This was probably the most underwhelming episode for the show since Arkham back in the fourth episode. It manages to be both comfortable and chaotic in scope and pacing which was why I can't decide before whether I liked it or hated it. After some reflection, I realized that there are some parts that I liked but Harvey Dent as a standalone itself was the weakest of the nine episodes of the series and I won't say "so far" because I really want the show to step up its game already because it can do just that with episodes like Spirit of the Goat and Penguin's Umbrella. This is why this episode came as an unpleasant shock for me, particularly when the titular character wasn't even the focus of this piece. Hell, the only character-centered episode so far was the one with Harvey Bullock and it still remains as the most nuanced examination of a character for this show and I wish that we get more like than in the next installments. If anything, Harvey Dent should be a hard lesson learned for the critical things that the show should stop permeating. Here is a rundown of those common mistakes that have been committed by Gotham:
- When it comes to introducing future villains from the Batverse, the show hammers it up in a way that's uncomfortably pandering to comic book fans. Gotham doesn't exactly employ subtlety in this arena and it's to their own detriment. It's as if the writers always want to make sure that everyone knows who these characters are going to be so they keep dropping a lot of hints in the dialogue during their interactions with other characters. It's distracting, to say the least. Three episodes ago, I was excited when Harvey Dent was casted, but now that I've actually seen the actor on screen, I wasn't given enough of an opportunity to warm up to him, not when the writing for his character was somewhat purposefully tongue-in-cheek. I don't even think it's the actor's fault; there wasn't just enough material for him to work with so his scenes for an episode named after him were the most forgettable of all (I would even argue that this is way more unacceptable compared to Barbara Kean's scene at the end, mostly because Dent is supposed to be a more important character and therefore his storyline should be treated with more skill and finesse than that).
- This is yet another example of multiple subplots crammed into a single episode which is why the scenes jump back and forth among six stories with very abrupt transitions in between. Let's examine each of them briefly:
- (1) the case-of-the-week was surprisingly more grounded than the ones we had in the past; a mentally unstable bomber was abducted by the Russian mob to do their bidding which actually ties back into (2) Fish and Butch's scheme to hurt Falcone by targeting his money. These two stories go hand-in-hand together but the one about Fish and Butch did not serve a greater purpose while the case concerning Ian Hangrove was able to tie into the Mayor's decision to transfer 'criminally insane' prisoners from Blackgate Penitentiary to the newly renovated Arkham Asylum which I think should be a storyline rife with potentials and hopefully the writers will peel layers from it in another episode. It can be a challenging commentary on how Gotham as a society and political body operates where people like Hangrove do not get the right rehabilitation they need all because the people in the position to decide this are negligible and would rather choose to lock away these perceived inconveniences in a loony bin.
- (3) Next we have the Harvey Dent scenes which, as I discussed in the previous paragraph, are the weakest parts of the episode which is ironic because this whole thing should have been about him. Man, Gotham really needs to stop naming their episodes after a character if it's only going to be a misnomer. I don't have anything to say about his scenes because I cannot muster enough concern to even attempt a discussion, sorry. So let's move on to (4) the clumsy Penguin-Liza-Fish scenes which felt to me like mere samplers that never should have been in the episode if that is the only coverage we are getting. Robin Lord Taylor's performance will always be pristine but they are just wasting his talent away if they put him in scenes like this. Jada Pinkett-Smith as Mooney was more contained in her acting and delivery which actually helped her in the minimal material of her scenes. Again, this episode has crammed six subplots that should have been divided fairly for two episodes not one, which was why this part felt disconnected from the rest.
- Speaking of something else disconnected, we have (5) the Bruce Wayne-Selina-Alfred scenes which are actually my favorite moments of this episode even though they are basically fodder for Batman-Catwoman shippers like myself. I much preferred the Bruce-Alfred scenes from the last episode because they felt more meaningful and intriguing, particularly that moment when Bruce knocked out his bully. Lastly and most certainly the fucking least, we have (6) Barbara hooking up with Montoya while Gordon leaves her a message, asking her to come back to him because she's all he's got. Look, I'm actually very neutral with Barbara as a character but I admit that the role she's been given since the seventh episode has started to get under my nerves. I don't share the hatred from most viewers but I can understand it.
I think the reason why this episode will be getting a low rating for me is because of how much material was put into it and yet the substance for each subplot is lacking. Each one of them was unable to breathe fully let alone stand by itself. Harvey Dent as a character should have been prioritized alongside the case-of-the-week where Fish and Butch only have small roles to play. In my honest opinion, those three subplots would have been enough to carry this episode as a whole. Meanwhile, the other three 'distractions' with Bruce/Selina, Penguin/Liza and Barbara/Montoya can appear in the next episode even if only in the sidelines; though I would argue that I want more Penguin-Liza-Fish scenes because you have two incredible actors (Taylor and Pinkett-Smith namely) who can deliver some great on-screen chemistry and tension together every time their characters would interact. I'm fairly disappointed for this week's installment. On the bright side, Edward Nygma is coming to his own as a character you only get to experience in small doses which actually helps me as a viewer to enjoy his appearances, even if the process for his development is painfully gradual. I'd like to think he's a slow burn since he's starting to sneak up to me in a very pleasant way now. Also, Bullock doesn't do his usual one-liners shtick (which I thoroughly miss) but it's nice to see him continue to bond with Gordon with his partner's lady troubles. I don't know how else to end this review so let me just drop the rating below.
FINAL VERDICT: 3 STARS
Uneven in characterization with a barely straightforward cohesiveness in its scope and choice of subplots, Harvey Dent is the show's weakest installment yet with more misses than a hit.