In what could easily be a shared description with its target demo, Fox’s pre-Batman drama “Gotham” is all about angry young men. And as its second season closes in on a finale of some sorts, this week’s “Pinewood Farms” makes an attempt at salvaging the show’s two most prominent angry dudes before allowing both to slide deeper into unheroic territory as a myriad of villain-centric plotlines crashes into the proceedings and takes over completely.
In both of the parallel stories that kick the episode off, it’s a damaged woman that takes a shot at saving one of the male leads. The main event involves Barbara Keane (the once abused, then psychotic former lover of Jim Gordon) showing up at her eternal squeeze’s door. Released from Arkham and seemingly channeling her madness for the forces of good, Babs is looking to reconnect with Gordon, but the grim Gothamite predictably tosses her aside to chase down his (non-police sanctioned) hunt for the true killer of the Waynes.
In a sense, this entire season has been a test for fans of Gotham’s White Knight Commissioner as to whether the show could push poor Jim beyond any sense of redemption. As tonight’s story unfolds, those limits are tested as never before. It’s not just that Gordon’s new method for tracking down leads involves beating every criminal within the city limits into a bloody pulp just in case they have info on the so-called “Lady” who set up the Wayne hit (though that particular track pushes far beyond the ethically dubious “scare them into confessing” trope Batman used for years before actual torture became part of the U.S. military playbook). The real shame of the show’s treatment of Gordon is that from the punked up score on down, “Gotham” presents his descent into scumbaggery as though we’re supposed to find it “kewl.” The culmination of this creepshow is our “hero’s” admission that his plan for his prey is to “Put a gun in the Lady’s face and have her beg me not to pull the trigger.” What fun.
As Barbara inserts herself into Jim’s investigation, the nutty ex slowly turns into the voice of reason. Yes, she uses her rep as (at least) an accomplice to mass murder to get close to the Lady and then seemingly double crosses Jim. But putting her boy in mortal danger is just Babs’ method of proving her worth to him. That this flimsy fakeout still qualifies as the storyline’s most genuinely decent moment says a lot about how far the show has let their lead character get away from them. In any event, the ruse turns up the first tangible lead to the man who put out the contract on the Waynes: the so-called Philosopher.
Elsewhere in angry young man town, Bruce Wayne is ready to push forward into his own investigation as to whatever his father had cooking before his own death. With the help of Lucius “Basil Exposition” Fox, the boy detective zeroes in on a secret black ops science program called Pinewood Farms and the name Karen Jennings. It’s one of the major failings of “Gotham” on a basic fan fulfillment level that with a nearly endless supply of oddball Batman references to pull from, the series continues to create “original” pieces of mythology to fill out the show’s backstory. So no, these names have no significance Easter Egg, thematic or otherwise. They’re just obvious clues pointing in an obvious direction.
In a brief tease of what’s to come in the hour, we shift to Arkham Asylum where season Big Bad Hugo Strange is at work reviving an unseen “Patient 44” with research presumably scraped from the notes of Victor Fries. The villain temporarily declares that his intent is to cheat death itself, though how this motivation squares with the doc’s proclivity for brainwashing patients and releasing a string of dangerous nutjobs onto the street is anybody’s guess. But when he learns that the Wayne Foundation has been poking into the Jennings name, Hugo turns away from one nonsensical plan and towards another with all the broad foreshadowing one might expect.
As we head back to Bruce, the boy and his faithful butler track down Jennings to learn that this poor woman was in fact given…a velociraptor hand? Credit where credit is due, “Gotham” never delivers an effective or satisfying image when a totally bugfuck one will do instead. But aside from the fact that the Wayne Corporations secret brainwashing/immortality factory (because we all know this is just leading back to Strange anyway) somehow involves giving people dinosaur body parts, the rest of this plot is strictly by the numbers. It’s not Jennings’ fault. She was abused and killed her abusive father, but the system punishes victims and…whatever, man. It’s more than a little insulting the way “abused young woman” has become such a TV cliche on shows such as this, but when the writing doesn’t seem interested in developing its ideas past that level, why should we?
That the second story involving a very damaged woman working to save an angry young man from himself but failing is less important for its repetitiveness than it is for the way in which every plot from the entire season seems to pile on as the hour turns towards its conclusion. Dinohand leads Bruce and Alfred to the abandoned site of Pinewood where their investigation hits a dead end. That is, it’s dead until mystery forces show up to have their throat slit by raptor hand (because it’s “Gotham,” so of course a throat was uselessly slit). Once Jennings is booked for murder at central processing, Gordon shows up to compare notes with the Wayne crew, and a desperate plan is hatched to break Jennings out of jail no matter what the cost and let her lead them to the villain who she can only recall by face.
Surely there’s a line of thinking that Gordon’s willingness to openly attack his fellow cops plays into the vigilante justice that will eventually drive Bruce to become the Bat, but the romantic idea of the character hits the wall of reality pretty hard. Namely, seeing our supposed heroes put shotguns in the faces of cops in order to get what they want feels awfully unheroic, and the entire endeavor feels even more worthless when a Hugo-unleashed Mr. Freeze (complete with cryogenic suit) arrives amidst their getaway to murder Jennings in cold blood. Bruce’s muted screams at the murder of a woman who had just recently revealed herself as being close with his father pack a little bit of an emotional punch, but it’s harder to empathize with the kid when his own actions helped get her killed with absolutely zero impact on his investigation. World’s greatest detective, indeed.
The final minutes of the episode gloss over the Jennings story as quickly as any other love ’em and leave ’em plot in “Gotham’s” history. Lucius Fox resurfaces in the eleventh hour (after Gordon declares that he’s probably lost any chance of being a cop ever again because of this…and he’s cool with it?) with a photo in hand proving that Hugo Strange is in fact The Philosopher. Setting aside the idea that the killer would use the nickname he earned in friendship with Thomas Wayne to call in Thomas Wayne’s own murder, the moment undercuts the entire emotional story we’ve just witnessed.
But the show is on to bigger and badder things, and Strange is the key to al of them. At the tail end, Patient 44 is revived to reveal -Â you guessed it -Â a twice as crazy as ever Theo Galavan crowing on about Azrael -Â the sword of the St. Dumas cult. This is the bruiser viewers have been promised since the Dumas name was mentioned early this season, and that Theo is stepping into the shoes comes with such little surprise it barely registers as a spoiler. What lies ahead likely involves lots of needless bloodshed and a last minute redemption arc for Jim Gordon, but if “Gotham” delivers those moments with the same anger and speed as this episode, the drama will be mercifully brief.
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