Don't get me wrong — Gotham is an entertaining show, and I still believe it's mostly solved its tone problem and hit on a uniformly "dark camp" feel that works pretty well. But last night's episode really underscored how much this show is going to struggle with being a Batman prequel. Spoilers ahead...
Last night's episode was another huge step forward in a show that's apparently trying to tell the origins of every major Batman villain, along with the early years of Bruce Wayne becoming Batman. We met Harvey Dent, who is basically already on his way to becoming Two-Face, and meanwhile we spent a lot more time with Catwoman. And Penguin spied on Fish Mooney.
So first off, Harvey Dent. He's already an assistant D.A. who is known to Allen and Montoya as a trustworthy attorney who's willing to stick his neck out. So Gordon goes to Dent with the news that he has a witness who can identify the killer of Thomas and Martha Wayne. (That's Selina "Catwoman" Kyle, more on her in a moment.)
Dent not only expresses willingness to prosecute anyone and everyone — where was he last week? — but he also decides to tell people that there's a witness, in the hope of drawing out the real culprit. Dent believes that a brand new crime boss we've never met before, Lovecraft, is behind the whole thing. So he confronts Lovecraft, and it doesn't go that well.
As with a lot of the other Bat-villains on this show, the foreshadowing is heavy with Dent. He has a two-headed coin that he likes to flip, which he uses to offer a juvenile delinquent a second chance. He's filmed with half his face in shadow a lot of the time. And when he is crossed by Lovecraft, he lets out a little of his inner Cthulhu, if you see what I mean. He's basically poised to become Two-Face, even before he gets a splash of acid. Which, fair enough — I get that Two-Face was always in there, and his disfigurement just brought that side of him out.
Still, it seems as though Harvey Dent is already pretty much ready to get hit with acid and start wearing a half-plaid jacket. And he's already partnering up with Jim Gordon to clean up Gotham City — plus he'll be pushing 50 by the time Bruce is ready to become Batman. These things don't bear too much thinking about, but I feel like the show is forcing me to think about them.
In any case, we know that Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent are going to fail to clean up Gotham, and that they're apparently going to keep trying for the next 15 years. So the fun is in watching them try, and the notion of the Wayne murders being the fulcrum that breaks open Gotham's crime empire is sort of an interesting one. This show is building up to the idea that there's a Big Secret behind the Waynes' deaths, and of course that means it'll have to deliver.
Oh, and Barbara has apparently left Jim Gordon for good, because she's not strong enough to be with him. She leaves him a note, which Selina reads. And then instead of leaving town or whatever, she goes and sleeps with her ex, Renee Montoya. Gordon's colleague, whom he's currently trying to team up with. Nice one, Bar.
Meanwhile, the case that Gordon and Bullock are investigating turns out to be tied to Fish Mooney's latest power play. She's gotten some Russian thugs who used to work for Nikolai, her lover, to bust a bomb-making expert out of prison. He used to blow up empty buildings to protest weapons makers and stuff, but now they want him to blow open a vault and steal some of Carmine Falcone's money. (But then the cash gets blown up, along with the Russians, thanks to a bomb activated by a phone with a "Final Countdown" ringtone. This show is turning into all funny ringtones, all the time.)
This is all just part of Fish's scheme to weaken Falcone so she can take his place, and thus far it seems to be working pretty well, thanks to her right-hand man, Butch. (It's a measure of this show's devotion to camp that a gangster named Butch is the least campy thing on it.)
But Fish is heading for trouble, because the Penguin figures out the truth about Liza, the baby-faced singer whom she sent to seduce Carmine Falcone. He figures this out by sniffing Liza's underthings and then sniffing Fish Mooney, and scenting lilacs. There's a lot of inappropriate smelling in this episode. The Penguin finally confronts Liza, but promises not to blow the whistle on her — because presumably she's going to be spying for him now.
And meanwhile, Selina Kyle has finally sat down with a sketch artist and drawn a sketch of the man who killed the Waynes. And it's... nobody that anybody recognizes. But to keep Selina safe, Jim Gordon arranges for her to go live at Wayne Manor, so it can be like the sitcom version of protective custody. Selina watches with bemusement as Bruce Wayne practices sparring with Alfred, since a boxing glove won't protect you in the real world. (Or will it?)
Selina is the charming little scamp who comes into Bruce Wayne's sterile life and shakes everything up, teasing him with the fact that he wants to kiss her and contrasting her street-smart toughness with his uptight blue-blood stiff-collar seriousness. Bruce is busy creating his own curriculum for homeschooling, she's wearing goggles indoors. It's adorable...ish. And it leads to a raucous foodfight that leads Alfred to get over his hangups about having the young thief live at Wayne Manor, after all.
So again... a touch of prequel-itis. This show is trying to charge ahead with having Selina and Bruce become besties, and Gordon and Dent become crusading crime-fighters long before Batman. But it's severely constrained by what we already know about Batman's world, even if it's already taking huge liberties.
I'm honestly fascinated to see where we are after a few years of the Batman villains all developing and Bruce still being a kid. I guess one possibility is we end up with a situation like Smallville, which by the end had the entire Justice League (minus Batman and Wonder Woman) in costume and fighting evil, but Clark still hadn't put on the suit yet. Prequels, man. It's a weird thing.