Gotham – Season 2 Episode 16
“Wrath of the Villains: Prisoners”
Gotham this week gives us some classic prison sequences mixed in with scenes reminiscent of the film Clue and topped off with a western-styled ending. Focusing right down to just Jim and Oswald, we’re shown Oswald’s struggle to build a new life on the straight and narrow with his odd new relatives and Jim’s inevitable quick departure from prison.
Now, I feel a bit guilty writing this next part, as I’ve often hailed seasons two’s reduction in the number of characters appearing center stage in any one episode as a great thing. However, turns out I’ve still got more to complain about: Where’s Professor Strange? What’s Freeze up to? It’s been four weeks plus a montage now as well, since Gordon was arrested, so why hasn’t Bullock been able to investigate any part of (in my view) Nygma’s clear involvement?
So, just to clarify: I’m not asking for more characters on screen at once again but I do wonder at the choice to leave behind the plot we’ve already had set up for the two new villains and for Bruce’s new life. Certainly Oswald needed a way back to becoming the Penguin again – and I can really see that happening under the influence of his father’s old-world style and of the money-grabbing greed of the step family – but I think I was OK with Jim’s plot being focused around his ideological clash with Barnes; I’m not sure he needed anything new yet?
As it is the Van Dahls are kind of fun: a wicked stepmother; her son being too slow to pick up her evil plots; her daughter a backstabbing temptress. It’s all just perfect for a comedy dinner-party murder mystery. I almost wanted to see a little fourth-wall breaking placard come up over the picture of the heart medication being swapped for mints that said: “Do you see what she’s doing? She’s killing Oswald’s dad on purpose. She’s evil!” I’d like to state for the record that yes, I did work that one out myself.
Some of the scenes go a little too far for me then perhaps but the setup itself is quite charming, after a fashion. With Oswald being a sweet, innocent guy at the moment the only way he can dodge the evil ploys to stop him inheriting are through the bad guys’ incompetence and by blind luck; and there’s good comic fodder in both. I liked the dirty looks Oswald was getting from the sister when he wasn’t watching, her breaking her glass when people talk about the inheritance and Oswald’s escape from her seduction is a nice bit of clowning.
I didn’t find that these points were enough though, to capture the style of the those old bumbling-hero films that I thought Gotham seemed to be aiming at. When the family brings out the newspapers that they’ve ‘accidentally just discovered’ for example, I think a better comic reveal would have been if we found out at that point that Oswald had already told his father about being the Penguin. The joke would then be in the frustration of the evil trio, slapping their thighs with a “damn him, he already knew! Oh, sorry, nothing darling”, followed by them storming off in huff that the two good guys don’t seem to notice. As we already know the reveal, it’s just a failure to discredit Oswald and so we move on.
There’s certainly something bubbling under the surface of the Van Dahl plot though, that might swing me back round to really liking this Oswald diversion. I’m confident that it will be the evil step family that triggers the return of the Penguin. Oswald’s dreams show he’s not lost his old personality and then there’s Elijah’s comment about violence being in the Van Dahl genes. Perhaps Oswald’s plot is going to be a little bit ‘sins of the father’ if Elijah does have a dark past too. Perhaps it’s going to be more of a redemption piece: Oswald will have a choice between exacting revenge on his step family, returning to the evil of the Penguin, or forgiving them, finally putting the violent Van Dahl gene to rest for all time. I think I could enjoy it either way, so I’m still watching.
Jim Gordon’s plot on the other hand I’m not so sure about. As a self-contained piece of work I’m not dead against this little prison venture. That said, it did feel a bit like someone said: “what do we need in a prison show?” And the reply was: the hero gets attacked by the inmates in the classic film-night scene, the prison governor must hate the hero and there must be some lower-level authority figure that secretly helps him. And then did someone also ask: “right, and for the western elements?” The hero has low morale caused by a personal tragedy but his faith in humanity is won back by a plucky young innocent whose memory the hero must fight for? Oh, and if you can get “I have to clear my name” in there somewhere that would be great.
OK, maybe the western stuff there is a bit harsh. Especially because I liked the style when I saw it before in the mid-season finale. Gotham City is an outlaw town; the style works.
Also, I’ll have to give the prison plot some ground, as I liked trying to work out why one of the prison guards was helping Jim. Secondly, I always like to see plot having consequences. Here there’s a call back to the Red Hood Gang, arguably one of the highlights of season one, and whose members are perfect to represent all the villains Jim has put behind bars in the show so far. Lastly, and definitely not least, Puck’s existence gives me what I say I want from the show: Jim to question his ideology; and this will normally come about by considering other characters’ positions relative to his own. (I believe Puck is also a plot consequence, as he’s the brother of a character kidnapped by child snatchers right back at the start of season one.)
Still though, I keep coming back to use of things I’ve seen before. How many prison scenes have you seen in film and TV where the hero or someone they’re trying to save is in danger on film night? And I assume it’s accurate that prisoners are only allowed to watch things as old as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (old enough to be preceded by the Looney Tunes) because that’s what we always see playing in prisons. (Perhaps old films are just really cheap and that’s all prisons can afford to show? Fair enough.) But add to that the classic ‘you have to knock me out, so make it look good line’? And add to that the stuff I’ve spoken of above? It really seems like we had a lot going on that Jim could have been getting involved with already that I think I would have preferred to see instead.
I’ve been really liking seeing Lee stick by Jim no matter what – I think possibly even if just because I wasn’t expecting her to – but now she’s gone, just like that, all that strength of relationship vanished. I’ve wondered what it would take for Lee to question Jim and consider leaving him; will I get a chance to see that – will she be back? Would it have been her that finally stopped Jim from going too far? I really felt we got a suggestion of that when Lee was speaking to Nora Fries.
What about Gordon vs. Barnes too? Fine Puck give Jim reason to reconsider his choices but we already had Barnes for that didn’t we?
I didn’t hate this episode but I couldn’t help but think Jim’s little sojourn in prison is a bit of a waste of time. Admittedly I don’t know where it’s going but I feel like I’ve lost time that could have been better spent on existing plot and existing villains. Is Falcone coming back out of retirement? I’m more than happy with Strange, Freeze and Nygma. Is Falcone joining the good guys? I’m happy with Bruce and Jim. Is Falcone going to be developing new plot frontiers? I’m happy with Penguin already.
- Oswald’s escape from Sasha Van Dahl’s temptations
- some charming comic plot in which Oswald must dodge the machinations of an evil step family
- the promise of Penguin’s return and what he’ll do with his step family
- Bullock having had four weeks plus a montage to investigate Jim’s framing and him having found absolutely zip
- Lee and Jim’s strong relationship suddenly vanishing into nothing
- more plot being introduced instead of using Strange, Freeze or Nygma – hell, even Butch and Tabitha
- overused prison film and TV tropes
- the machinations of Oswald’s evil step family not being quite as funny as I’d hoped
- that switching the medications shot – yeah, I think we understood what you meant there Gotham