‘Gotham’ Weekly Review: Allusion Overload

By February 18, 2015
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This week’s episode of “Gotham” was a weird one to watch. On the one hand, it featured a lot of things that can drive anyone crazy about prequel shows in general, while on the other hand, it had some pretty good and interesting moments with some of the unique characters. With an origin story as well known as Batman’s, a series taking place in the character’s formative years has to be able to introduce its own elements if it doesn’t want to be directly compared with every single exploration of Bruce’s past that’s come before. While over the course of the first season this show has largely become comfortable in its own skin, this episode seemed to take a bit of a step back by collapsing onto the proverbial cushion of the resoundingly familiar.

Haly's Circus is where Dick Grayson performed as an acrobat with his parents. When they were murdered by a gangster, Bruce Wayne took the young boy into his care, where he'd eventually become Batman's partner Robin.

Haly’s Circus is where Dick Grayson performed as an acrobat with his parents. When they were murdered by a gangster, Bruce Wayne took the young boy into his care, where he’d eventually become Batman’s partner Robin.

That’s not to say that it was all bad, though.

This week, the main plot revolved around a murder committed at Haly’s Circus, a travelling performance show making a stop in Gotham. When a brawl breaks out on the stage between a couple of the circus’s rival families, Gordon — who’s there on a date with Dr. Thompkins — has to get involved to break it up. After the victim’s body is discovered, Gordon and Thompkins try to find out why the woman is dead, questioning the virulent members of the Grayson and Loyd families, as well as the victim’s son, Jerome (played by actor Cameron Monaghan).

Other plotlines explored include Fish Mooney’s continued incarceration in her underworld prison, rallying the other prisoners to fight against their captors, and Bruce Wayne preparing to meet with the board at Wayne Enterprises to discuss his discoveries while investigating “the Arkham project,” and to put the board on notice that he is aware that things aren’t as they should be.

Right up front, one of the discussions I often get into with other hardcore Batman fans is my unwavering love of the character of Dick Grayson: the original Robin, and eventual Nightwing. So, I found myself having the opposite impression of “annoyed” when I learned that Haly’s Circus, home of the Flying Graysons and eventually Dick Grayson, would be featured in this episode. Oftentimes in live action, Robin seems to be ignored entirely, and the allusion and early look at John and Mary Grayson was welcome. From there, though, there was an allusion in this episode that I have…mixed feelings about.

Joker's psychosis has generally made it hard to pin down his exact origin story. All you can do is pick a random card out of the deck.

Joker’s psychosis has generally made it hard to pin down his exact origin story. All you can do is pick a random card out of the deck.

In my review of this show’s pilot episode, I made very clear that any allusion whatsoever to the Joker is something that I wouldn’t be happy with. The conflict between Batman and the Joker, which many believe to be the absolute best and most revered conflict in all of superhero comics, demands a certain fidelity that other characters in this show simply don’t, because of the Joker’s status as a force of nature in Gotham City.

In most of his depictions over the character’s 75 years in existence, he was an entity that arrived in Gotham without warning, catching Batman off guard by both taking his mission in a new direction, and by confronting him with truths that the Dark Knight would rarely want to admit to himself.

And yet, I found myself intrigued by Cameron Monaghan’s portrayal as a two-faced and vindictive young man, with elements of Jack Nicholson’s sardonic wit and Heath Ledger’s anarchism. It seems that the Joker as envisioned in the world of this show will be going in a direction more akin to the 1989 film’s conception of the character, where he’s already a pretty bad guy, only made worse by the fate that befalls him. All in all, I’m okay with it for now. If we get too much too fast, though, I’m afraid that it will be immensely disappointing.

We’re getting down to the wire on this season, but hopefully the show will leave us with a strong finale. Until then, though, we’ll see you next week.

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.