The biggest clue that the boy billionaire's murder won't hold is the victim himself: Ra's Al Ghul. In the comics, Batman's most mystical enemy has been revived countless times, and Gotham itself has made a habit of bringing in Big Bads for a short run at the start of the season only to pull them out late in the game for mid-season twists. If those kinds of storytelling shuffles can be employed for the likes of the Mad Hatter, Fish Mooney and Theo Galavan, why not for the Demon's Head himself?
The rare bit of pitch perfect casting of fan favorite actor Alexander Siddig in the part makes it hard to think the villain will stay off the table for long. And, of course, that's to say nothing of the fact that Ra's did some kind of bizarre transfer of his power or essence or whatever to series regular Barbara Keene. In fact, the only reason viewers have to believe the lord of the League of Assassins may truly be gone is the total degradation of his body live on screen.
But it's that very moment of death that proves that Bruce's action is a woefully bad turn for the series. From the opening moments of the episode (and really, the whole arc of this season so far), the killing was foreshadowed. Bruce had convinced himself that the MacGuffin-like dagger that had drawn Ra's to Gotham was the only tool that could kill him. And Al Ghul's cold-blooded move to kill a young boy who helped Bruce hide the blade last week surely seemed to show that the villain would do anything to get his hands on it.
However, in a rare Gotham twist that was played with finesse, it turns out Ra's' entire play was to goad Bruce into stabbing him, releasing the immortal foe from the prison the Lazarus Pit had trapped him in over the centuries. In that sense, his death was as convincing as they come – particularly when he aged a thousand years in a moment once the Batboy had plunged the knife into his chest.
So with the deed done, where does that leave Bruce? Even more broken as a character than this show had already presented him -- and that's saying something.
Gotham has been cavalier at best with the core principals of Batman's origin – the idea of a self-made superhero and the caped crusader's aversion to killing. In the past, the Bruce of this series has let scumbags fall to their deaths and even proved willing to do worse, but he's always been stopped from taking that final leap.
Once he finally went all the way by murdering Ra's, the hero's journey to become Gotham's masked vigilante seems to be just as dead. "I have betrayed myself and my parents memory...I took a life," says Bruce to Alfred at episode's end, then echoes Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight series (as the show so often apes its betters) by lamenting, "I'm not the hero Gotham needs."
And he's right. Now that Gotham has leaned incredibly hard into the dispiriting trend of making DC's most moral heroes killing machines in a desperate pitch to prove that "a good guy only knows killing is bad because he's done it"... well, how can you call this a real take on Batman?
Calling it an Elseworlds or simple "different take on the mythology" sidesteps the fact that the whole point of Batman is that he stands against murder. The Dark Knight is only the hero he is because he rises above the original sin that created him. Without that, the last glimmer that Gotham could turn itself into a real piece of the Batman franchise seems to have darkened completely. Even if Ra's returns later this season, the Bat has been broken completely.
Airing Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW, Arrow stars Stephen Amell, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Paul Blackthorne, Emily Bett Rickards, Manu Bennett, Echo Kellum and Josh Segarra. Airing Thursdays at 8 p.m. on Fox, Gotham stars Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Robin Lord Taylor, Cameron Bicondova, Erin Richards and Sean Pertwee.