This Gotham review contains spoilers.
Gotham Season 2, Episode 16
Thematically, “Prisoners” is one of the most cohesive Gothamepisodes this season. It is a recommitment to the cause for both Jim and Oswald. For Jim, it is a recommitment to the anti-corruption heroic path. For Oswald, it is presumably a re-commitment to revenge and villainy.
Gotham‘s best episodes are the ones that narrow this show’s too-ambitious scope, something its second season has done infinitely better than its first. This technique was on full display in tonight’s episode, allowing us to indulge in the finer points of Jim’s incarceration and Penguin’s brief period of familial happiness. In both cases, the viewer knows it cannot last.
In Gordon’s case, though the character may have seriously lost his way, this show still seems to believe the city’s salvation lies in his bloody, incompetent hands. “Prisoners” was Gotham‘svalient attempt to negotiate a reconciliation between Gordon and the viewer. Maybe it worked for some. After all, Gothampulled out all of the stops: Gordon is repeatedly beat up. He is up against a corrupt, sociopathic warden. He loses his unborn child. He loses Lee. He loses new friend/plot device/sacrificial lamb Puck just moments after they make their daring escape from Blackgate.
But, for me, it felt like a lazy attempt to make Gordon into the hero this show wants him to be by having all of the characters we do like literally tell Gordon (and us) repeatedly that he is the hero of this story. Bullock, the man who doesn’t believe in anything anymore, believes in Jim. And Puck, the boy who believes in everything, believes in Jim the most.
Here, Puck is a stand-in for the dream Gothamviewer, a cipher for how we should all feel about Gordon: that he is Gotham’s one and only hope. That it is one good man against the big, bad world. Sorry, Gotham, I’m not buying it. It’s not enough to populate this show with sociopaths that make Jim seem downright heroic in comparison. My bar is set higher. If you want us to believe that Jim has a moral compass unlike many of the characters on this show, then I am going to hold him to a higher standard.
This show treats Gordon like he’s Batman because it can’t treat its teen Batman like he’s Batman. But Gordon cannot be Batman. He works within and is (supposed to be) accountable to a system. Jim may not be in jail for the right murder, but he has murdered people. “Prisoners” really wants us to forget that, but I have a long memory, and Gothamis going to have to try a hell of a lot harder to convince me that Jim is a character worth rooting for. (I still love you, Ben McKenzie.)
That’s not to say I didn’t like this episode. Gotham,against all odds, continues to somehow be not-boring. More than that, it’s absurdity is somewhat endearing if you’re capable of suspending disbelief. Penguin continues to be The Little Character That Could. Though Penguin has done far worse than Gordon, he has also taken responsibility for his actions. After Arkham, he seems to genuinely regret having taken them. And, even before that, his cruel actions had consistent, relatable (if not justifiable) motives.
It’s downright tragic to watch Penguin find a home, family, and acceptance knowing that it cannot last. The absurdity of the Van Dahl’s secluded Gothic existence is hard to swallow, but made so much easier by the power of the actors’ performances. Paul Reubens is perfectly cast as Elijah, Oswald’s odd, yet loving father. Melinda Clarke is devilishly delightful as always in another conniving maternal role. Presumably, Elijah’s untimely death will set Oswald back onto the path of being Penguin.
Ultimately, “Prisoners” was a placeholder for many of the larger storylines of the season. We only briefly saw Ed. We didn’t check in with Arkham or the recently-awoken Barbara at all. Poor Lee is such a non-character that, when something as affecting as the loss of her baby happens, it happens off-screen and is told to Jim by a third character. For Gotham,Lee works just as well as a picture-prop as she does a corporeal person when filling her main role on the show: to motivate Gordon.
Falcone’s appearance was a jarring, but ultimately welcome surprise. I would have preferred to see a character who has been part of season 2 in the slightest to play a role here. There are so many characters to choose from. (Alfred, for one, must be free given that his main job of cutting the crusts off of Bruce’s afternoon sandwiches has been temporarily suspended.) The season 1 villain’s reappearance did serve as a reminder for how annoyingly principled Jim used to be, perhaps the most effective (and subtle, might I note) evidence that Jim could eventually (with a lot of work) become the character this show so badly wants him to be.