Saturday, 4 April 2015

Gotham Episode 16 'The Blind Fortune Teller' Review

Jim and Leslie’s date at the circus is interrupted when the two rival families of the circus break into a fight during the show. It turns out that Lila, a snake dancer at the circus, has been murdered and the Lloyds and the Graysons each blame the other for her death. Will the mysterious circus psychic be able to help the GCPD solve the case? Meanwhile, Fish Mooney has devised a scheme to find out who is running the prison that she is trapped in and Bruce Wayne has decided to confront the Wayne Enterprises board of directors.

So Gotham has realised that to have a city that feels truly entrenched in corruption you need to show that it has a dark past. Tim Burton, with both ‘Batman’ and ‘Batman Returns’ captured the feeling of a city that has an ancient, by American standards at least, history of corruption and crime. This episode feels very heavily influenced by those films. Where previously Gotham felt very modern and the crimes felt like a topping on an otherwise normal city, we now have a city which has had a long history of warring clown families and satanic cults.

We have had a look into the past of the city before, such as in ‘Spirit of the Goat’ and these glances into the history of the city really add another dimension to the show. The original premise of the show promised that it would follow the crime families of Gotham, crime families that had long and interesting dynasties that influenced them. It is nice to see some of this aspect make its way into the current, slightly bland, iteration of the show.

This episode has a lot of really nice character moments, some of which might have been better to have earlier in the run. For example we see a different side of Barbara, who has returned to her apartment to discover Selina and Ivy living in it. Far from being horrified she seems to see something of herself in the two girls and befriends them. It’s as if Sex and the City were set in Gotham…and I’m ok with that. It would have been nice to see some of these moments with Barbara earlier. ‘Gotham’ up to this point made a terrible job of making the character of Barbara Kean likable. We were expected to like her because Jim did, we were expected to feel sorry for her because she was damaged goods. The damaged goods element was awful also, with the only elements of her dark past being her occasional weakness to cannabis and lesbianism…

How ‘Gotham’ messed up was to forget that a character with a dark past is an interesting character study and not a way to get cheap shocks. It also seemed to forget that weed and lady-on-lady action isn’t very shocking in 2015, not unless you’re an aging network executive. This new Barbara seems stronger, darker in some ways and we are getting subtle hints of the person she truly is. We feel sorry for her because she is trying to be normal when she isn’t. This is something that she shares with her two new friends and more importantly something tangible we can empathise with.

In addition to these character moments that pretty much redefine Barbara we get some nice moments which play off the relationships we have formed with the cast. Oswald for example is having trouble running his club, we see that at his first actual opportunity of true power he can’t cope and fails. The Penguin is a villain who should always be the second in command but his wish to be the King, or Emperor if you will, leads to his downfall. We have spent weeks watching Oswald survive by the skin of his teeth, barely making it through alive. We know that he isn’t quite good enough, even if he won’t accept it and these moments that prove us right are really rewarding to the audience.

We also see Fish’s coup at the organ factory begin to play out. Fish takes over the situation in only the way she would, brutally. These scenes are effective but the character of Fish still feels like a fish out of water since she left Gotham City. I would say no amount of smart writing will make her relevant again but I had also written off Barbara Kean, so we shall see.

So this is a pretty good episode of ‘Gotham’, not earth shattering but pretty good. I’d like to say, love to say actually, that the improvements shown in this episode towards the history of the city and its inhabitants would continue in future episodes but I can’t. ‘Gotham’ can go from being amazing television one week to being borderline unwatchable the next, it’s incredibly inconsistent. That being said the rebooting of Barbara feels like a very deliberate attempt to fix her character. If the creators of the show have started listening to criticisms maybe they have made a list of things to fix and intend to rectify them. I can’t tell for sure, I’m no psychic.  

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