Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Gotham’s second season fizzles out

Illustration for article titled Gotham’s second season fizzles out

Season finales often bring a sense of clarity to all the episodes that came before. They tie up loose ends, pay off earlier conflicts, and pave the way for further character progression in coming seasons. Season finales aren’t just about tidying up conflicts though; they’re about showing change and consequence. We should be able to look at a season finale and see how far the characters have or haven’t come. We should be able to understand their choices and the repercussions that follow. Engaging narrative storytelling is all about actions and consequences.

For Gotham, this season has been a rocky one, filled as it is with meaningless subplots and conflicts that end up going nowhere. This has been a season of fits and starts, but at the core of it has been two central ideas. First, there’s the more on-the-surface idea of Gotham establishing threats as the series moves forward. This season has been heavy on the villain branding, trying to put the bad guys front and center after the first season’s lackluster engagement with the darker side of Gotham. “Rise Of The Villains” and “Wrath Of The Villains” have subtitled every episode, and yet, has the show really done much to legitimize the foes of Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne?

“Wrath of The Villains: Transference” suggests that, no, the show hasn’t done much to make Gotham feel lived-in, like an actual dangerous place to work and live. In fact, it’s not until the end of the episode that the titular villains find their way into the streets. Instead, this season has skated by on vague nods to the DC canon, including brief moments with Mr. Freeze, Firefly, Hugo Strange, and most recently, the Court of Owls, though they’re currently just a “secret council” that controls the whole city. “Transference” is almost hilarious in how it exposes the flaws of this season, namely in terms of creating meaningful stakes from one week to the next. The entire episode is built around Bruce finding out about a “secret council,” Fish Mooney escaping Indian Hill with a bus full of monsters, and Jim Gordon discovering some sort of inner peace, but there’s no dramatic stakes in those stories.

In fact, Fish Mooney breaking the monsters out of Indian Hill is a perfect example of Gotham‘s more manipulative storytelling tendencies. The show has a habit of teasing future villains, of building up the importance of its mutated foes. Here, it happens again, with various blurry, unidentifiable monsters making their way out of the bus and into the streets of Gotham. Gotham wants this to feel like a big, memorable moment, but it’s all pomp and circumstance. We’re already aware of Gotham‘s track record with villains, so to see the show parade a bunch of faceless villains on the screen and ask us to care about what happens next is borderline insulting. A scene like that is empty boasting.

It gets worse though, and this brings us to the second central idea of this season: guilt. At its most basic, “Transference” is about establishing Strange’s monsters, and tangentially the Court Of Owls, as a threat to the city. It’s the dramatic point that the whole episode hinges on. It’s the reason Bruce and Lucius need to escape. It’s the reason Jim needs to get out and get rid of Fake Jim Gordon. It’s the reason Huge Strange would rather die in Indian Hill than face his monsters on the streets of Gotham. So, if the whole point of “Transference” is to suggest these monsters are threats like Gotham has never seen, why is the show’s hero taking off?

Look, I’m not against any sort of love story here, but Gotham seems incapable of actually interweaving the story of Jim and Lee with anything else that’s going on. Gotham has never been good at juggling storylines, and this is another example. In “Transference,” Jim comes to realize, after a heavy dose of Honesty Serum (seriously), that he needs Lee in his life and that he should have gone to find her as soon as he got out of Arkham. That’s a decent emotional revelation to put on Jim, but the problem is that Gotham has largely ignored the Lee subplot ever since Jim ended up charged with Galavan’s murder. It’s hard to see Jim’s sudden clarity and guilt as anything other than contrived tidiness, a way of wrapping up a story that didn’t have any legs to stand on in the first place.


On top of that, Jim leaving Gotham and going after Lee is another case of Gotham failing to engage with plot threads from earlier in the season. “Transference” operates as if in a vacuum, as if the events that made up the first half of the season, and parts of the second half, are irrelevant at this point. The problem is that so much of the finale focuses on Gordon’s guilt, leaning on it for thematic weight, and yet doesn’t bother to engage with that guilt on any meaningful level. There’s mention of letting Lee go, sure, but isn’t the whole reason she left, and the whole reason he started to feel burdened in the first place, because he killed Galavan? Wasn’t crossing that line, making him more like the monsters he’s chasing, the act that corrupted his soul? Gotham just shrugs that storyline off as if it doesn’t matter. No TV show can ask you to be invested in the struggles of its characters if every conflict and moral compromise that comes their way is then ignored only a few episodes later.

Ultimately, “Transference” is representative of this season as a whole. It’s occasionally interesting, but mostly just a dull collection of scenes that have no bearing on any sort of overarching narrative. The second season of Gotham has proven that the show has very little ability to plan for the future, to put stories into motion and then pay them off in a rewarding way down the road. Instead, the show stumbles from one week to the next, paying little attention to character motivations or plot continuity, and instead hoping that an assortment of vague villains and murky themes will carry the show. Gotham isn’t in a worse place than it was last year, but it’s certainly not growing.


Stray observations

  • Never Mind The Bullocks: I’m happy that Bullock is coming into his own as a Captain, but that’s going to ruin this section of the reviews. The absence of ridiculous quips tonight is a real shame.
  • I’m really not sure what purpose Firefly and Freeze serve here. Or what purpose any villains served this year, really.
  • “You would have made a great pimp.” I’m not entirely sure what Fish means by this, but I’m still down with it.
  • Nygma kept referring to Bruce and Lucius as “quiz kids,” and I’m just assuming he’s referring to the show from the ‘40s and ‘50s.
  • I definitely laughed out loud (out of surprise and curiosity) at long-haired Bruce emerging from the bus of monsters. If that’s some sort of canon DC thing I don’t know about, let it be known in the comments.
  • Well, that’s another season of Gotham in the books. This show’s been on for seven years, right? It sure feels like it. Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting!