This review contains spoilers.
Let’s start with the true shock of this week’s Gotham episode – Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney was actually much more palatable. Given something to do other than scenery-chewing foreshadowing chats with Falcone and her henchmen, the weakest link of the series came into her own a little here.
As with the potential-Joker/comedian in episode one, here we have Fish once more on the recruitment drive. This time she’s holding auditions for a new employee – ideally a singer, a seductress and an aspiring career criminal (who can hold their own in a fight) all rolled into one.
While we can assume she’s looking for someone to step into her night club management shoes when she makes a grab for Falcone’s big boss mantle, the air of mystery around these scenes, where the aim of the game is never explicitly stated, added a highly welcome breath of fresh air to the show.
Elsewhere however, things seem a little in danger of stagnating. After three weeks of Arkham namedrops, we were hoping for a bit more excitement here than the revelation that Gotham’s mob bosses are looking to branch into real estate and waste disposal. With the news this week that Gotham season one will run for twenty-two episodes, we shouldn’t be surprised at all that we didn’t get any major action in episode four.
This doesn’t soften the blow at all though, and it’s impossible to ignore the fact that a whole episode dedicated to explaining at length which crime boss is doing what project on Arkham Island simply isn’t much fun to watch.
In a shorter, tighter series we feel that the Arkham mapping that this episode took an hour to tell could have been wrapped-up in a pacey pre-title-card establishing sequence before racing straight into the gang war everyone keeps banging on about. Instead, we get two superfluous press conferences with the bumbling mayor (who is yet to develop into a fully-formed character), multiple exposition scenes where everyone vaguely discusses their plans and theories, and an episode that feels a little half-arsed on the whole.
However, there are certain things you can always count on with Gotham, namely Robin Taylor Lord’s Penguin-in-waiting Oswald Cobblepot. We’re aware we bring him up every week, but this time around he truly felt like he held the episode together. With Jim Gordon weighed down with personal problems and a string of Arkham-relevant Councillors getting murdered in creative ways, it’s down to Oswald to supply a lot of the entertainment here.
From offering to be a ‘secret agent’ for Jim to blubbing away in a fridge, and even serving up some cannoli to his helpful mob-robbers, Oswald’s cunning quest to rise to the top of Gotham’s criminal league table is arguably the best-written strand of the show. It gives his character a running arc that can be developed every week, regardless of the episodes’ individual strengths, with Lord’s crookedly amusing performance never failing to impress. Cory Michael Smith’s Edward Nygma has been completely sidelined at this stage in the villain-to-be stakes, but we’d wager we’ll see some development there a little later on.
On a whole, the pattern of Gotham episodes has clearly established itself now – every week we’ve seen a new killer striking the town. The Wayne killer, the child-snatchers, The Balloonman and now Richard Gladwell have all shown up and taken a life before the title card has even hit. And while the child-snatchers of Selina Kyle seem to have been more of an isolated incident, the latter two murderers on that list have both linked back to the Wayne mystery in one way or another.
Four weeks in, we’re getting slightly worried that the writers are leaning so hard on freak-of-the-week killer cases, but we should at least be grateful that they mainly seem to be linking to the central Wayne investigation in one way or another. This week’s Richard Gladwell was killing for both Falcone and Maroni, in their separate bids to sway the Arkham vote in their favour.
Richard had an intriguing introduction, making us hope for more of a one-man political vendetta (perhaps inspiring little Bruce). The reality that he was actually working to help decide whether waste disposal or affordable housing would win a councillor vote seemed a fairly dull revelation.
This allowed us to see Bruce champing at the bit for some detective work though, rigorously reading his parents’ old Arkham plans looking for clues that might link to their murder. Although we love the charming Brucefred scenes, it was nice to see Bruce taking some initiative rather than listing to loud music or playing with candles. Are they pushing Bruce’s development too quickly though? With twenty-two episodes in this season alone, it already feels like he’s less of a child and more of a baby Batman, which seems a little forced.
Contrastingly, we didn’t see much development for Jim Gordon this week. After speedily getting rid of Oswald, he was wrapped-up into a fairly by-the-numbers investigation. Bullock did the interrogating and went to ask Fish for help, while Jim decoded a clue, followed it and had a quick shoot-out in a room full of chairs. It was hardly revolutionary stuff.
The breakdown of his relationship with Barbara gave him a meatier dilemma to play with, and we’d like to see more of that plot in future weeks. We’re hoping that her walk-out will trigger some hefty plot points, which could give them both some strong material.
All in all, Arkham was a fairly forgettable episode. Although we had a strong opening, the break-up of Jim and Barbara, an improved Fish and a few good Oswald moments, it was lacking an engaging main plot. Arkham was all about laying foundations for future episodes at the cost of out-and-out entertainment, so let’s hope that pays off in future weeks.
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