Once upon a time there was a TV show called Gotham , which was intended as a dramatic telling of the early days of James Gordon’s police career in Gotham City in the days before the Batman. It was a decent outing, though it wasn’t particularly remarkable, unsure if it wanted to be Batman ’66 or Batman Begins . If you wanted to apply Newton’s Third Law to dramatic narrative, you could have probably used Gotham as an example: for every compelling story beat about a Good Cop railing against a corrupt system, you had an equal and opposite beat about, oh, I don’t know, a Balloon Vigilante.
So instead of airing the planned mid-season finale, the network made the surprising choice to air a pilot of new show in its place. Tentatively titled Bullets & Butlers , this new show had all the promise of Gotham but without the unbearable cheese and terribly written female characters and annoying winks-and-nods to established Bat-continuity and general lack of subtlety.
I’m being facetious, of course. But that’s the only way I am can process the utter excitement that I felt while watching Gotham ’s mid-season finale, “Lovecraft.”
This episode opened with a female assassin taking down a gardener outside of Wayne Manor and literally slicing him open to use his blood as camouflage . That’s where we started , and it somehow managed to keep me riveted for the entire hour as Harvey Bullock and Alfred Pennyworth teamed up for the best and weirdest buddy-cop combo that I’ve ever seen, while Selina Kyle dragged Bruce Wayne to the streets and forced the little orphan boy to show just what he’s made of.
In case you couldn’t tell, I genuinely enjoyed everything about this episode, to the point that I didn’t even care about the fact that it continued the ridiculous tradition of naming episodes after characters who make minor appearances but otherwise have little to do with the plot. Unless Lovecraft has absolutely everything to do with the plot? But no, he’s dead, after about 45 seconds of accrued screen time. I don’t know what to believe anymore, but the first time in ten episodes, I can finally feel the deep roots and far-reaching ramifications of the conspiracy at the heart of this story, and that is a wonderful, wonderful feeling.
The plot, for those who missed it: someone has sent an assassin after Selina Kyle, because Harvey Dent is an idiot and leaked her name and location in his attempt to indict Lovecraft in the Waynes murder. Bruce and Selina are forced to flee from Wayne Manor while Alfred takes on the attackers. Alfred and Bullock team-up in pursuit of the kids, while Gordon goes after whoever hired the assassin — which he assumed was Lovecraft himself, except the assassin is after Lovecraft, too. Whether or not the assassin is actually responsible for Lovecraft’s death is still up in the air, however; all we know is that Gordon wakes up from a KO to find Lovecraft in the bathtub with a bullet in his head from Gordon’s gun.
Meanwhile, Selina and Bruce go underground and our young Bat-to-be is forced to test his mettle in a literal leap of faith across an alleyway of wonderful and multifaceted metaphors of which I never knew this show was capable. And to top it all off, things are even going south for Cobblepot, as Falcone is catching on to the wheels-within-wheels-within-wheels-within-wheels-within-wheels of his deception. Falcone even faces off against Fish Mooney, daring her to cross him like we know that she’s been planning, going as far as to kill one of his other lieutenants right in front of her at a dinner party.
There were a lot of people who disagreed with my criticisms of “Penguin’s Umbrella,” but in my opinion, “Lovecraft” took all the good parts of that episode, amplified them to the n th degree, and made the consequences much more real. Don’t get me wrong: I completely understand the structure of a television season, and how everything is meant to build up to some culmination in the mid-season finale and then again twice as big in the season finale proper (plus, presumably, some plot resolutions). So not every episode can be as exciting as this one, because everything so far has been intended to build up to this moment.
Still, I think the show can learn from the stumbles that it made along the way which brought it all to these climactic moments. “Lovecraft”’s strengths laid in its organic moments, of forcing characters out of their comfort zones and challenging the identities they’ve forged for themselves as a means of showing us (not telling!) how they really tick. This doesn’t have to be world-changing every week, but as a base-level mission or operational theme, this should be achievable to some degree in each and every week. “Lovecraft” proved that this is possible, and that it can all come from the characters’ cores instead of some obligatory sense of fan-baiting.
As much as I loved watching Alfred go all Secret-Agent-Man on everyone who stood between him and his young ward (Bullock: “You’re pretty handy for a valet.” Alfred: “I’m a butler.” HOW DID THAT LINE COME OFF SO BADASS?), my favorite moments were actually the ones where Gordon got what was coming to him — at the top of the episode, when Bullock yelled at him for hiding Selina Kyle at the Wayne Estate in the first place (which even I had criticized as a clumsy plot contrivance), and then again at the end when Mayor Kind tears him a new one: “Counselor Dent knows how to walk the line. He knows where the edge is. You, Mr. Gordon, do not know where the edge is.”
These were some of the only moments where I have truly felt satisfied with the show’s depiction of moral complications, and it’s those core character conflicts that I want to see more of. Yes, Jim Gordon is a the good guy, he’s the protagonist — but that shouldn’t mean he’s always right. This show has struggled greatly with nuance, but it finally began to get it right with “Lovecraft.” The audience knows to root for Jim Gordon, that in the end, he’s the hero, and he wants to do what’s right. But it’s much more exciting — as well as emotionally engaging and satisfying — for a viewer to grapple with Gordon, to disagree with his means while believing in his ends, and to watch him make genuine mistakes along the way and suffer consequences beyond Because The Plot Demands It.
Consequences like either being forced to quit or taking a security gig at Arkham Asylum. For the first time, I’m actually anticipating the next episode. And man, Gordon. Welcome to Arkham. Hope you survive the experience.
OTHER STANDOUT MOMENTS:
- Oh what was that? Where’s Barbr—no, I don’t care.
- Bullock playing Good Cop to Alfred’s Bad Cop in dealing with Bruno was great . Alfred smooth-talkin’ Fish Mooney was even better . “You’re not the kind of woman who would let petty self-interest outweigh kindness and compassion.”
- After Selina Kyle’s heavy-handed Newsies- speak in last week’s episode, I was pleasantly surprised at the deft handling of her street-tough orphan psychology this week, particularly in the pay phone scene (then again, I’m no more of a psychology expert than any other writer, so maybe a pro would disagree).
- AWWWWW Bruce’s first kiss AWWWWWW
- AHHHHHH creepy Ivy Pepper AHHHHH
- Bullock: “Am I the only one in this town who waits for backup?!” This was both hilarious, and hilariously ironic, given how many times an episode has ended with Bullock showing up at the last minute to put a bullet through the vigilante-villain-of-the-week.
- Bruce facing off against the assassin by throwing metal scraps at her was oddly enjoyable. Sure, he was ineffective, but it was nice to see him try, and gave us a good glimpse of what he could become. Hell, even the assassin herself appreciated his efforts. “Some advice kid: don’t ever mistake bravery for good sense.”
- Alfred and Bruce reunited was truly heartwarming. “If you died…who employs butlers anymore?” YOU GUYS.
- Jim Gordon to Mayor Kind: “Kiss my ass.” Well, Jim, can’t say you didn’t get you deserved, but I’m damn glad you earned it.
- Is Nigma going to be Bullock’s new partner when we come back from the break?…and is it weird that I kind of hope so?
- I was also going to talk about how this episode functioned in terms of setting the last 6 episodes of the original series order, and how it resolved things while also transitioning clearly into a Third Act that could be feasibly be resolved in a short time. But I had enough else to go on about.
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.