Tonight’s Gotham is all about the ladies, which is surprising considering how poorly this show’s ladies are written. They aren’t the weakest aspect of the show, but still, Gotham City is not a lady-friendly environment. In reality, “The Blind Fortune Teller” is really about women in the abstract, or women as they’re defined by men’s expectations. In Gotham, a city that’s supposedly on the verge of great change, independent women are still viewed as threats. To be taken seriously, the show’s women must assert themselves: Fish Mooney has to take big risks to get a face-to-face meeting with “The Manager” of her mysterious organ-farm prison, and Leslie Thompkins has to essentially shame Jim Gordon into taking her on his investigations. Women who don’t do enough to take charge either don’t get what they want, as is the case with jilted lover Barbara Kean, or don’t live long enough to regret their decisions.
The latter example is especially troubling. Lyla the snake-dancer is dead when we meet her, so it’s impossible to really know what she was like. Instead, we have the men in her life to tell us about her less-than-stellar character! Paul Cicero (Mark Margolis), the episode’s titular sightless psychic, and Lyla’s son Jerome (Shameless’s Cameron Monaghan) paint a picture of Lyla as a fallen woman. Her reputation as a prostitute at Haly’s Circus is never disputed, nor is her alcoholism, nor her inability to provide for Jerome. It’s hard to hear Jerome, who is later revealed to be Lyla’s killer, explain that he couldn’t stand being “nagged” by someone for whom he had no respect. His tirade is a very low point for Gotham, because all it does is encourage viewers to groan at Jerome’s misogyny while not even bothering to consider its impact on Lyla, Jerome’s victim.
Jerome is the real subject of the investigation-of-the-week, because he is the ginger who will become the Joker. In fact, we may not have to wait very long for that transformation, since next week’s episode is entitled “Red Hood,” a conspicuous tease for comic-book nerds who know the Joker’s origin story as it’s related in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke. Still, Jerome’s confession stinks because it revels in pseudo-shocking epithets like “My mother was a cold-hearted whore!” Lyla should be this subplot’s main character, but she’s actually the object of Gordon’s investigation and is therefore treated like just another abstract plot point.
That’s not especially surprising, given how frustratingly the Thompkins/Gordon love affair manifests in tonight’s episode. At this point, Morena Baccarin and Ben McKenzie’s chemistry doesn’t carry their romance anymore, since McKenzie has to goggle his eyes like Ralph Kramden and insipidly scold Thompkins whenever she asks to be closer to him. Watching Thompkins and Gordon’s relationship unravel a little more tonight is depressing, because it takes away one of the most charming aspects of the show. She exasperatedly explains to him, after they leave dinner to investigate Arkham Bridge, that he wants something from her that she can’t be: an obedient housewife who will stay home and wait on him. Rather than be upset about this, however, Thompkins almost instantaneously forgives Gordon and asks again that he take her on his investigation. He obliges her, but there’s something fundamentally wrong with this picture. At best, she’s giving him too much credit. At worst, she’s manipulating him. The latter is probably not true — unless we later find out that she’s a lame-o super villain — but the former is just a different kind of disappointing.
And speaking of disappointing: How about that Barbara Kean, a character who has conveniently been forgotten for the sake of developing other characters? I say “conveniently,” though I get why she’s been out of the spotlight: Gordon banished her from Gotham so he could keep her out of harm’s way, thereby cementing his Don Draper Lite character as a wannabe-progressive who’s also fundamentally, stubbornly conservative when it comes to the fairer sex.
But that regressive dynamic continued tonight when Kean, upon returning to her apartment and finding Ivy Pepper and Selina Kyle hanging out, plans to win Gordon back. Kean takes Kyle’s advice and tries to dress like she’s seeing someone else. But that strategy doesn’t help much when she sees Gordon kissing Thompkins, so she storms off. To be honest, I’m not sure what’s more bizarre: Kean taking a waifish girl’s advice on how to win Gordon back, or Kean thinking that dressing sexily will fix anything. Either way, it’s a good thing that Kean doesn’t get what she wants tonight.
By contrast, it’s not so good to see Fish Mooney make demands and get her way. She bosses around an intermediary prison capo named Thomas Schmidt (Elliot Villar) by preemptively injuring the organ donors he’s sent to collect from Mooney’s prison “family.” This last point is especially ridiculous. Never mind the fact that Mooney’s in charge of a mysterious spooky jail, all because she’s got a knife. Never mind the fact that she’s surrounded by big dudes who could easily take said knife from her. And never mind the fact that she rallies her troops with an absurdly schmaltzy line like “We are family. We are all we’ve got.” Never mind all that! Why exactly does Thomas feel like he can’t shoot Mooney and reset his prison’s status quo? When did Mooney become so indispensable that virtually everyone else in her environment now blindly supports her? Gotham viewers are routinely asked to make this kind of Superman-size leap in logic. But suspending our disbelief tonight really sucks given the episode’s atypical focus on supporting characters who are usually taken for granted.
- More Mark Margolis, please.
- Watching Jada Pinkett-Smith try to vamp it up is seriously depressing. The scene where Mooney puts Schmidt in his place by theatrically curling her outstretched hand into a fist is painful to watch.
- This is the second time I’ve seen a box of Fruit Brute cereal in Jim Gordon’s apartment. What is going on there?
- Time for: Fanboyish Speculation! So tonight’s the first part of a two-part episode. Who do we think the Manager is? Also: Anyone else want to lay odds that Dick Grayson’s future parents will kiss and make up (and maybe more) next week?
- Jerome’s cackling little monologue still bothers me. Gotham’s not a show for kids, but the overzealous, performative nature of that hateful speech … it was excessive to the point where the excess was the point. I hated it.
- Okay, here’s a plot-hole quibble: Why would Gordon feel like he couldn’t trust Cicero’s clue enough to investigate it? I get that Cicero’s a scam artist and therefore Gordon doesn’t trust his psychic powers. But that’s still a clue, no? I mean, okay, he’s wary of false claims/testimony. But I don’t see why he shouldn’t at least check it out without Thompkins’s prompting.
- Likewise, Oswald Cobblepot’s mood swings make no sense to me. I get that he’s a hothead, and I get that he’s a momma’s boy. But wouldn’t the latter personality trait win out over the former in the case of somebody publicly insulting his mom? Cobblepot’s violent response to his mom’s heckler is a throwaway gag, but it seems inconsistent with the rest of his hypercompartmentalized character.
- Monaghan certainly looks the part, but I don’t buy him as the Joker. His Mark Hamill–esque laugh, and his utterly abysmal speech made me think that series developer/episode writer Bruno Heller wasn’t sure how to make this kid seem like a credible “before” photo of the psychopath the Joker will eventually become.