Gotham season 3 episode 2 review: Burn The Witch

Jim’s moral compass goes a bit wobbly in this rather fun second episode of Gotham season 3...

This review contains spoilers. 

3.2 Burn The Witch 

Holy moral compass malfunction, Batman! In my last review I was hoping that Gotham would start shaking up the stories revolving around Jim Gordon, to make the whole ‘he’s really changed’ thing seem more convincing. Looking at this week’s episode, I needn’t have worried.

Leather jackets and bottles of beer are the easy shorthand for ‘our protagonist is becoming a bit of a dick.’ And this week, that basic idea from the season premiere was fleshed out with some actual plot. It was genuinely shocking to see Jim let Fish Mooney go free at the end of the episode, to manipulate the GCPD, to encourage Penguin’s mob, and to do nothing when Penguin was later seen celebrating after a fair number of people died. He may draw the line at snogging his deranged ex for a bit of information, but pretty much every other play in the book seems to be fair game to Jim.

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Ken Woodruff (who previously brought us the Scarecrow episode, the middle chunk of the Jerome three-parter and co-wrote last year’s Azrael) turned in a great script this week, at least in terms of Jim Gordon. The usual tropes were out of the window: he was left out of the GCPD’s investigation and utterly played by Valerie Vale, leaving him on the back foot for the majority of the episode. That’s always a fun place for a character to be.

Jim’s decision-making throughout – turning to Barbara for help, sneaking into Hugo Strange’s mansion, handing Fish over to Penguin – displayed all the moral questionability of a man with no nice options left on the table. The only threads he has to pull on at the moment are shady and unethical ones, and it’s rather telling of Jim’s current mentality that he doesn’t hesitate to yank on them regardless.

Ben McKenzie put in a strong shift this week, with the softer edges of his cop character completely sanded away and a gruff, grumpy, thinking-on-the-hoof bounty hunter standing in his place. Obviously, when Gotham eventually runs its course, I’d expect Jim to revert to the classic ‘only decent man on the force’ version of his character. But until that time comes, I’m quite happy with this disillusioned version taking precedent, especially since Jamie Chung’s Valerie Vale is providing such a charismatic counterpoint.

My only real complaint this week is that the main villains of the episode were two of my least favourites from the show’s ever-growing pantheon. Hugo Strange and Fish Mooney have had their strong moments, but this week just felt like them going over old and uninteresting material: Jada Pinkett Smith raising a finger and making demands, B.D. Wong speaking slowly and not really doing much.

I’ll admit, though, that Fish’s explanation of why she let Penguin go free in the gap between seasons was a rather strong moment. I’m not sure I believe her, but the parallel drawn between Fish and Strange as creators of other villains is rather interesting. Perhaps that could grow into something more enjoyable than their roles in this episode.

Speaking of villains who didn’t grab my attention much this week, I found the Court Of Owls scene sorely lacking in thrills. For a pay-off to a long-teased reveal, it really lacked excitement. I know this is a long-running arc that will stretch on for a while, but don’t bother having a scene if there’s nothing to say. If the message is simply ‘back off’, surely the beat-down on Alfred would have sufficed?

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I am glad, though, that pieces are being put in place for some other villains that could be more engaging. The doppelganger of Bruce has shown up at Wayne Manor, with David Mazouz doing well to differentiate between his performances. Maggie Geha has been swapped in as Ivy Pepper, making an immediate impression by fondling a plant, putting on a new outfit and killing a guy off-screen. And, although he’s even not been teased yet this season, next week we’ll get to meet Benedict Samuel’s Mad Hatter.

Since the show is currently lacking a strong central baddie (sadly, Robin Lord Taylor seems to have been relegated to commenting on other villains rather than cooking up his own schemes), I’m looking forward to seeing what this new blood can bring to the table. The GCPD looked pretty inept this week, and Jim is distracted by a new romance (and an old one set to reappear), meaning that Gotham City is completely unprepared for an influx of barmy new baddies. Here’s hoping for a better class of criminal.

Read Rob’s review of the previous episode, Better To Reign In Hell, here.