I feel a little bad. I offered to write about Gotham season 3 for the site, and then promptly stopped watching after the first episode. This happened because of what I’ve come to call Ivygate – the aging up of Ivy Pepper (the future Poison Ivy) so she can be an evil seductress. This is a strange choice. Sure, the writers recognized that sexualizing a teenage girl would be creepy and weird, but that’s the bare minimum for anti-sexism. They still decided that having Ivy be this seductress was more important than making any kind of sense. Why couldn’t they shelf the idea until she got older? Or do a time jump, if they didn’t want to wait?
The weirdest thing is that Gotham has totally had an underage seductress before, and they did it without being creepy. Remember Silver St. Cloud?
Her entire purpose was to seduce Bruce Wayne. She was about 13 or 14, and wasn’t sexualized at all. Did the writer’s forget about her after season 2’s winter finale?
Ivygate is the latest in a long line of Gotham’s grievances against its women and girls, stretching onward from at least season 2. Season 1 wasn’t perfect, but it did try. They didn’t objectify anyone, and presented women and girls of different moral alignments and societal status. It even gave us women of color in positions of power, and rounded lesbian and bisexual characters.
Despite that, the first red flag was thrown up after its winter finale, when Renee Montoya was put on a bus. Renee was a pretty important secondary character in the first half of the season. She was also one of the two LGBT+ characters, and one of the four prominent WoC in S1. We’ve been given no updates on her since her departure in episode 11. Where did she go? What’s happened to her since then? Why did she leave, rather than kicking Barbara out? It was her house.
More seasons, more problems
Season 2 is when the issues piled on. Silver is a perfect example. Her purpose in the narrative was to seduce Bruce, so that he would turn his company over to her uncle Theo Galavan. Yet, the show never really explored how messed up this is. Silver seems more than happy to be a pawn in her uncle’s plans, which could definitely happen, but they never dig into how she got into that mindset. Where did she get her manipulation skills from? Was she trained by her aunt and uncle? How long has she been a part of Theo’s plan to get revenge on the Waynes? We learn none of this before Silver is put on a bus.
Her aunt Tabitha is another good example. Tabby gets the least amount of lines out of all the main characters in season 2. She’s also hypersexualized in a way female characters weren’t in S1. This is especially troubling since she was the only black woman on the show for a while. Her relationship with Barbara is portrayed in a fetishistic manner, lying in stark opposition to the depiction Barb and Renee. Tabby operated most often as a silent hitman for her white brother, when she wasn’t arm candy for her white girlfriend.
And the list goes on from there. Multiple women were fridged to motivate men. Commissioner Essen’s death was the cheapest, and Gertrud Kapelput only showed up to get kidnapped and killed. Kristin Kringle’s was the most alarming. Kristin was an abuse victim whose situation was explored as sensitively as the show could manage in s1. Yet, she was killed to further Ed Nygma’s start of darkness. This, after he creeped on her for the better part of a season with little to no repercussions. Leslie was put on a bus for half a season after her pregnancy was announced. I still don’t know why she was missing for so long, or why the news of her miscarriage was delivered second hand. There was also the strange dip into child abuse, when Alfred slapped Selina Kyle and told her to stay away from Bruce.
What’s a girl to do?
And then we come to season 3. Ivygate continues the trend of subpar treatment for women and girls, choosing sexualization over good characterization and basic decency. This isn’t okay. Women in stories need to exist as their own characters, not motivation for men, or sexy lamps, or tools. Gotham seemed to understand that, in the beginning, but lost its way between seasons.
And that’s the most surprising part. Most mainstream media has issues with sexism, but I find Gotham’s unique because of how suddenly they happened. This show devolved from trying to respect its women and girls, to treating them as eye candy and fridge fodder in the space of a season. What happened? Did the drop in writing quality manifest as sexism for the women characters? Did the show get new writers who were more sexist than the previous ones? What gives?
Maybe Gotham will find its way back to some semblance of respect for its women and girls. Someone will have to let me know, because I won’t be going back to the show until I hear that it does.
Images courtesy of Fox