It’s a Hard Knock Life: Gotham, “Harvey Dent”

“Harvey Dent” is the latest in a longstanding tradition of Gotham episodes that introduce the title character but otherwise have very little to do with said character—okay so this is only the second time out of nine episodes that’s happened, but still. The show probably could have gotten away with a Two-Face-related title to offer some kind of thematic unity, as one could argue that this week’s various plots did relate in some way to a conflict of opposites.

That being said: as an episode, “Harvey Dent” was all right, offering viewers a standard case-of-the-week that tied in well with the overarching storyline, and sub-plots that were mostly contained and impactful. I’ll take it!

Ian Hargrove is the focal “villain” of the week, but he’s hardly the antagonist of the episode. A demolitionist with an expertise in using ordinary, everyday objects to make incredibly bombs, Hargrove has been locked up at Blackgate Penitentiary after a few vigilante terrorist acts, mostly blowing up other munitions factories and whatnot. Unfortunately, his actions, however well-intentioned, ended up getting a few people killed, and as we learn, Hargrove willingly accepts his punishment.

Gotham Harvey Dent

But Nikolai’s orphaned gang have other plans for him, and break him out of a police transport en route to Blackgate’s external mental health facilities. The Russians force him against his will to make explosives for them; they’re still in cahoots with Fish Mooney, and looking to blow a hole in Falcone’s operations. Hargrove doesn’t want to hurt anybody though, so he does his best to wire his bombs in a way that will lead Bullock and Gordon to him, so he can live out his prison sentence like he deserves.

More importantly, Selina Kyle has come forth to Gordon and is finally willing to play ball in the Wayne murder investigation. Gordon takes her to speak with a police sketch artist, and then shunts her off to his own makeshift form of witness protection: Wayne Manor. Until they’re ready to have her testify (which, for a case like this in a not corrupt city, could potentially take years of bureaucratic red-tape. but I digress), he’s asked Alfred to watch after Little Orphan Selina Kyle (although perhaps that’s not the best musical theatre reference to use, since most of Kyle’s dialogue sounds like it was ripped out of Newsies. but again, I digress). Alfred is not particularly excited about this plan, to say the least.

Gotham Harvey Dent

A good part of the episode is dedicated to the burgeoning relationship between Selina and Bruce, and we get to see the roots of the opposites-attracting-chemistry that will plague the two well into their costumed adult lives. Bruce tries to interrogate Selina himself to learn more about his parents’ murderer, and also wants to get know her more. In one of the more touching moments, he confesses his humiliation that she was there to witness his failure at saving his parents’ lives. Selina herself keeps teasing Bruce with kisses, and is both fascinated and utterly confused by his bizarre training regime. She doesn’t understand why he dedicates himself to home-schooling, since a millionaire orphan is already set for life, and she criticizes his boxing lessons and underwater-breath-holding exercises. The streets of Gotham are mean and ruthless, she explains, and little Bruce is just too nice and coddled up here in his mansion.

Eventually they have an adorable food fight, which endears Selina Kyle to the curmudgeonly Alfred, if only because it’s the first time in a while that he’s seen Bruce smile.

Gotham Harvey Dent

And then there’s Harvey Dent, a public counselor (is that different from a district attorney?) who handles lots of juvenile law cases for the city of Gotham. He’s friendly with Montoya and Allen, who introduce him to Gordon. The four of them plan to work together—with the help of testimony from Selina Kyle—to find the Waynes’ true killer. Dent is a gambler and kind of a slimy lawyer, more like a Used Car Salesman selling justice, and he’s convinced that the case involves a crooked businessman named Dick Lovecraft. Most of Dent’s plan involves the court of public opinion, carefully letting the right information leak out while making false accusations wherever he can in order to rattle the rats of Gotham from their cages and find that one hapless criminal who will spill the beans. Gordon is skeptical of Dent’s personal agenda, but Montoya and Allen insist he’s on the side of the angels.

Ultimately, Bullock and Gordon rescue/arrest Ian Hargrove, and the Russians get taken out by Butch. But Gordon makes the mistake of reprimanding Mayor Kind (who already dislikes Gordon, after that whole attempted-arrest thing), saying that Hargrove’s escape was the Mayor’s fault because Blackgate lacks internal mental healthcare facilities, and the bust occurred during Hargrove’s transfer. The Mayor takes this criticism to heart, and decides to move Gotham’s entire criminal population to the recently renovated Arkham Asylum. GOOD JOB, GORDON.

Oh, and then Cobblepot gets Liza in his pocket, too, which gives him one up on Falcone. And like usual, Barbara makes an appearance being sultry and drinking wine…except this time, she’s in Montoya’s bed while she does it. GOOD JOB, GORDON.

Gotham Harvey Dent

THOUGHTS

With the exception of “Penguin’s Umbrella,” most episodes of Gotham have focused on their case-of-the-week while touching on the other ongoing stories in the background. But one thing I appreciated about “Harvey Dent” was that the case-of-the-week did not feel like the centerpiece of the episode. Furthermore, while the case of the Gotham Bomber was standalone enough for the casual viewer to understand and appreciate, it also connected back to the larger plot of the season in more than one way. Not only did it tie back in to Fish’s power-grab against Falcone, but it also explored the theme of vigilantism in what I thought was the most interesting, organic, and subtle way possible (for Gotham). Instead of learning about Hargrove’s altruistic explosions in a last minute monologue, we’re told during a conversation with his brother, as Bullock and Gordon try to figure out who broke Hargrove out since he had no known criminal connections. We also get to see Hargrove actively working to alert the police to his presence / involvement with these explosions, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in his shrapnel. See! SHOWing, instead of (or in addition to) TELLing! The Gotham writers’ room is learning!

Granted, the only real-world parallels I can think of for Ian Hargrove are Ted Kaczynski and the Tsarnaev Brothers, neither of whom I would qualify in any kind of anti-heroic capacity. Obviously, they each did what they thought was “right” for whatever reasons, but those actions still involved intentional manslaughter, as opposed to Hargrove, who had tried to fashion himself as strictly a demolitionist. Which is kind of weird that he would think of large-scale destruction as being non-violent, but I guess “mental health” and okay sure, I’ll accept it.

Gotham Harvey Dent

I also enjoyed the burgeoning relationship between Bruce and Selina, once I was able to get past my fear that she was going to break into “King of New York” at any moment. Like any scene between kids in a dramatic show, it certainly crossed the corny line more than a few times, and the impetus for her presence at Wayne Manor felt contrived. But you could see what draws Bruce to the rebellious Selina, and it was interesting to see how she might inspire his journey into Batman.

(For my regular readers who had previously been annoyed with my earlier obsession with Bruce’s attempts at self-harm, I thought his scene in the swimming pool was spot-on, and much more explicit about testing his limits)

And then there’s Harvey Dent. Like all Gotham introductions, the foreshadowing was hammered on a little heavy (it was nice to get a glimpse of his more bi-polar tendencies when he snaps at Lovecraft but…yikes, that was a little extreme). But other than that, I’m on board so far for this interpretation of the character as a GOOD slimy lawyer, instead of the Aaron Echols “White Knight” version, and I look forward to the uneasy alliance between him and Gordon. We’ll see what happens once he’s in an episode that doesn’t bear his namesake and is therefore allowed to actually do something.

Gotham Harvey Dent

OTHER THOUGHTS

  • Dick Lovecraft. Why? Is it just to further the “Arkham” connection? (Having been reading lots of Lovecraft lately myself, I’ve been struck by how “Arkham” has become culturally synonymous with Batman instead of Cthulhu.)
  • Nigma is totally a #GamerGater.
  • I also thought the scene with Nigma testing the explosives while listening to game shows was great, and really seeded his sociopathy better than past Nigma-centric scenes, which have mostly felt unnecessary to me. This was the first time (to me) that it felt like there was an actual character arc in mind for him.
  • No, I don’t know why Bruce boxes and swims in formal attire.
  • I know we saw Gordon’s apartment briefly in “Penguin’s Umbrella,” but was this the first official acknowledgement that Barbara’s swank loft is not his home? I’m sorry I’m fixating on this…
  • ….but damn Montoya’s got a nice pad! The women of Gotham sure know how to live it up! If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that equal pay was a further sign of Gotham’s corruption. (Unless that’s a hotel room.)
  • Selina Kyle’s mother is Gotham’s take on “Know how I got these scars?” but not as good.
  • Also this:


Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. Thom enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey and robots). He is a graduate of Clarion Writer’s Workshop at UCSD, and he firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net.

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