“There’s just one problem, you’re talking to the wrong Harvey.”
-Harvey Dent, Batman The Animated Series
Gotham is missing something crucial, and I think it’s confidence. An episode named after a legendary comic book character holds a lot of weight and expectation, and there is enough money, talent and episodes (22!) in the televised Batman prequel to help the creative team achieve that demand for greatness. Yet, like “Selina Kyle” before it, “Harvey Dent” relegates its title character to the sidelines, giving us an introduction and then going about setting up the pieces for future, probably more interesting episodes.
Harvey Dent (Nicholas D’Agosto), the man who will one day become Two-Face, is introduced as his flagship episode’s C-plot. At the top of act two, he’s found outside the Gotham City courthouse, flipping a coin for a delinquent boy’s freedom.
What the scene lacks in depth, it makes up for in allegory. Much like the rest of Gotham, “Harvey Dent” is willing to sacrifice detail to paint broad and exciting strokes that evoke its underlying mythology. We don’t know anything about the boy, his name, what he did, or how Dent has the power to send him to jail on a coin toss, but we learn just about everything we need to know about Harvey.
Gordon, who is being introduced to Dent via his new friends in major crimes, questions the coin tossing method. What if the kid guessed wrong? Would Dent actually send him to jail? Harvey tells Gordon that in his experience, teenagers almost always choose heads, then reveals his signature two-headed coin.
Gordon laughs like this is alright, but there is still a hint of volatility in Dent’s actions; there is still that almost and that what if that would haunt someone to the brink of madness if, say, Sal Maroni disfigured him with acid. And Dent dodged the question, which ends up hanging there for a while as we start asking, which Harvey are we talking to here?
Harvey Dent – this version of Harvey Dent – doesn’t lose. He’s made violently uncomfortable by the very idea that things might not go his way, to a point where he will dodge questions and take advantage of allies in order to achieve his goals and stay on the right side of fate. This is the ruthless Harvey Dent: a man who only needs a gentle push in the direction of loss (or a disfiguring accident) to become unhinged by the unfairness of the world.
The next two scenes featuring Dent take place in his office and we take to have a further glimpse into which Harvey we’re going to get in Gotham. The man is painted as very committed, very emotionally volatile and really into having half of his face obscured by shadow.
Gordon, Montoya and Allen have come to him for help on the Wayne murder case, disclosing that they have an eyewitness in the form of Selina Kyle.
Harvey is so quick to jump to the next step that it’s comical. An eyewitness isn’t enough to take anyone to court, but he can use that information to rattle some cages. Specifically the cage of a new character that he has a slide projector already set up to introduce: corrupt billionaire Dick Lovecraft.
Gordon isn’t too hot on the plan because of the many unanswered questions he has after Dent’s slideshow presentation. The plan goes ahead though, because Harvey’s bent on bringing this Lovecraft guy down.
Dent brings Lovecraft to his office in order to shake him up, and things escalate fast (one might say a little too fast). Dick shows resistance in the form of a mild threat and Harvey snaps, giving us a glimpse of the Big Bad Harv within.
“Don’t threaten me. I will rip you open,” he growls in an extreme closeup at a deforming angle.
He re-leashes his inner beast and heads to the police department to let Gordon know the good news: he’s pretty sure it’s Lovecraft that was behind the Wayne shooting.
I’m pretty sure it is too. Or, I’m at least sure that Dick was involved in some way. It doesn’t take Ed Nygma to see the billionaire’s connection to Arkham, which we’ve already been told is at the center of the Wayne murder case. Dick’s namesake, H.P. Lovecraft, is the classic weird fiction author whose signature setting, Arkham Massachusetts, is being paid homage to in the name of Gotham’s asylum.
In any case, the best parts of “Harvey Dent” all, unsurprisingly, involve this really aggressive depiction of Harvey Dent. Sadly, he’s not really the episode’s main focus.
Gordon sends Selina to live with Bruce and Alfred this week, in a move that sadly takes up the brunt of the episode. Bruce has given up on going back to school after his encounter with the boy that will be Hush last week. He’s developing his own curriculum and learning to fight with Alfred.
Selina’s presence shakes things up a bit as she gets on Alfred’s nerves and continuously informs Bruce that he’s too out of touch to take on Gotham City, but nothing of importance really happens. Of all the well known characters in Gotham, Bruce Wayne is the one who will never surprise us.
Selina flirts with the Bat-boy, preaches about how tough the streets are, and finally makes the sad orphan crack a smile, winning the tolerance of Alfred. None of it feels like it’s going anywhere though, because if there is one thing that the characters of Gotham can’t change, it’s Bruce’s predetermined crash course in nightmare vigilantism.
The Pygmalion-ish storyline did give me an idea of what might make the Bruce scenes more compelling, if the show had the confidence/permission to actually take a major risk in terms of canon.
When Bruce tells Selina that he’s building his own curriculum, she asks him why. He’s already a billionaire, in her eyes there’s nothing worth learning since he was born with guaranteed life-success. He looks at her quizzically, as if thinking, “What a quaint street urchin.”
But what if Bruce – thanks to the more heroic version of Jim Gordon in this story and the eventual solving of his parents murder – never becomes Batman? What if Gotham City never needs him or what if he finds some kind of inner peace? What if he, like Selina keeps suggesting, doesn’t have it in him to don the cowl, supe-up his car, and cripple criminal clowns as a hobby?
These are questions I think would be worth exploring in a show so intent on giving us baby-Bruce stories, but they are all akin to asking, “What if this show had confidence?” At this point I’d take anything new and exciting over more time at the Manor.
The case of the week is tied to the mob war plotline, with Fish Mooney creating an elaborate terrorism/heist plan using Nikolai’s leftover goons, only to also foil it with her own henchman.
The Russian henches abduct a mad bomber named Ian Hargrove from Blackgate Prison and start using him to make a bunch of noise around town and gain access to Carmine Falcone’s secret money vault. At the same time, Butch is employed to blow up the Russian getaway van containing the loot. In the fallout, the Mayor orders that Hargrove be committed to Arkham, along with the rest of the criminally insane Blackgate inmates.
The whole plot serves to further illustrate Mooney’s motivations and ruthlessness while setting up next week’s Arkham-focused episode. When Butch pretty much says, at the end of the episode, “Duh… Why’d we blow up all dat money boss,” her response equates to a reaffirmation that she’s not in this for the fortune, she wants to utterly destroy Falcone.
Sadly for her, Penguin has compromised her primary line of attack. Breaking into the apartment belonging to Fish’s woman weapon Liza, he finds incriminating perfume that he quickly associates with Mooney after a friendly hello and a very threatening sniff.
Later confronting Liza in her own home, he quickly brings her under his umbrella by describing how just a little bit of doubt can go a long way in the mind of a paranoid old mobster.
I wish I could leave this recap on that point. Penguin has an excellent track record of ending episodes with dramatic flare. Unfortunately, despite her departure at the end of last week’s exceptional “The Mask,” Barbara Kean is back and fucking shit up more than ever.
All episode, Gordon is trying to get a hold of her on the phone so they can talk about her running away from home. We retread a bunch of eyeroll-y “rich bitches, am I right?” conversations with Bullock and then end with a stinger: Barbara is actually staying at Detective Montoya’s place and they’re having sex.
This is no way to end an episode. Because of the distracting nature of all the home life drama that Gotham’s creative team insists on cramming into an already overburdened show, the imminent dissolution of Gordon and Kean’s relationship is actually something to look forward to.
It’s not the first time that Barbara’s love was mislabeled as stakes, but it has certainly crossed the line into unforgivable territory.
Gotham has two faces. One is charming, enthusiastic and full of promise, the other is a goddamn mess. If it could some how display a bit more confidence in presenting the former, maybe it would be easier to ignore the disfiguring acid burns and cynicism.
– Anyone catch that Rocky IV reference with Butch’s bomb ringtone? Final countdown indeed, Russians!
– So, Dick Lovecraft is a tentacle joke, right? Otherwise they would have named him Howard? Or Phil?
– Remember the days when a Batman TV show would dedicate a two-episode event arc to Harvey Dent? Nowadays that name will only get you three scenes and a title.
– Adorable excitement from Cory Michael Smith this week when Bullock compliments Nygma’s detective work. I can’t wait for the inevitable Riddler episode.
– This week there were a lot of highly unnecessary location title cards. My favourite was when the detectives said that the mobsters were going to get into the armoury using a bomb and then we cut directly to the mobsters, getting ready to blow up a door, obscured by the title card “GOTHAM ARMORY BASEMENT.” Now THAT is a lack of confidence.