THE BLOG
12/03/2014 01:51 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2015

Lesbian Romance on Gotham

The world of comics has always been traditionally reserved for men. It is a sphere in which formerly emasculated or traumatized, miniscule, brainy men are transformed into formidable fighters, pillars of justice, conquering heroes and true Nietzschean ubermenschen. It is a masculine medium inhabited predominantly by male protagonists with whom the audience is meant to identify. Women occupy the fringes of the male characters' existences -- either as doe-eyed love interests, seductive temptresses, conspiratory villainesses or reverential, dutiful helpers (or some combination). As a general rule, women are not self-enacting agents of action.

The increasing popularity of comic-book adaptations and the success of the Batman franchise have garnered the latest installment of Batman-oriented entertainment: the new show Gotham (which airs Mondays at 8 p.m. EST on Fox). The eponymous city where Batman calls home is reformulated with Bruce Wayne (pre-Batman) as a young teenager. The pilot's impetus begins with the catalyst of him witnessing his parents' brutal murder (which subsequently propels him into becoming his Batman-persona vigilante). Also starring as a younger version of himself is (future Police Commissioner) Jim Gordon, paired with diametric opposite Harvey Bullock in a classic dynamic of noble, well-intentioned rookie and jaded, misanthropic veteran (respectively). Gordon's girlfriend (his future wife) Barbara Kean is a central female character, as is crime kingpin -- or should I say queenpin -- Fish Mooney (played with the deft, delectable slinkiness of Jada Pinkett Smith). Additional female characters include Selina Kyle and Major Crimes Division detective Renee Montoya.

The most interesting element is the addition of a romantic relationship between Renee Montoya and Barbara Kean. It's revealed early on that they were together for a year, before Barbara met Jim Gordon. This development creates a bisexual love triangle between Barbara and her two suitors Montoya and Gordon, each vying for her heart. Gordon's new partner Harvey Bullock is complicit with Fish Mooney, which forces Gordon's involvement in the shady practices and in turn causes him to lie to Barbara. This drives a wedge between Gordon and Barbara, further deepened by Montoya's investigation of him when she's alerted to his illegal involvement. It follows, thus, that Montoya is presented as an antagonist. Although she is technically "one of the good guys," she's first introduced (icily, might I add) as professional and romantic rival to central protagonist Gordon. She tries to usurp the Wayne murder case and acts as Internal Affairs in investigating fellow cops. On the one hand, I applaud the inclusiveness of same-sex relationships as depicted on TV. On the other hand, it is obvious that Barbara and Gordon are "supposed" to be together; Montoya is presented as a complication and an obstacle to be overcome.

Montoya is suggested as having a history of drug/alcohol addiction, which was the reason for her and Barbara's break-up and possibly Barbara's own drug/alcohol addiction as well. This correlation between drug/alcohol abuse and lesbianism is a little troubling. Barbara and Montoya's relationship is inextricably linked to pathology, and it follows that their association with only inevitably lead to destruction. Indeed, when they are shown in bed together (having just been reunited after a falling-out between Barbara and Gordon), a large, empty bottle of wine and empty wine glasses are featured prominently beside their entwined bodies, cementing the parallel visually in the very mise-en-scene. Moreover, Montoya tries to chip away at Barbara's trust and confidence in Gordon. In one scene, Montoya tells Barbara, "I don't want you with that man" [italics mine]. Gender is thus highlighted and made salient; it becomes an issue of sexual identity and politics. The audience is subtly guided into rooting for Gordon and against Montoya. While the same-sex romance aspect is perhaps indicative of a greater progressive trend towards LGBT inclusion in the media and entertainment, it's still primarily presented as a side-route -- a temporary foray in sexual experimentation and an aberration from the "true," permanent, paramount, heteronormative patriarchal paradigm.