‘Gotham’ (2014) review – Harvey Dent

Flipping his double-headed coin, he demands that the kid call it – which, of course, defeats the entire purpose of a double-headed coin by restoring the element of random chance. Where this gets truly, classically “Gotham” is that, although it’s clear the writers realised their mistake, for some reason they decided to leave it in. Instead of simply rewriting the scene, some bright spark inserted a line where Dent reassures us that “they nearly always choose heads” – which, apart from being factually incorrect, leaves us with the bizarre implication that every once in a while Harvey Dent sends some poor kid to prison because they said “tails”.

Meanwhile, over at Wayne manor, Alfred Pennyworth remains the most genuinely threatening and sinister presence on the entire show. Understandably, the writers are trying to characterise Pennyworth as a stern but loving authority figure – exasperated by Bruce’s bizarre transformation but also fundamentally supportive of him. Unfortunately, although they have given him the right mixture of permissiveness and sternness, these qualities are applied completely the wrong way round. Their Alfred is permissive when he should be stern – encouraging Bruce to find obviously unhealthy and deeply troubling outlets for his anger – but he also becomes unreasonably, aggressively stern over very trivial things, like…… As a result, they have ended up characterising him as a deeply unpleasant, possibly dangerous sociopath who should never have been allowed to work with children in any capacity.

Alfred’s loving care for his traumatised young master so far consists of:

– Shouting (a lot)

– Hitting him with a stick

– Forbidding him from visiting a psychiatrist (even after he starts self-harming)

– Making him “an egg”

– Enabling a morbid obsession with the details of his parents’ murder

– Encouraging him to attack other children in response to taunting

– Ordering him to violently assault one classmate with an improvised knuckle duster, while he watches with glee

– Wearing a hardcore amount of eyeliner at all times, without explanation (not that there’s anything wrong with that – I just can’t begin to square it with the other elements of his characterisation. Were they going for some sort of Captain Jack Sparrow vibe?)

Dent is given a supposedly menacing “villain of the week” to match his wits against, in the figure of “Dick Lovecraft” – someone in the writing room clearly either thinks naming characters “Dick” is hilarious, or got their notes for this episode mixed up with ‘The Ballad of Goat-Face’.

Alfred’s menacing presence is partly a result of the show’s first and biggest error – killing off the Waynes at the start of the first episode – which meant that we never got even a fleeting sense of what Bruce’s home life was like beforehand. Their interactions so far have given no real sense of a pre-existing relationship between the two, giving us the impression that they met each other for the first time in Episode 1. This creates a troubling ambiguity around Alfred’s motives – why exactly has this glorified doorman dedicated his life to raising someone else’s child, by himself? What is he really after? Is he just buying time to hang around the mansion, while he searches for the Wayne family’s secret treasure vault?

Selina Kyle is drinking milk directly from the bottle – because she is, you may know, actually Catwoman. For reasons which are never adequately explained, Commissioner Gordon decides that she should stay at Wayne manor – because, apparently, he has no other personal or professional contacts in the city except a traumatised 8-year-old boy and his creepy doorman.

There’s also a fantastic scene in which they introduce the villain of the week – Dick Lovecraft. Over the course of a two minute scene, the characters then proceed to say the name “Lovecraft” nine times in under a minute. It’s one of those moments where you can’t decide whether you’re witnessing the result of an accidental mistake, or a bizarre act of deliberate self-sabotage.

Harvey Dent’s characterisation is another confusing area – a performance which is intended to present him as an idealistic straight-arrow, ends up presenting him instead as a creepy, OCD freak like Edward Nygma. As a result of poor writing, his brilliant plan to uncover the Wayne killers is also insanely far-fetched – they try to dress it up, but the gyst is essentially that he and Gordon are going to pretend they know who committed the murder, hoping that the real murderer will then essentially give themselves up out of sheer panic. It’s the most awkward introduction for the character possible, making Gotham’s brilliant future-DA seem like a creepy, uptight moron. In one spectacularly heavy-handed moment, as Dent is interviewing the inestimable Mr Lovecraft, he suddenly switches into full-on Two Face mode, engaging with the obviously lawyered-up Lovecraft in a way which certainly qualifies as physical assault, while his team of high-powered lawyers visibly smirks behind him.

Sean Pertwee does his best to inject warmth and humour into the role of Alfred, but he’s swimming against a fairly strong tide this week – taking a break from teaching Bruce the importance of “taking a punch,” only to forbid a hungry orphan off the streets from eating because she slept through his scheduled morning meal, then deftly shifting into the jaded casual misogyny of a “pick-up artist” as he warns Bruce against trusting the “lairy minx” they have taken in. He also, somewhat disturbingly, wears a waistcoat and tie while giving boxing lessons.

The Fish Mooney/Falcone/Penguin subplot continues to be both by far the most prominent and by far the least interesting strand of the show, taking up endless stretches of screentime with a plot of rivalry and romance which is not only a dramatic dud in and of itself, but is also utterly inconsequential in terms of what is supposedly the show’s main focus – the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and his transformation into an agent of vengeance.

It’s bizarre that the show has placed so much focus on the importance of Arkham Asylum to the show’s universe, without giving us so much as a glimpse at its inner workings – so far, for us the asylum has simply been a name and some exterior shots of what looks like a factory. Appropriately enough, the treatment of mental illness when discussed by the characters, is implied to be entirely a matter of having the proper “facilities” – as if the efficiency of psychiatric treatment dependend entirely on having the right “feng shue” in the room.


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