Gotham S02E05 “Scarification” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Channel 5, Mondays, 10pm
Writer: Jordan Harper
Director: Bill Eagles
Essential Plot Points:
- MEANWHILE, AT EVIL TOWERS! Penguin begs for his mother’s life and is rebutted. As he storms out Tabitha complains that she is bored. See? She really HAS been reading her scripts. Theo comforts her with the discovery of nasty Mr Bundeslaw from Wayne Industries in a box and asks Mr Bundeslaw if they can borrow something. That something, it turns out, is going to be removed from him via Tabitha’s favourite, very curvy knife…
- MEANWHILE, AT A ROOM FILLED WITH MEN IN PANTS! The Strike Force storm one of Penguin’s money laundering operations. They are accosted by a man with a rocket propelled grenade launcher. They deal with him in the only way the Barnes GCPD knows how and Captain MachoFace expresses astonishment at the weapons they’re up against.
- Gordon explains that there is a big box store in town called The Merc where all the criminals shop. They were never allowed to hit it but now they can. The poster boy for no due process and his amazing friends saddle up.
- A messenger arrives to tell Penguin about the money laundering. Butch, who’s been here before, gets clear as his boss beats the guy half to death with a poker.
- MEANWHILE, AT THE PLOT NO ONE CARES ABOUT! Jim arrives back at the precinct and Leslie reminds him it’s date night. Nygma immediately arrives and talks his way into a double date with them. Leslie agrees to make fondue and Jim complains. Comedy GOLD. Seriously it actually is, they make this face at each other and it’s adorable.
- Theo shows up at the precinct and bonds with Jim over killing a man. He oh-so subtly slides this into asking for an endorsement for mayor and Jim rebuffs him. Theo plays it cool.
- At Penguin’s still amazingly nice house, Tabitha shows up. She tells Penguin they need some places burnt down and hands him a box with something horrible in it. We know it’s one of Bundeslaw’s eyes but the show is weirdly coy about showing us it, just lots of hardened criminals going “EWWWW” whenever they look inside.
- Penguin sends Butch to Selina’s crashpad and he asks her to take him to see the Pikes, the best arsonists in Gotham. The one problem is, they’re Fish loyalists and Selina, who Fish loved, is needed to vouch for Butch, who shot Fish. Kind of. It’s complicated. They barter a while and she agrees.
- The Pikes listen to Butch’s pitch and accept. They’re also abusive tools to Bridgit and Selina notices and comforts her as well as she can.
- The youngest Pike goes off to the Merc for more napalm. The Merc is AMAZING. It’s an actual store with labels and branding and staff and shopping baskets. IT’S THE BEST. He however is the worst and shoplifts some C4 which gives you a clue as to how bright he is. The GCPD storm the place and he runs, Jim and Barnes in pursuit. They corner him, he pulls a gun on them and they kill him a LOT.
- Then he explodes.
- No, we know that’s not how C4 works.
- Fondue night is, amazingly, not awful and weirdly charming.
- With their brother exploded, for some reason, the Pikes are out of luck. They blackmail Bridgit into becoming their new partner and, faced with a choice between risking her life and being homeless, she accepts.
- Her brothers mess with her relentlessly and she’s burnt on the way out of the first job but they retrieve what they were sent for thanks to Bundeslaw’s eye and the vault it unlocks; a knife, with the Wayne family crest on it…
- Bridgit, still hurt, realises she likes the work. She begins building herself a fire resistant suit when Selina arrives and tries to reason with her. Bridgit argues she belongs, Selina argues that she’s a slave and leaves.
- Penguin is desperate for information on the knife, sensing that it’s something that matters to Galavan and a potential weakness. Butch, because he’s amazing, knows a guy. Or rather, a lady. Edwidge, an old lady who runs an antique store in his neighbourhood. She, reluctantly, explains that the knife was used 200 years ago when the city was ruled by five noble families. One, the Dumas, were erased from history after Caleb Dumas was found consorting with Celestine Wayne. The punishment for this was the removal of a hand, using the knife and the obliteration of his family’s name from Gotham. The family fled to a religious order they’d set up and changed their name.
- To Galavan.
- Later, Penguin invites Butch to have a drink, proving to them both the conditioning is still working. He explains that Butch will go to Galavan and explain that Penguin has thrown him out. He’ll infiltrate Galavan’s organisation, find Penguin’s mother and rescue her. Butch, who is so clearly not cool with this, points out it’s a basic play. Penguin “reassures” him that they can sell it by cutting Butch’s hand off with a cleaver. BUTCH, NOOOOO!
- Jim and Harv figure out the buildings hit were all Wayne Enterprises properties and stake out the next possible target. They find Firefly, looking pretty great in her suit and she panics. She lays down a wall of flame between them but her flamethrower malfunctions and Garrett tackles her. They struggle, Garrett is soaked in fuel and she accidentally lights him on fire. As Jim and Harv try and help their guy, she escapes with the help of Selina who followed her.
- After the catastrophic fight with Firefly, the Strike Force are back at the precinct. Harv tries to make Jim feel better about Garrett at the same time as pointing out how cynically Galavan is using the photo op.
- Barnes informs them Garrett died and that he won’t stop until the cop killer is brought to justice. The other Strike Force members, who it’s pretty clear are this show’s redshirts, are devastated.
- Jim goes to Galavan and asks if, should he become mayor, he’ll help in the war on crime. Galavan agrees, Jim gives him his endorsement and they shake on it. And the moment Jim’s back is turned? EVIL GRIN. Honestly we expected him to go, “MOOHOOHAHAHAHA” on his way out of the building.
- Galavan returns to Evil Towers to find he’s not alone… It’s F Murray Abraham as Father Creel the evil monk and head of the Dumas family order. He has plans for Gotham and is pleased with how Theo’s work is progressing. Now they just need to murder Bruce Wayne…
It’s good news/bad news whiplash this week.
Bad news! The Pikes are AWFUL characters with the exception of Bridgit. Incompetent, abusive, stereotypical and dull.
Good news! Bridgit is ace. She’s really smart and weird and dark in the Burtonian way this show sprays automatic gunfire at on a weekly basis. Her story is close to Jerome’s, that of a kid broken by the hideous city they live in and it’s got the potential to be as much of a highlight of the show.
Bad news! If Bridgit’s origin is done well, her clash with the GCPD is very much not, for reasons detailed below.
Good news! Selina gets stuff to do and it works. There’s an interesting divide shaping up here between the old and young characters. Selina and Bridgit work well together. Selina and Bruce work well together. The kids and anyone other than Cockneyman the superbutler? Not so much.
Bad news! No Alfred at all this week.
Good news! There’s a Nygma scene that’s actually great! The show’s doing a good job of balancing multiple plots this season and the fact some people get weeks off now really helps.
Bad news! This episode is AMAZINGLY violent. Ludicrously so in fact. Someone explodes, two hands get chopped off, a guy gets set on fire. Gotham is still aiming for Tim Burton era Batman but it’s still landing on late ’90s Clint Eastwood action movie. That’s sometimes a good thing. When it turns Barnes, supposedly a paragon, into a violence crazy oorah machine, it’s a bad thing.
Good news! Lots of Butch and Penguin stuff this week, and the Penguin has a plan. An awful plan. That will probably work. Gotham does a lot of things wrong, repeatedly, but the Penguin reimagined as a barely under control furious psychopath is actually brilliant. He feels dangerous here. And again, within sight of the Burton era, especially DeVito’s definitive Penguin turn.
Bad news! The Strike Force need characters and arcs, and plots. Soon.
So, as is becoming common, a curate’s egg of an episode. Some very good stuff, some terrible awfulness. But, if nothing else we’ve got a villain origin with emotional weight, Selina and Butch off the bench and one of the show’s most gloriously crazed ideas ever all in one episode. It’s not enough to balance the ludicrous violence and terrible decisions but it’s damn close.
- “Read ’em their rights. Doesn’t say squat about pants.” Nathaniel Barnes, a cop for whom Due Process is less a code, more a set of guidelines.
- “Belay that order, no one gets pants!”A lost line of dialogue from the weirdest Star Trek episode EVER.
- “We can’t leave, we’re already home! TRAPPED” The Jim and Leigh, amiably rubbish couple stuff really shouldn’t work but it’s adorable. Mackenzie and Baccarin are straight-up delightful on screen together and Leigh may be the only woman on the show regularly written as something approaching an actual character.
- The Merc, the criminal version of B & Q or, for our American friends, Costco. THEY HAVE SIGNS! THEY HAVE CARTS! The Merc is the BEST. It’s also ridiculous which just makes it bestier.
- The increasingly bizarre occult history of Gotham City has been one of the highlights of the current Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo run on Batman. It’s nice to see that translated here. Not only does it fit the bat’s-arse lunacy of Gotham but it gives the show the weight it at times desperately needs.
- Yay Selina getting stuff to do! Gotham this season is starting to look like later seasons of Scrubs, where one or two characters would regularly sit out on a rotating schedule. Selina’s been benched for the first quarter of this season but her relationship with Bridgit is one of the most interesting things they’ve done with her so far.
- Michelle Veintimilla is very good as Bridgit. She lands the character’s combination of terror, trauma and increasingly brittle joy. A lot of Batman’s best villains are operatic in their tragedy but Veintimilla and Harper’s script play Bridgit’s tragedy as small scale and intimate. It’s an amazingly welcome change and pays off massively.
- The Nygma scene is actually kind of nice. I mean you’ll get that “WHAT? NO! GO AWAY ED!” response for the first few seconds as usual but it plays out weirdly sweetly. Which means we’re maybe two weeks off that whole thing assuming the shape of pear.
- Good God the other Pikes are terrible characters. The greatest arsonists in Gotham mess with their stepsister by almost getting her blown up? One’s a cigar-chomping escapee from The Departed whose accent arrives with the third commercial break? Come on, Gotham.
- No cockney butler! Booooo!
- So all the Strike Force members have full names… except Josie? Seriously? The really depressing thing is Josie is apparently Josie “Mac” Macdonald. First introduced by Judd Winick at the top of the century, Josie Mac was a plain clothes GCPD detective with very odd low level superpowers. She was also one of the best characters in Gotham Central, the amazing GCPD-based comic that Gotham is essentially a 1980s hairmetal cover version of.
- Nathaniel Barnes, ex soldier! Nathaniel Barnes, hard charging GCPD chief of dxetectives! Nathaniel Barnes, Man with NO IDEA HOW TO DO HIS JOB! I know the GCPD having to go all wild west is a big part of the show but the sequence with the money launderers left a nasty aftertaste. The police storm in, don’t announce themselves, don’t control the situation and are surprised when a guy from central casting fires a rocket launcher at them.
- We’re not saying the GCPD should be perfect… actually no that’s EXACTLY what we’re saying. And so is the show. We’ve had the idea of the Strike Force as the best of the best rammed down our throats for two episodes now and seeing them kicking the door in and yelling, “No trousers for you matey! We’re the Sweeney and you’re nicked!” is ridiculous. There’s a ton of dramatic potential for the show in these cops trying to stay true to themselves too and so far it’s doing exactly none of it. I talked before about this maybe being the point with Barnes and I only hope it is.
- The amazing exploding arsonist. Firstly it’s horrible science. This show treats C4 like it’s magic exploding fairy dust. C4 is triggered by a detonator. It can be shot and not go off. So exploding arsonist? Not so much.
- Also that is just a horrible scene. It’s pointlessly gratuitous, further reinforces the GCPD as cowboys and exists to do nothing but give the episode yet another deeply nasty moment and Barnes a line that makes him sound like a desensitised, callous bastard.
- “What the hell are you packing?” SEE?
- We find out the name of a strike team member just as he gets killed in a profoundly stupid way. BEST OF THE BEST.
- Garrett’s death. I can just about buy that he’s a rookie and has maybe been hit in the head a few times so thinks tackling somebody wielding a flamethrower is a good idea. The fact he doesn’t react to being doused in fuel or is able to easily take down a significantly smaller, not even a little well-trained opponent? BEST OF THE BEST. MOSTLY.
- Hi F Murray Abraham! Welcome to Gotham playing an evil monk! You were great in All The President’s Men, Scarface, Amadeus, By The Sword (SUCH a great movie!), Star Trek: Insurrection, Mimic, Muppets From Space and everything else you’ve been in!
- Jim and Leigh are just the cutest. Seriously I would watch a sitcom about them.
- Isn’t Leslie a doctor? If so, Nygma referring to her as Ms Thompkins is a nicely subtle, sexist character note.
- Shot of the week. This is so great, I can almost hear him saying, “AAAAAAND EVIL!”
Review by Alasdair Stuart