Gotham – Season 2 Episode 20
“Wrath of the Villains: Unleashed”
I feel that this week’s Gotham shouldn’t have been called “Unleashed” so much as something like ‘followed the path set by storytelling metaphysics to a disappointing and unfunny demise’, which would have been a dreadful title, I admit, but it would have been a more fitting one nonetheless.
This week Azrael’s full fury is unleashed as the Galavan and Azrael personalities find balance in their hatred of the Wayne family and Bruce becomes that fury’s target. Now, that plot point by itself I’m completely on board with – great idea. We were expecting a bit of back and forth between the fighting personalities as Galavan’s mind tries to reconcile his body’s reanimation. Further, it gives Azrael an immediate motivation and source of pain to deal with that made him interesting to watch right from the start. Thing is, it all comes so quickly that by the time the episode’s over the best Azrael gets as a send-off is a crappy little one-liner and an over the top death.
At the end of the episode I felt it was all a bit pointless – no, that there was something great that could have happened but we didn’t get to see it because someone wanted a silly joke ending. I felt something similar throughout Selina and Bruce’s first meeting since he’d pushed her away. I expected her to be angrier, even if not hurt that Bruce had dismissed her. She certainly gave that impression in ‘Into the Woods‘ when she rightly stormed out. Here in this episode though, she’s just a bit miffed.
Both times then, there was the chance for something powerful. With Azrael, the reconciliation of his two personas could have been stretched out, with him slowly remembering details of Galavan’s past. This would have given him time to descend into a real madness, completely beyond reason, and which would lead to a believable human Terminator that just would not stop until he killed Bruce, no matter the cost. With Selina, a greater anger at her treatment could have pushed her discussion with Bruce into a full blown argument where their friendship is really tested, leading us to wonder if they could possibly ever work together again.
I think we missed out on greater plot that could have been. Strangely though, in both cases the ideas that the show uses to resolve the existing plot were really good, so it’s more that they seem underused.
Azrael remembers a history living in Gotham, remembers a sister, giving him a reason to go back to being Galavan, but also a history with the Order of St Dumas, which gives him more than enough reason to think he is the order’s legendary assassin. In a horrible – but perfectly horrible – way these memories then combine in the remembrance of the events of ‘The Son of Gotham‘: both personas hate Bruce and a stable, dangerous, intelligent new persona arises full of threat and fury.
As for Selina getting a reason to help Bruce despite their falling out, Bruce uses what he knows of his ally against her. He plays on her pride, by gently offering her a way out if she doesn’t think she’s up to the task – Selina is a little prideful after all. He also lets slip that Bridgit (a.k.a. Firefly) is trapped in the very place Bruce needs to get into. It’s clever on his part and even if Selina sees through it all, she’s still bound to agree for the sake of rescuing Bridgit.
There in both cases then, is the potential for a great character interplay, meaningful arguments and dangerous threats. In neither case though, do we see where that potential might take us. It was a great shame, especially with the ideas being so good.
I think the Bruce-Selina opportunity was akin to a missed open goal in the early game – you’re sad about it for a while but there’s a lot of time still to play, so you move on. In my eyes though, the Azrael plot was actively sabotaged by a particular bugbear of mine: the needs of the plot, darling.
I feel sorry for Azrael, he was made to walk that line to his sorry end. He faithfully followed the rules of story by being the bad guy’s lieutenant that needs to be faced and knocked off before the final battle. He dutifully fails to kill three people so that they can live on to be part of later plot – I mean seriously, he’s a ninja killing machine given righteous fury and he stabs or hits Barnes, Tabitha and Alfred in the same non-lethal place three times on the trot! Then he’s forced to suffer a horror movie trope as Bruce stops the car to check if the monster he just hit is still alive – no, keep driving! Always keep driving! And then finally he has to stand there to a take an rocket-propelled grenade to the face? Worse still, both times he’s downed it’s to some crazy, over-the-top music. Tell me you didn’t feel sorry for him too?
And, and, why did Azrael – the religious character – randomly kill a priest? So he’d have the chance to say some supposed-to-be witty one liner! He needed to prove how horrible he’d become so he was forced to kill some random, innocent priest. Just like poor Barbara had to have been sent away by Butch so Gordon could come speak to Tabitha unhindered. Just like Strange having to detail his whole evil plot in a random Arkham corridor so Selina could hear it. Just like Alfred and Bruce having to be split up at Wayne manor, so Azrael could face them one at a time. Because the plot needs it, darling; because it’s funny, darling. Well, I don’t think it does and I think the joke better be the best joke ever if characters are to be so compromised. I think Gotham has shown many times before that it doesn’t have to sacrifice characters’ motives and capabilities for the sake of storytelling rules, so it really bothers me then when the show feels it must.
So clearly I hated this episode then? No, in fact no. There were those parts above that I didn’t like but there were also those two ideas I’ve already mentioned that I thought were so good, only underused; and there were many more excellent ideas beyond just those two.
My favourite of the others was Bullock’s effective field promotion in the wake of Barnes being in hospital. The joke is that he’s not one for speeches but he’s always had the gift of the gab and so finds a speech in himself quite easily. Truth be told it’s a good speech. More than that, it was an every-man speech, fitting for an enlisted man finding he suddenly has to lead, using words that are truly meaningful to the fellow soldiers that are the rest of the precinct.
Then there was Butch’s moment over Tabitha’s sick bed. It’s a nice moment, and it explains why these two mismatched characters are together. Fine Penguin steps on it but that’s what he would do: there are two groups of people in that room with great reasons to hate each other. The whole scene plays out well, advancing the plot with everyone staying in character.
And comedy that comes without a character having to do or say something they really wouldn’t: how about Forensic Guy meets Street-Trash Girl? Their words not mine. Nygma and Selina meet, throw accusations at each other but then realise they’re even and get over it – great stuff – funny with no compromise.
And then to top all these off there are several little golden moments. Among them I quite liked Penguin’s disbelief that Galavan was really insane: “you want to wear leather, wear leather; it’s Gotham, no-one cares!” And it’s always good when Strange shows off his intellect, this time by actually reading the search warrant given him – who does that? Evil geniuses do. Great stuff.
I wanted so much more from Azrael and I think it was there to be had. Bruce and Selina’s relationship seems like it should be going through ups and downs, really being tested, building to that Batman-Catwoman connection we all know is coming, but this episode threw away a chance for this. It’s the same thing for me as not seeing Freeze for so long: there’s so much that could be happening and we’re missing it.
It’s all so tantalising when you see these little gems spread throughout the grass: I’m desperate for the characters to be allowed to pick them up they look so wonderful. But the characters aren’t being allowed to pick them up, they’re being steered away on paths of what feels like unnecessary plot rules. I’m just hoping such constraints don’t undermine the upcoming season finale.
- The great idea to use Bruce to solidify Azrael’s persona
- The great idea to use Bridgit to get Selina into Arkham
- Bullock’s speech
- The meeting of “Forensic Guy” and “Street-Trash Girl” – humour with no character compromises
- Azrael’s rushed development and plot coming to an unsatisfying conclusion
- Characters’ personalities and skills being compromised for the sake of the plot or a silly gag
- Splitting the party – you never, ever split the party – so Alfred and Bruce could be picked off alone, and other such horror movie tropes