If there’s been one saving grace about Gotham so far this season (and one saving grace is about all it has), it’s been the performances. While Ben McKenzie seems out of his element, and his chemistry with Morena Baccarin is sorely lacking considering the role of their romance in the story, many of the other actors have done an admirable job bringing these roles to the small screen. Folks like Donal Logue, Sean Pertwee, Jada Pinkett Smith, John Doman, and Robin Lord Taylor have done some wonderful work, each of them doing their best to find a balance between oversized and nuanced character tics. While so much of Gotham’s story coasts on the audience’s ability to identify future canon characters, using that as an excuse to skirt character development, the list of actors above have all brought a certain gravity and personality to their roles.
“The Blind Fortune Teller” is another dull, convoluted, poorly-written hour of television, but there are a few performances that stand out. Watching Gotham every week is such a frustrating experience because of how banal the procedural elements are and how shallow and haphazard the narrative is; but it’s also frustrating because there are moments when characters shine, or when a certain sequence plays out with wonderful tension and patience. So many episodes of the show have given hints as to what Gotham could be if only it could find some narrative depth and focus, and “The Blind Fortune Teller” is another one of those episodes.
The episode chiefly focuses on a murder that takes place at the circus that’s rolling through town, the one that Dr. Thompkins secured tickets to for her and Gordon. While in attendance, a fight breaks out, and after Gordon breaks it up, he learns that the fight is just the most recent confrontation in a decades-long feud between the two families, one of which is the Graysons, known mostly for that Dick/Robin guy they give birth to. After determining that the two men were fighting over a snake charmer/dancer named Lyla, Gordon and Thompkins go looking for her. They find her son, but not her… that is, until Gordon lets her snake out of its cage and it leads them to a truck with her dead body in the back. This is the kind of ludicrous storytelling that counts as compelling police procedural on Gotham; there’s never a meaningful investigation, just a series of coincidences that eventually help Gordon solve the crime. The investigations that drive every episode of Gotham should tells us something about the city, the people, the government, the detectives–after all, this is meant to be a show about the city and its people, and how its political and cultural structure led to Bruce Wayne becoming Batman and Jim Gordon becoming the Commissioner. Sixteen episodes in, and the show has yet to give us any meaningful insight into the very fabric of Gotham.
The rest of the investigation, which doubles as a look into the developing relationship between Gordon and Thompkins, falls into place very neatly, even when all the elements I’m about to list sound absolutely ridiculous. A psychic named Cicero delivers a message from Lyla (from beyond the grave!) to Gordon about how to solve the murder. Gordon writes the supernatural tip off as the rantings of a deranged man, but Thompkins takes it seriously, and eventually determines that his cryptic clue means that they should search under the Arkham Bridge for… something. So, the two interrupt their lovely dinner at home and head to the bridge, where they find a hatchet (“if someone threw something from the bridge, this is where it would land” is an actual line of dialogue spoken here) that’s inscribed with the symbol and letters of an old satanic cult called The Hell Fire Club. Gordon, deducing that the club couldn’t be responsible for the murder because they haven’t been actively murdering people for years, thinks that Cicero must have led them there on purpose. From there, it’s only a quick hop, step, and a jump to determining that Cicero was protecting Lyla’s son, Jerome, who murdered his mother. And why does he protect him? Because Cicero is Jerome’s father.
None of that is important though, because it’s all a drawn-out, convoluted way to introduce Jerome as the Joker; he smiles and laughs maniacally as he admits to killing her. This reveal is representative of what’s plagued Gotham throughout its first season. The show ignores its larger story arcs, instead focusing on “big” character reveals, as if the very inclusion of canon Batman characters is enough of a thrill to justify 43 minutes of exposition and clumsy procedural work. To be fair, Cameron Monaghan (perhaps best known for his work on Shameless), turns in a great performance in the few minutes of screen time he’s given. His switch to the Joker is sudden and jarring, but in the best way possible. It hints at the evil that’s lurking just below the surface, and suggests that he has a mean streak that can manifest itself in physical violence at any moment. His take on the Joker is, of course, heavily influenced by Heath Ledger’s, but it never tries to compete with that iconic performance. Instead, Monaghan gives us just enough to hook us into his story and wonder where we might see him next.
Coupled with that performance is the work of Jada Pinkett Smith, who truly shines in this episode. She’s a full-on badass in the underground now; she’s literally standing on a dude’s back when she delivers a message of rebellion to her now-loyal followers! That image, of Smith atop the man’s back, doing her best Coach Taylor impersonation and belting out something hopeful and rousing, is a thing of beauty, a single moment amongst the mess that is now the crime boss storyline. Monaghan and Smith offer us glimpses of a show that’s ludicrous in all the right ways, a show that’s aware of its more cartoonish genre trappings, and can therefore exploit them in fun, interesting ways. They’re mere glimpses though, and nothing more.
- I was really hoping Mooney would end her rousing speech with “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”
- So, Barbara is back. She spends the episode getting opinions on which dress will impress Gordon the most from Selina Kyle and Ivy Pepper, because we all know orphans with barely a shirt to their name give the best fashion advice.
- I really loved Bruce walking into that Wayne Enterprises board meeting and raging against the machine. I hope it’s a jumping off point for a longer, more detailed storyline about Bruce and the corruption he sees within the company. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Bruce’s storyline, however little there’s been, has been the most compelling part of the first season of Gotham.
- Gordon solves a decades-long blood feud and gets Robin’s parents to finally admit their love for one another by telling the two families not to fight. Why didn’t anyone else think of that?!?