Gotham: Arkham review

Gotham proves many fears about its direction right with its fourth episode. Here's our review.

This Gotham review contains spoilers.

Three episodes. Three episodes is usually where my grace period for a new TV show ends. By the end of that third episode, you’re done “finding your feet” and you are now a full-blown TV show, not a glorified mini-series, and your faults are your own. Well, “Arkham” is the fourth episode of Gotham, and things don’t look bright for the future if this is anything to go on.

“Arkham” picks up right where last week’s episode, “The Balloonman” left off. I don’t mean this just in terms of story, I mean it in terms of every worrisome trait that Gotham displayed last week is back, front and center, and magnified this week. It’s not good.

The stones on Oswald Cobblepot to just walk right in to Jim Gordon’s apartment are impressive, and he remains one of the few genuinely interesting characters the show has to offer. Gordon’s temper in this scene is perhaps meant to foreshadow Batman. His barely contained rage is the difference between Gordon the good cop and Gordon the vigilante. Cobblepot’s faith in him may not be misplaced.

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But the thing is, Oswald holds all the cards in this relationship. He’s a little turd, but he’s got nothing to lose. He was a dead man before Gordon let him go, and he’s a dead man if he’s found out. But if people start to realize that Cobblepot is still alive, well, Gordon will be ruined professionally and personally. What’s more, Gordon has a soul and people he gives a damn about. Oswald doesn’t. This could potentially turn into an interesting power dynamic between the two. At least it would, if I was confident the show could pull it off.

[related article: Ben McKenzie, Robin Lord Taylor Talk Gordon and Penguin’s Special Relationship on Gotham]

This week’s villain is the utterly forgettable “Richard Gladwell” who claims his first victim with a Three Stooges-esque “just hold this thing right up to your eye and you’ll see what it does” moment, thereby combining a ridiculous “can’t believe that actually worked” gimmick with television’s dumbest murder victim. A few scenes later he burns a guy alive in an oil drum. I’ll give Gotham this, for an 8 PM show, they’re not afraid to push the violence envelope. 

His victims, in case you care, are city councilmen, who are on opposite sides of a conflict between Sal Maroni and Carmine Falcone. You see, everyone has an interest in Arkham, the largest undeveloped district in Gotham City. It’s either gonna be waste disposal (because that’s what gangsters do!) or low-income housing (because that’s what corrupt politicians do!), but either way, that old asylum is getting torn down. Of course it is.

It’s worth mentioning that a prison informant actually used the “two cartons, must be important” line tonight. Because there aren’t enough cliches being thrown around on a minute by minute basis, we needed that. Others included Gordon and Bullock showing up at Gladwell’s place of business (decked out in brothel lamps and typewriters…in “The Lansky Building,” oh, my aching head) to be told by an oblivious co-worker that their quarry was here a minute ago and “must have gone out the back,” as well as an incredibly unfunny moment with a terrified office worker who thinks the cops are there because she’s been stealing pencils. Oh, and the dope keeps newspaper clippings of his victims in his desk.

Other lowlights include what had to be the single most awkward, un-dramatic coming out scene in television history. I always feared that Barbara’s romantic history with Renee Montoya was shoehorned in just to make sure that crucial element of Montoya’s character was on the table from the first episode. But for Barbara to leverage this against her frustration with Jim for not being clear about the details of his cases with her doesn’t do her character any favors, and both times that the matter of her romantic history is addressed, it’s ham-handed, and accompanied by sub-soap opera strings. 

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Speaking of things that are borderline insulting, watching Sal Maroni talk about the city throwing them scraps, “but now, we feast” before lifting a steak to his lips with his bare hands was nearly the end of me. Gotham, I implore you, you must do better than this, at every level. I can deal with broad strokes and the fact that the main arcs of these characters (Gordon, Bullock, Cobblepot, Bruce) are clear as day, and must remain so. But please, give the viewers some credit. And can we stop using any scene with Fish Mooney and either Gordon or Bullock as an excuse for a three minute exposition dump?

It’s not all bad. Just mostly. Early on, you may recall that I was a little worried that the presence of Bruce Wayne in every episode would be a little too precious, and cause too many Bat-comparisons. It turns out they’ve handled Bruce and Alfred quite well, although they’re both showing up far too much. Bruce has a very sincere, very Batman moment of directness with Jim Gordon in this episode, and it’s great. The problem here is that no matter how good David Mazouz is (and he’s quite good), these moments are going to lose their luster over the course of an increasingly long season if they keep trying to do them every episode.

Essentially, “Arkham” is like if all of your worst fears about what a prequel show like this might devolve into laid bare on the tube for all to see. Not only is it a charmless, tension-free hour of television, it’s an obvious one. Gotham has yet to provide us with a single moment where any of these characters have truly earned the interest of the viewer in any way. They’re coasting on name recognition. That isn’t going to please either side of the fanbase, especially not over the course of what is now, suddenly, a 22 episode season

A very long 22 episode season.

Gotham Central

– I’m almost too exhausted from the laziness to care, but “Peter Humboldt” is an alias that the Penguin has used in the comics, as well. Please let me know if I missed any big ones, but I don’t think there were any. There was barely enough life in this to get it past the forty minute mark, let alone tease fans with other stuff.

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1.5 out of 5