Gotham S02E19 “Azrael” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Channel 5, Mondays, 10pm
Writers: Jim Barnes, Ken Woodruff
Director: Larysa Kondracki
Essential Plot Points:
- MEANWHILE, AT AKRHAM ASYLUM!
- Orderlies are dead. Stuff’s painted on walls in blood. Must be Wednesday. So, things are going well.
- Galavan can’t reconcile who he is so he’s defaulting to the Book of Dumas, the holy text of his order. Peabody is not happy. Strange is PSYCHED. Strange is called away when it emerges that Jim has come to see him.
- Jim, being Jim, listens to Strange pin it all on Thomas Wayne. Then, he tells Strange every single thing he knows and that he has no way to prove it. Strange psychoanalyses Jim so hard you half-expect Jim Ross to yell, “DEAR GOD, STOP THE DAMN EPISODE!” But, Jim rallies! He hands over a court order for Victor’s body. Strange claims he’s been cremated and Jim then calls him on it, saying he can tell when when someone’s lying. The “court order” is an empty envelope. OWNED.
- MEANWHILE, AT THE CAGE ARKHAM KEEP THEIR PATIENTS IN!
- Ed breaks up a fight between two inmates and “exorcises” one’s multiple personality. Ed is actually kind of brilliant and terrifying in this setting. He sees Jim walk past and tells him that Arkham is a puzzle and he just needs to solve it. Jim, clearly on a roll, owns him too. Sasstality.
- Oh and Helzinger’s back! Great news for continuity! Bad news for Jim’s face!
- Ed overhears Peabody and Strange talking about Jim. He offers to help; Strange turns him down and Ed then demonstrates how effortlessly he’s picked the lock on every neurosis in the room. He explains everyone has a story… which gives Strange an idea.
- Strange heads back to Galavan’s murder playroom. He’s going to give Galavan a new story.
An origin story…
- Strange writes himself into Galavan’s life caliming to be his father and tells him he’s Azrael, Guardian of the Order of St Dumas. Galavan buys it and Strange gives Peabody this amazing, “HA! WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!” look.
- MEANWHILE, AT STATELY WAYNE MANOR
- Harv and Jim explain due process to a child who will grow up to be a man who goes out at night in state-of-the-art tactical armour and punches criminals.
- Bruce, somewhat understandably, is not happy.
- So much so, he effectively tells Jim he knows he killed Galavan, that was okay and they should do that with Strange. Jim tells him he’ll pay for it repeatedly if he does that, just as Jim has done and continues to do. Actual morals! Actually discussed! Kick ass work, show!
- MEANWHILE BACK AT ARKHAM!
- Strange has a mission for Azrael – the only way he can be tested. Possibly to destruction.
- Peabody sends orderlies to retrieve Helzinger from the cage and, unseen, Ed manages to break out and follow them… to an apparently dead-end corridor. He grins as he realises he has another puzzle to solve…
- Helzinger is put in with Azrael. Strange brings his “son” a gift; a case filled with weapons. Azrael, already confused by Helzinger recognising him as the mayor, doesn’t even bother opening the case. He just uses the case itself to knock out Helzinger. It’s a start.
- He then opens the case and finds a sword: “The Sword of Sin” (a fake, of course) – Azrael’s signature weapon and conclusive proof that Strange is the most mental villain the show has had so far. He tells Azrael to kill James Gordon with it. Of course.
- MEANWHILE AT A CRIME SCENE!
- Barnes is issuing a press statement at a mass killing. He sees Gordon, Bruce and Bullock arrive and kicks Jim’s ass about breaking Karen out last episode. Bruce persuades him to listen to them and he does.
- MEANWHILE, AT ARKHAM!
- Ed manipulates his fellow inmates to get him the stuff he needs to find a way out. Again, he’s kind of brilliant this week.
- MEANWHILE BACK AT GCPD BLUE!
- Barnes buys absolutely nothing Jim is saying. Jim pushes back and Barnes tells him he’s a self-righteous punk who, if he thinks he could do a better job, should run the GCPD himself. Jim says one day he just might.
- Azrael appears, attacks the two men and only leaves when Harv, Bruce and a whole bunch of extras (AND A TV CREW!) appear. Bruce is fascinated by the speed and power of the caped figure as he leaps across the buildings…
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE GCPD!
- Jim and Barnes butt heads again and Bruce sasses him up a treat. Barnes tells them they’re going to launch a city-wide dragnet and throws them both out. Jim sends Bruce home so he doesn’t have to worry about him.
- MEANWHILE, BECAUSE SOMEHOW WE APPARENTLY STILL NEED TO SPEND MORE TIME AT THIS GODFORSAKEN PLOT LINE
- Penguin watches the footage of Azrael.
- MEANWHILE, IN WHAT IS ALMOST CERTAINLY THE SAME ALLEY THAT JIM GOT THE CRAP KICKED OUT OF HIM IN EARLIER IN THE SEASON!
- Azrael spots a Galavan poster and begins having flashbacks.
- MEANWHILE BACK AT THE GCPD!
- Barnes sends the posse out. Gordon offers to go out and Barnes proceeds to arrest him on suspicion of breaking Karen out. Which is legit but still a dick move.
- MEANWHILE, AT ARKHAM!
- STRANGE IS READING CLASSIC LITERATURE AND WORKING OUT WHICH STORIES TO IMPLANT IN PATIENTS THIS IS AWESOME!
- He settles on Alice In Wonderland. So that’s the Mad Hatter showing up shortly then.
- MEANWHILE BACK AT THE GCPD
- Barnes and Jim continue their ethical discussion. Jim argues that sometimes laws needs to be broken, Barnes argues that the law is what we have to cling onto. The lights go out.
Almost as if the man they both specifically heard Azrael say he wanted dead was being targeted…
- Azrael arrives. Unsubtly. He gives Barnes the choice of releasing Jim and saving his men or letting them all die.
- Barnes chooses.
- They all die.
- Barnes tackles Azrael. Empties a clip into him point blank and…he…gets…BACK…UP.
- They split up, Barnes leading him away. He barricades the door to the parking garage only for Azrael to pound it down. He demands Barnes show him where Gordon is and, grabbing a length of metal pipe he duels with Azrael.
- Magnificently, Azrael’s rubbish new sword breaks and Barnes beats the living bejeezus out of him, knocking his mask off. He sees Galavan’s face, is stunned for a moment and Galavan stabs him with what’s left of his blade.
- Jim puts Galavan over the edge of the roof with multiple shotgun blasts but, somehow, he’s still alive. And, thanks to the camera crew nearby, his identity is out.
- Later, a horribly badly injured Barnes is taken away as Jim breaks the news to Harv.
- MEANWHILE, AT HOME WITH BUTCH AND TABBY AND ALSO BARB!
- Barbara is obsessively changing the channel on TV. Spiky and weird and a little scary she decides to make cocktails. It’s all fun and games until Tabby sees her brother’s face on the telly…
- WHILE OVER AT MURDER HOUSE!
- Penguin is overjoyed he gets to kill Galavan twice.
- MEANWHILE, AT STATELY WAYNE MANOR
- Alfred tries to reassure Bruce that no one comes back from the dead. Bruce decides, not unreasonably, that Strange is behind Galavan’s resurrection and he and Alfred share a moment of quiet terror at where Gotham is heading.
- MEANWHILE, AT ARKHAM!
- Ed uses his MacGyvered kit to find the secret door. He heads down to the lab and discovers the Indian Hill facility and a corridor full of screaming, horribly traumatised people locked in cells…
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT JIM!
- Jim stumbles out of the GCPD looking grim and, in a magnificently fan service-y moment we crash zoom on the bridge a good two miles away where Azrael is watching him…
Yep, that’s another good episode in a run of them. Even better, this episode doesn’t just try to do two extremely clever things at once; it manages them both. And, for a show that’s sometimes felt like it’s got way too short an attention span and had way too much coffee that’s a massive achievement.
The first of those two very clever things is the way this episode in particular not only positions Hugo Strange as a massively important Bat villain but also uses him to secure the narrative architecture of the show. There are only so many times even a city like Gotham can suffer an industrial accident or science gone mad moment and Strange’s work at Indian Hill neatly shores up that weakness. His combination of psychological conditioning and Victor’s reanimation process is an immensely clever and vastly adaptable way to turn Indian Hill into the city’s monster factory. Even better, it keeps in place the fundamental pathos and tragedy that sits at the heart of the best Batman villains. They’re not that bad. They’ve just been told stories where they are. Better still, it also establishes Selina, Penguin, Ivy and the Joker (whoever that turns out to be) as the “royalty” of the Rogue’s Gallery. The others have had to be built. They create themselves.
Oh and it’s also a lovely, witty piece of writing that bakes origin stories – that mainstay of superhero comics – into the narrative DNA of the show. Top work, Barnes and Woodruff!
The other really clever thing the show does is, perhaps, a little less clever but still really fun. There are several moments in this episode very clearly designed to evoke, and to some extent create, the space Batman will occupy in the city. The fight on the roof of the GCPD, Azrael’s fondness for rooftops and that final crash zoom are all classic Batman moments and it’s nice to see the show flexing the muscles it needs to do that. Whether we’ll be seeing that stuff from the Bat himself any time before season 15 is another story but still, the night (and the show) is young.
But there’s one moment in particular that works incredibly well. After Azrael makes his first attempt on Jim’s life and is seen off, we see Bruce watching him move. David Mazouz is increasingly brilliant in the role and we can see him putting the pieces together in his mind:
- A physically intimidating suit.
- A cape for aerodynamics and breaking up the outline.
- Using the rooftops.
We just saw the next piece of the Bat Puzzle slide into Bat Place.
Those two elements are hugely impressive and they’re not alone. Ed has never been more fun than he is in Arkham; every puzzle bar one solved, his brain moving too fast for his surroundings. The last thing we see of him suggests an interesting allegiance change too. He’s horrified by what’s being done and will both want to get out and, odds are, warn people. Whether he’s believed, or who he goes to, should be fun.
Likewise the Barnes/Jim relationship hits a fun point here with Barnes finally calling his least stable officer on his nonsense and Jim finally calling his boss on being a pompous ass. Neither man is right, neither is wrong and both are completely entrenched. There’s some interesting stuff here with a collision between two modes of policing too; Barnes advocating for “by-the-book” and Jim basically living every 1990s cop movie at once. How the two come together, and what qualities of Barnes’ leadership Jim takes on will, again, make for interesting viewing.
There’s a huge amount to enjoy here and a newfound confidence as the show unleashes its first full blown Bat-alike. There are a couple of missteps but this is yet another episode in an increasingly fun run on an increasingly fun show. More of the same please.
- Fan service galore! Not only do we get the introduction of Azrael, but we have him placed with remarkable intelligence and subtlety into Batman’s future, through his past. Bruce looking in awe at how easily Azrael moves around the rooftops is a lovely moment, as is the final shot. More importantly, they feel earned and logical. Better still they place the entire Galavan plot in a much larger context and make it far more interesting in doing so.
- Strange using stories to anchor his resurrected subjects is such a delicious idea it almost makes us applaud. One of the smartest things this show has ever done is make Strange the ground zero for a lot of Gotham’s monsters. It’s a wonderful, subtle way to not only establish a different version of the same events but nod to the idea of the origin story, by grafting old ones onto new victims.
- Yet again, the direction this week is top notch. Kondracki’s work on the closing fight is especially great, as is the news crew sequence.
- Yet again, the writing’s pretty great this week too. The way the Galavan and Strange plots have come together and created a new opening to the Wayne murders is actually just flat-out great. The first half of the season meandered, at times badly, but this last run is going brilliantly. More of this, earlier, next season please.
- “No one beats me.”
“I did.” Oooh! Six points to Gryffindor! Nicely done, Jim.
- “I’m through talkin’ to him.”
“Are you through listening the truth?” Barnes has a bad week. Yet more officers killed, stabbed by a medieval pseudo ninja and out-argued by a child. Rest up, big guy.
- “The difference is that one is a black light that emits ultra violet energy and THIS IS LEATHER ON A STICK.” Ed in Arkham is roughly 6,000% more fun than ANY OTHER version of Ed.
- “We need a bigger gun.” Oh Gotham, if that was a Split Second reference you may have won our hearts forever.
- So. Azrael appears. Azrael yells about James Gordon. Azrael is seen off. The GCPD begin a city-wide manhunt with, we presume, six of the remaining 11 officers left alive.
- They, at no point, suspect that Azrael might be kind of interested in killing the man who he has stated he’s interested in killing.
- No protective custody. And no, putting him in a bloody cell surrounded by extras doesn’t count.
- No surveillance.
- No sting operation despite them doing this exact sort of thing at least once before this season.
- The GCPD. Protecting and serving. Well. We say Protecting and serving…
- We say serving…
- We may have covered this before but it’s a fun piece of Bat continuity so what the hey. Azrael first appeared in Sword Of Azrael #1 back in 1992. That version was Jean-Paul Valley, a polite, nice young man who had, in fact, been programmed to be the Sword of the Order of Dumas. He ultimately took over from Bruce Wayne as Batman during the massive – and still really fun – Knightfall, KnightsQuest and KnightsEnd story arcs. Valley, and successor Michael Lane, haven’t featured overly in the New 52 but with DC about to relaunch again that may change.
- Shot of the week is that crash zoom on Azrael. Cheesy? Yes. FUN? Absolutely.
Review by Alasdair Stuart