Synopsis 3×04: The new GCPD commissioner wants to root out corruption in the department and the city, complicating Gordon and Cobblepot’s relationship. Bruce makes friends with Theo and Silver St. Cloud.
There’s a moment early in this week’s episode of Gotham, “Strike Force,” when Bullock essentially sums up the thesis of the show. “There are no straight lines in Gotham,” he tells Gordon as the pair prepare to deal with the department’s new status quo. “There are twists and turns and shadows.” This is one of those instantly obvious statements of intentions, a thunderously clear metaphor about the relationship between the GCPD and the crime it tries to stop, the choices that have to be made for the greater good, occasionally giving protection to the lesser of two evils. It also feels like the sort of line that an episode’s plot is meant to hang from, a central idea all the subplots and characters should pivot around for an episode. However, there’s still a fundamental lack of focus in this season of Gotham that leaves the idea vastly unfleshed out.
Enjoying an increased public profile after killing Jerome, Theo Galavan is moving his plan forward. He wants to buy up a large plot of land in Gotham and build it into a financial district. However, he needs to be elected mayor in order to push for a referendum to do this and he blackmails Penguin into killing the other candidates in order to install him as the de facto option for Gotham’s future. If this sounds too complicated, it’s because it is. Galavan’s plot is achingly dull. He wants to displace home owners solely to build a financial district that doesn’t so much feel like a supervillain’s plot as much as that of the scheme run by a couple no-good-niks in a Little Rascals movie. It’s achingly dumb, too complicated and with too many lose ends and things that could go wrong. Theo’s still new in town. He’s not that well known and even if Gotham think he’s a hero, there’s still going to be plenty of people who don’t sit so well about the time he stabbed a kid to death on live television.
Regardless, because this is Gotham and writing good character motivations takes longer than writing the word “GRITTIER” over and over and over again, Penguin acquiesces and starts murdering politicians with Butch. Things aren’t looking his way though as the GCPD has a new commissioner, the hard-nosed ex-military officer Captain Nathaniel Barnes. Barnes wants to revolutionize Gotham City’s fight against crime and he immediately makes an impression on Gordon by firing and arresting corrupt officers. He appoints Gordon to lead a strike team made up of untouched new recruits who will be dedicated to bringing down the biggest criminal targets in the city. After Zsasz’s hit on one candidate goes south, Penguin moves to the top of that list.
Penguin’s place as public enemy number one in Gotham is naturally complicating Gordon’s relationship with Barnes, however. After using Cobblepot to out Loeb as commissioner in the season premier, Gordon’s crimes could come to light if the new King of Gotham is ousted and both men know the positions they’ve been placed in. It’s an interesting detente, one actually playing off of the theme of moral ambiguity Barnes wants to replace and Bullock knows the department can never truly do away with.
The rest of the episode’s plots, however, don’t quite follow a theme. Trying to embrace his father’s vision, Bruce is having problems training to be a hero. He’s a child, still unsure of exactly how high the cost of fighting corruption and crime is going to be. Alfred tries to keep Bruce on the straight and narrow, pushing Selina away from his young ward and trying to keep him at least partially free from the influence of Gotham’s social scenes and Theo Galavan. It’s the area Bruce is unable to push away from as he goes to an extremely awkward dinner with Theo. They talk for maybe a minute before Theo introduces Silver St. Cloud, his adopted charge.
I’m going to be real honest. Silver St. Cloud is one of the Batman mythos’ very worst characters but it’s entirely not her fault. An empty-headed socialite, meant to be a blend between former series love interests Julie Madison and Linda Page she appears in 10 issues in the mid-‘80s during Steve Englehart’s mostly unsatisfying run on Batman before mostly disappearing, only occasionally mentioned until she returns in Kevin Smith’s The Widening Gyre, the worst Batman comic ever published and arguably on the short-list of the worst comics of all time, where she is killed off by Onomatopoeia in a story that has never been finished. It’s a rough history.
What makes Silver so memorably awful isn’t her appearances in bad stories though, it’s what she does in those appearances and, more importantly, what she represents. Silver is really the beginning of the trend of Batman writers trying to humanize Bruce Wayne by destroying the separation between his public and secret identities. Almost immediately after her introduction, Silver realizes that Bruce is Batman because Steve Englehart treats her as a reader, not as a character. She knows things she shouldn’t know, sees things she shouldn’t see, and seems to exhibit an almost fourth-wall-breaking awareness where she and she alone can suspend comics’ sacred sense of disbelief.
Really, it’s hard to pin the blame on Englehart either. Batman as a character was in state of near-constant change in the late ‘70s, getting closer and closer to becoming the character Frank Miller would codify in Year One. Silver’s part in that evolution is a crucial, very rough growing pain, the way writers were finding ways to humanize Batman and ground him to a dirtier, grittier world and its more human rogues.
Still, Silver’s time in the show is worrisome. She’s introduced as being so similar to Bruce, both orphans entering a new school with no connections and no social systems to fall back on. Finding a way to make their relationship click without running into the same problems that plagued the pair nearly 40 years ago could be a challenge, as it feels like the show is already laying the seeds of the two learning each other’s secrets. Even Selina seems worried for the pair near the episode’s conclusion.
More than anything, this is an achingly flat episode of Gotham, more focused on scene-setting and putting pieces in play than advancing or developing characters or relationships. That’s a shame because as the tension ramps up, it’s going to be harder and harder for this show to find the time to develop the characters it so dearly wants audiences to invest in.