Robert Tiemstra ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
“The Servant of the Devil lies in the garden of the iron sisters.”
It’s becoming increasingly clear just how disconnected the creators of this show are from their own marketing department. Case in point, this week’s episode, “The Blind Fortune Teller,” was pushed by Fox’s marketing strategy as a setup for a big character reveal that may very well have ruined any chance of appreciating this as a normal episode. This type of phenomena is frustrating to review, because of how different of an experience this episode would be if its herald hadn’t been overselling a small facet of the plot that may or may not just be an Easter egg for keen-eared Batman fans. This is marketing 101, people: putting the cart in front of the horse is one thing, but don’t try to sell the cart like it’s Doctor Emmett Brown’s DeLorean – you’ll just leave everyone disappointed.
The advertising mishap in question is a certain preview for the episode, which advertised – in no small way – that Gotham’s version of The Joker would be making his debut in this episode. Creator Bruno Heller (who wrote this particular episode) has since gone on record to say that the character featured in the trailer is only a potential Joker, because they are all aware of how ridiculous it is to introduce this particular villain before his brooding doppelganger, but the damage was already done. The promo not only spoils the solution to this episode’s circus-centered whodunit, it also sets unrealistic standards for a guest character (Cameron Monaghan) who could just be an eccentric murderer of the week. To his credit, Monaghan eats up his screen time with glee, but never seems like he’s trying to be anything other than what he is – which in this case is a ginger Norman Bates with his mommy issues turned on their head.
As hinted sixty-nine words ago, this episode kicks off with a brawl under the Big Top, which then unfolds into a quirky little murder-mystery. Fortunately for the circus folk (who include amongst them the Flying Graysons, most famous in the comics for failing to live up to their stage name at a key moment in their son’s life), Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin) are on a date at the circus just as all these events are unfolding, leading into a case which both exposes the dark underbelly of this three ring madhouse, and more of Jim Gordon’s shortcomings as a boyfriend. The latter has its own bunch of problems to think about, but we’ll get to those later. Gotham has always been at its strongest when exploring the little subcultures within its titular city, and while the circus world is far less interesting than, say, Arkham Asylum, it affords us such interesting characters as the psychic Paul Cicero (Breaking Bad’s Mark Margolis), and the aforementioned may-or-may-not-be-destined-to-become-the-most-iconic-comic-book-villain-of-all-time Jerome. One area in which Bruno Heller’s script does a massive disservice to suspension of disbelief is in the swearing – a Montagues & Capulets inspired blood feud between circus families is somewhat undermined when they start calling each other “Buttheads” like they’re on the middle school playground.
As for Jim Gordon’s continued confusing love life, he is treated to harsh reprimanding from Leslie, who insists that he is a hypocrite – wanting a strong woman, but then insisting on keeping her from harm whenever possible – and forces Gordon to treat her like an equally capable partner in this investigation (Harvey Bullock being confined to the peanut gallery for this outing). At first it feels like this development was pulled out of nowhere to give Gordon and Leslie something to fight about, but when you think about it, it seems consistent with his romantic history. It even explains why he would keep bland basket case Barbara around, aside from the fantastic penthouse and… not a whole lot else, it seems. She fits this “protect me, you handsome policeman” archetype that would appeal to any deeply buried chauvinistic attitude within Gordon, but all this is pure speculation based on only two relationships – have Gordon hook up with one or two of Victor Zsasz’s leather-clad henchwomen, then we’ll have a large enough sample size to determine whether Gordon is into action heroines or damsels in distress, anything else at this point would be a waste of time without hard evidence.
Theorizing about Gordon’s unconscious sexism notwithstanding, bland bimbo Barbara (Erin Richards) is back with a vengeance, and determined to win back her man (have we mentioned how much the last few episodes have benefitted from her absence? Ugh…). Barbara blunders in to her apartment, and fields some bizarre clothing advice from Cat (Camren Bicondova) and Ivy (Clare Foley) that comes dangerously close to making her character interesting by mere proximity to other interesting characters. However, it is all for nothing, as we get to watch her hopes crushed by Gordon kissing the far more compelling of his two love interests. It’s a crying shame that Barbara is the woman Gordon ends up with in the comics, otherwise the creators wouldn’t feel so obligated to shoehorn her in for the sake of reminding us she exists.
This episode is an oddball counterpart of last week’s “The Scarecrow,” because the spine of “The Blind Fortune Teller” is the only part of it that really works, and all the peripheral stuff feels flat and thematically disparate. Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) both continue to slog through the plots they started last episode, not quite filler, but not quite progress either. The spine of the episode itself, with its delicious interrogation room closing, is somewhat dramatically undercut by the flab that surrounds it, as well as the preview that tried to make this already not exceptionally subtle show seem like it was going for broke in the final rounds of some sort of blatant fan service competition. It’s almost like the marketing of this episode was just a big Joke- oh, wait…
Overall Episode Grade: C+