The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test: Gotham, “A Bitter Pill to Swallow” – Season 2, Episode 9

There were two main storylines in Gotham, “A Bitter Pill to Swallow,” and one involved Penguin and the other involved Gordon.

In Penguin’s storyline, Penguin was nursed back to health by Nygma and Nygma did his best to put Penguin back into a killing mood. In Gordon’s storyline, a hit was placed on Gordon and Gordon was forced to defend himself and his colleagues from an onslaught of professional killers. The result of these storylines? Penguin fell even further into madness and Gordon found it difficult to resist crossing “the line.”

The Bechdel, Russo, and Race Test

“A Bitter Pill to Swallow” passed the Russo test but did not pass the Bechdel or race test.

Gordon confronts a hitman.

There were two LGBTI characters in “A Bitter Pill to Swallow,” and one passed the Russo test and the other did not.

The LGBTI character in “A Bitter Pill to Swallow” who did not pass the Russo test was Barbara, and she did not pass the Russo test because while she was not solely defined by her sexual orientation (e.g., she was also defined as being a coma patient), her removal from the episode would not have significantly affected the plot as she only appeared in the episode (while in a coma) for about 5 seconds and her presence wasn’t necessary to the plot of this episode.

The LGBTI character who did pass the Russo test (thus causing “A Bitter Pill to Swallow” to pass the Russo test) was Tabitha, and she passed the Russo test because she was not solely defined by her sexual orientation (e.g., she was also defined as being a criminal and as being Theo’s sister) and because her removal from the episode would have significantly affected the plot as “A Bitter Pill to Swallow” was largely about how hired killers were trying to murder Gordon and Tabitha was the one who placed a hit on him.

As to the Bechdel and race test, there was a single instance in “A Bitter Pill to Swallow” where women talked to each other (e.g., Tabitha consulted with a woman about putting a hit on Gordon) and non-White individuals talked to each other (e.g., Tabitha told Theo that she had tried to kill Gordon), but because the women who talked to each other did not both have names (plus, men were mentioned in their conversation) and White people were mentioned when Tabitha and Theo talked to each other, the episode did not pass the Bechdel or race test.

*The Bechdel test entails three requirements:
1. It has to have at least two (named) women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

**The Vito Russo test entails three requirements:
1. The show contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and/or transgender
2. The character must not be solely or predominately defined by her sexual orientation, gender identity and/or as being intersex
3.The character must be tied into the plot in such a way that her removal would have a significant effect

***The race or people of color (POC) test has three requirements:
1. It has two people of color in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something other than a White person

****Just because a show passes the Bechdel, Russo and race test does not mean that it is not sexist, heterosexist, racist and/or cissexist, etc. The Bechdel, Russo and race test is only a bare minimum qualifier for the representation of LGBTI individuals, women and people of color in television. The failure to pass these tests also does not identify whether the central character was a woman, a person of color or a LGBTQI individual and it does not dictate the quality of the show.

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