Lessons From…Gotham (SE3 “The Last Laugh”)

Admittedly, season one of the Gotham series was a bit lackluster for me. It just didn’t seem to really know what it wanted to be and was basically all over the place. Frankly, I wasn’t sure that I was going to keep up with the show, but I am a Batman fan, so slap that bat logo on something and I will watch. Season two seems to be more concise and sure of itself. It is still far too early to tell if it is actually a good show, but so far it appears to be better than its previous season. Part of this improvement, in my humble opinion, has to do with upping the insanity and quality of the villains. There were several prominent villainous figures up to the third episode of the current season, “The Last Laugh,” and the emerging villains and few heroes all share one common element which is the focus of this post. As always SPOILERS ahead.

The episode centered on the next phase of Theo Galavan’s, the newest big bad of Gotham, master plan for controlling the city of Gotham. After breaking free six demented psychopaths from Arkham Asylum and allowing them free reign and destruction to their black hearts’ content. He has already lost a few of his make shift crew, but the plan keeps chugging along with the de facto leader of the self prescribed and named MANIAX, Jerome Valeska (Gotham‘s proto-Joker) taking center stage of a hostage situation. All the key players of Gotham end up involved: Jim Gordon, Jerome, Bruce Wayne, and Theo Galvan. The ultimate result is expected and, honestly, not entirely necessary because the real meaning is what happens after the hostage situation is resolved and what these four central figures have in common; legacy.

Basic Oedipus rule: You want to achieve greatness, kill your dad.

Basic Oedipus rule: You want to achieve greatness, kill your dad.

Jerome wants to be famous. He wants Gotham, and the world, to know his name and to fear him. He will do anything and everything to achieve this singular goal. Jerome breaks into Gotham Police’s Headquarters and kills the commissioner along with several officers. He murders his own father in cold blood to further Galvan’s agenda. And he has no issue with killing an innocent child, Bruce Wayne, simply because of boredom and orders. Jerome is insane, but he basically wants to leave a legacy behind him. He wants to be remembered beyond his years so that generations say his name. And according to the episode’s end, his wish may actually be granted. He is not the only one who is concerned with how history will remember him.

Theo Galvan believes that the city and citizens of Gotham have done him and his family a great disservice and insult. His family, according to him, built Gotham, yet they have no recognition for their efforts. Galvan feels that his family should stand alongside the great families of Gotham like the Waynes and Keans. Like Jerome, Theo has no qualms about getting his hands dirty to achieve his family’s redemption and secure his own legacy as savior, protector, and creator of Gotham. Hell, he broke out crazy murderers and is responsible for the capture, detainment, and murder of several prominent political and social leaders. Galvan’s want his name to be in the minds and memories of Gotham’s citizens forever. He wants to etch his name into its skyline alongside Wayne. Really, he wants to eradicate every other prominent family and rise above them. It is the only thing that matters to him. The world can crumble as long as he gets to stand on the ashes, or at the very least his name is whispered and revered by the survivors.

Yup that's the face of comic book villain. I can just here him monologuing...

Yup that’s the face of comic book villain. I can just here him monologuing…

James “Jim” Gordon is the only police respondent to the hostage situation orchestrated by Theo and Jerome. He is also, at this point, the only positive force in the Gotham Police. Gordon is a former soldier who just wants to do a good job and have a positive impact on his city. He (in this continuity) was born and raised in Gotham and believes that it can be a great and safe city again. This is his driving mission. He will risk his life, love, safety, and sanity to make his vision of a safe and thriving Gotham a reality.

These three individuals all have different, and at times conflicting, but interconnected goals. Most of all, they are simply concerned with their individual legacies. One wants infamy, one wants power, and one wants salvation, but all want nothing more than to leave something behind that masses will remember.  However, the world and path they walk is not a secure one and will most likely end in death, so like all great individuals they need to create a legacy that will survive them. It is the most any of us can hope for, but we also need to ensure that our legacies are worth remembering. In this respect, James is the only one that can truly succeed because his vision is concerned with people while Galvan’s and Jerome’s are concerned with buildings and fear. People will always live on and through them it will be how we continue on and perhaps achieve a sense of immortality and legacy.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

 

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Lessons From Daredevil (Netflix not Affleck)

First off, if you have not yet seen the incredible Daredevil series on Netflix, what the actual fuck is wrong with you?! Now, if you do not have Netflix or for whatever cannot access the site, then yeah, okay, that makes sense. Otherwise, seriously what is wrong with you? If you have liked any Marvel property up to this point, you’ll like Daredevil. If you have become annoyed with Marvel properties getting bigger and seemingly more and more unsustainable, you’ll really like Daredevil. If you like quality television and story telling, you’ll love Daredevil. Basically, watch the show. Now. Here’s a taste:

C’mon, you know you want to see this series now, am I right? Of course, binge watching (kind of hate that this is the phrase we went with as a means of communicating watching an obsessive, possibly unhealthy, amount of television) the entire series got me thinking about a few of the interesting points and characters of the show. Thus, I decided to write on it because it is what I do. As always SPOILERS ahead.

Maybe I should've found a Deadpool pic or something for this one.

Maybe I should’ve found a Deadpool pic or something for this one.

The bulk of this post will be focusing on the last episode in the first season (S1 E13) “Daredevil.” So again, kind of major spoilers for both the episode and the series. Just so you know.

The season finale is a grand culmination of the slow burning battle between Matt Murdoch/Daredevil and Wilson Fisk (the not yet named as Kingpin of Crime). Although Fisk is never called Kingpin, his Machiavellian tendencies of playing players and events from the background are apparent throughout the series since his introduction. Furthermore, the entire series tends to focus on the dichotomy between Murdoch and Fisk. In their own way, both individuals do want to help Hell’s Kitchen, their home, to improve.

The major difference is that Murdoch believes that Hell’s Kitchen improves by helping the people within it to make their lives, homes, and circumstances better. On the other hand, Fisk believes in the gentrification ideal of improvement in the sense of improving the buildings, roads, and infrastructure (while lining his own pockets to a large degree) which, in turn, will bring a better class of people and culture to Hell’s Kitchen. Obviously, these two philosophies are diametrically opposed and lead to conflict.

Don't be fooled. Kingpin is light on his feet and punches like a world class boxer.

Don’t be fooled. Kingpin is light on his feet and punches like a world class boxer.

Now, it is rather reductive to simply place Murdoch and Fisk as opposite sides of the same coin or some other cliche, but it is very accurate in its presentation. There ideologies are different, but both characters share similar personalities particularly in their single mindedness and focus. Both their developments into the people they are informed by their relationships with their respective fathers and a major event that became a defining moment during adolescence. The finale episode in season one, along with a big battle between them, also culminates in both Murdoch and Fisk accepting their true core natures. After all both characters have dealt with internal turmoil over their desires, appetites, and willingness to obtain what they really want which brings us to the first lesson: We all succumb to our true natures, eventually.

No matter how cultured, civilized, refined, or educated we attempt to become, we never escape our true selves. This is also true and applicable to anything we might use to define ourselves or the cultures and activities we take an interest in. I can put on a suit and as much of a neutral accent as possible, but eventually my preference for jeans, love of swearing, and slight Texas twang will come through. This might seem like a simplistic example but internal, existential ideas are just as applicable. Similarly for Matt, it is finally admitting that he has the same brawler spirit his father had. As well, that while he does enjoy helping his city, part of the reason why he puts on a mask and goes out at night is simply because he really enjoys hitting people that kind of deserve it. For Fisk, it is coming to terms with the kind of man he really is. He is not meant for the light. His place is in the shadows. More importantly, he is not the savior of the city he saw himself as. Fisk realizes that he is the demon and evil he claimed he was trying to rid the city of in one of the best scenes of recent television.

Somehow Vincent D'Onofrio manages to pull off the whole smart and scary thing.

Somehow Vincent D’Onofrio manages to pull off the whole smart and scary thing.

I wish I could link a video to the short dialogue I am going to transcribe because D’Onofrio plays it beautifully.

[Wilson Fisk]: I was thinking about a story from the Bible.

[Guard 1]: Did I tell you to open your mouth?

[Guard 2]: Let him talk. Don’t mean nothin’.

[Wilson Fisk]: I’m not a religious man… but I’ve read bits and pieces over the years. Curiosity more than faith. But this one story… There was a man. He was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho… when he was set upon by men of ill intent. They stripped the traveler of his clothes, they beat him, and they left him bleeding in the dirt. And a priest happened by… saw the traveler. But he moved to the other side of the road and continued on. And then a Levite, a religious functionary, he… came to the place, saw the dying traveler. But he too moved to the other side of the road, passed him by. But then came a man from Samaria, a Samaritan, a good man. He saw the traveler bleeding in the road and he stopped to aid him without thinking of the circumstance or the difficulty it might bring him. The Samaritan tended to the traveler’s wounds, applying oil and wine. And he carried him to an inn, gave him all the money he had for the owner to take care of the traveler, as the Samaritan, he… continued on his journey. He did this simply because the traveler was his neighbor. He loved his city and all the people in it. /(sighs deeply)/ I always thought that I was the Samaritan in that story. It’s funny, isn’t it? How even the best of men can be… deceived by their true nature.

[Guard 1]: What the hell does that mean?

[Wilson Fisk]: It means that I’m not the Samaritan. That I’m not the priest, or the Levite. That I am the ill intent… who set upon the traveler on a road that he should not have been on.

 

Yes. I know it’s long, but the whole speech is necessary to make the following two lessons make full sense. It demonstrates the strength and power of both lies and truth and shows how ideologies and beliefs and faiths and the teachings of those things can be formed for one’s intent and purpose. First off, Wilson fully believed in his self falsity of savior of city. This pushed him to actually try to help his city. His efforts and tactics were misguided but would have been effective in improvement to some degree. As well, he faced the light and become the face of reform as a means of guiding the city more effectively. Ultimately, this fails and Wilson resorts to fully embracing his identity as a villain or “ill intent”. It is also his mantra that will keep him sane and powerful in prison ready to attack and seek revenge after his incarceration ends.

The next point is more interesting, at least to me. Fisk admits that he is not a religious man nor does he seem like a scholar of theology, but this text made an impression on him. For a long time, he used it as a guiding rod. He was supposed to be the good Samaritan helping his neighbor. All his actions and deeds were justified, or at least deemed acceptable, because he saw himself through that lens. Once he can no longer delude himself, he shifts his position in the story to the villain who took from the man traveling the road and left him for dead. In a matter of minutes, Fisk shifted his personal world view while still using the exact same biblical story. Which is kind of the point of philosophical and religious teachings; their malleability and allowance for interpretation makes them applicable to whatever the hell you want to say or believe in. Thus, it is not necessarily the texts that impart wisdom, morality, beliefs, or values, but, instead, it is the people that apply their own wisdom, morality, beliefs, and values onto the texts they read.

I think this is what made the series so damn enjoyable; the full characterization and agency of the villain, and to a large extent the secondary characters like Karen and Foggy as well. Most characters, especially heroes, are defined by their conflicts and obstacle and their response to these complications. In superhero stories, your hero is only as good or interesting as his foes. In real life, we grow, evolve, and show our true potential in the face of adversity and conflict. It suck, but doesn’t make it any less true.

Thus endeth today’s lesson(s). Also, go watch Daredevil. It is so good!