Synopsis of 2×08: Theo sends Barbara to kill Gordon while he attempts to takeover Wayne Enterprises. Gordon and Barbara fight in a church and Barbara falls out a window. Gordon rescues the imprisoned mayor and arrests Galavan while Bruce fails to learn who killed his parents.
There’s a formative scene in Batman #404, the first issue of what would become known as Batman: Year One where after being mercilessly beaten by a group of corrupt cops, Jim Gordon targets the ringleader and his partner for some punishment. It’s also the earliest hint Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli give of the corruption that is eating away at Gordon’s soul. In a chilling echo of what his attackers did to him, Gordon exhibits more brutality than violence, more judgment than justice.
It’s not about doing what’s right, as Gordon narrates, “I don’t crack his skull. I don’t crush his larynx. I don’t break his ribs or punch my hand through his chest. I do just enough — to keep him out of the hospital.” Yes, Gordon’s sending a message, not just to the rank and file but to the brass that he’s not going to sully himself with Gotham’s darkness but it’s also the beginning of the tailspin he never fully recovers from in Year One, the first in a long string of choices that leads to him cheating on his pregnant wife, being blackmailed by the department and putting his marriage and life at risk for someone or something he doesn’t entirely understand.
It’s the sort of rich thematic territory Gotham has been building to all season. Much like Year One before it, Season 2 of Gotham wants to be a story which asks “how dirty can you be while still fighting for what’s right?” but rarely has it done this by directly interrogating its characters. “Tonight’s the Night,” this week’s episode of Gotham, tries do just that by positing James Gordon and Barbara Kean as two pieces of a thoroughly scarred whole.
Barbara continuously seems to see herself as Jim’s companion, the only person who can match the only occasional righteous rage that consumes him but it’s a lot of showing and not telling. Unlike the comics, Gotham doesn’t leave us with a lot of text to analyze Jim as a character so it’s an episode that vastly leaves things up to you. So, I ask you, how dirty is James Gordon?
Having taken the mayor’s office in a sketchy election, Galavan wants to remove Gordon before he turns into more trouble. He dispatches Barbara to kill her ex-beau but it’s never entirely clear how much of this Theo has planned for. Did he always want Barbara to take Gordon to the church?
That’s an awful complicated scheme just to kill one admittedly influential guy but still he does apparently send Tabitha to help. This, however, is really the only bit of our now recurring segment “What Dumb Bullshit is Happening in the Galavan Subplot” though. It’s more odd than anything but its’ not helped by some iffy writing.
Like, when did Gordon find out Barbara was working for the Galavans? Did he just put together the prison break and Barbara’s appearance at the charity gala and assume she was working for Theo? That seems like kind of a big stretch to me but Barbara all but admits it multiple times throughout the episode.
It ends up in a weird tonal place. Barbara surrendering to the GCPD sets up what could charitably be called an extended homage to Se7en but she’s never quite able to pull off the menace or mystery of a captured psychopath. It’s disappointing because there’s some moments here that illuminate just how far Gordon will go to see justice.
Bruce is in a thematically similar place to Gordon as well. In his bid to take Wayne Enterprises, Theo offers him several billion dollars as well as the identity of his parents killer if only he gives up his controlling financial stake in the company. Bruce is torn and it’s one of the series’ best uses of Bruce Wayne.
He’s still young enough that killing his parents’ murderer is an attractive proposition and even Alfred, despite desiring to, can’t entirely dissuade or avoid the logic of the young master’s plans. The pair share a great moment in the Batcave where Alfred reminds Bruce that his parents’ legacy isn’t the company so much as their child and it seals Bruce’s choice not to sell by episode’s end.
The real meat here though is the scenes between Barbara, Gordon and Lee at the church, where an increasingly desperate, spiraling out-of-control Barbara plays every emotional trump card she thinks she holds. There’s good stuff here, namely the way Gordon seems to have changed by revealing his most criminal acts to Lee as well as the violence he commits to save himself and sate his lust for justice.
The ending however, is still a bit pat and dry. It’s probably time for Barbara to die but the show seems to still have a place for her which is a bit disappointing. In a lot of ways, “Tonight’s the Night” seems like the conclusion of Barbara’s arc, she can’t really ever keep Jim but only she knows the true battle he’s fighting.