The worst part about “Harvey Dent” is Harvey Dent. Like so many character introductions on this show, it’s all about how many winks to the audience the writers can sneak in. The characterization process on this show usually boils down to “hey look, it’s the guy who becomes [insert popular character name here].” Nicholas D’Agosto goes full ham with Dent, a blustery performance that’s all hot air. Part of that is the unchecked charisma Dent is supposed to have as a councillor who wants to clean up Gotham. But part of that is just D’Agosto overselling. It’s the same problem that has, at times, plagued the performances of just about everyone in the cast. At this point though, most of the actors are settling into their roles nicely, overacting when it’s called for, and toning it down at the right moments.
Nuance is by no means Gotham’s strong suit (and it doesn’t always have to be), but compared to other episodes this season, there’s a low-key confidence to the storytelling in “Harvey Dent” that serves the characters and plot well, focusing on building tension and relationships while never really stepping into the territory of the ridiculous. The case-of-the-week is compelling, the mob power struggle continues to move in interesting directions, and we even get some wonderful development in terms of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Gotham always takes on too much–too many characters, too many plot threads, too many references. “Harvey Dent” doesn’t. It’s economical, and all the better for it.
The case-of-the-week in “Harvey Dent” sees bomb specialist Ian Hargrove busted out of custody while being transferred from the Blackgate Penitentiary. He’s taken hostage by a gang of Russians (obviously working for Mooney), and told to build bombs for them so that they can strategically detonate them at a couple of Falcone’s strongholds. They chain him up in an old factory so that he can get to work. His first bomb is destined for an armory that Falcone has a stake in via a private investment firm, and rather than stand idly by, Hargrove sneaks a nameplate from the factory into the bomb with the hopes that the authorities will find it, and thus scope out his location. You see, Hargrove is meant to be a sympathetic character, a guy who accidentally killed two janitors while making a statement. He only bombs warehouses and factories where they store or build weapons and ammunition, a sort of mission statement of anti-violence achieved through violence. While Gordon and Bullock are interrogating Hargrove’s brother, he further humanizes him. “He’s not a bad man,” he says. “He’s sick. There’s a difference.” This statement, coupled with Gordon’s indictment of Gotham’s inadequate programs made available to the mentally ill, especially in prison, act not only as a survey of Gotham’s crumbling infrastructure, but also a welcome, scathing comment on the prison industrial complex in the real world. Society, and the prison system, consistently fail the mentally ill, and it’s nice to see Gotham, and Gordon in particular, present that argument with more than a just a passing interest. The storyline furthers its cultural critiques to the media as well. There are numerous mentions of Hargrove being labeled as an “urban terrorist” by the media, and the overblown notion of his criminal status is clearly an indictment of the way news organizations sensationalize crimes in order to draw eyes to their product. The fate of Hargrove within the storyline ultimately doesn’t matter, because he’s not so much a character as a vehicle for a cultural critique, and Gotham carries out the critique with surprising nuance and conviction.
Hargrove’s storyline is in service of the bigger narrative arc here: Mooney’s attempt to displace Falcone, and Cobblepot’s continued effort to turn the whole operation on its head. Mooney doesn’t want to just kill Falcone; she wants to hit him where it hurts, slowly siphoning his power before making her move. So, she gets her goons to kidnap Hargrove and build a bomb that can blast through iron safes so that she can steal a truck full of money from him. Gordon and Bullock show up, so the deal goes sour, and Butch blows up the truck and the money (and all relevant witnesses). Mooney isn’t upset though because she’s started to hit Falcone, a few body blows before the knockout head shot. The storyline works because the storytelling is clear and concise. There’s no confusion about who is involved and why. We know who the power players are, we know their motives, and we understand what they must do to reach their goals. Seeing Mooney and Cobblepot squirm and manoeuvre around each other, balancing a tone between supervillains and quietly menacing mob bosses, is one of the episode’s highlights. There’s also a great scene where Cobblepot breaks into Liza’s apartment looking for clues as to her role in the power struggle. The entire scene has a noir-ish feel. The color scheme is all muted yellows and greens, the furniture rustic, the light barely poking through the drawn curtains. A strange, eerie violin score permeates the scenes as Cobblepot waddles around the apartment. It’s wonderfully shot, one of the most visually impressive scenes the show has executed in its brief run.
Elsewhere, we get the return of Selina Kyle, as she moves in with Bruce and Alfred at Wayne Manor, her storage there a matter of safe keeping, as she’s the lone witness to the murder of the Waynes. Camren Bicondova hasn’t given us much to love about Selina Kyle yet, but there’s a tenderness (and dare I say chemistry) between her and David Mazouz that turns a potentially cliché tale of budding young love into something sweet and honest. Mazouz in particular is injecting the young Bruce Wayne with the emotions and mannerisms that will help him develop as Batman. He’s vulnerable, stubborn, honest, inquisitive, scared, and strong-willed all at once. When the storyline culminates in a food fight between Wayne and Kyle, with Alfred looking on, briefly considering reprimanding them before cracking the slightest smile, it’s an earned moment, no matter how saccharine. This show can be so dark, and so goofy, from one moment to the next. It’s nice to see a relationship develop organically for once, with an emotional crescendo that doesn’t feel contrived.
- Donal Logue was toned down this week. No standout one-liners. It was kind of nice to see him just being a cop, keeping it simple.
- I really love when Jada Pinkett Smith and Robin Lord Taylor come together. They’re both having a blast in their roles, and the interplay is consistently the best part of this show week in and week out.
- Didn’t mention it above, but the episode’s end reveals that Barbara is off with Montoya, their romantic relationship reignited. I don’t really have any feelings on this yet, other than a sense that we’re in for some horrendous love triangle storytelling in the near future.
- The introduction of Dick Lovecraft into the mix is promising. He’s another power player that could add some heft to the central storyline involving the mob power struggle and the murder of the Waynes.
- Dear Gotham writers: a bottle of milk does not count as character development or insight.