Gotham has had many problems during its inaugural season, most of which revolve around its refusal to give characters other than the Penguin anything resembling compelling storylines. "The Blind Fortune Teller" has a unique solution to this — make all the storylines so dumb you can't believe they're happening.
It's compelling like a car wreck is compelling, and even as I marveled at how terrible the episode was, I literally had a smile on my face as I sat and watched the insanity unfold. Read this recap, and try your damnedest to remember this was, at some point, described as a show tangentially about Batman.
As declared in last week's episode, Gordon and Leslie have come to the circus, where Gotham indulges in it's Tim Burton-iest moment to date with acrobats and clowns and slightly sinister carnival music pilfered from Danny Elfman's reject pile. Everything's going great until the acrobats and the clowns get in a brutal fistfight.
Now, this is weird, but well within Gotham's normal level of crazy… until you discover these two circus families, the Lloyds and the Graysons, have been feuding since World War I over a stolen horse, a problem that has been exacerbated by Lila the Snake Charmer, who keeps fucking members of both families. I'm serious. Please note that Gotham thinks two families that have bitterly hated each other for other a century but have literally worked and traveled together for an entire century is a reasonable scenario, even for a Batman TV series.
Lila has of course been murdered, which Gordon finds out when he lets her snake loose and follows it to her body without any explanation whatsoever. "Snakes have excellent senses of smell" he finally says 15 minutes later to the chief failing to add "even though they have no ability to comprehend specific items humans might want them to track, which is why they're not used for these sorts of things."
Now, the show makes an extremely nominal effort to pretend one of the clowns or acrobats is the culprit, which is somewhat entirely undermined by last week's "next episode on" preview featured the goddamn Joker. You also probably don't need to be the World's Greatest Detective to deduce that the blind fortune teller might have something to do with the case as well, seeing as the episode is titled after him. The BFT offers a cryptic message from the murder victim, Gordon dismisses it, Leslie makes him follow it up, finds an ax with the mar of a Satanic cult on it, but realizes it's all a dumb ruse. Lila's son Jerome, a.k.a. Kid Joker did it, obviously, and the BFT tried to cover it up because he's secretly Jerome's father because, and Gotham can't stress this enough, Lila fucked anybody.
The kid does a pretty solid Joker impression — kind of a mix between Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger's versions — but was clearly hired because of his creepy, Joker-perfect smile. I don't really care about anything involving this mystery, because there something much more important to discuss. Thanks to this episode, I can sum up everything wrong with Gotham in one single, mind-blowing fact:
In this episode, Jim Gordon had a riddle to solve and he didn't ask the Riddler for help.
Do you understand how insane that is? Because it's so fucked up I'm still staggered by its idiocy all these hours later. The hero was given a puzzle to solve, and instead of bringing in the character whose entire existence revolves around puzzles, the doctor/girlfriend characters solves it randomly over dinner. The characters even call it a fucking "riddle" out loud, so it's not like the writers had failed to recognize what it is.
The fact that Gotham managed to miss the most obvious narrative connection of all time makes me wonder what is happening on the set of this show. I joke that Hollywood types love cocaine, but I can't imagine the amount of blow necessary to include a riddle but omit the Riddler would still allow someone to type. Even if the show were being written by aliens with no concept of human writing conventions, I feel like even they would make the riddle-Riddler association and at least ask someone about it. The only thing I can think of is that showrunner Bruno Heller has short-term memory disorder like Guy Pearce in Memento, and he forgets everything he knows every two minutes or so. Even then, he should have tattooed the goddamn cast on his arm or something.
And please remember that while it failed to bring in the Riddler on what would clearly have been his most pertinent moment on the series, it has given him ample screen time to semi-stalk a female co-worker in a storyline that is heading for the most trite transformation into a bad guy ever. I had thought that Gotham was simply failing to give its characters interesting and character-relevant things to do, but no, apparently it's been actively avoiding them.
While nothing could compare to that abject failure of storytelling, second place has to go to the end, in which John Grayson and Mary Lloyd thank Gordon for solving the murder, which has somehow solved the century-long feud and will allow the two to get married. Please note that the future' Robin's parents were barely in the episode, had maybe one scene where they argued with each other, and now not only are we supposed to care about their reconciliation, but also that Gordon is directly responsible for John Grayson impregnating his wife and thus creating Robin. Grayson even says if they have a boy they'll name him Gordon, just so the wife can say "enh, we'll see" so everyone is abundantly clear that future Batman character Robin is swimming in this man's nutsack at that very moment.
It is one of the shittiest, most poorly written moments of TV I have watched in recent memory, and yet I admit I was grinning like the Joker the entire time because it was so entertainingly awful. You know, if Gotham was secretly a plot by the Joker to discredit Batman and his allies before murdering all its viewers, it would explain a lot. I guess if Smilex gas start emitting from our televisions in the season finale we'll know for sure.
• I didn't even get into Fish Mooney's sizable arc in this episode, which is its own brand of insane. Turns out these pirates are abducting people on the ocean to illegally harvest their organs — which, sure — and Fish organizes the prisoners with a full-on Braveheart speech, as if Fish Mooney was not a completely ridiculous character. But Fish hasn't convinced her new mass of loyal followers to escape, because that would make sense. No, she's convinced them to basically consent to being beaten to death if Fish doesn't get water, food, blankets and magazines for the other survivors. Not only is this plan dumb, it's such a bizarre, complicated non-solution — it's like the Gotham writers are sitting around thinking, "What would a reasonable human being do in this situation? Okay, let's make sure they do nothing resembling that."
• It looks like Fish Mooney comes back to Gotham next episode. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess her time on the boat has absolutely no ramifications for her character whatsoever. Any takers?
• Bruce Wayne shoulders the entire of Gotham's overarching plot this week by confronting the board members of Wayne Enterprises and asking them about ties to the mafia, the Arkham land project, and some sort of chemical weapons stuff. He gets no answers. The end. (It should go without saying that Alfred thinks Bruce's plan is dumb, tells him so repeatedly, and offers him no support emotionally.)
• When meeting with the Wayne Enterprises board and accusing them of corruption, he brings his notepad that he's doodled in. Really, Gotham? Literally no one on staff had the guts to say "Maybe this a little too un-Batman-y, even for a 10-year-old Bruce Wayne" out loud?
• Is Barbara Kean the saddest character on television? I'm genuinely asking. Because after being rejecting by two lovers, redeveloping a drug addiction, leaving her apartment and town for at least a month, presumably abandoning her job, moving back in with her parents who clearly loathe her and not having anyone, including her police detective ex, bother to check up on her at any point despite disappearing for 30-plus days with no word whatsoever — she comes back home and is so pathetic she tries to make friends with the two homeless girls she finds squatting in her apartment. She asks them what to wear to confront Jim again, for god's sake. It's lunacy.
• Also, Barbara manages to walk in the exact room in the GCPD at the exact right moment to catch Gordon full on snogging Leslie, despite all that bullshit last week about not kissing at the office. Again, the writers can't even be bothered to find semi-interesting ways for her life to continue to fall apart.
• More random weirdness: Leslie gets genuinely angry when Gordon dismisses the BFT's psychic message from the murder victim; Gordon spends the entire episode annoyed because the murder investigation is preventing him from having sex with Leslie. Finally after Robin's parents leave, Bullock specifically points out Gordon got laid. Why? Why, Gotham, why?
• Also, the show seems to really, truly believe that Butch's reappearance in the club is shocking enough to warrant a break to a commercial. Gotham, you overestimate yourself in so, so many ways.
• So either Jerome is the Joker or he's not. So he's either got a pretty shitty origin in that an old dude knocked up his mom and he worked at a circus for a while, or he's not the Joker but a kid who acts exactly like the Joker will act in 15 or so years. I do not believe there's a winning answer here.