Synopsis of 2×09: Tabitha hires a hoard of hitmen to kill Gordon while he and Barnes look for evidence in Theo’s penthouse. Silver pumps Bruce for information under Alfred’s nose. Nygma looks to Cobblepot for training in how to be a killer.
About halfway through Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s Hitman, a tale of the drunks, addicts, and murderers who call Gotham City home, contract killer Tommy Monaghan beaten, bloodied and up against an army of Hong Kong gangsters asks his professional rival, Ringo Chen, about a mysterious encounter with the Grim Reaper, a moment neither of the men have ever entirely been able to square. “Is death real, do you mean,” Ringo asks, smiling, with one eyeball torn out and seeping blood. “Well, what do you think?”
That’s the thing about death in these kind of stories. As long as there are violent men doing violent things, at some point, you’ve got to pay the piper. Whether it’s a well placed bullet, a shocking betrayal, or the oldest trick in the book, death is coming. Consequences have to be meted out but that’s also what separates these stories.
Hitman mercilessly builds to the moments when its characters realize the consequences of their actions are coming. It’s a story of unrepentant awful people slowly coming to terms with the fact that no good deed will save them from their sins. It’s antiheroes gradually learning that they can’t balance a ledger that’s been soaked in blood and still trying to do the right thing even though its far too late.
That sense of character based, deeply dark storytelling is something Gotham doesn’t or won’t understand. It’s not a show that cares about choices and consequences, actions or reactions. It’s a never-ending trail of mostly unconnected plots all leading to something meant to be bigger and better but all sound and fury signifying nothing and death is a big part of it. It doesn’t earn anything. Ringo’s questions is unanswered. Does death matter? Sure, why not, Gotham sneers.
That treatment of death is tantamount to the failings of this week’s episode. “A Bitter Pill to Swallow” is hardly this season’s worst episode but it’s meandering, plodding and dull in the way this show’s most painful episodes so often are. Following his encounter with Barbara last week, Gordon is pushing the line between ethical police action and cold-hearted violence harder than ever. Making matters more difficult, Tabitha puts out a hit on Gordon to appease her need for revenge for Barbara’s hospitalization.
After a hit goes bad in Theo’s penthouse, the whole weight of Gotham’s organized killing community targets Gordon and Barnes. This also marks the live action debut of The Flamingo, a Batman villain who has appeared in, by my count, six issues of comics ever, so there you fucking go if that’s your bag. It’s a lot of death for very little payout and it also leads to one of the show’s goriest moments, as a cannibalistic Flamingo chomps down on a bit of one of his latest victim’s viscera. All sound and fury signifying nothing.
Basically, “A Bitter Pill to Swallow” boils down to a kind-of reverse-Die Hard situation, when Barnes goes down with a stabbing injury and Gordon is forced to take on the killers that are gunning for him. There are some gentle attempts to acknowledge Gordon’s “monster inside” but it’s all kind of flat. This is an episode that bends over backwards to justify all the killing and violence Gordon commits all while eventually acknowledging that maybe shoving a handgun down some dude’s throat might be in the wrong.
But then again, maybe it’s not because that dude then bites a cop on the neck. None of Gordon’s choices matter and none of the Flamingo’s matter either. There’s just death on death on death. There’s no karmic scale, no justice or judgment, just a never ending trail of corpses all leading nowhere and to nothing. There’s no insight into the characters or this world, no grand statement of even futility or a sense of overriding nihilism. Sure, death is real but it doesn’t matter in Gotham and that’s increasingly becoming too big of a problem for this show to possibly surmount.
There’s other stuff going on in this episode but frankly it’s all alternatively too dumb or too offensively dumb to even be worth mentioning. Silver St. Cloud is still trying to seduce Bruce into selling Wayne Enterprises in what is undoubtedly the most uncomfortable teen seduction scene since goddamn Cruel Intentions. At least Alfred gets a decent moment here but it’s still almost too pointless to even really care about.
Worse still is the Penguin and Nygma subplot. After finding Cobblepot in the woods last issue, Nygma’s brought the crime lord back to his house and is nursing him in a scene with all the discomfort and weird sexual frustrations of Misery. Nygma wants Penguin to help train him to be a killer but the death of his mother and his dealings with Galavan have only hardened Penguin’s resolve to escape the city. Instead, Ed convinces him to stay and embrace a nihilistic approach to life. It’s the only stab this episode takes at even being momentarily profound, so take a drink, I guess.
This week’s check in of “What Dumb Bullshit is Happening in the Galavan Subplot” reveals that neither Theo or the writers of Gotham know that most internal prison calls are recorded and are admissible as evidence. It’s an impressive display of not giving a shit about how the world works even by the low standards this show so regularly sets for itself.
I feel like Gotham is actively trying to be the worst version of itself. I feel like, most of the time, this is a show that desperately wants to be hated, wants to be abused, beaten and spat on, leaving the audience as an uncomfortable and thoroughly unwilling participant in it’s idiotic games. It’s so willing to give up any sense of place or realism or character for a few trite, increasingly meaningless shocks, so willing to dumb down its characters for a shallow and fleeting bit of pathos. This isn’t good TV, it’s a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome and I’m increasingly ready to talk to the deprogrammers.