Gotham Review: 'The Blind Fortune Teller'
Tonight was a return to form for Gotham, with an insipid procedural plot, ludicrously feeble attempts at character development, and extremely questionable gender politics. On the plus side, they finally introduced the Joker! On the minus side, his origin story was boring and perfunctory, and the "new interpretation" of the character is nothing more than a blend of Heath Ledger and Penguin.
Much more than the Scarecrow episodes, which at least were entertaining and somewhat compelling at times, this episode demonstrated exactly how much Gotham uses its DC Comics origins as a crutch. The Graysons plotline is the perfect example of something the audience wouldn't even considering caring about if it wasn't an Easter egg. There's a circus, there are two feuding families, there are two kids who secretly love each other, there's a brawl, nothing really happens, and the two kids get back together. This is paltry storytelling at best, and if there weren't a "prenatal Robin" hovering around this couple, there would be absolutely no reason to include them. The origin stories of various Batman villains are indeed the point of this show, but we should have some reason to care about what's happening beyond the comics. It's not that much to ask.
The Joker storyline fared better, as it was at least relevant to the proceedings, but not by much. The origin story- a promiscuous mother who didn't really care about him- was downright boring, and aside from his youth, there was absolutely nothing new about this interpretation of the character. Cameron Monaghan's performance was pretty great, especially when he abruptly switches into psychopath mode and begins laughing like a maniac, but he didn't have much to work with. First, the character itself, down to certain lines of dialogue ("that's absurd and offensive!") was suspiciously Penguin-like. He's not a new character to Gotham, he's just another buttoned-down, eccentric, polite sociopath with mommy issues. And everything else about his character was so bland, I couldn't even blame Monaghan when some of his delivery lapsed into a Heath Ledger imitation, because what else was he supposed to do?
Gotham sort of tried to take on gender in this episode, with less than satisfactory results. I haven't written about this for a while, and it's improved slightly over the first sixteen episodes. Barbara is still a sexist stereotype, but she's less prominent, Leslie Thompkins is not very well-developed, but not really worse than any other character on the show, and Fish Mooney has become a major villain in her own right, although her sexuality is still used sometimes for titillation purposes. But this episode demonstrated that the show is not prepared to take on the issue in any real way. It was refreshing to see Leslie call Gordon out on his "white knight" sexism, in which he isn't an outright misogynist but still feels like he needs to "protect" women and keep them shut away from all the bad, evil things in the world. And the exchange in which Gordon tells Leslie she's not like other women, and she responds, "Maybe you just don't know many women," is a very apt commentary on the thinking behind sexist stereotypes. (It's also an accidental meta-commentary on why this show is so often sexist, but whatever.)
But then, in the very same episode, Gotham establishes a very strange relationship with female sexuality. Both Jerome and Penguin have hypersexual mothers (albeit in very different ways), which directly leads them to become psychopathic killers. You could argue that Jerome's slut-shaming speech is meant to establish him as a villain, which means it's contrary to the ideology of the show. But at the same time, Jerome's mother is never humanized or even really sympathetic, and we're never supposed to doubt that she was probably a terrible mother. When Jerome says she was a "cold-hearted whore," we're supposed to think that he's somewhat evil for using that language and killing his mother, but we're also supposed to think that his mother's promiscuous behavior drove him to become what he is. Even if it shows progress that Gotham is willing to admit that its male characters are sexist, it still has a very problematic relationship with women and their bodies.
-It's such a bad sign that I was barely even fazed by the ridiculous "let's set a boa constrictor free to find a dead body because that sounds like something a real cop would do" thing. My Gotham goggles are severely impairing my judgment.
-The entire psychic plotline was really stupid. Of course Gordon should investigate it, not because psychics are real, but because if the psychic leads them to a discovery, then it means that the psychic is involved or at least knows something. And then that's exactly what happens, which is such a tired trope anyway. Could the writers really expect us to be surprised? I'm not sure they even care, they seem as uninvested in the procedural elements of the show as the audience.
-Barbara's interactions with Selina and Ivy were kind of cute, if only because they underscored what a human disaster she is that she could use fashion and dating advice from homeless teenagers. But then, par for the course, by the end of the episode she became annoying again.
-I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again, but how did Bruce become the best part of this show? We need to see more of him from now on.
-Speaking of sexism, Morena Baccarin's character tirade against "rational science" was somewhat tiresome. I understand that many people believe in spirituality, and that many of these people are scientists and doctors, but can we stop giving women this monologue exclusively? Aside from Mulder, it's always the man being the skeptic and the soft, gentle woman telling him to see the irrational side of things. (I'm looking at you, Interstellar.)