Synopsis of 2×16: As George Bluth once said, “In prison, we had movie nights and knife fights and, once, both.” Oswald gets close to his father before Elijah is murdered by Charles and Grace.
I mentioned last week that the primary problem with the Gordon in prison storyline is that Gotham keeps pretending he shouldn’t be there. Gordon committed cold-blooded murder, overstepping his position as a police officer in order to enact vengeance. He is a murderer. He should be punished.
Instead, Gotham wants us to see him as a righteous individual solely because, well, he’s a protagonist. We’re supposed to feel a gut punch when minutes into “Prisoners,” he’s transferred into Blackgate’s most violent ward but why would we? He’s being transferred to live with murderers because he’s a murderer. It’s hard to get over the dissonance the show sets up.
Sure, there’s a mustache-twirlingly evil warden and yes, Gordon didn’t kill the officers he’s accused of killing now, but it’s hard to get over that Gordon’s actually getting what he deserves for shooting Galavan, no matter how much the show wants to claim he shouldn’t be there.
Gotham wants to live by a bizarre set of moral rules, where the murder of Galavan was justified because Theo was a bad man who slipped through the cracks of a broken system but a police officer’s death, even one Gordon didn’t have a hand in, deserves the harshest of punishments and since Gordon is innocent in the latter, this constitutes a grave injustice. It’s hypocritical and patronizing, another in an endless parade of bizarre moral failures this show often deals in.
But no, instead of engaging with its own bullshit sense of morality, Gotham is committed to creating a prison exploitation homage without the humor or irony that often makes those films work so well. The calculating warden, a friend of the disposed Commissioner Loeb, sends a gang to bring Gordon down because, I don’t know, that’s what happens in exploration movies and it’s what most people think happens in prison all the goddamn time.
Theoretically, it’d be interesting if the show portrayed any of this with a sense of humor or gothic imagery but it’s just blank, empty and perfunctory, designed solely to characterize Gordon as an innocent man, undeserving of what’s happening to him.
It’s all so transparently manipulative, preying on the viewer’s association with Gordon as a protagonist. It’s the laziest, dullest way to tell this story, to put Gordon through this trial and emphasizes how obviously this prison story is a stop-gap between whatever the next return to the status quo will be. It’s exactly the same beats as last season’s “Gordon is transferred to Arkham” storyline and it’s hard to ignore the startling similarities between the stories.
Better is Cobblepot’s storyline which is dealing with similar subjects in a much more honest way. There, Oswald can’t escape his past. He’s haunted by the sins he’s committed, even if he thinks he’s put that life behind him. His story is told bluntly but effectively, acknowledging what he’s done while paying attention to the difficulties intrinsic in leaving those difficulties behind.
Less effective is the seduction scene. To be fair, the advertising for this episode pretty heavily implied a rape-scene was coming but the episode attempts to play the interaction for laughs. It doesn’t work but it’s not the scene I’ve dreaded having to watch for a week now. Still, I generally like the story happening at Cobblepot manor. It’s filled with the over-the-top gothic imagery that made the Tim Burton Batman films so visually unique and has a little bit of the humor it needs to cut through the darkness.
Both of the plots however, devolve hopelessly into cliches by the end. Gordon’s escape from prison is so glaringly obvious that the takeout scene of his death could not be more clearly telegraphed and the death of Elijah is as grating and rote as if O. Henry edited some of Tennessee Williams’ drunker works.
Both plots are designed solely to put the status quo back into effect with only minor alterations. Gordon can go back to Gotham but now he’s an outlaw, Penguin’s set up with a new set of enemies he’ll have to enact revenge against. It’s all the same but just slightly different.
If that’s the version of Gotham you want, great, eat up, “Prisoners” is an all you can eat buffet of the been-there, done-that cliches the show has trafficked in since the pilot. For everyone else, it’s another bit of wheel spinning, intended to create something of a heroes journey for Cobblepot and Gordon but not realizing that it’s trodding over the same ground it’s covered so thoroughly already.