And then there were two.
We had ourselves a double feature this last week, and both hit really hard! Doctor Who and Gotham not only pushed the envelope in emotional weight and intricate plots, but they also both delivered pretty solid victories for the villains. Doomsday is unleashed! And while Gotham is shoving is towards a terrifying season finale, Doctor Who is still only halfway through its season! Very good, very well done, both of them! 🙂
10.07 “The Pyramid at the End of the World”
Sometimes we just get a perfectly descriptive title, like “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” which featured dinosaurs on a spaceship. Or “The Waters of Mars,” which featured the waters of mars. “The Pyramid at the End of the World” features… the pyramid at the end of the world.
Not “the end” as in the end of a string or the ends of the world. “The end” as in, the end of the story, the end of an empire, the end of a life… the end of the world. That one moment which is its ending, and as it is ending, there appears the pyramid.
Bill is the first of our heroes to learn of the pyramid. Her real-life date with Penny is almost as jinxed as the simulated version was. She was still utterly blocked, but I’d say the Director General of the UN, and his guards, coming to talk to her is slightly less bad than the Pope materializing in her bedroom. Said Director dismisses her date and asks Bill for help locating the Doctor, as an emergency situation has arisen. She’s briefed on the way to bring him in.
In a far, distant corner of the world, one that happens to intersect in territories held by the Russian, Chinese, and American-dominated UN forces, a five-thousand-year-old pyramid has suddenly appeared. It’s not entirely unlike the Tardis in that respect, but much bigger on the outside, and landing something so sizable smack dab between three of the most formidable armies in the world sort of demands attention from the world’s leaders, ya know? So, they invoke the crisis protocol that makes the Doctor the President of the Earth, except they needed to find him first, thus the invasion of Bill’s date.
Last episode established how the Doctor is dealing with his blindness, by using glasses that psychically transmit data to him, and Nardole’s verbal guidance. But even when he could see, he could still be pretty oblivious. He’s consumed with the dire warning he received from his simulated self, playing guitar and talking to himself, his version of “meditating,” his words as dark as his thoughts. How can he beat the monks his shadow self met when they’ve been able to run countless simulations with himself included in them?
He’s just considering how “the end” has always already begun, in some dark, unseen corner, when Bill breaks him out of his reverie. The UN took the Tardis straight out of his office – enlarging the windows just a bit – because this is an emergency, they need him, and they can’t afford to take no for an answer. So, off to the pyramid he goes in company of Bill, Nardole, and the UN Director. The crisis is here and now and needs his immediate attention.
He’s the first to approach the pyramid, alone, with Nardole narrating, and he is met by one of the monks. The monk is quite certain that their conquest is inevitable and immediate, and, even more, that they will be invited, something the Doctor can’t quite believe. With everything going on, the Doctor feels it prudent to get all three military leaders on the same page, so he scoops them up in the Tardis for a mandatory meeting. Hey, the UN did it to him, didn’t they?
The most obvious thing to do is attack the pyramid. Nardole disagrees, but the Doctor approves it. They probably won’t make a dent, but a show of unity might make the monks reconsider. I imagine it’s also better for them to attack together, instead of any possible trigger-pulling fear and confusion that could result from either military acting with independent aggression. So, they coordinate, advance… and don’t even get a shot off before every weapon is neutralized with careful precision and the soldiers are removed from their vehicles.
That’s some powerful psychological warfare there, waving aside all three simultaneous attacks without taking a life or even doing any damage. That level of a controlled response doesn’t scream, but quietly whispers, in the low deadly confidence that springs from incontrovertible truth, “We are so far above you that we don’t need to harm any of you.” And then they actually say, “We are ready to talk.” In other words, “Come, helpless ones, and talk. Now.”
Interestingly, the monks appear to be like corpses, but this is a form they took to resemble the humans, who are all corpses to them. Rather telling, that.
So, they go in. What choice do they have, eh?
The delegation party enters, consisting of three military leaders, the Director, their guards, and the Doctor’s trio. The monks say that they do not intend to conquer by force. That is very tricky and ultimately ineffective, to rule through force and fear. They will be invited in, they will take control with humanity’s consent, as represented by the “consent” of those humans who have power. The Doctor declares that such would be the last free choice any human ever made, but the monks weight their terms with the truth of humanity’s impending destruction.
Events are already in motion, the human race will die by its own hands, along with everything else that lives, and the only way it can be stopped is if the monks stop it, which they will only do after they have “consent.” As proof, they show the delegation what their simulations show them: the entire world, devoid of life within one year.
Faced with such horror, the Director quickly consents, but the consent is “impure.” It’s not what the monks want. He is reacting out of fear, and that will not give the monks what they want. The Director is instantly turned to ash on the spot.
So, brute force is useless, and becoming subservient out of fear doesn’t work either. And just to add the psychological pressure, the monks turn every clock in the world into a Doomsday Clock, measuring the approach of the world’s ending.
The Doctor, however, won’t let the monks conquer the world, and he won’t let it end. The world’s been ending before, but he has stopped it, countless times.
Uphill battle, though.
Back in their command post, everyone is trying like mad to figure out the monks’ riddle. Of course the obvious solution is war, incredible as it might seem, and the commanders nip that in the bud by declaring, among themselves, that they will not fight each other even if ordered to. It’s a magnificent, historic moment… and has absolutely no effect whatsoever on the countdown.
War, fear, even peace is useless at the end of the world.
The Doctor then realizes: the pyramid is a distraction. The failure of peace is proof that it’s not what they do there that will destroy the world. It’s something else, happening somewhere else, right at that exact moment. This is why the monks chose to appear here and now, out of all the times and places they could appear in history, because something is already happening, and this is the moment the end begins. The possibility of war is just a distraction, a grand misdirection, which means it’s something else entirely.
So, the Doctor puts everything “secret” on the internet and gets his impromptu team searching for possibilities. What else could destroy all life? Something that can destroy them all and everything they need to survive. War is off the table, so what’s next? Not something big like nuclear war, but something small, like bacteria. A plague. Ah, but plagues can’t simply wipe everything out. They’re too limited by nature, which means this is something man-made, but even biological warfare destroy everything. It’s not deliberate, then… it’s a mistake!
Someone somewhere is committing the most critical and destructive blunder in the history of mankind!
Still, even narrowing things down, there are still hundred of possibilities, and no time to go through them all. So, the commanders, people who know that sometimes they have to admit defeat in order to live to fight another day, contemplate surrendering to the monks in exchange for stopping whatever is happening. The Doctor begs them to reconsider, and they do hold back as long as they dare, but in the end they go back to the pyramid, Bill in tow to keep an eye on things.
While all of this is happening, a much simpler, more mundane series of events if happening elsewhere. A research scientist happens to break her glasses purely by accident, so the task of directing the machines in mixing a chemical compound falls to her coworker, who is exhausted from the previous night’s activities. A single misplaced decimal point adds ten times the specified amount of a specific enzyme to chemical mixture.
Then, as they are examining the plants they are experimenting with, same man takes his hazmat helmet off, just in time for them to witness all of the plants turn to ash-colored mush. They rush back out to their lab, through the doors that function to contain things in the experimental room. Where the woman remained safety-conscious, complete with helmet and closing the doors behind her, the man, quickly collecting a sample of the ash-mush, runs out without either putting his helmet back on or closing the doors behind him.
They discover that bacteria are actually tearing the plants apart on the cellular level, and rapidly. Just as the woman is talking emergency containment, because this must not enter the atmosphere, no matter the cost, her coworker falls over and becomes mush. He was exposed already, and died soon after. She notices the open door too late. Containment is impossible. And she notices the misplaced decimal point too late.
The world is going to end over a misplaced decimal, placed by a too-tired scientist, in a research lab, because she broke her glasses.
The great door of fate swings on very small hinges indeed.
At this critical moment, the Doctor arrives.
Though his search has not narrowed the field to anything precise, it has been narrowed to something he can manipulate. Whatever is happening, he reasons, the monks are keeping tabs on it. As any such facility as this would have security cameras, the simplest method would be to hack the cameras and watch. Nardole uses the Tardis to hack all the security cameras in all the facilities in question and turn them off. Of course the monks turn them back on, but only in the one critical facility. And with one genius move, he’s finally caught up, the monks are no longer ahead of the Doctor… right?
Well, first there’s the nature of the crisis. It occurs to be that designing a facility that deals with biological hazards to be automatically and irreversibly vented on a schedule is not the most intelligent of ideas, so the Doctor is still racing the clock.
As the commanders become aware of the situation, they make the call to surrender to the monks. Every moment counts, and they have every human being’s life in their hands, so they do what they believe they must, and as they’ve already seen the Director die, one cannot really fault their courage either. But it’s no use. Surrendering now in order to stay alive, that is strategy, and strategy is not consent. All three of them die and become ash as well, leaving Bill the only human left in the pyramid, and she turns and flees for her life.
The Doctor, of course, manages to come up with a solution. Basic sterilization protocol: burn it with fire! The bacteria are producing ethanol, which the Doctor will set a spark to with an improvised incendiary, burning the entire lab and all the world-ending bacteria. His new Doctor friend, Erica, I think it was, helps him set it up and evacuates. The Doctor is not long behind her, and sets the clock for two minutes. He goes for the exit, but finds it jammed. Erica can’t seem to open it on her end either, so she gives him the code to enter in the lock.
…but the Doctor is blind.
He can’t see the numbers. Erica can’t see the combination mechanism from her side. Nardole, acting as the Doctor’s eyes, was exposed to the bacteria, and now lies unconscious and possibly dying or dead in the Tardis, unable to help. The Doctor is trapped, and they can’t delay the explosion. The Doctor has saved the world from the bacteria, but he’s doomed to die in the act.
And that is the truth of this moment that the monks have chosen. It’s not just some world-ending crisis, but one which is occurring while the Doctor is impaired. He dies, and the world loses its single best protector. The world ends anyway, quite likely within the next year.
It’s the ultimate Catch-22, and one the Doctor didn’t even realize he’d set himself up for.
With his last moments, he speaks to Bill, confessing his blindness, which he was far too afraid to do earlier. He’s meaning to say good-bye, but Bill sees a solution: the monks. She may not have surrendered the world for anything less, but for him, she will take any risk. The world needs him. And the monks have already established that she represents a power greater than the UN Director or the commanders of the three most powerful military powers in the world, greater than any other power: she represents the Doctor. She has power. She can “consent.”
Consent. That is the critical word. It must be voluntary and complete, allowing help to be given and knowing she will help her helpers. Not fear, not strategy, but love. That is what allows “the link to be formed.” Begging for ones life or a calculated surrender, these are not rooted in love. Love is what makes one beg their worst enemies for help, ready to do anything, pay any price, and be grateful for it.
I’m reminded of something from one of the Batman stories I’ve read. The Joker, Batman’s worst enemy, with incalculable death and torment to his credit, saves a young woman on nothing more than a whim. For all the damage he does, the girl’s mother now suddenly approves of the Joker, publicly. That’s the key. We may begrudge an enemy the terrible price of our own survival, but if they save our dearest loved one instead, then we are willing to take their side. We are willing to truly accept them, and love them, no matter what.
In similar fashion, Bill is willing to “consent,” truly, and it’s an act of love. That’s what “consent” is, really. I am most immediately reminded of acts of intimacy, to put it delicately, where one is either entirely willing or not. The monks can’t settle for anything less than wholehearted consent to what they intend to do to humanity. And that is what Bill gives them, in exchange for restoring the Doctor’s sight.
The Doctor sees, and he gets out before the inferno consumes him.
But the price is steep indeed. As Bill begs him to be sure to get her planet back for her, the monks mock him. They have won. He can see again, and what he will see is their world.
Yeah, I’d say the situation has just become desperate enough for the Doctor to ask Missy for help. It’s certainly mad enough, where it’s an act of love, not war, that dooms the world. Might as well call on the foremost expert in upending order and sowing chaos. For once, I’m not sure even she could make things worse.
3.20 “Pretty Hate Machine”
Well that was spectacularly terrible, wasn’t it? Seriously, crap hit a fan that sent it everywhere at mach speeds.
The least terrible stage, for once, was the criminal underworld.
Amid the growing friction between Barbara and Tabitha, Riddler manages to convince the both of them and Butch that Penguin is coming for all of them with an army of freaks behind him, so they hunt him rather aggressively. Effective, but not entirely necessary, as Penguin finds himself without his freaks. Freeze and Firefly figured that their new boss was gone for good, which is a fair assumption to make when one has been abducted by the secret organization that has ruled Gotham for centuries, so they left before he returned. So, Penguin is facing all of his enemies at once with only Ivy at his back, instead of a small army.
Which leads them to Selina, whom they hope can at least locate Firefly. Butch and Riddler come crashing in, and get temporarily locked in as Penguin activates the safe house’s security, long enough for him and Ivy to escape. Selina, the first to flee, is caught by Tabitha and brought to Barbara. In exchange for money and a promise not to hurt Ivy, she quickly and easily gives Penguin up. But just as the whole gang comes for him, so does none other than Fish Mooney. She and her armed thugs simply take Penguin away, leaving the fracturing gang utterly jilted.
Penguin has an interesting rant about honor among thieves just before he’s caught. He remembers how the previous generation of crime lords – Falcone, Marone, Fish, etc. – did terrible, terrifying things, but they still had a code. They still valued loyalty, and they were loyal to their own. That’s somewhat true, I suppose, but they were also plenty duplicitous and back-stabbing as well. What really sets them apart from the current three-ring circus that is Barbara’s regime is how they were relatively sane and disciplined, rather than sadistic psychopaths. They carried themselves with dignity and pride, and that encouraged both respect and fear. Barbara, Butch, Tabitha, Riddler, all of them are more akin to squabbling children, always going, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” Even Penguin, though he’s cut above the rest.
Moving over to Bruce’s corner of the story, he stands beside the mysterious leader of the Court of Owls as judgment is passed. The sentence is passed that Gotham must fall, and thus shall Bruce rise as its new protector. But first, sentence is passed on the Court’s ruling council. The rest of the Court may have survived, but the Council did not. For their decision to murder Thomas Wayne three years ago, and for the simultaneous murder of his wife Martha, the Court is sentenced to death. Even as the Court stands resolutely by their decision, the leader gives the order, and the Court’s own Talons massacre them almost before they even guess what is happening.
One detail: Bruce was supposed to give the order, but he hesitated. He did not give the order.
This does not please the head Owl, but he believes Bruce will have another chance. In particular, he intends for Bruce himself to press the trigger detonating the Tetch virus bomb. Which, that came a couple episodes sooner than expected. I thought it would be in the season finale, but I guess not. Moving on.
Having successfully tested the dispersion device, the Court, or what’s left of it in the form of Bruce and the leader, have a much bigger version, fully-loaded and full-armed by Hugo Strange, ready to deploy. The blast radius is going to be huge, instantly plunging the heart of Gotham into rampaging insanity. It’s a destruction that will devastate the city more than anything we’ve yet seen, more than crime wars, more than murderous freaks, more than the madness of Jerome. And as Bruce is to rise in the wake of this chaos as a dark and vengeful lord of the city, it shall be his hand which initiates it. This is his destiny, declares the head Owl.
Alfred, with assistance from the GCPD, is hot on their heels the entire way. First they find the massacre, and learn that Bruce is not behaving like his usual self. Then they catch up just as Bruce, the leader, and the Talons are leaving with the bomb, where Alfred sees that Bruce really isn’t himself right now. He’s been brainwashed and left bereft of his humanity, which Strange finds utterly fascinating, and everyone sane finds properly horrifying. Alfred can’t stop them from leaving, but Strange is in custody, and Bullock gives Alfred free rein in that interrgation.
Strange, ever one to preserve himself, is persuaded by simple expedient of threatening to drop him off the side of a building, and the promise of being allowed to escape if he talks. So he talks. Bruce and the Owl have gone to Wayne Enterprises to watch the havoc, which will be unleashed at 5 PM. The location and timing, the middle of rush hour, clue the cops in that the bomb is at a central train station, very densely populated at 5, so every unit goes to evacuate the place and find the bomb, but time is critically short.
As Bruce and the Owl look down on the city, the Owl is looking so very proud. He lets slip that there is someone else, someone he wants Bruce to find, “whose vision single Bruce out” for this destiny: the Demon’s Head. Ra’s al’Ghul anyone?
But that comes after their impending victory, which Alfred interrupts. The Owl remains confident, and is therefore confused as Bruce hesitates for a second time, quickly becoming agitated. After all, he’s stripped Bruce of his emotions, hasn’t he? He should do everything the Owl tells him to, right? Strange himself verified that Bruce’s mind was not his own, and that took only a glance for Strange to see. Still, for all their intellect and insight, neither man sees everything. They don’t see the words which linger deep in Bruce’s mind even when his emotions, and his self, have been taken from him.
“I will not kill.”
It transcends what Bruce feels. It is his commitment. It is a choice he made in direct contradiction to what he felt, the rage that threatened to consume him when he had Jerome at his mercy. For all that the Owl has taken from him, he hasn’t quite managed to take everything.
So he stands, needing only to speak a word or press a button, to pass judgment, to kill people… and he doesn’t.
Alfred is right: Bruce’s mind is stronger than Strange or the Owl know. No matter how it has been violated, it’s not entirely gone just yet.
Unfortunately, the Owl is so eager that he presses the switch in Bruce’s hand himself. Alfred shoots the man dead, but too late. The countdown begins. And Bruce goes into a rabid rage, attacking Alfred, needing officers to restrain him.
Still, for all this, the heroes might still have succeeded if not for one little thing.
As I feared, the straw that breaks the camel’s back: Leslie Thompkins.
Having injected herself with the Tetch virus, Lee’s inner darkness immediately comes out in full, considerable force, and what a darkness it is.
Barnes’ anger, Mario’s jealousy, and now the darkness of Thompkins, the first infected woman, is desire. Typical. Wrath, envy, and the woman is lust.
Specifically, her desire for Gordon. Whatever her true attraction to him was based on – and if I am completely honest, I never understood their initial coupling up – she is now obsessed with Jim’s darkness. She likes it, and wants it. She intends for them to be together, truly, but for that, small detail: he needs to be exposed to the darkness as well. In her mind, he needs to be injected with the darkness as well, but knows she can’t inject him herself. He needs to choose it.
To that end, she buries him alive. She very carefully carves away his every possible hope of survival. She herself goes to the GCPD to not only gloat about how she is going to show them who their hero really is, but also to dangle the chance of rescue in front of Gordon’s nose and crush before his eyes. The radio she uses to communicate with Gordon gives Bullock and the others a lead, narrowing the search very quickly, but it’s still too much territory to cover, and the GCPD is already spread too thin in the middle of an imminent crisis.
Bullock has faith in Gordon, knowing he would never willingly take the virus. That’s why Leslie had to go to all this trouble, to force Gordon to choose between either dying in the dark, or becoming a super-strong monster capable of escaping the buried coffin. It’s either take the virus, or die. And no one could really fault Gordon for saving himself. As the time runs out, Bullock is even telling him to do so: take the virus and live and they’ll figure something out.
But Gordon refuses. If survival means becoming a monster, he chooses to die instead.
Then Alfred’s information, pried from Strange, reaches Bullock and the cops, and therefore Gordon, who is still working the case even as his air gets very, very thin. He is literally defending others with his very last breath. He figures out, from what Catherine said last episode about a clock running out, that the bomb might be in the train station’s clock tower. That’s as good a place as any for it, where it can remain hidden and overlooked in plain sight. He’s just trying to tell Bullock when the radio’s battery dies. And he is left making an entirely different choice. Dying is one thing, but doing so when he could save others?
Gordon won’t become a monster to save himself, but we’ve already seen him be one to save others.
He injects himself, and bursts out of the coffin, racing to the station, sort of bulling straight through an officer on his way in, overcoming the Talon guarding the bomb with ease, and trying to disarm it. Whatever his darkness, he’s still fighting the good fight, at least for the moment. The countdown begins as events unfold in Wayne Tower, but Gordon keeps going, working on the bomb. He has only half a minute to figure out how the bomb works and disarm it, but if anyone could do that, it’s Gordon.
And then the final straw falls again. Lee escapes police custody and hits Gordon from behind, eating up what precious little time he had to work with. She grins, knowing that he is like her now, and not at all minding everyone else who will be infected. She walks away, leaving him just enough time to get to his feet…
…and the bomb goes off.
The red smoke that is the Tetch virus floods the station, spills out into the streets, shoots up into the sky in a crimson, bloody plume waving high in the wind.
Gordon is infected. Bruce is crazy. And for all that the Court has been brought low into the ground, judgment has been passed on the entire city, guilty and innocent alike.
As I said: spectacularly terrible.