Synopsis of 2×18: Bruce and Gordon look into the Wayne murders and find one of the victims of the company’s unethical business practices. Barbara struggles to find her place out of Arkham and with Gordon.
Gotham treats plot and pacing in a way that could charitably be called nightmare logic and less charitably be called fucking rotten writing. This most often rears its ugly head when the show’s characters go hunting for answers and boy, this week’s “Pinewood,” shows that the writers still have no idea how to resolve internal conflicts or create any sense of long-term tension.
For reasons that don’t make a ton of sense, Gordon’s been cleared of charges but still hasn’t been reinstated as a cop and is using his downtime to do what he does all the goddamn time already, beating the shit out of unidentified thugs in search for the answers to not particularly intriguing questions.
Here, he’s after answers about the Wayne murders and so he’s hunting down The Lady, the leader of a gang of female contract killers. Meanwhile, Bruce and Alfred are following the same trail, meeting Karen Jennings, a victim of Pinewood’s genetic tampering. All roads lead to Wayne Industries and the crimes of Thomas Wayne but it exposes the flawed plotting of the show more than ever.
Here, we see Gordon seek out a woman, known only as a gendered alias for information on who hired her only to be mystified that someone would use an alias when arranging a contract killing. Here, we see a company running a top secret bioweapons site but they don’t have the foresight to clean the place out when they abandon it, leaving the incriminating evidence to be found by literally anyone. Here, we see Mr. Freeze conscripted to kill a girl but doesn’t even attempt to kill the witnesses, which he easily could have done.
It’d be easy to say that these things don’t matter or to write them off as nitpicking but why does it come up so often and why does it detract from the narrative so much? It makes you question everything you know about the villains, forces you to ask why they do what they do and that’s a situation you don’t want to be in as a viewer. You don’t want to be forced out of the narrative by these questions.
The haphazard plotting of this season doesn’t give you many options though. Gotham is designed to live or die on its moment to moment thrills, those “what-the-fuck” moments that the show traffics so often in and “Pinewood” tries its best to have those. There’s a punk rock little beatdown at the episode’s beginning and a stylish, albeit, abjectly nonsensical prison break at the climax but, as is so often the case on this show, it’s not enough to make up for the flaws that are here. That short-term plotting really causes problems when Gotham wants to establish big changes for its characters.
You see this here in the form of Karen Jennings, a character very transparently designed to serve as a physical manifestation of Thomas Wayne’s sins and, equally transparently, meant to die to characterize Bruce. She has a countdown clock floating over her head from the first second she’s on screen and the episode seems set on making her a character we as an audience care about as much as Bruce does. She’s designed to be an innocent victim as well as a physical manifestation of the long term effects of Hugo Strange’s crimes. It’s not an unfamiliar role for a character in genre TV but it’s not terribly effective here.
A big part of that is that we just don’t spend a lot of time with Karen. She’s as much an exposition dump as a character, meant to gives us a peek into Strange’s past crimes that illuminate his current ones, as well as give Bruce a deeper motive in his fight against the Wayne Enterprise board. It just doesn’t leave a lot of room for us to actually connect to the character. We’re meant to believe that Bruce is willing to lay down his life for her by the end of the episode and it just doesn’t quite work.
That’s not blaming David Mazouz, who does solid work here as usual, or guest star Julia Taylor Ross but there’s so much crammed into the episode that we really don’t get a chance to see if their relationship is anything more than motivational. Her death at the end of the episode clearly has an impact on Bruce that seems to imply an emotional connection but nothing before that moment points to such a relationship. It’s the same fragmented plotting that caused so many problems elsewhere in the episode.
Gotham isn’t the only show that suffers these sorts of problems but it’s hard to see these problems pop up again and again and again. In it’s attempt to rush along plot after plot after plot, Gotham misses the quiet time, the character moments that get a chance to land, that it desperately needs and those problems are only getting worse and worse as the relentless pace keeps up in the rush to the end of the season.