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Why We Shouldn’t Sexualize Fusion Relationships in Steven Universe

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Uniquely among children’s programming, Steven Universe is groundbreakingly queer friendly, and it is easy to understand why adult fans of Steven Universe would want to sexualize the fusion relationships on the show. Combine the use of all female pronouns for Gems with the mechanics of fusion as depicted on the show, a queer couple as canon (Ruby and Sapphire as Garnet), and the dearth of shows depicting healthy queer relationships even among adult programming, and you have a recipe for sexualized fanart. Indeed, there is no shortage of fanart devoted to depicting or discussing the imagined sexual dynamics of Garnet’s relationship and other fusion relationships on the show (after the latest episode, Amedot/Perimethist is gaining in popularity).

I get it. ‘Shipping is a huge part of any fandom, and though it isn’t the only way to ‘ship (one can ‘ship a friendship or a mentor/mentee relationship) the possibility of sexy times is often a huge part of ‘shipping, especially with romantic pairs. I enjoy my fair share of smutty fanart, too (Jareth/Sarah from Labyrinth is my kryptonite); sexy fanart/fanficion is one of the joys of the interwebs. However, within the context of show canon and its message, there are several reasons why it is important to not sexualize fusion relationships.

I didn’t say it would be easy.

We can set aside an obviously non-sexual fusion relationship like Stevonnie because it is a fusion of two pre-pubescent children. I doubt anyone would want to sexualize the relationship as it stands now, though I’m sure there are Stevonnie ‘shippers out there who would love to see some kind of romantic (and potentially sexual) relationship develop as Steven and Connie age into their teen years and adulthood. I’ve avoided searching for any, but I’m sure its there.

On the other hand, while there may be some who sexualize the multi-gem fusions like Sugilite, Sardonyx, and Alexandrite, this is less common in my experience in the fandom. As much as we might want to talk about or fantasize sexy times between Ruby and Sapphire as Garnet, broadly applying a sexual lens for fusion makes both Stevonnie and multi-gem fusions uncomfortably squicky. I doubt even the most ‘ship-happy SU fan would go this far (then again, you never know with the internet).

Let’s grant, then, that not all fusion relationships have a sexual element to them. Some fusions are romantic (Garnet and Rose Quartz), and others are the result of relationships between friends (Stevonnie, Opal, Sardonyx, and Alexandrite) or even enemies (Malachite). The basis for fusion is the synchronization between the gems, or, in human terms, a relationship (“You know that my relationship is stable”—Garnet, “Jail Break,” emphasis mine). So what is wrong with sexualizing the romantic ones? Ruby and Sapphire have obvious romantic feelings for each other.

Nah, they’re just gal pals, right?

Not only do they kiss on screen (“Jail Break” and “Keystone Motel”), the romantic nature of their relationship has been confirmed by co-executive producer Ian Jones-Quarterly and writer/storyboard artist Joe Johnston. Is it appropriate to sexualize their relationship if it is confirmed to be romantic?

I think not, and not for the reasons you might think. First of all, I think it is important to accept what the characters themselves have to say about fusion relationships. Pearl calls Garnet a ‘perfect relationship’ (“Friend Ship”). Garnet, a permanent fusion for all intents and purposes, describes herself as a ‘conversation’ between Ruby and Sapphire (“Jail Break”). She calls Stevonnie an ‘experience’ (“Alone Together”). When talking to Greg about whether or not fusion with Rose was possible for him, Garnet tells him to “Get open, get honest, invent yourselves together. That’s fusion,” (“We Need to Talk”).

Although Garnet is the embodiment of Ruby’s and Sapphire’s romantic love for each other, she describes all fusion in undeniably non-sexual terms. While it is easy to blur the lines between romance and sex, the voices of those who self-describe as asexual ought to warn us against equating romantic feelings with sexual desire.

Second, we have to take into account gem anatomy as it is depicted on the show. Gems do not have bodies as humans do. Their visible forms are projections that they layer over a template that looks remarkably like an artist’s mannequin.

Pearl regenerating in “Steven the Sword Fighter,” Centipeedle regenerating in “Ocean Gem,” and Lapis regenerating in “Mirror Gem.” (Image source)

They actively control this projection when they regenerate from their gem (see “Steven the Sword Fighter” and “Reformed”), and can even change their form if they want to, even when they’re not regenerating (see, e.g., “Cat Fingers”).

Now stick with me, I’m going to make a couple of assumptions and then bring this all back around. Assumption one: most, if not all, gems would have very little understanding of human anatomy, especially anatomy that they cannot see, like genitalia or internal organs. From what we’ve seen on the show, Homeworld Gems look down on humanity and would be therefore uninterested in learning anything about their biology. Despite their alliance with humanity against the Homeworld, none of the Crystal Gems have shown any interest in human biology either. Imitation of outward form would be all that mattered if they wished to ‘blend in’ to their surroundings.

Assumption two: gems most likely do not ‘create’ internal organs or genitalia for themselves since they do not have knowledge of this kind of human anatomy and would have no need to imitate it even if they did. (I believe that Rose probably had to ‘create’ a uterus for herself in order to gestate and give birth to Steven, but that’s a topic for another entry). Join to these assumptions the fact that many gems are mass produced in a kindergarten (plus however the mass produced pearls are created) and it becomes overwhelmingly clear that gems are not sexual beings.

Third, and most importantly in my mind, the sexualization of fusion relationships falls into the trap of overly sexualizing the LGBTQIA community and misses the true message of fusion. Since the 1980s, American media has tended to depict members of the LGBTQIA community as defined by their sexual orientation. Look at what Benihoff and Weiss did to Loras on Game of Thrones: gay character? He can’t be a normal person who was in love with the man who was also his king; no, he must be obsessed with having sex with every man he can get his hands on.

Thus, it makes perfect sense that when people look at Steven Universe they would say, “Oh, they’re all queer? It must be all about sex.” However, this is a wrong, harmful, and derogatory stereotype of the LGBTQIA community. It reduces people to their sexual orientation and completely overlooks those who identify as asexual. Not only is it prejudiced and backward, it completely misses the true message of fusion: that all relationships are founded on consent. Think about it. Garnet is based on a romantic relationship, as is Rainbow Quartz (which may or may not have been primarily romantic on Pearl’s side, we don’t know Rose’s feelings for certain). Sugilite, Sardonyx, Alexandrite, Opal, and Stevonnie? All platonic friendships. Malachite isn’t even based on friendship, as Lapis and Jasper hate each other.

Nevertheless, all of these fusions require two things: consent and communication, two things necessary for a healthy relationship of any kind whether it be a marriage partnership, a friendship, or even a working partnership of enemies. I have heard people say that Jasper forced Lapis to fuse into Malachite (“Jail Break”), but if you watch the episode closely, despite being enemies Jasper still asks Lapis for her “consent” before they begin their fusion dance.

If coercion because she literally has no other choice and is suffering from thousands of years of PTSD and trauma could be called ‘consent’.

While it is also heavily implied that stable fusion requires love and mutuality, this isn’t necessarily romantic love. Sardonyx and Stevonnie are stable fusions built on platonic love and friendship. Moreover, Garnet makes it clear that Lapis’ and Jasper’s hatred for each other will eventually destroy Malachite, and perhaps others, because “a fusion like theirs is unstable, bound together by anger and mistrust. If that bond snaps, their anger will take over, and destroy,” (“Chille Tid”). They were able to create a fusion, but its lack of healthy communication will eventually undo it. The lesson? Stable fusion relationships require trust, communication, and consent.

It is no surprise then, that the greatest abomination of all for Garnet are the Cluster Gems, forced fusion of several gems to create monstrous mutants that lack cohesive form and personality. So visceral is her reaction to seeing them that her anger and sorrow almost cause her to unfuse (“Keeping it Together”). What distinguishes these gems from other fusions? The lack of consent. The implication is clear, consent is necessary for healthy fusion relationships, and, by consequence, any healthy relationship.

Again, I go back to the fact that this is a show that is deeply in tune with the LGBTQIA community, which is focused on the freedom to be oneself and the freedom to love who you love. Garnet embodies this: “I will fight for the place where I’m free, to live together and exist as me” (“Steven Universe Extended Theme”). Overly sexualizing the relationships depicted on this show buys into harmful stereotypes about the LGBTQIA community and perpetuates the notion that being LGBTQIA is about sex rather than about love and freedom of self expression.

One of the most amazing things about Steven Universe, in my mind, is that it seems to purposefully avoid the sexualization of its characters, even the ones in an obviously romantic relationship. This normalizes queer relationships in a way that sexualizing actively undermines. Sidestepping the sexual component makes it easier for audiences to equate a healthy queer relationship with any other healthy relationship on the show. In other words, fusion teaches the audience that a relationship is healthy not based on who is in it (whether queer or not), but based on whether or not the participants are equals that are open and honest in their communication.

This explains why Opal is so unstable, as Pearl and Amethyst have MAJOR communication issues, to say the least.

All this isn’t to say that we can’t create pieces of fanart or fanfiction that depict a sexual dynamic between characters. However, is our responsibility in the fandom to keep these pieces separate from show canon as they can distract from the message of the show, the message that above all, healthy and stable relationships of any kind require consent and communication.


Images Courtesy of Cartoon Network

Bi, she/her. Gretchen is a Managing Editor for the Fandomentals. An unabashed nerdy fangirl and aspiring sci/fi and fantasy author, she has opinions about things like media, representation, and ethics in storytelling.

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[…] nature of relationships is an ongoing theme in Steven Universe with fusion being the prime metaphor. But the show has also tackled one sided interest and the […]

Television

Star Wars Resistance: Episode 11, “Bibo”

Angelina

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Star Wars: Resistance

So…Star Wars: Resistance is back from its winter hiatus! Should we celebrate? Not yet, I’d say, because “Bibo” is more like a filler/breather episode meant to tune the audience in after holiday break. It has nothing substantial to add to series’ lore or to its overarching plot, yet it still manages to entertain and to help us dive back into familiar Colossus atmosphere.

Spoilers ahead!

Recap: Neeku Finds a Pet

So, we’re back at The Colossus, where Synara presents Kaz with a chance to loot a salvaged Clone Wars-era fighter for repair parts. All nice and good, until they find a small, cute but awfully stinky creature stowed away inside the rusty husk. And until Neeku decides this small critter would be his pet from now on.

Actually, Bibo is really cute

A bit of slapstick ensues, as Neeku tries (without any success) to teach his pet some obedience. It turns out the newly christened Bibo can (and actually will, if no one stops him) eat literally anything. Especially if it has something to do with starships.

By the by, Synara has a call from her pirate leader, who informs her about Kaz and Poe’s Resistance affiliation. The call is of course interrupted by Kaz appearing to ask for another repair part…or, rather, to spend some time around Synara. Who masterfully pretends not to see his advances, and I can’t really blame her for that.

They go on a salvage dive together, hoping to find other fighters from the same squadron as the first.

As Bibo continues to wreak small-scale havoc in Yeager’s garage, it turns out Neeku really loves his new pet dearly—so much so he’s ready to leave Yeager’s service if he insists on his “no pets”rule. Neeku’s devotion is so strong, Tam asks to cut Bibo some slack. And even goes on to support Neeku after he loses Bibo in the station’s maze of corridors.

And while Kaz is busy fighting sea sickness and Synara’s too pointed questions about his real identity, a big tentacled monster is leading its way to The Colossus, and of course it’s looking for Neeku’s pet. And, well, we learn the aptly named children from Tehar might be Force-sensitive, as the girl, Eila, turns out to have profetic dreams.

Meaning, she dreamt something like this, poor soul!

All that results in Neeku having to choose between his pet and station’s safety, and of course he makes the right choice. however hard it is for him.

Review: On Caring for Each Other

While the episode doesn’t advance the story in any way, it managed to checklist/remind the viewer of all the plot-relevant details, while telling a cohesive self-contained story.

We have Synara playing an important role in the story, which reminds us she’s the primary Chekhov’s gunwoman of this show. Seeing her really care for the station and really enjoying her new work as a salvager, it’s obvious she will be made to choose between her allegiances very soon. On the one hand she has people who actually care–be it about each other or about common causes–and on the other hand she has her (high enough) place in pirate crew and a lifestyle she’s accustomed to…

I just hope Kaz with his inept wooing wouldn’t do anything with her decision.

Speaking about Kaz, this episode also reminds us both of his strengths and weaknesses. He’s still not good in either social interactions or actually not tripping on things, while still brilliant in flying and able to think and act quickly in a stress situation. Also it’s kinda sweet that he doesn’t really bother Synara with his feelings, trying to do something good for her instead. Well, “trying” is a key word here, but still: seeing a guy not forcing his niceguying down a lady’s throat is always a treat.

Also this episode went a long way to show us Tam Ryvora’s caring and friendly side. Which I really liked, and especially I liked that it was not treated as something special or unusual. She just is really a caring person who would look after her co-workers and help them any way she can. But when those co-workers act as jerks…well, she will call them out on it.

All the plot lines, in the end, converge on the main idea of the episode, which is: to love is to care for those we love. Which is actually quite close to being the idea of the whole series.

Neeku being ready to protect his “smallest friend” even at the whole station’s cost is equally ready to give it back to its mom even though his heart(s) is/are really breaking. Because he sees the critter really is better with his mom, not with him. All the while whole Team Fireball is ready to set aside their discomfort if their friend—Neeku—needs his pet so much. Even Yeager, the one most annoyed at Bibo’s existence, is ready to help Neeku find it.

Because he cares. Because they all care.

Thoughts, Moments, Theory Fuel

  • Neeku harboring so strong feelings for his just-found pet makes sense if we remember he has no close friends and is mostly isolated because of his quirky behaviour.
  • Tam Ryvora calling Yeager out for making such a fuss about Neeku’s pet while never really reacting with due severity on Kaz’s (much more destructive) mistakes was great.
  • The girl from Tehar, Eila, having profetic dreams must be a Chekhov’s gun. I look forward to see how it goes off!
  • Will the tentacled creature return in the series finale, like the wolves and the space whales did? We’ll see!
  • Synara now knows how to set the alarm on.
  • The Are you trying to incite panic? – Yes! Exactly! Everyone needs to panic right now! moment was really funny.

Images courtesy of Disney

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Game of Thrones Season 8 Teaser Really Wants to be Meaningful

Kylie

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2018 was a magical, Throne-less year, even if it officially won its Season 7 Emmy for Outstanding Drama in September. I’ll admit—I may have taken it for granted. Because here we are, less than a fortnight into 2019, and HBO has decided to grace us with the news that the biggest critical darling (for reasons still unexplained) is going to be back on our screens April 14th. April 14th. That’s basically 4 minutes from now.

Of course, HBO didn’t simply tell us the date; no no, we needed a Teaser Trailer of Extreme Significance to accompany it. And this one is…special. Look, I may not have been amazed at the three-second exchange between Dany and Sansa from the Golden Globes teaser, but at least that involved what was obviously an actual clip from the new season! In fairness, it’s not exactly unheard of for season release dates to be dropped in some kind of weird CGI ice and fire video featuring old dialogue. But this one was clearly planned and staged, it features three main actors, and the budget is certainly better than that of “people sit in chairs” from last year. Here, just check it out for yourself:

There’s a little here we can talk about, though I’m guaranteeing you the millions of hot takes that are currently clogging up Twitter will place far too much significance on this. “Oh my god, does that mean the Starks are all going to die?!” Probably not. There’s a reason I picked the Hall of Faces promotional picture for this piece—sometimes showrunners Benioff and Weiss just like to play up the idea that anyone can die, before shrouding Jon in plot armor so thick that he can survive plunging into freezing cold waters in full furs whilst surrounded by the army of the dead without an eye-blink.

They’ll probably be fine.

I do feel like I’m being uncharitable. In concept, this is not a bad teaser. Jon walks by the statue of Lyanna, and we hear a Lyanna quote. Good stuff, seeing as that’s his mom, which I’m assuming Bran will get around to telling him at some point (even if he never passed that on to his sisters). Jon also gets the last walk-by quote when looking at the Sean Bean statue, about how he’s still a Stark since he has the blood. Relevant, I think.

Sansa and Arya, meanwhile, are both shown walking past Cat’s statue with her voice-over, and here’s where my eyes began rolling to the ceiling. For one, it’s a little odd that Cat has a place in the Winterfell crypts at all, but you know…small potatoes. Then, the one Cat quote they picked was her awful, self-flagellating monologue she gave to the walking anachronism. There was a bit more to her character than not being instantly welcoming of the child that bore a significant political risk to her own children! A thing that bothers me too is that Sansa and Arya are shown in association with this quote. I guess they’re both girls, so manly, slow-clapping Ned couldn’t possibly have said something that stuck to them. But Cat’s quote had diddly squat to do with them (these are actually all about Jon), and it’s only going to further push the ridiculous notion that Sansa is somehow struggling with her loyalty and support of Jon. Hopefully Arya’s presence neutralizes that reading a bit, but I know this fandom pretty well.

Finally, the Starks meet up together in the crypts—which is nice and reminds me of that time Sansa, Bran, and Arya had happy bonding and trial-planning times together completely off-screen—only to see statues of themselves! Lost twist ending confirmed! This is purgatory!

Or, I don’t know, something about danger and stakes and “no one is safe on this show” (except everyone who clearly is).

Then the trailer just gets unabashedly Weathertop-esque as what’s likely to be the Army of the Dead approach. Maybe Uncle Benjen can be a last-minute Strider for the third time in a row. But you know, it’s more or less the same thing as Cheryl‘s minty-fresh breath from that trailer for Season 7. There’s a bigger threat, and every teaser is going to end with it.

All in all, I’m not particularly over or under-whelmed. This was a very expected trailer, and probably a long day for Sophie Turner, Kit Harrington, and Maisie Williams. I love that Bran was excluded for ~reasons~ that I’m sure are as difficult to explain as his three-eyed crow nature. But frankly, can we take that alone as proof that Season 8 is not, in any way, going to have the “same ending” as A Song of Ice and Fire? This show is going to do what it wants, as it sees creatively fit to do so. Which is why any “meaning” to be found in it falls flat. It’s conceptually fine and technically lovely. But as has been the case, if a plot point needs to happen, even for something like a Stark death, it just will. If they need to randomly prosper instead, then they will.

And now we have only three months to prepare ourselves for the millions of articles on why that makes for the most compelling TV possible.


Media courtesy of HBO

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It’s the Beginning of the End for Gotham

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Gotham’s final season is here. The city connections to the outside world have been sundered. The land carved up by gangs. The first moments of episode one open more than a year after the city has been turned into ‘No Man’s Land’. The Riddler and Penguin putting on their best threads join Jim, Harvey and the rest of the GCPD in an all-out gun battle.

This is a just glimpse into the future, as we’re taken back to day 81. The government is offering no help to Jim.  When the bridges to the city blew, not everyone had been evacuated. The GCPD took in any civilians who didn’t escape. With people to protect and not enough food or ammo to do that they’re running out of options quickly.

Meanwhile, everyone else has been adjusting to life in the new Gotham. Penguin has made City Hall his seat of power and with a factory in his area is the only person producing more bullets. The Siren’s Club has become a safe haven for women, with men only allowed in if they bring information of worth to Barbara. Scarecrow, Firefly, Mr. Freeze, Zsasz and some other gangs have all claimed their own territories. The Riddler is alive and has been suffering from blackouts in his memory.  He’s sure it’s the softer Ed who’s been taking control again. Still unaccounted for are Hugo Strange, Lee Thompkins and the enigma that is Jeremiah Valeska.

Selina wasn’t evacuated because of the bombs. Instead, she’s been at a clinic in the zone protected by the GCPD, paralyzed after her gunshot.  Bruce and Alfred have been at her side. Even with surgery, Selina has no chance to walk again. For someone like her, defined by her independence and mobility, its soul-crushing. So much so she’s willing to kill herself. One nurse whispers to Bruce that doctors aren’t going to help Selina, but ‘the Witch’ can.

Scarecrow and his gang raid the GCPD and clinic for food and medicine, drastically cutting down their rations. With supplies in desperate need, Bruce makes his own arrangements for a drop. But the helicopter is a huge signal flare for everyone in the city. Within moments of entering the city limits, it’s shot down by an RPG. Penguin and his gang try to claim the supplies, but Tabitha still devastated over Oswald killing Butch shows up, looking for revenge. Oswald, however, turns her own blade back on her, stabbing her in the heart.

Jim and the GCPD are also trying to take the supplies. Bruce, having made his own way there, steals bullets from Penguin’s men giving the GCPD the extra firepower they need to turn the fight in their favour. They claim the supplies, buying themselves a few more weeks’ worth of time.

Fresh from the victory, Jim gets some more good news, in the form of a mysterious radio message from the mainland. They don’t say much beyond they are allies and help will be coming soon. The moment is uncut when he finds graffiti, a message from Jeremiah, on his desk.

Jim is still arguing with the government on the mainland as the second episode begins. He doesn’t have time to listen to their bureaucracy because he has to save kids from enslavement. After learning about a gang using kids for free labour, he goes to Barbara for transport. She’s raw after losing Tabitha, but she still gives Jim the vehicles he needs.

Their rescue goes well, until one of the vehicles gets a flat tire in the crossfire, forcing Jim, Harvey and three kids to escape on foot. They find refuge in an abandoned hotel. Their rest doesn’t last long when Jim and Harvey encounter a child and a strange masked woman, (aka Mother and Orphan who were teased in the season four finale). The streets aren’t safer since there’s a bounty on Jim’s head. Just when it seems like Jim and Harvey are outgunned, Barbara rides in on a four-wheeler like a vicious angle of death. Her good deeds aren’t out of the goodness of her heart. She’ll need allies if she’s going to take Penguin down. She wants Jim to be one of those allies.

The Riddler hasn’t figured out to stop his other half from taking over. His nightly escapades this time included kidnapping a biker. The Riddler beats the information his alter ego wanted from the biker the night before. The information, the location of the gang’s headquarters, leads Ed to find the gang leader slaughtered with the blame pointing to Penguin. He’s not sure what his alter ego end goal is yet, but it seems like he’s trying to start a gang war.

Meanwhile, Bruce, following the lead on ‘the witch’ finds her being guarded by men who are waiting on backup to kill this witch. The Witch is actually Ivy, who’s been residing in a park since the city was cut off from the world. Bruce convinces the men to let him talk to ‘the Witch’ with a lie about a missing brother.

He lets Ivy out and she kills the men, threatening to do the same to Bruce. He reveals he needs help for Selina. She’s reluctant to help at first. The last time she’d seen Selina, she’s destroyed the Lazarus water Ivy was using to enhance her plants. But Bruce convinces her to help. She gives him a seed that should heal Selina, but, she warns that taking it could change Selina.

He returns to the clinic. The seed sends Selina into a shock, but hours later she’s walking again. But, as Bruce hugs her, her eyes shift colour and shape to become more catlike.

Review

Two episodes in, the final season is gearing up for an explosive ending. Gotham turned into this empty war zone takes the city to new lows. Gotham, both setting and show have always been defined by the criminals. ‘No Man’s Land’ creates the perfect opportunity for those criminals to wreak havoc to the full. But also creates the ideal conditions to give birth to the hero the city needs. Be that Bruce, or Jim, both men have grown into their roles as the city’s protectors. For Jim, that means being the face the people trust and respect. For Bruce, it’s being the one who works in the shadows without need or want for praise.

As for the criminals, the tease of the Riddler and Penguin months down the line is tantalizing. What draws them all together again? Jeremiah’s tease, though not as substantial still leaves one wanting more. Losing Tabitha was a devastating blow to establish to the stakes for the season. Gotham does have a tendency to bring characters back to life so I hope that tradition carries on at least one more time. Her death has pushed Barbara into action. Who’s to say where her character will stand when the smoke finally clears. She’s the one character I’m most curious to see since she’s the one major player in Gotham who doesn’t have a major legacy in the comics. I’m glad Selina’s recovery wasn’t drawn out. It was heart-breaking to see her so depressed and broken. But now she can join the final fight, as a fully realized Catwoman.

Mother and Orphan, on the other hand, didn’t have much of a presence. They were there and then the plot moved on. It seemed like it was going to be a compelling start to the characters, with a flash of Mother in the background of a shot that would make most horror movies jealous. It turned out to be underwhelming as Jim and Harvey escape before the pair could truly feel threatening.

But, there are still many things lurking the depths of Gotham, waiting for their moment to strike. These final episodes promise to be filling with new faces and old favourites as the series moves to its final curtain call.


Images courtesy of Fox

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