If you’ve made any guesses by now about how I’ll enjoy an episode of Gotham, you’ll probably guess that I would’ve liked most of what happened this week. And you’ll be right. This episode returned to a plot that focused on Bullock and Gordon and delivered a well-paced story with only short diversions to the rest of the show’s storylines. This is Gotham at its best.
The episode is framed with a wealthy business man holding fights to the death as part of the interview process for his company. That’s really it. The episode starts with seeing the fights and ends with Gordon taking the guy down. The catch is that the business man is actually Richard Sionis, who fans will note shares a last name with Roman Sionis, AKA The Black Mask. This is the first time Gotham has set up a potential villain the right way. We didn’t get hit in the face with a sledgehammer of plot (it was more of a regular claw hammer to the knee). His establishment was subtle and his storyline was left wide open for later development. If every villain was introduced this way, I would be a much bigger fan of Gotham.
Behind this story, we saw some drama start to develop in Gordon’s home life. We saw Penguin start to investigate Fish and her plotting. We saw Fish explain bits of her plan. We saw Bruce return to school and beat up a kid for his haricut (not really) and then ask Alfred to teach him how to fight. We saw Selina show up to remind viewers that she exists. We saw Nygma almost prove useful but then return to existing solely as a joke. And we saw Bullock being a solid partner and friend to Gordon.
The most important things that happened in this episode continue to be delivered by Gordon. When speaking to Chief Essen, Gordon says that this darker aspect of Gotham (meaning the crazies in masks) was always there beneath the surface and simply needed a spark to be set off. He says that the Waynes represented a decent, hopeful Gotham. And later he says to Bullock that he will fight for Gotham, no-matter who he has to stand up to. In fact, this entire episode was a clear visual representation of Gordon’s drive to fight and win, even when he is by himself and the odds are against him. Interestingly, this also shows that he still depends on his partners, but only when they have proven themselves to him.
While Gordon is riding a one-note story at this point, that story needs to remain at the focus of Gotham. This show functions smoothly when we see a rising tide of darkness with Gordon at its center as the only bright light. We need to see more development of the mob families (without the cheesy goofiness) and how deeply they have sunk their influence into the city. We want to see the development of the villain characters we know, but in this context, they need the foundation of a Gotham that is sick with crime first. The show is rushing this second phase of development for the sake of entertainment (and probably due to a producer who figured audiences wouldn’t pay attention unless the villain characters were there in full force).
I was surprised and overjoyed to see some character growth with Bullock in this episode. He has continued to be the best part of the show, and his evolution from a cynical cop that’s part of the system to one that is willing to stand up and help his partner fight the good fight is a rewarding development. Luckily, this has not changed his lovable gruff demeanor and amazing one-liners.
Bruce’s short story line was not important because it told us what we already knew: he’s lived through a trauma and is angry about it. If we had no pre-knowledge of Bruce’s development into Batman, this would be interesting. But instead, this falls into the realm of plot threads that are being shoehorned into the show because they have to be there.
And that’s exactly what role Selina played in this episode. We saw her 2 episodes ago stalking and stealing something from Bruce, and now she she shows up again and has 9 words of dialogue. Of course, those words are better than any dialogue Nygma gets. I’m pretty sure he’s paid per riddle joke he makes.
Fish’s story continued to be annoying and frustrating. Not because it isn’t interesting. It is. As I said earlier, Gotham needs a foundation of the mob activity, and a story of internal struggle is excellant. The problem is Fish herself. Pinkett Smith’s performance is so distracting and unnatural that I have lost any ability to care about her story. She gave us some of her backstory today, which was, of course, a lie. Seeing more of her actual motivation would be a helpful way to redeem her character. Her line about a partial lie being a powerful weapon isn’t that interesting because every villain ever has used that excuse.
And Penguin did penguiny things. He really served no purpose. All his scenes are summed up as “Penguin does things to strengthen his position in the crime families”. If I can make a prediction, he’ll probably take over at least one of the families before the end of this season.
Minor grumblings aside, I think the biggest problem with these side stories is that they are delivered with poor acting, strange poses, and goofy glares straight into the camera. Odd physical mannerisms are not suitable substitutes for character development. I feel that if these characters continue in the way, they will be headed toward the goofy villains we saw in the ‘66 Batman series, or even worse, those from the ‘95 and ‘97 movies.
We are seeing a slightly better Gotham as the show progresses. And as it was just picked up for a full season, maybe the improvements will continue. We are experiencing a swell of outstanding comic book televisions shows right now. Gotham is the one example that is pulling down the curve. But I am starting to think that it has a chance.