Since his introduction in the summer of 1942 (in Detective Comics #66’s “The Crimes of Two-Face”) Harvey Dent (first introduced as “Harvey Kent”) has grown from an important member of the Batman’s rogues gallery to one of the central figures in the Dark Knight’s mythos. Dent’s lofty arc is mostly thanks to Tommy Lee Jones’s portrayal in Batman Forever (way over the top though it was), Aaron Eckhart’s performance in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and, most importantly — at least as far as the mainstream’s perception of the character goes — the Two-Face of Batman: The Animated Series voiced by Richard Moll. While the tone of the character has varied as wildly as that of the media in which he’s been appeared, the core of a good man doomed by his dark side, has remained more or less consistent. All of which is to say that actor Nicholas D’Agosto has as much to live up to as any actor on Gotham, and probably more; with the possible exception of the Penguin, the only adult villain on the show whose persona is closer to that of their traditional portrayal.
Of course while the Penguin may be more famous (due in no small part to his recurring role on the 1966 Batman TV show), discerning superhero fans would no doubt rank Harvey Dent’s alter ego as the far more significant foe. Thankfully, D’Agosto acquits himself well here as the young assistant district attorney, using, as he did on Masters of Sex, his boyish face to lull his opponents into a false sense of security before revealing a mile-wide violent streak. In that, he does pretty much all fans could ask: bringing something new to his character without violating that which has gone before. In “Harvey Dent” (the episode’s name is something of a misnomer, since Dent’s introduction is just one of several storylines explored), we get a taste of the split personality that will ultimately break and remold him, as Dent convinces businessman (and presumed Falcone associate) Dick Lovecraft into sharing info by threatening to “rip him open.”
The new character most central to the episode’s plot is Ian Hargrove, an unbalanced and imprisoned demolitions expert, who, while being transported from Blackgate Prison, is captured by Fish Mooney’s Russian mobster pals, and drafted to wreak havoc on Falcone. There’s an affecting scene in which Hargrove’s brother describes him as not a bad man, but “sick.” While that sickness gives us a break from the traditional serial-killer-of-the-week stories, in the end it functions primarily as a bridge across which the plot can move two-hundred prisoners from Blackgate to the newly reopened Arkham Asylum. Here’s hoping we’ll see Hargrove again withing its imposing walls, since he’s one of the few truly sympathetic antagonists that Gotham has given us.
Elsewhere, Bruce and Selina finally formally meet when Gordon drops the street urchin off at the manor in order to learn more about the Waynes’ killer, whom she saw murder them. Selina (I won’t call her “Cat” if you won’t, deal?) has already demonstrated an attraction to the young billionaire, stalking him for the past several episodes. But after a polite handshake he’s immediately drawn to her as well. And why not? As he explains, he’s never even kissed a girl. The show finds an assured way of building their chemistry: he’s rich and book-smart — “developing,” as he says, “self-discipline and will power” — she’s poor, streetwise, and one hundred percent instinct. But the two are both missing parents (though she, already building a persona, pretends her mom is a secret agent away on a mission), and after bonding over their losses, they engage in their first cat-and-mouse game, a playful bout of bagel-tossing. Of course, as is ever the case with Gotham‘s younger characters, there’s an obvious limit to their evolution insofar as the characters we know. So the Bruce-Selina scenes are actually best viewed for the way in which they inform Alfred’s relationship with young Master Wayne. The manservant — after giving Bruce his first official boxing lesson — is immediately suspicious of Selina, whom he understandably regards as a “common street criminal.” But upon witnessing the effect she has on Bruce — prompting one of the few smiles he’s worn since his parents’ death — changes his mind. You can practically see the load on Alfred’s shoulders start to lessen when he describes her to Gordon as a “breath of fresh air.”
As for the Penguin, there’s little of Gotham‘s breakout character this week, but his absence serves as a kind of test, one which the show handily passes. For this may be the first truly solid episode that hasn’t relied on Robin Lord Taylor’s masterful performance as Oswald Cobblepot. Yet his brief scenes — discovering Fish’s mole Liza, and frightening her into complicity — makes one all the more excited for the future.
— Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney is far more tolerable — and even enjoyable — in limited doses. Her scenes with Oswald shine.
— The second Selina announced she was hungry and headed off to Gordon’s kitchen, I laughed and told my wife we’d no doubt see her emerge guzzling milk. Sure enough!
— Harvey’s already demonstrating his duplicitous side by tossing a coin with two heads; and his love of chance by betting he can bluff Lovecraft into revealing his connections to Falcone.
— Having a character named Lovecraft tied to a place called Arkham is like having a character named Bogart connected to a placed called Casablanca.
— The little trickle of saliva running down the corner of Dent’s mouth after he explodes in Lovecraft’s face is tangible proof that, in casting D’Agosto, Gotham found the right man for the job.
Next week: Assassins are after Bruce and Selina in Gotham‘s fall finale!
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).