A blushing bride walking down the aisle for her wedding rehearsal. A chagrinned groom. A stately cathedral. And then a chorus of deranged murderers?
No, it isn't the latest TLC reality trainwreck. It's the nightmarish opening of this week's "Gotham." But while broken Barbara Keane's dream is the easy way to focus on her spotlight episode of the Fox DC Entertainment series, underneath the surface there's a lot more going on for Babs and all the women of the series...most of it bad.
The story starts simple enough: Barbara gets sent back into the lap of Jim Gordon (the one thing she wants most) to confound the do-gooder cop on behalf of twisted mayor Theo Galavan who needs Gordon distracted so he can take a final shot at stealing a company from Bruce Wayne (with a tease that he'll be buying off the boy with the one thing he wants most). From there it's a race where Barbara drags Jim through a nightmare wedding scenario against the wishes of his powerless girlfriend Leslie Thompkins, Galavan dangles one-dimensional Lolita Silver St. Cloud in front of Bruce and Eddie Nygma buries the body of his own ex in the woods.
But before we look at the particulars of how it all plays out, it's important to note how poorly the women characters of "Gotham" have faired this season. Since the death of Season 1's gonzo standout Fish Mooney, the ladies of the series have increasingly been used as either cardboard props or cartoonish fools. And sure, nearly every character on this show comes off as some type of caricature, but the men are played that way to look cool or crazy or exciting. The women are almost always secondary figures meant to prop the guys up. Selina Kyle switches between pouty mob pawn and jealous middle school crush. Psychiatrist Leslie Thompkins rarely has a role outside of being a nag who's just concerned about her man's well being. And worst of all there's Erin Richards' Barbara, who went from a bitter drunken cliche last year to a ka-razy ex girlfriend cliche this season. Don't let the scenery chewing glitz of her performance distract you from the fact that Richards' Babs is the cherry on the top of this show's hard lean into geek entertainment's toxic history with poorly-developed female players.
From kidnapping Jim and Leslie (amid the show's typical set of gun-toating, gimp-mased ghouls) to setting up a redo wedding that's literally at the point of a shotgun, the entire Barbara story is just a flimsy pretense for two the women to argue over who knows and loves Jim best. Even the moments supposedly focusing on the ladies reek of sexism -Â particularly Leslie's attempt at distracting Barbara by telling her "I love your dress." I love your fucking dress!!! Pathetic.
Worst of all, the story ends the only way it can, with a last-minute police showdown where Babs jumps from the cathedral to her death - only caught by Jim long enough to toss off a forgettable farewell that supposedly motivates him to extra super hate Galavan. It's the worst kind of what we in comics call "fridging" a female character and bone stupid to boot.
The rest of the episode doesn't fare much better - particularly the end of Nygma's long, drawn-out nightmare of a relationship. While burying the woman he stalked, lied to and then murdered, the future Riddler declares "I won't soon forget you." Except that immediately after that he's drawn into the act of killing a passerby and then wandering off to bump into a wounded Penguin -Â virtually guaranteeing that Kristen Kringle's limited role in his story will soon be erased so we can see how cool it is that two future supervillains can bro it up.
At least the Galavan/Bruce subplot remains free of women to abuse onscreen outside of a walk through by overly sexualized preteen Silver. Galavan dangles the supposed killer of the Wayne parents under Bruce's nose to extort the boy's controlling interest in Wayne Enterprises out of him. The ensuing crisis Bruce goes through never seems to light upon the fact that the man offering such a horrific swap likely won't be any better a lead for the family company than the crooks currently in charge. But either way it doesn't matter because Barbara's last gift to Jim was the location of the former mayor of Gotham who gives up Galavan as a villain just in time for the GCPD to jump in and reset the season to the premier's status quo.
We've been saying for weeks that "Gotham" has been getting better all season, but this episode proves that the show is still an offensively underwhelming mess -Â a black mark on the Batman legacy. Week after week, cliche after cliche and woman after woman ground up by its abysmal tough-guy tone, the series can't pretend that a few style points do anything to raise it's level of quality beyond an ugly reminder of comics culture's manchild past.