The characters of “Gotham” have had the show, as well as the city, ingrained into their DNA that they feel independent of anything. They’re established separate from the comics. They fought battles together. Built new lives together. In its third season, this show and its characters are no longer an adaptation but a universe unto itself.
The show has turned into a darkly comedic superhero opera. Before that descriptor makes your head explode, the second episode of the season makes it pretty clear that the show is playing by and subverting its own rules. There’s an air of irreverence to everything that has bogged down other adaptations of the Dark Knight (like excessive gadgets and caricature villains). The show is best when it deconstructs those tropes, like when Oswald Cobblepot has a heart-to-heart with Fish Mooney.
The confusion these characters are facing as they dive headfirst into the madness of this city makes for interesting dynamics. Making the Court of Owls the possible powers that be behind murdering Bruce’s parents adds an interesting layer of mythology to his confrontation with the leader in this episode. The history of Bruce’s investigation into his parents’ murder (both in the show and other places) has often defined the story’s portrayal of Batman. Before Bruce becomes Batman, he has to face the monsters that took his parents and that monster is the Court. The affair has thematic weight to it as the future Batman sits across from the villain that represents the antithesis of his legacy.
The anonymity the Court of Owls has clearly has an impact on Bruce, who will adopt a similar approach to his vigilantism, but that anonymity has a bigger impact because they are now the masters that have the power to turn Gotham into a “Mad City”. The screen even feels off kilter when Bruce confronts the Court’s leader. His butler, Alfred Pennyworth, has always been the way to Batman’s heart which makes the Court of Owl’s leader seem like they cans see the future when she threatened him to get Bruce to back off. The year so far has a very supernatural feel to it considering that every character is facing the very embodiment of their inner darkness, as if someone had collected all of their darkest thoughts and made them into threats in the physical world for them to face, giving the show a man vs self conflict feel.
The use of Ivy Pepper. and her transformation, as physically manifesting all this existential turmoil is a stroke of genius on the writers’ part. The shock that she, and the viewers, experience first witnessing her body after Fish’s minion aged her from pre-teen to adult is probably the reaction most characters are having now. The audience is justifiably worried about where this particular story might be going but I suspect that is the point, considering that Poison Ivy’s stories always been the examination man’s futile attempts at subjugating women and how she overcomes that, which this admittedly attractive new body will no doubt allow her to do. Her status as third wheel to Selina and Bruce in the past two years has much improved. This development places her in line to become a major player in the new world order of Gotham City, a place that can do with an extreme feminine touch.
Instead of repeating ad nauseam some of the more popular aspects from earlier seasons, the show brings its characters to inventive levels. Fish Mooney is a lightning rod for Gotham, attracting the characters and changing their dynamics. Her scene with Strange in the mansion is Gotham’s origin for him. Having him back on the show solidifies his role in the forming mythos surrounding Batman, and gives the current action stakes. Gotham City’s public stance on Strange and his mutants (including Fish) looms large on the minds of every character. They all share a history with Hugo Strange that will tell their arcs. It dictates each character’s role, like Oswald Cobblepot playing voice of the people. Just a year ago, I would never had thought that Fish would so savagely and cold-heartedly attack her former flame Harvey Bullock.
The case that brings Gordon into the fold is a far cry from the hero he was. While all the business with Owls and mutants is going on, the show still manages to have fun. The character work that Erin Richards is doing with Barbara Kean sharing scenes with Gordon, who switches between badass criminal to hysterical seductress, is astounding.
Outside of the mansion holding the fugitive Hugo Strange, Captain Barnes confronts Oswald Cobblepot who, with the backing of the fed up citizens of Gotham City, takes a surprisingly political stance on the anti-heroics that the police force has participated in which has me excited for his possibly political future. The woods in the back of the mansion is where the real drama takes place, with Oswald Cobblepot confronting/thanking Fish Mooney, who essentially made him into the Penguin, and parting ways with her after giving her time to escape. This way, Jada Pinkett Smith gets to go off and do other projects while solidifying her character Fish Mooney’s presence in making the show what it is today, and in the future, considering that she was one of the favorite pillars of the first season. This real resolution to one of the show’s fundamental relationships felt like a dynamic change to the character arcs.
The tension this season is what changes these characters will have thrown at them next. The performances only get better with each crazy plot development that separates the show from the source material. That has me very excited.
Valerie Vale (I’m so disappointed no one asked “Who is that?”) is an example of this very excitement. The charm Jamie Chung brings to the role of Valerie Vale makes her instantly distinguishable in this show filled with anti-heroes and melancholy as well as making her chemistry with Ben McKenzie’s Jim Gordon interesting. The promise of Morena Baccarin’s return as Leslie Thompkins just as Jim is diving into his new relationship should make things very complicated for the new season, considering her new beau is a Falcone. The line in the sand has been successfully set for the show’s best season yet. 11 has been the setting that show has been comfortable at but this season is looking to go even further.