This Gotham review contains spoilers.
I’ve been tough on Gotham this year. I’ll admit it. But now here we are, past the midseason break, and I’m willing to give the show a fresh start. An ambitious show like Gotham has it rough in its first season, and it has to deliver a bunch of episodes in a hurry. Plus, remember how miserable Agents of SHIELD was for much of its first season? It wasn’t until much later in the year that it started to blossom into the show it was meant to be. With that in mind, I’m willing to forgive some (but not all) sins, because I really do want Gotham to succeed.
With that polite preamble out of the way, I’m so conflicted about this episode. For much of the first half, I was prepared to declare it the best episode yet, or at the very least, the episode where they finally started to figure things out. It did lots of little things right, and a couple of big things, too. I do feel that was spoiled by some truly bad decisions, but we’ll get to those. For now, I should focus on the positives.
I’ve often felt that Gotham tries to do too much. Even when it’s doing something good, that’s an awfully big cast, and it has a lot to juggle…especially when one of the things it’s juggling is the story of young Bruce Wayne. Think about it. We have Bruce’s story, Jim’s, Selina’s (which intersects with both), Penguin’s, Barbara’s, the rising gang war, the continued decline of the city…it’s a lot for any show, let alone one that doesn’t have Batman’s shadow. “Rogues’ Gallery” scaled things back considerably, and to its benefit.
Just to catch up, Detective Gordon has been busted right down to security guard at Arkham Asylum. And if you think the Arkham Asylum you already knew was bad news, you should see the place when they’re still trying to get things figured out. It’s not pretty. But this episode is, without question, the most time we’ve ever spent inside the walls of Arkham Asylum outside of comics or video games, and it delivers the goods. Not overly stylized, but appropriately atmospheric, opening with a rather disturbing inmate performance of The Tempest (which of course leads to a near-riot), the stage is set quite well.
Few of the events of previous episodes are even referenced here, other than in the most vague, general way. This is also a good thing. In the event you needed proof that Ben McKenzie is doing his job as Jim Gordon, putting him here, out of his element, should do the trick.
We get to meet Dr. Leslie Tompkins this week, as well. Morena Baccarin is always a welcome presence, and I do hope we see more of her. They don’t beat us over the head with the significance of her character, which is also refreshing.
And then there are little moments where the show just does what it does visually so well. All the scenes on the docks are great, as is Penguin and Maroni’s jail cell confrontation…the perfect mix of the show’s hyper-real aesthetic. While I still have to question the logic of including Poison Ivy on this show at all, let alone this week’s scenes of her and Selina at Barbara’s old pad, there’s one shot, with Selina relaxing on the balcony, her legs dangling hundreds of feet over the street. This is Selina Kyle getting a taste of luxury she will never be able to afford unless she turns to crime. It looked and felt cinematic, it lasted about five seconds, and it was done without a single line of dialogue. If Gotham is going to tease us with the fate of these established characters, this is the way to do it, not with visual gags and clunky dialogue.
But now, this is where things have to get ugly. Remember what I said about Gotham often trying to do too much? Well, if it’s looking for barnacles to clear, then here’s where they should start. Since the first episode, the issue of Barbara’s bisexuality has been nothing more than the cheapest of plot points, made far worse by the fact that her actual on-screen chemistry with Renee Montoya is nonexistent, and culminating in the old standard “of course, bisexuals are duplicitous deviants” trope. While Montoya’s history of substance abuse is a well-established part of her character, ripped straight from the pages of the comics, neither that revelation nor the revelation of her sexuality, ever felt particularly earned. “We’re toxic together.” Why? Because you’ve shown us an open bottle of pills on a nightstand? I never give Arrow a pass for crap like this, and I’m sure not going to give one here.
What has it been, two weeks since Barbara left Jim for Renee? Three? Please. That break-up scene was the culmination of every bit of lazy writing we’ve seen this year, even hitting the reset button on the cheap money shot from the midseason finale. The fact that Barbara threw a fit because one of the “ragamuffins of Gotham” basically pranked her on the phone does her character, already on thin ice, no favors, either. I’ve complained about many things on Gotham over the last few months, but the Barbara and Renee arcs border on offensive.
Before they have to check me into Arkham, I just want you, the readers, to help explain something to me…because I don’t think this was made particularly clear. “Nurse” Dorothy was a former Arkham inmate, who “hunkered down” in the basement for years. Once it reopened, one of two things happened: she was absorbed into the general population, with the knowledge of the staff, who gave her special privileges because she seemed harmless enough. This is just plain old-fashioned dumb, but it’s the kind of dumb that I’m willing to live with in this world. The alternative however, is far less appealing.
Nurse Dorothy, a former Arkham inmate, was able to insinuate herself into the staff of a mental institution with ties to City Hall and law enforcement with nobody being the wiser. Suspension of disbelief aside, I absolutely refuse to believe that everybody in Gotham City other than Jim Gordon, Bruce, Alfred, and about four high-level crooks are so grotesquely stupid.
So, which one is it? Because I’m honestly not sure. The fact that I even have to ask this question tells me that “Rogues’ Gallery” didn’t do its job properly, but I’m really hoping it’s the first one, because if it’s the second, well, it really undermines the entire episode and it’s off to Arkham I go for some much needed rest. I’m not being a smartass, here. I really need this explained to me, and if I missed something really obvious that explains this, then my bad.
I would like to go out on a positive note, though. That was a great ending. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that Butch is motivated by something other than loyalty to Fish. Nice use of the Fred Parris and The Satins version of “In the Still of the Night” for that extra little bit of gangster movie authenticity. But even here…Gotham tries to do just a little too much. It’s like the show can never be satisfied when it’s landed a solid punch…following it up so quickly with Tommy Edwards’ “Many a Tear has to Fall,” which on its own would have been just as powerful and appropriate, kind of diminished both (note: these were the songs on my screener…it’s possible that the final air version might have used different tunes, so forgive me). I will freely admit, this is a nitpick, and that was still a nice way to end things tonight, proving once again that the very best stories this show has to tell all seem to revolve around the less colorful characters Gotham City has to offer.
– The Leslie Tompkins of the comics is the doctor who helped young Bruce in the traumatic aftermath of his parents’ deaths. She kept her clinic in the worst part of town to help people who needed it.
– During the “prison break” sequence, there’s a distinctive cackle, much louder than the others. This is certainly NOT The Joker, but they definitely wanted to tease us a little. It’s been awhile since we’ve had anything resembling a Joker easter egg.
– Christopher Heyerdahl shows up as “Jack Gruber,” a character who, as far as I can tell, has no parallel in Batman comics to point at. He’s not Maxie Zeus. He’s not the Electrocutioner. He’s just another mad genius now roaming the streets. He’s a cool, sinister presence, though, and they do promise us we’ll see more of him. I’m looking forward to it.
– I was hoping for a moment that Dr. Lang was, in fact, Dr. Langstrom, the man (or the father of the man) who eventually becomes Man-Bat. Doesn’t appear to be the guy, and it’s certainly not an archaeological Dr. Lang from Smallville, either. Oh, well.
Let me know which ones I missed!