Synopsis of 2×19: Strange conditions lead Galavan to believe he’s a reincarnated holy warrior assigned to kill Gordon. Nygma tries to discover the secrets of Arkham.
It finally struck me watching “Azrael,” this week’s episode of Gotham, what the best point of comparison for this season is and it’s Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story. Both shows use the visual language of their respective genre, superhero films and late-80s/early ‘90s horror movies respectively, and apply that language at a breakneck speed, papering over plot holes, inconsistent characterization, incomplete motives, and paper-thin world building, with little but speed and panache.
Both shows more often than not run into problems when those visuals aren’t compelling enough to cover those inconsistencies. When that’s the case, viewers start picking things apart and the whole show starts to crumble, like the musty, tangled tapestry that it is.
Take a look at the appearance of Azrael himself in this episode. In Batman comics, Azrael’s at best, a minor character for years before becoming he takes over for Batman after the “Knightfall” story. He’s unambiguously a villain in his earliest appearances, taking his name from the angel of death of biblical apocrypha, a homicidal religious fanatic that Bruce openly disdains. When he takes over as the Dark Knight, it’s written as wholly a negative, a killer sullying the reputation of a man who prides himself in his refusal to do just that. The “Knghtfall” storyline has a lot of flaws, but the way the comic showcases Azrael’s ascension as an unequivocal negative is one of it’s strongest points.
Here, none of that’s here but the name. Azrael’s apparently a holy figure of sorts in the church’s belief system so Strange convinces a resurrected Galavan that’s he’s a reincarnation of the character. He has a sword and a mask that kind of look familiar but are both wrong in a variety of ways.
I don’t bring this up to say that the show isn’t faithful to the comics because it’s not and it’s clear that the show has no desire to be faithful and it shouldn’t. I bring it up because it begs the question of why Gotham is using the character at all. The people who like Azrael (all of whom probably suffered some kind of head trauma in 1995), aren’t going to be happy that the character isn’t faithful to the ones they like.
The comics nerds are going to be unimpressed, just as they are with everything the show does and the average viewer knows next to nothing about an extremely minor character from the comics. Having him here benefits nothing and no one. If Gotham wanted Galavan to come back as a weird knife wielding assassin, he could literally be anyone. You can just make up a name and a mythos for him and it would work way better than it works here.
Still, it makes viewers ask all sorts of weird questions. Did Theo always know how to sword fight and leap around in the dark or did he just learn how to do this when he was resurrected? Why did the Order of St. Dumas just write another myth that’s exactly the same as the story of Lazarus? Is it really more compelling for Strange to implant insane personalities in the villains instead of them actually having their own problems themselves? Was Bruce Wayne really inspired to be Batman by an early version of the guy who would replace him? Who the fuck thought people would like that?
This use of imagery and iconography without context, a problem American Horror Story, also regularly has had, has frequently plagued Gotham and this is only its most recent occurrence but hardly the only flaw in the episode. So much of the action in “Azrael” depends entirely on coincidence. Almost everyone’s motives from the episode’s beginning depend entirely on coincidence.
It’s coincidence that Nygma hears Strange and Peabody talking and decides to investigate the secrets of Arkham. It’s coincidence that Strange has the book of St. Dumas, it’s coincidence that the formula resurrects Galavan. Later, it’s total coincidence that Galavan sees a now nine months old poster from his mayoral run up on a wall. At the episode’s finale, literally every character just so happens to watch the news of Azrael’s unmasking as Galavan is revealed to Gotham City.
Nothing logically leads from one incident to another. We lose the connection to characters and place when this happens because the characters become interchangeable. If everything depends on coincidence, anything in the show’s universe can and will happen to anyone, without reason. It’s the laziest plotting imaginable.
If the show wanted to take the time to establish why any of these things were happening, why anyone was doing what they were doing, they could do just that but it would take time. Gotham would have to sacrifice the breakneck pacing it’s been attempting to rely on for the last 10 episodes. Taking that kind of time would benefit these stories so much but no one seems wiling to make that decision.
Like a lot of episodes this season, “Azrael” a competently shot, adequately acted episode of television but nothing else. It’s not illuminating or interesting or exciting. It’s not funny or intriguing or quirky or thought provoking. It’s neither fan service or designed to stand on its own without referencing the comics it’s supposedly based on. It’s an episode designed to advance a plot filled with paper-thin characters motivated by no one and nothing.