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Gotham: “Lovecraft”

Donal Logue, Sean Pertwee
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22 episodes is a lot of television. It’s a lot of television to create, especially when you originally planned a story that spanned 16 episodes. Gotham executive producer Danny Cannon acknowledged as much in an interview posted online today. He talks about needing to stretch the story out, to spend more time with characters and emotions rather than rushing to a massive climax. In theory, that all sounds great–this is a show that could use a little deliberation from time to time–but if “Lovecraft,” the midseason finale, is any indication of what a stretched out story looks like on Gotham, then we’re in for a tedious back-half of the show’s first season.

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“LoveCraft” sticks to a single storyline, though it does weave in a bunch of the show’s main players. Following last week’s adorable food fight, Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne are now on the run after a trio of assassins come to Wayne Manor looking for Selina. Alfred does his best post-’08 Liam Neeson impression and fends off the attackers while killing one, but that doesn’t stop two of them from getting away. The assassination attempt and the following disappearance of Selina and Bruce set in motion a manhunt spearheaded by Gordon, Bullock, and Alfred. The assumption is that Dick Lovecraft, suspect in the Wayne murders, called in the hit. Gordon goes after Lovecraft for details while Bullock teams up with Alfred to find Selina in the streets of Gotham.

Everything involving Bullock and Alfred is great. They’re the buddy-cop duo with chemistry, charisma, and punchlines that we’ve been hoping Gordon and Bullock would morph into. Their storyline is more than just an excuse to indulge in hardnosed cop-butler braggadocio though. We’ve known all along how much Alfred cares for “Master Bruce,” but this episode drives their connection home. The embrace they share when Alfred finds Bruce is one of the few earned emotional moments the series has had so far, and it adds significant stakes to any conflict or strife the two will encounter in the future. For a show supposedly about Gotham and Jim Gordon, the best backstory building, thus far, is being given to Bruce and Alfred. That makes sense, considering who Bruce becomes; but there’s a long way to go before that happens, and the show would benefit from fleshing out the characters that don’t become superheroes.

Wrapped up in the search for Bruce and Selina is the increasingly convoluted storyline about who murdered the Waynes, why they murdered them, and how it all connects to the mob struggle taking place between Falcone, Mooney, Cobblepot, and Maroni. Cobblepot remains the most intriguing figure in the mix, the guy in control of the whole situation. He’s pitting everyone against each other, and it’s great seeing Robin Lord Taylor play Cobblepot with equal parts confidence and frailty. Cobblepot knows he’s in control–note how, when being questioned about the mole in Falcone’s group, he uses “he” instead of “she” to refer to the mole–but must project an image of weakness.

All of the plotting and backstabbing in the mob storyline works to create tension, but the motivations behind every action are seriously undercooked. That includes Harvey Dent’s investigation into Lovecraft and Gordon’s attempts to track down leads on the Wayne murder case. The story isn’t necessarily hard to follow, but it feels unnecessarily complicated. There are too many players involved, from Lovecraft (R.I.P) to Dent to Mooney and more, and Gotham isn’t exactly working to explain the role each character plays. The surface-level stuff works well enough; there’s some great smash cuts in this episode–Falcone shooting one of his crime compadres is the best of the bunch–and the tension between the powers is palpable. But, much like the Wayne murder investigation, Gotham hasn’t sufficiently raised the stakes. Why should we care about the mob storyline? Is it because it might involve the Waynes? Is it because we should be invested in Gotham as a city, and Gordon as a do-good cop? Gotham, through its first 10 episodes, has done little to keep its audience invested in the long game. It’s no wonder the biggest news pieces attached to this show have to do with when other canon characters will debut; there’s little else to latch on to here.

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The episode ends with Gordon being transferred to Arkham Asylum for prison guard duty, a political burying of sorts after Lovecraft is killed by the assassins with Gordon’s gun. When the camera pans out, the rusty gates creaking as Gordon walks onto the Asylum grounds, it’s meant to be momentous. But like every other narrative turn on this show, it feels empty, merely a nod to the places, characters, and storylines we already know, failing to establish a creative vision unique to Gotham. “Lovecraft” is all exposition and very little stakes, which is completely unacceptable for a midseason finale that’s meant to gear us up for the events that will take place in the new year.

Stray observations:

  • Alfred is the best character on this show, week in and week out. He’s the only one here with a sense of purpose.
  • That scene where Dent and Gordon discuss how Selina Kyle was tracked down embodies everything wrong with this show. Showy acting that only accentuates the mess of exposition taking place.
  • Bruce has discovered the allure of the hoodie. How long until he stumbles upon The Ramones and starts smoking?
  • On Gotham, you know you’re in the city’s seedy underbelly when the scene is scored to horrendous alt-rock.
  • Nice to have John Doman back on screen. He has a presence that this show sorely lacks.
  • “If you die, who employs butlers anymore?”
  • “You’re pretty handy for a valet.”
  • Bruce, when discussing Selina’s reason for lying about the assassins being after him, accidentally summarizes the storytelling of Gotham: “That’s very convoluted reasoning.”
  • Enjoy a few Gotham-less weeks, everyone (I’d recommend catching up on Jane The Virgin), and see you in January!
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