Gotham recap: 'Harvey Dent'
Criminals take a detained bomber hostage, and Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock try to find out who is behind it all.
It’s amazing how quickly things can change. One minute you can be loving every moment of your favorite show and the next you’re caught in some inescapable filler episode, where minutes seems to take hours. Two episodes ago, Gotham had appeared to have found its footing. The action was addicting and characters were growing into their roles. The city of Gotham had never felt more alive.
That’s all gone now.
“Harvey Dent” is an episode that hangs in limbo, where after the credits roll, it’s hard to really pinpoint if anything important even happened. This episode primarily stumbles around a pointless bomber plot that unfolds into a bunch of nothing. This is only met with equal emotionless scenes involving a lonely Jim Gordon bemoaning (maybe?) the loss of Barbara and the arrival of Harvey Dent, the episode’s future Two-Face namesake, that brings a painful relapse to the hokey, Joel Schumacher-esque pilot episode. There’s just not really a lot to like here, but let’s dig through it and see if there isn’t something worth remembering.
The episode opens with pint-size Selina Kyle being brought to Gordon’s apartment. Jim soon realizes that he’s been jilted… again. At this point, it’s best to label this Gordon/Barbara back-and-forth as a toxic relationship. It’s somewhat similar to when a good friend of yours dates someone you find really, really annoying. You’re sad when they eventually break up, because your friend is sad, but deep, deep down you’re all smiles. It’s easy to feel somewhat happy every time Barbara leaves Jim, and that’s probably not the emotion the show writers are going for.
Anyways, Cat is in Jim’s apartment in the first place because she’s decided to finally cooperate with Gordon so she can stay out of juvenile detention. For her protection, she’s quickly spirited away to Wayne Manor. Bruce and Cat exchange a few rosy-cheeked, eyelash-flashing exchanges—which felt a little weird to watch two 12-year-olds flirt but whatever—and is a clear allusion to the two characters’ on-again off-again romantic future as depicted in the comics.
Now that Cat is safe with Bruce and an irritated Alfred Pennyworth, Gordon and the coin-flipping Harvey Dent try to oust the Waynes’ killer by entrapping a high brow billionaire named Dick Lovecraft as the possible murderous mastermind. There’s a couple problems with all of this. First off, when we meet Harvey Dent (Heroes‘ Nicholas D’Agosto) for the first time, within two minutes he’s already flipping his two-headed coin and leaving things up to chance and doing the good ole Harvey Dent thing.
NEXT: An explosion!… of boring
The problem is viewers haven’t even heard of this guy, not even in passing, and already we’re being hit over the head that he’ll one day become Two Face. Later in the episode, audiences do see his volatile personality, but since Dent is still largely a mystery, it’s hard to discern if this out of character or just how he operates on the regular. This fast-paced characterization is the opposite of the slow narrative craftsmanship that’s been neatly honing the Penguin’s character over these past nine episodes. Two Face is a great villain with lots of complexity to explore, but Gotham seems it’ll be going a different route.
The other problem is the idea that Dick Lovecraft is actually the bad, bad billionaire behind Bruce Wayne’s woes. He’s also a character pulled in from out of nowhere not to mention unexciting and one-dimensional. All of this aren’t exactly the attributes of someone capable of planning a double homicide of Gotham’s most rich and powerful.
And throughout all this legal posturing and tween flirting, “Harvey Dent” serves up a bomb plot that actually has no point. A man named Ian Hargrove is taken hostage during a prison transport. He steals some stuff, blows up stuff, and is ultimately liberated by Gordon and Bullock, but then Mooney’s henchman Butch blows up some more stuff and… um… that’s it. Some might say that this all advanced the small subplot that eventually turns Arkham into an asylum for the criminally insane, but episode four detailed that fate for the derelict building, so once again, this episode turns up empty.
Now, this inane bomb plot may be complete narrative fluff, but the Wayne/Cat/Alfred scenes actually flourish into something enjoyable to watch. As mentioned in the last episode, Alfred takes it upon himself to teach Bruce how to fight. In one scene, they’re fighting on a patio and Cat drops by and takes a few verbal jabs at Bruce’s hoity-toity lifestyle. After she eventually departs with a sour attitude, Alfred sees the infatuation on Bruce’s face and warns him to steer clear. Of course, Bruce deflects any such suggestion, but the audience senses that Alfred actually hit pretty close to the mark. This verbal swordplay intertwines with the physical exchange of punches and is another father/son moment between Bruce and Alfred. Their relationship is eternally fascinating to watch. In comics, Batman loses a lot of friends and love interests in his war against Gotham’s criminals, but Alfred is always there for him. They have one of the more unique relationships in all of comics, and as a Batman fan, it’s really fun to see this relationship move from Alfred simply being Bruce’s butler to quickly becoming a father figure.
Bruce and Cat also develop a playful rapport that does a good job foreshadowing their “it’s complicated” relationship ahead of them. Catwoman has always been an unsolved enigma for Batman. Wayne is stoic. Kyle is Aloof. This opposites attract interplay is well-conveyed between David Mazouz and Camren Bicondova. It’s only a little annoying that they’re just dumb kids and viewers are unlikely to see anything come of their relationship for a long while (if Gotham is so lucky), but their onscreen chemistry is actually surprisingly enjoyable, unlike some other couple who will remain nameless.
NEXT: An uncertain future
The only other piece to this week’s mediocre puzzle is the Penguin. Cobblepot’s constant scheming continues after learning there’s a mole in Falcone’s inner circle. Although it’s never expressed why Cobblepot suspects Liza, it’s reasonable enough to infer considering her short time with the crime boss. The Penguin breaks into Liza’s apartment to find any possible incriminating evidence, which comes in the form of a lilac-scented garment lying on Liza’s bed (Penguin’s a bit creepy, ain’t he?). The Penguin then goes to Fish Mooney and confirms his scent suspicions. Liza is the mole, and much like he’s done with almost everyone in this show, he adds her to his menagerie of people whose secrets keep them bound to him.
In the episode’s dying moments, Gordon calls Barbara and pleads that she come back and how he misses her. This is all undone in a moment of dramatic irony when viewers see that Barbara has decided to return to the arms of Renee Montoya. There are lots of things that could be said about this ending, about how it’s more fit for a cheesy daytime soap or something, but really the problem is Barbara herself. She has no character. She exists solely to be an object of desire for the two detectives. The audience never sees her actually do anything independent of them. It’s hard to figure out why these characters are so crazy about her in the first place because from the viewer’s POV, she’s an emotional wreck, kind of dumb, immature, and somewhat shallow, but she’s forced to be Gordon’s love interest because…..because.
The main reason this episode suffers is because Cobblepot and Bullock get very little screen time, and they’re easily the best characters on the show. Gordon’s character is constructed well, but the goody goody cop is hard to make completely compelling in a vacuum. You need actors like Donal Logue and Robin Lord Taylor to help define Gordon. Without them, Ben McKenzie can sometimes feel a little bland.
If last week’s “The Mask,” was meant as a de-escalation of the pulse-pumping events of “Penguin’s Umbrella,” then “Harvey Dent” is poison that kills any momentum Gotham had going for it. Let’s hope that like most comic book deaths, it isn’t permanent.
When not talking television, Darren Orf is a staff writer at Gizmodo. Follow him on Twitter: @darrenthewalrus