Gotham – Season 2 Episode 18
“Wrath of the Villains: Pinewood”
It’s about this time in the season that Gotham starts giving us answers and in “Pinewood” we get the man and motive behind Thomas Wayne’s death, Barbara Kean’s current state of mind and what’s been happening in Arkham during the last three-episode’s detour. Better still, I can also start ticking off more questions from my Hugo Strange Q&A list that I started last month.
I found it very noticeable this week that, with I think two Hugo Strange scenes aside, the whole episode focuses on a single plot thread, with everything linking into it through Jim Gordon again – much like last episode did but without the team-building phase on the front of it. Not that I think Gotham should always do this by the way. In fact the series has become very adept at running several characters side by side. However, I think it’s testament to the strength of the story that when the show does bring the focus right down to one thread there’s just as much entertainment and plot detail to be had.
In ‘Pinewood’, we see Jim trying to atone for past misdeeds. He has decided that he must hunt down the person that ordered Thomas Wayne’s murder before he can continue with his life. Choosing to be a better person, he needs to prove he’s on the right track by fulfilling his promise to Bruce, which Barbara thinks will help Jim draw a line that he can put his past behind.
All of this is claimed by a much more interesting Barbara Kean than I think I have ever seen in the show before. She now has a twisted past, a clear, believable motive and some decent screen time in which to play out both – and it’s great. Almost everything she gets in this episode is worth the time to see it.
Now, I’ve really struggled with Barbara in all previous episodes. I know people loved “Tonight’s the Night” but it just left me feeling like I’d missed a great character that never really got a chance to appear. Up until now, Barbara has just been almost a slave to the motives of The Ogre and then Galavan; and it felt to me like she was only going up against Gordon because someone else told her to. If you took Jim out of the previous episodes, did Barbara really still exist?
In contrast then, in ‘Pinewood’, she runs in direct parallel to Jim. She also wants to draw line under her past; she also wants to move on; she also needs to perform some deed that will prove to herself and to Jim that she’s a better person again. Add to that she really feels she saw some spark of love for her as a human being in Jim’s eyes as he held on to her hand at the end of “Tonight’s the Night” and I feel like you’ve got a character who isn’t solely defined by Jim; she has her own reason for being – she just happens to mirror her ex-lover, which is arguably all the more tragic.
I’d hoped for more for Barbara when I saw her last week and wondered who she was going to be post Arkham: had she fooled the system to get out or was she truly sane again? The answer turns out to be perhaps neither or both. She was still quite jaunty on meeting Jim again that suggested the villain but every time she opens her heart to Jim there’s a real desperation in her eyes, begging life to let her return to what once was.
True it was all so terribly convenient that only she could access the information Jim needed: yes, sorry, you can only come in if you’re a woman, oh, and a criminal – hmm, so who can we send in then…? Oh, right. Also, was Barbara flirting with The Lady in their early scene? In and of itself nothing to remark on but I wonder how close we’re stumbling towards that old eighties fantasy film stereotype where the evil female antagonist was disturbingly often bisexual or lesbian and the splendid female hero was unswervingly not.
However, those small points aside – even if just because I could have totally misread that second one – Barbara’s plan to help Jim was quite brilliant and outshines all else. I think you always felt she wasn’t really betraying Jim but that’s not a bad thing because it builds well on the sheer desperation in Erin Richards’ eyes, you really believe she needs that forgiveness. What’s so good then is more the intelligence of the reverse interrogation – better even than anything the Black Widow has shown in The Avengers – because you believe that The Lady would answer the questions Barbara puts to her. They’re so nicely subtle you believe that The Lady wouldn’t see the truth behind them. I’d even go so far as to say I think the scene is one of Gotham’s top ten best.
That information then gathered, do all the following scenes live up to Barbara’s new offering? Well, yes in fact, I would say they do.
Bullock’s reaction to Barbara swanning away from Jim’s door is golden and Jim’s ‘my stick is bigger than yours’ joke nicely breaks up an almost montage, both giving us our comedy fix – always welcome in the style delivered this week.
Speaking of style, I was very impressed with choice of silence that ‘played’ over Bruce’s scream of “no!” when Karen sacrifices herself. It was much more powerful than Bruce’s scream at the fireplace when Galavan destroyed the evidence of Thomas Wayne’s murder.
And then of course there’s the Thomas Wayne murder plot itself. So what do we now know? Thomas Wayne help set up a bio engineering department for Wayne Enterprises but had no idea what was happening when it was turned to evil. Karen Jennings was patient 1 on the route to that evil: her crippled arm was replaced with a three-fingered claw. Thomas Wayne found out and tried to shut down the project, taking Karen to a hidden sanctuary. But Wayne Enterprises was more powerful than its founder and managed to restart the program, killing off Thomas when he tried to intervene again. And the man behind it all? Thomas’s good friend, Hugo Strange – a.k.a. ‘The Philosopher’. So, if you said it was Wayne Enterprises that killed off its own founder then you called it.
I found this to be a perfectly good reveal. Perhaps I’d expected something more complex, with a few more twists and turns still to come, but that’s not to say that’s what I wanted. In fact, there’s something nicely human about the story, as partly revealed by Karen in her somewhat monstrous form. She presents a kind, loving father-figure of Thomas Wayne that perhaps we’ll hear more of in episodes to come. Perhaps it’ll be this influence from beyond the grave that stops Bruce becoming a heartless vigilante as he learns more and more what it means to be Batman.
We’ve not explicitly seen anything more of ‘the other Bruce’ after its teasing out in ‘A Dead Man Feels No Cold’ but Bruce is still making important decisions that will determine what sort of Batman he’ll become. He was prepared to let Selina go if it meant protecting her from what Alfred calls “the job”. Bruce also claims to want to do the right thing again this episode. However, his parting shot at the end speaks of someone dangerously close to seeking revenge, not justice; and he refers to lock-picking as merely a “technical skill” and therefore “morally neutral”. I love all these little hints, all letting us know that there’s just as important a set of scales balancing in Bruce’s head as much as Jim’s – perhaps the choice of anyone who wants to be a hero in Gotham.
Much easier a choice for those becoming a villain – though perhaps that’s part of the point. Nonetheless, it still took me a fair while to get a handle on what’s been going on in Strange’s head. I think we have a good picture of that now though. Returning to my Strange Q&A:
- Who the hell was that four-fingered person in the room in Indian Hill? I’m thinking that it was another bio engineering subject somewhere in between patient 1 – Karen Jennings – and patient 24 – Theo Galavan, now successfully returned from the dead
- Is Galavan going to come back as some clone-based villain? I don’t think so if he’s going to be Azrael (check out Azrael – DC wiki or Azrael – Wikipedia) – so I’ve no idea what all those other Galavans in jars were from ‘A Dead Man Feels No Cold’ then
- What’s the connection between Councilman Carter and Hugo Strange? Still no idea
- Has Strange messed with Barbara? No, he just thinks of her as a toy to play with.
Which only leaves me with Strange’s ultimate motivation: what on Earth does he want? This episode he wishes to “free humanity from the shackles of mortality” and seems quite glad the Gordon and Bruce are now hunting him. For these reasons I’m now thinking that he’s a man with a brilliant mind, desperate to find answers to science’s greatest questions, but someone who finds everyday life totally boring. Evil genius mastermind then – fair play.
Perhaps it’s just a shame that after such a good origin story, Mr Freeze has turned out to be, by contrast, a bit meh. He’s little more than hired muscle in this episode. He does have quite the suit now though.
‘Pinewood’ is a top-quality episode and above the season average. The highlight was definitely Barbara Kean and I definitely want to know how she’ll respond to Jim’s refusal to forgive her: will she return to crime because there’s no point in anything better without that forgiveness or will she try even harder to earn it?
The Hugo Strange plot is shaping up too. There’s a feeling of a David and Goliath situation building as the ragtag team of Alfred, Bruce and Jim prepares to go up against the awesome combined power of Wayne Enterprises, Gotham City PD and the terrifying minions of Strange himself.
I’m not quite sure how much room there’s going to be for Freeze, Azrael, Riddler, Strange, Penguin and potentially Barbara in the ending to this season but there’s certainly more than enough plot there to choose something decent from.
- Erin Richards performance – all parts of it in fact
- Barbara Kean getting some decent plot, screen time and motivation
- one of the best reverse-interrogation scenes I’ve seen
- a charming Karen Jennings – it was a small part but she got some quite sweet lines
- the comedy of Bullock and Jim’s early scenes – I just like that style of humour for Gotham
- the convenience of a female-criminal-only club turning up just to make Barbara indispensable to the plot
- Mr Freeze being used as just hired muscle