Season 1, Episode 10: “Lovecraft”
Written by Rebecca Dameron
Directed by Guy Ferland
When one door closes, another door opens—in this case, those doors are the rusty, clanging gates of Arkham Asylum, as Jim Gordon faces an ominous new chapter of his life and the first half of Gotham’s first season comes to a close.
Gotham had a shaky start with a pilot that took a rigid police procedural formula and awkwardly stuffed it with more Batman lore than a Wikipedia page. Early episodes also had trouble deciding on a tone, which, to be fair, is a problem the Batman franchise has struggled with for decades. Should the show embrace the classic camp of the 60s Batman television show, or stick with the gritty realism of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy? Gotham cuts right through the middle, populating the city with both the pig-masked Balloonman and the self-mutilating hitman Victor Zsasz. This has kept the “Villain of the Week” formula from becoming stale, and gives the show an intriguing, off-kilter feel. Gotham City feels both like a city that could exist, and a city that could never exist. (The anachronistic set design, in which the characters use typewriters but also have flip-phones with “Funkytown” ringtones, also helps.)
“Lovecraft,” which could also be titled Taken 4: OI MASTER BRUCE, is notable for being young Bruce Wayne’s (David Mazouz) first journey into Gotham City’s criminal underworld. At Wayne Manor, Bruce and Selina Kyle (Carmen Bicondova) are ambushed by the hired assassin Copperhead. Alfred busts out his best James Bond moves to hold Copperhead at bay while the children flee. As was the case in “The Mask,” Bruce Wayne works best as a character when he’s not confined to the stuffy study in Wayne Manor. (Before this episode, you’d think Wayne Manor had only one room.) David Mazouz plays Bruce as a grief-stricken, self-destructive child prodigy; he won’t be standing on rooftops yelling, “I am Vengeance! I AM THE NIGHT!” any time soon, but he’s going in the right direction.
He finds that direction through Selina, in what is Gotham’s best break from comic continuity so far. Selina witnessed the murder of Bruce’s parents all the way back in the pilot, providing an interesting wrinkle to the familiar “Crime Alley, Pearls, Dead Parents” scene that shows up in every piece of Batman media ever. Selina is linked with Bruce the moment he “becomes” Batman, and once they actually befriend each other, she’s an important influence on Bruce with both her attitude (she tells Bruce he needs to be “ruthless”) and her links to Gotham’s seedy underbelly. The less said about the return of Ivy Pepper, who hasn’t been seen since the pilot and meets Bruce at Discount Street Urchin Warehouse, the better, save that she looks like Cosette from a deranged production of Les Miserables.
The concept of Bruce and Selina as childhood friends and kindred spirits, despite their wildly different backgrounds, has a lot of new story potential. It’s a welcome change from Catwoman’s origin story in Batman: Year One, where Selina’s only inspired to become Catwoman after she sees Batman suited up and in action. (Gotham firmly rejects the popular theory that Batman indirectly created his rogue’s gallery and that they only exist in response to him—which is fine with me.) It’s a shame that the demands of the plot separate them by the end of the episode–Bruce Wayne isn’t safe on the streets, and Selina Kyle isn’t safe at Wayne Manor—but their kiss at the end is a sign they probably won’t be separated for long. Until then, they’ll always have “Screw you, orphan!”
One significant weakness to the fall finale is that it downplays Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin, who is unquestionably the season’s MVP. Penguin’s scene with mafia boss Falcone is a weak reminder of what we already know—Penguin knows Falcone’s mistress Liza is spying on him for Fish Mooney, but for now he’s holding his cards to his chest, blah blah blah. Luckily other characters, particularly Alfred and Bullock, are strong enough now that Taylor doesn’t have to hold the weight of the show on his shoulders, but his scenes are a letdown compared to the throat-slashing, sandwich-stealing Penguin of previous episodes.
To bring this review back full circle, I’ll return to Jim Gordon, who’s reassigned to Arkham Asylum after being knocked out by Copperhead and made a patsy in the murder of Gotham bigwig Dick Lovecraft. (Dick Lovecraft! We hardly knew ye.) It’s easy to overlook Gordon even though he’s Gotham’s ostensible protagonist. There’s nothing wrong with Ben McKenzie’s performance; he’s the straight man that the show needs to stay anchored in reality, even when the plot (and the villains) go off the rails. But when character actors like Jada Pinkett Smith and Robin Lord Taylor are chewing and stealing the scenery around him, Gordon’s stoic presence doesn’t always stand out. It’s hard to imagine that Gordon will be out of the GCPD for long, but his goodbyes to Bullock and Nygma are surprisingly emotional. Nygma hugging Gordon goodbye also highlights one interesting aspect of the show: of the future supervillains introduced so far, Oswald Cobblepot, Edward Nygma, and Harvey Dent all genuinely like and respect James Gordon. Penguin is already well on his road to villainy, but Nygma and Dent’s friendships with Gordon raise some interesting emotional stakes. We know who those men will become (if not when), though Gordon doesn’t.
And then Arkham Asylum’s gates close behind Gordon. Sooner or later, they all come to Arkham.