Gotham – Season 2 Episode 22
“Wrath of the Villains: Transference”
So, I’m back to see Gotham season two’s finale. Strange as it feels to write it given how much more I like Gotham than Craig does, I felt he was rather generous with his rating for the penultimate episode. Watching ‘A Legion of Horribles‘ I felt a little dread creep into me: We already knew Firefly was coming back but then she’s joined by Cuttle-Fish Mooney and Clayface; my dread then being that the show was seeding too many more villains into the plot such that the existing ones wouldn’t get enough screen time to satisfy. I think that dread proved well founded.
Ultimately I think with this finale Gotham slipped back into the problems of the first season: so many characters – so many plots – that none of them could possibly come to anything important or meaningful. I know, I get it, that Gotham is supposed to be a fun show in relation to other comic-book ones but surely that shouldn’t detract from the its ability to satisfy other concerns? Especially when there are plot threads specifically set up throughout the season that then don’t get resolved?
Sure this episode finishes the plot set up in its own little two-part arc but what about Bruce and Jim’s ideological battles? Numerous times Jim’s faced off with Barnes over the right way to protect the city. He’s also been confronted with a painful truth from Nygma, who pointed out Jim might be very close to becoming one of the monsters he hunts. Is that then all over with a bit of hypnosis? Or is it just left to season three because there were too many other things to get through this episode?
As for Bruce, what about that tease of him maybe having a split persona – the talk of actions being taken by “the other Bruce”? Did this hint of Bruce becoming as insane as Gotham’s villains? Is Batman to be another personality in his head? Is that then all over though, because he’s found a way to deal with it all by confronting his fears and enemies? Or is it just left to season three because there were too many other things to get through this episode?
Before I go on I feel the need to hold myself in check slightly. I’ve always agreed with the sentiment that you shouldn’t bring your darkness with you. I dreaded that this season finale wouldn’t be up to the standard of the rest of the season, so to prevent that colouring my perspective – to make sure I’m not just looking for the bad – let me find first the things that I liked about the episode. In this vein I’d raise three writing-acting combos that were a pleasure to watch.
First, Professor Hugo Strange as he realises his monstrous creations are about to be set free. Watch BD Wong in that moment when Strange has lost and the horror of what’s to come is plain to him. We’ve always been shown before a powerful, confident Strange, one who’s never defeated even when he’s at a disadvantage. Yet here he’s afraid, very afraid, and this tells us just how bad things are going to get if his reanimated creatures get free. A full half-season set up then, leads into a massive, important payoff – hitting much harder because of it. BD Wong’s Strange has been one of Gotham’s best villains so far for me.
Second, Selina vs. Bruce in the Arkham underground: I was greatly disappointed in ‘Unleashed’ when Selina didn’t tear Bruce a new one when he came looking for help after having previously dismissed her. But maybe she’s the type to keep things locked up deep inside. Maybe she’s emotional when surprised but when she’s had time to prepare she can keep it hidden. My disappointment then is selfish in that I misread her? And here in this finale she gets a chance to challenge Bruce on her own terms. ‘You manipulate me? Please, I manipulate you more all the time!’ Whether she’s right or wrong doesn’t matter, we’re shown here that she’s together and determined to be in charge. I never tire of the Bruce and Selina show; it’s always had a lot to give.
And third, Barbara and Penguin: it seemed a little random bringing them together but their charming little decoration scene was fun; and Gotham’s supposed to be fun, yes?
Three is where I leave it though. I wanted to add more but I think the other good moments were more close-no-cigar for me. I quite liked seeing Nygma toying with Bruce and Lucius but he didn’t use riddles, just questions. Difficult questions, true; questions with purpose, yes; but still not riddles, emphasising that the Riddler has become just another minion of Strange. Nygma is clever enough to be a top-level villain by himself, so it’s a shame not to see him given the chance to shine.
I also quite liked the comedy bomb disposal scene, surprisingly for me (seriously, you have to watch this if you didn’t last time). It’s a really old joke that one: we thought you meant one thing but by pure luck it turns out that the confusion leads us to success anyway. It’s eighties-sitcom-tastic in fact. Thing is, the scene builds in steps that all make sense given the last one, so it all works. You can use an old joke if you can do it well. That said, when you do look back at it altogether it seems a little ridiculous.
Which brings me to the darkness. Is it really there?
Certainly I’ve managed to avoid some of it by not being so familiar with Batman canon. If you need your Batman canon to remain inviolate you’ve probably felt the hate rise a few times over the last two seasons, so perhaps my more-limited experience of the lore does me a favour: I don’t carry that darkness; I’ve not so great a need to see something preserved. Despite this though, I found this episode didn’t even stay internally true to Gotham itself.
Take Clayface as an example. Good as it was that Barbara could see though his ‘cunning disguise’ so quickly it really undermines Bullock. First he seems to shrug and let the whole Strange mystery go for what feels like no good reason but then he does seem to recover when you see him probing Clayface for information Jim should know. Was he just being really slow though or just confused? If he had no experience of weird stuff then maybe you’d let him off but he lives in Gotham City; he’s seen the dead come back to life; he does know better! So his intelligence is undermined for the sake of getting Barbara into the GCPD just so she can get some information.
And he’s not the only character to behave differently because the plot needs it. Last episode Firefly took on Cat as a worshipper, treating her like a favoured minion, but now Cat is Firefly’s best friend again? When did that happen? Well, just at the point it’s needed in order to start a seemingly pointless fight between her and Freeze. So a piece of last week’s plot doesn’t go anywhere just for the sake of a cheap scene this week.
Worse with this event too, is that Strange is caught up in that fight. Technically I can see that this is Strange being defeated by the evil he created but this is only a technicality at best. Either way, the season’s big bad is defeated simply by him walking in the wrong direction rather than because of anything any of the heroes have done. It was such a weak and disappointing finish for such a great character. I didn’t think anyone would be treated to a more humiliating finale than Azrael but I was wrong. Such a powerful character and yet such a nothing ending.
Now, I know Strange is not dead and that he could come back, true, but even that was a bit weird: he survived being hit by the combined freeze ray and flame cannon together and came out not too bad, all in all – how?
I really struggle to get my mind off how badly Strange was treated. There’s that one moment I’ve described above that really shines because it had such a great build up. Everything else he’s involved in this episode is much worse by comparison and notably results from plot that was just recently set up – new plot that hasn’t had time to develop into anything meaningful.
I completely blame the Court of Owls. I’ve been told to expect some good things from them in the future but so far, so nothing. Their worst step so far? The bomb. Yeah, I know I said I liked the comedy of the moment but let’s return to the ridiculousness.
Did you see that Doctor Who episode where we were supposed to be horrified that there were something like 3 billion Daleks out there? Utterly ridiculous. I understood the threat of the singular Dalek in the earlier episode – it was deadly. But I’m supposed to multiply that by 3 billion? I have no concept of where this gets me. It’s a big number, true, but I don’t have 3 billion of anything to compare to, so the threat cycles all the way back round to silly and meaningless, much like the bomb in Gotham.
Leaving aside the idea that Wayne Enterprises could ever have a good corporate use for a basement bomb – actually no let’s not: Surely if the Court of Owls is so powerful they control enough resources to just stop people threatening Indian Hill at all? OK, so say they don’t, what then about the radioactive material stored right there with it? The show doesn’t think that killing a lot of Gotham’s inhabitants is enough of a threat for us the viewers to care about that it needs to arrange for a dirty bomb? Surely the radioactive material could have been stored in any one of Wayne Enterprises’ other labs? But no, the plot needs to reach 3 billion on the threat-o-metre, so pile it all on, bombs, radiation and mutants and all. Nonsense. The look on Strange’s face alone was much more powerful.
Maybe we will get better stuff from the Court of Owls in season three. Based on information I read from the clever people on the ‘other side of the internet’ Penguin is going to be linked into them through his father. It feels like there’s a strong danger of them falling into nothing though, like Strange, like Azrael, like Nygma, like Freeze. Even add to that list poor old Butch: he agreed to work with Penguin to get revenge on Galavan but now that’s done Butch still seems to have found himself nothing more than Penguin’s first lieutenant again.
Perhaps the new reanimated and mutant villain armies will fare better. Did you identify any? I thought I might have seen Mad Hatter in GCPD. I think I failed to report Killer Croc -or was it Solomon Grundy?- strapped up a couple of episodes ago too. I was reasonably sure I heard Jerome’s laugh in the back of the bus of evil that might be a reanimated Joker? What about evil Bruce? Who died to make that happen?
Of all of them perhaps Cuttle-Fish Mooney stands the best chance. Fish was such a great character I feel like she’s the most promising (relatively). I’ll still say though, that this episode she was dealt with a bit randomly. There were a few moments were it seemed like she could have easily been stopped by asylum workers and just wasn’t for the benefit of the plot; and she was stupid enough to drive down Co-incidence Street where all good vehicles go to be ambushed (because your enemies always seem to know when you’re going to be under that bridge). No guarantees then, even for the best of them.
Transference was a disappointment, no doubt. It resolved everything that was set up last week whilst managing to resolve little else that was set up the rest of the half season. The focus on new villains really detracted from the plot of all the existing cast: Bruce and Gordon’s internal struggles went virtually unmentioned, Strange got a terrible ending and every other villain was reduced to a bit part at best. ‘Worse Than a Crime’, the mid-season finale, was by far a better finishing episode.
Looking back over the season there have been some great episodes: ‘A Bitter Pill to Swallow’, ‘Into the Woods’ and, my personal favourite, ‘The Son of Gotham’ being my top picks. I hope season three returns to these episodes for its inspiration, as in all three there was some excellent focus on some great characters. Gotham needs to stick to this and avoid that need it felt in the first season to rush as much into the plot as possible.