This Gotham review contains spoilers.
Gotham Season 4 Episode 12
Damn, the Gotham midseason return is good. Not only is it gorgeous to look at, but this city has never felt more lived in or interconnected. When the Toymaker unleashes a bomb on a Narrows meeting run by Lee and Ed, Jim, Alfred, and Ivy are close enough to hear and see the blast. When Alfred gets in a barfight with some murderous goons, Harvey happens to work there. When a bunch of punk kids are making trouble at the Sirens bar, of course it’s Bruce and his minions, and of course Barbara and Tabitha send Selina over to sort things out. This is the sort of lived-in ensemble drama that Gotham has always strived to be and, four seasons in, it’s really hitting that stride.
Gotham has, in part, done this by breaking up this show’s foundational duos and letting those characters spend time with other parts of this broad cast of characters. I’m talking, of course, about Jim and Harvey and Bruce and Alfred. Prior to their latest breakups, both duos have been thick-as-thieves (or at least in the same storyline) since the very beginning. This is especially true for Bruce and Alfred, and the separation of their characters gives Alfred’s character, in particular, a lot of room to breath.
In “Pieces of a Broken Mirror,” we see Alfred befriending a waitress called Tiffany who works at a diner near his new apartment in the Narrows. It’s a bit of a trope-y plot—when Tiffany’s abusive boyfriend shows up—Alfred tries to protect his new friend. It leads to the murder of Tiffany (which seems like a drastic choice on the part of the boyfriend) just so he can frame Alfred. While the plot is contrived, wreaks of Gotham’s bad habit of using violence against woman as a “convenient” plot device to further a male character’s growth, and is wrapped up relatively easily, it does give us a chance to truly see Alfred in a new setting. Who is he without Bruce? The answer is: he’s a lost man, but someone who continues to fight.
In a conversation with Jim, we get a bit more of Alfred’s backstory. He sees himself as “saved” by Thomas Wayne, who brought him from his military career in England to (ostensibly) a less violent life in the U.S. To a life that he could be proud of. His continued guardianship of Bruce was a way to continue on in that way—to live a life of purpose that he felt good about, rather than purpose that he felt conflicted about. In trying to save Tiffany, Alfred is trying to find a way to live that same kind of life agian… it’s just not working so well. He needs Bruce, and Bruce needs him. It’s a co-dependent relationship. Perhaps this time apart will give both of them some perspective on how to create a healthier parent-son relationship. Or not. This is Gotham, after all. Though it looked like Bruce is really starting to miss Alfred and regret his decision during his run-in with Selina (who, let’s face it, sees right through Bruce’s games).
Alfred’s arrest, escape, and then run-in with the goons at a bar brought Harvey and Jim back together for what may have been the best scene of the episode. Jim wants Harvey back, telling him he misses him and slapping his old badge on the bar. (The GCPD really needs an HR department.) Selina may be able to see through Bruce, but Harvey has always been able to see through Jim. He knows that Jim doesn’t want his friend and partner back, he wants a confessor. He wants someone to absolve him of his sins, but Harvey’s not interested. “You want me to be your priest. Well, sorry, pal, I’m not interested.” Good for you, Harvey.
Elsewhere in Gotham, Lee “The Doc” Thompkins continues her rise as the Narrows’ savior. She’s working to create some kind of supportive community within the slums, and she’s doing it by giving as many rousing speeches as she can stand to schedule. It’s also pissing some people off—i.e. those people who have a vested interest in the chaos of the Narrows. One of those people is Riddler, though Ed does not know it. It’s the Riddler who hires the Toymaker to try to take Lee out, something that Ed finds out when he confronts the Toymaker about it. There’s always been a tragedy to Ed’s character, but never more in the moments when his two personalities are actively fighting one another. Ed fancies himself in love with Lee (he really is the type who loves being in love, isn’t he?); the Riddler knows that Lee is an obstacle to his larger mission. By choosing not to tell Jim that it was the Riddler who tried to take out Lee, however, Ed is choosing to put himself over Lee. That’s not love.
Speaking of love, Butch is back and he remembers that he loves Tabitha. It’s a slow, subtle remembering, but one that eventually leads him to Tabitha’s house to confess his undying love for the woman. Tabitha, though she has always cared for Butch, is not too keen on the idea—though you can tell that she feels terrible about it. I’ve never been particularly invested in their relationship, and it’s hard to take Butch seriously with that hair, but I am interested to see how this affects the alliances both characters are currently in. As with the rest of the developing dynamics in this episode, I hope Gotham chooses the slow burn rather than the immediate plot twist with this one. There was a measuredness to this episode in general that really worked. I’d like to see it continue.
Nearby in the Narrows, Ivy has been reborn again (I genuinely like Peyton List and think she is an excellent actress, but it’s getting really hard to take Ivy seriously when she keeps randomly changing like this). As David Mazouz told us in a recent interview, this is the closest to the comic book Poison Ivy we’ve ever seen on this show, and it’s fun to see play—especially in the context of climate change. Gotham City prioritizes about a million things above protecting the environment, but we viewers know that so does the larger, real world. (There’s that dramatic irony at work again.)
If we needed any proof that Ivy has gone off her rocker in the latest transition, it comes in how she treats Selina. Selina has been one of her good friends since the very beginning of this show. They crashed in Babs’ apartment back in Season 1. Selina has always been protective of Ivy and kept an eye on her. When she comes to Ivy’s latest lair, Ivy immediately poisons her with the venom that runs through her veins (and apparently on the tips of her nails). Sure, she gives Selina the antidote, but this is not the act of a caring friend. This is an act of someone who is in love with their own power, and who has goals that don’t have a lot to do with humanity so much as another part of the plant and animal kingdom…
I had to laugh when Jim said that Alfred didn’t seem like the type to enact such violence. Though his fellow cop called him out on that, we viewers have seen Alfred hit not one, but two teenagers during his time on the show.
The dramatic irony of Jim looking for the Doc when everyone but him (including the viewer) knew that it was his ex-girlfriend worked really well here. Also, it’s pretty interesting to see how both of Jim’s exes have thrived since they broke up with him. Barbara is a femme entrepreneur and Lee is organizing the working class. Not too shabby.
It’s not such a surprise that Tabitha rejected Butch’s advances. The woman has a lot on her plate right now! The Sirens club is back open. Women drink for free and men… don’t. (How amazing was that Sirens commercial? Perhaps my favorite part of the episode.)