Season One, Episode Nine – “Harvey Dent”

Gotham-season-1-episode-9-Harvey-Dent-5By Matt FlemingGotham has spent the better part of its first season trying viewers’ patience, frustrating fans of the source material and confusing casual viewers. At times, the series has exhibited difficulty parsing the nature of its subject matter, namely the wealthy canon of source material, and its police-procedural framework. However, Gotham has shown the most promise when it focuses on the strength of its cast and avoids the tropes of typical episodic television. With “Harvey Dent,” its ninth episode, Gotham manages to focus on the long game of the series while eliciting some very serious heart.

The episode begins with last week’s cliffhanger, as Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) has left Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), finally leaving GCPD’s finest to actually focus on some police work. Gordon puts his larcenous hanger-on Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) into a sort of witness protection situation at Wayne Manor, where she can annoy Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) and tantalize the young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz). Meanwhile, a troubled explosives expert, Ian Hargrove (Leslie Odom, Jr.) is busted out of police custody by Gotham’s Russian mob.

Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) colludes with the Russians to pull a fast one on her boss, Carmine Falcone (John Doman), using Hargrove as their patsy. As Det. Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) carries Gordon through the Hargrove breakout, Gordon pursues the albatross around his neck: the unsolved murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne. His investigation leads him to Assistant District Attorney Harvey Dent (Nicholas D’Agosto), an altruistic lawman with a penchant for flipping coins. Dent sees Gordon’s investigation as a way to nail Dick Lovecraft (Al Sapienza), an unfortunately named suspect in multiple cases of fraud. Using Selina as an eyewitness, Dent thinks he can sweat out the Wayne’s killer and conspirators. Selina, using Wayne Manor as a hotel, tries to help Alfred toughen up the young billionaire (while trying not to smooch him).

In an episode with a lot of old plots tangling together and new characters interjecting themselves into our established universe, “Harvey Dent” manages to balance the entire load quite deftly. Gone is the singularly-focused crime-of-the-week format; instead the episode ties the breakout into the larger picture of a show that is clearly building to a head. Where the impending introduction of the bet-hedging Harvey Dent may have had viewers a little… on the fence, Gotham handles the “White Knight” fairly well. (That does mean that his character is as obvious as every other character we’ve seen in this show’s infancy, flipping a trick coin in his first two seconds of screen time.) However, we also see his volatile side, as well as a youthful naivete that belies the Two-Face persona we can all see coming. Although the episode is named for the future flip-flopper, it is not smothered by him. At its conclusion, this episode is about Bruce Wayne.

Gotham-season-1-episode-9-Harvey-Dent-3After Bruce spent last week filling out an application to join Fight Club, this week finds him in an awkward space, that being his mansion, which has been infested by a girl. Selina “Nobody Calls Me Cat” Kyle has a terrible time living out of the streets, where breakfast is served at eight, lunch at noon, and the guest bedroom has a bed. Forever insolent, Selina plays cool for Bruce and Alfred, while the long suffering caretaker is not so enthused. The relationship between Bruce and Alfred is becoming quite compelling, and Selina throws a bit of a rift between the two, until the butler realizes his liege is finally behaving like a pre-teen boy and not a masked vigilante. While the insertion of a budding childhood romance between Batman and Catwoman is difficult to handle at first, the actors make it work. While some could scoff, it really comes across as a sweet interjection of heart in a show that occasionally lacks as such.

Gotham’s VIP, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), has a limited role in this week’s story, but that doesn’t mean he is taking any breaks. The Penguin is smart, and he begins to unpack Fish Mooney’s plot to undermine Carmine Falcone. He’s on to Liza (Makenzie Leigh), and the girl Fish needs to bring down the Don seems ripe to crack. As far as Fish is concerned, her plot is proceeding perfectly, even if she has to blow up some racks of cash to get where she needs to go. The tension is building feverishly, and I’m willing to bet that I know who ends up on top.

Detectives Gordon and Bullock take a bit of a back seat to much of this week’s action, although they continue to execute their jobs better than anyone else in the GCPD. The same can be said for Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue, whose chemistry now resides in the ether. There is still the subplot of Gordon’s personal life, of which I will never care about, but it only exists as a framing mechanism in this episode. Hopefully, Barbara’s “absence” won’t distract too much in the coming weeks. As of right now, the future looks very promising.

One major problem in the first season of Gotham is the show’s inconsistency. “Harvey Dent” is such a poor name for such a diverse and entertaining episode, a stand-out in the show’s short history. Rather than focusing too long on new characters from the Bat-Canon, the show needs to spend time developing the matter that already inhabits this dense world. Jim and Harvey, Bruce and Alfred, Fish versus Oswald; these relationships have been built very well. At this point in Gotham’s inaugural season, viewers can only invest so far. If the show stays focused on what it has built, and continue to build upon it well, it may earn a second season. However, a show this bi-polar (and this young) has very little trust to keep it afloat. “Harvey Dent” is the best example of this show working as a show. Knowing Gotham, next week might make me eat my words.

Gotham-season-1-episode-9-Harvey-Dent-7Passing Thoughts: 

– I understand wanting to name drop H.P. Lovecraft, but maybe don’t call him a Dick.

– The interactions between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle are so middle school awkward that they gave me some feelings of childhood insecurity.

– Someone needs to teach David Mazouz that it’s pronounced “Al-Fred,” not “Al-Ferd.”

– The lack of Erin Richards in this episode is negated by her sudden, albeit sexy, appearance at the end.

-Harvey Dent was looking a bit smarmy at first, but when he gets upset, he gets very upset indeed.

– “Edward Nygma And The Quest For A Couple Bro-Friends.”

– It’s nice to see Alfred letting Bruce be an awkward kid sometimes, even if he has to slug the boy once in a while.

– Kudos to Steve Cirbus, Sergei from Delocated, who manages to brood and make us chuckle at the same time. “First, was the appetizer…

Pretty happy to see more inclusion of African American characters in this episode. Suffice to say that should not be an exception, but rather a rule.