Gotham – Season 2 Episode 19
“Wrath of the Villains: Azrael”
This week, Azrael takes the role Gotham usually gives to Jim Gordon: the central character tying all other characters and plots together. I don’t think I’d realised just exactly how many people Galavan had managed to upset until we went through the roster this episode. These connections give me some hope that Azrael will be around for some time and not be a flash-in-the-pan villain, quickly discarded. I feel a bit jaded on that subject given the wheeling out and otherwise vanishing of Mr Freeze. It’s specifically the use of Azrael in his opening episode though, that makes me think he’s got some good mileage to come.
Standing out beyond all other scenes in this vein was, I think, Azrael’s assault on the GCPD station, an extension of the scene of the triple killing, which introduces him to the heroes. I think Gotham’s done a good job of spreading out what it is to be Batman across many characters in the show such that both we the audience and Bruce are getting the full caped-crusader experience. For us it’s a fix; for Bruce it’s a collection of ideas that he’ll weave together into an iconic form. At the murder scene Bruce sees a caped man easily escaping a crowd of armed men by scaling a wall with the ease of crossing the street. David Mazouz makes it clear that this image is burned into Bruce’s head. Shame he didn’t get to see the assault on the police station though: a voice in the darkness, fleeting glimpses of something not quite there, men disappearing into the shadows whilst his comrades are too slow to react – Bruce could have had the complete Batman experience right from the start.
Flippant as I perhaps make that sound, I liked the idea. As I say, Bruce can piece together Batman from all his experiences and the DC Comics background allows for many a shadow master before him. More than that, there’s the interesting mirror here: in previous cannon you may have seen Azrael taking on the role of Batman; here in Gotham this is reversed, as Azrael’s style may inspire a future Batman.
I do like Gotham’s parallels. I think they prove that the show cares about the Batman cannon and history – wanting to give the fans what they know and love whilst making sure that this new plot still has something to offer.
The show also well uses parallels and mirrors within its own plot too in way that I’ve always loved. One of my personal favourites gets another development this week – that of Bruce and Gordon. I heard theories that Gordon could go on to be the first Batman in this universe, building on the idea that he is already having to decide between obeying the letter of the law or not, between killing or not. This episode puts that theory to bed I think, by having Gordon telling Bruce that killing Galavan was a mistake. In this way Gordon seems to be another experience for Bruce to gather in: Jim has walked the path of the killer already, now Bruce doesn’t have to – and by Gordon’s age and experience this lesson sits better with me that its same delivery from Selina in “A Dead Man Feels No Cold”.
Azrael isn’t just there to introduce Batman though, he also gives a lot more information about Strange and his evil experiments. Saying that makes me realise that Azrael doesn’t have a lot to say or do for himself at the moment, but I’ll come back to that.
So, here we learn that when Strange’s reanimation brings people back, their body returns but the mind can’t reconcile this new existence occurring beyond what was clearly the permanent end brought about by death. I found this interestingly and pleasingly scientific. Not hard science, I mean, just that with a religious character it would be all too easy to bring in magic and or the spirituality of the afterlife. And not that I’m against either, but if the focus of this plot is to be Hugo Strange and his mad science I’m just very glad that science remains the explanation for the events, as it keeps Strange responsible for all that occurs – something I’m very keen to see continue in Gotham: people facing the consequences of their choices.
Strange then deals with this tiny little problem by giving Galavan a story to focus on, to explain everything in a way the human mind can handle. Smartly and efficiently using Galavan’s intimate knowledge of the history of the Order of St Dumas, Strange turns Galavan into a reincarnation of the legendary Azrael. This turns out to be a lucky as well as clever choice too, as pitting Azrael against Gordon as a heretic helps solidify Galavan’s new persona: Azrael can easily believe that Gordon – a man Azrael has a strange memory of as a killer – is worthy of death. Clearly there’s going to be some back and forth with Azrael, of him remembering his old life as Galavan, threatening to break his new story and tear apart his mind, but Gotham has quickly set up enough persuasion on both sides of the argument that Azrael will hopefully for survive for a while yet.
Most amusing about this story concept is what it reinforces about what we know about Hugo Strange’s motivations: He is definitely a little kid with a desire to mess with the universe, just to see what happens – he even says himself “I feel like a child on Christmas morning” as he comes round the corner with all the story books he’s going to imbue into his next reanimations.
Did you catch all the titles of the books Strange had under his arm and can you link them to all the villains he’s going to create? I’ll admit I’m struggling. I got Mad Hatter from ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ but that’s arguably not a difficult one. ‘King Arthur’ I saw but I can’t link that to a villain. The internet gives me King Arthur and Merlyn as DC characters but the first is a character from history and the latter an assassin with no real link to Arthurian legend beyond the name? As for that third book – Tales of Shakespeare – the best I can do with that is The Cavalier, and that seems a desperate link at best. Although, he’d fit the right level of madness of Arkham, so maybe…?
Ultimately then, I think Azrael’s a success as an interesting villain. The only thing I’m not sure on is the costume. To be fair it does seem ‘right’, if you will. Reds and blacks are stylish enough and the leather and metal fits the whole crusader image. Somehow that mask though, just seemed a little primitive – no, perhaps just ugly? Showmanship is the order of business in Gotham and you’d expect a crusader type to be very … prominent. I get that the black and dark red allows him to hide in shadows well, so white and gold probably can’t be used, but I would have preferred a more attractive look, even if just making that mask a little less like a sewer grate?
I don’t know, maybe I pick at too much. Let’s leave it at ‘ultimately a success’ and move on, taking me to two other things that stood out as good this week: the battle of Gordon vs. Strange and the Riddler Squad.
I’ve said it before but I’m not above repeating myself: I do like to see intelligent characters demonstrating their cleverness; it’s much better than just being told how great they are. In this episode we get to see it with Gordon and Strange. As their scene opened I misread Jim’s play and thought for a second he’d gone kamikaze. He seems to play all his cards and leave himself vulnerable but it turns out to be a ploy to get Strange to over commit and it works. More than this it works because it uses Strange’s strength against him: he reads Gordon’s motivation like a book – he is that smart – but this is what makes him think he’s got Gordon at a disadvantage. Lured in, he falls into the trap. It’s great viewing and an entertaining battle of wits.
As for the Riddler Squad, Ed also gets to show off his intelligence throughout the episode, he just doesn’t get the full payoff until right at the end for reasonable, comedic reasons. I won’t list off all the Riddler’s little moments here, I just wanted to give him good mention – all his scenes were fun and I’m really glad he hasn’t fallen by the wayside, as I fear Freeze has.
All that said above, I’d like to say that this episode held up to the strength of the previous two; and it almost does. If there was one thing that pulled it down for me it was Barnes. It’s such a shame, as he came in as a really strong character but of late he hasn’t been given much to do and this episode he’s relegated to ‘guy who gets stabbed for an emotional moment’. Of course, when you specifically set that up that fast it doesn’t have the impact. Worse, Gotham treads quite the fine line sometimes that it could easily fall into just plain silly with just one misstep. I think we saw such a step this week in Gordon giving Barnes the ‘don’t you die on me soldier’ speech from some old eighties trash-TV film.
I liked Azrael. I’m really enjoying the twisted little genius child that is Strange. I’m glad Nygma is still getting good screen time. That all said there was a lot going on this episode and I didn’t think it hit quite as hard as the last two did. Almost though, almost.
Perhaps Azrael’s storyline will be more powerful when he gets his own motivations. For now he’s a pawn of Strange. This works mind you; and Strange’s development of new villains is great for his plot. Is there a bit too much going on though – too many villains at the moment? Perhaps I just miss Freeze?
Ultimately, ‘Azrael’ gives us some good, solid Batman plot and is still definitely worth seeing.
- Azrael giving Bruce the inspiration to become Batman
- Jim’s battle of wits with Strange
- Hugo Strange as a twisted boy genius given too much power for our own good
- Azrael’s origin story staying scientific, so Strange retains responsibility for what happens next
- Barnes and Gordon’s ‘don’t you die on me moment’
- Azrael’s mask – just a bit too ugly for me