So that’s a lot better. Following last week’s setback with “The Balloonman,” this week’s episode of Gotham finds the show closer to hitting a desirable stride. “Arkham” is definitely more of a plot-focused episode, rather than one set on showing the depths of the characters, but it is also focused, tonally consistent, and much less eager to complicate things with too many of the side characters (no Cat this week). Basically, this is an episode that works. The show may still be a ways from ‘great television,’ but it is taking better steps forward this week, as opposed to the mixed bag that was last week’s episode.
The tone is definitely what the show needs to keep consistent in these early episodes. While the actors may need to do what they can to better fit into the shoes of their characters, and the writing will likely evolve (hopefully for the better), getting the tone of Gotham right is what will keep me pleased to write about it. In the right hands, it can sway around a bit between what Nolan did for the Batman universe, what various comics did (specifically Jeph Loeb and Ed Brubaker, among others), and what Batman: The Animated Series was able to accomplish. So far, Gotham has been met with comparisons to the Schumacher films in some circles, and while I feel that is a bit of a stretch, it is not entirely unfair, either.
This is a show that tries to walk the line between gritty police procedural and a comic book series. Clearly it must do what it can to figure out how to balance these aspects appropriately. “The Balloonman” could not figure out the proper way to show people being taken into the sky by weather balloons, while also depicting the concept of vigilantes taking on justice in a serious manner, without sounding goofy. It is that sort of campiness, among other reasons, that bring about memories of the films most people would seemingly rather not revisit (for the record, I like Batman Forever quite a bit, but I digress).
“Arkham” has a more straightforward villain and outcomes to deal with. The threat of a man using a specific type of weapon, functioning as a deadly threat, and being treated as such, was a lot easier to convey than a Balloonman. Highlighting the crime war in a way that has deadly consequences for those caught in the middle is also easier to put on display. Yes, we also had scenes of Fish Mooney making women seduce her and having women fight it out, but while that was my least favorite part of this episode, I was also fine with seeing it played fairly straight. Having levity is one thing, but ditching the true camp is best for Gotham, save for Pinkett’s line deliveries.
As far as the story goes, I was happy to see Jimmy & The Bulls take on a case and solve it, with little interference coming in the form of emphasizing how corrupt everything is. Sure, the Mayor’s actions ended up relying on pressure put on him by two different crime bosses, but we did not have to hear Gordon go through the motions of fighting to solve a case, while others criticized how little difference it would make in the end, given the corruption of basically everybody. Instead, Bullock proved to be a helpful partner, keeping his wisecracks to a minimum and basically doing his job. I am still waiting for the episode that will make his character stronger and easier to sympathize with, but until that time, I can at least rely on Donal Logue turning in credible work, despite a lack of development for him to play around with.
I have to give some credit to Hakeem Kae-Kazim (likely best known for his work on 24 or Blacksails). As Gladwell, this was a straightforward assassin character, but he was able to create a nice level of menace fit for one episode. The show managed to tease out his showdown with Jimmy & The Bulls, but we still saw him be cold to his targets and put up a fight with our heroes. While not as colorful as the child kidnappers, he was easily a step up from The Balloonman. And speaking of villains, let’s get to the Penguin.
So last week I was excited by the potential of Cobblepot revealing himself to not just Gordon, but also Barbara. Unfortunately, Montoya did not show Barbara a picture of Cobblepot to go with her accusations about Gordon, so Barbara remains in the dark and Cobblepot is able to think up a fake name and talk outside with Gordon. Turning this into a system where Cobblepot serves as an unofficial informant for Gordon is decent enough, though I am still curious what Cobblepot’s ultimate motive for this is. Presumably he wants Gordon in his pocket, as he rises to the top, given his actions in this episode. Once again, if Penguin is supposed to be one of the larger focuses of this season, I am enjoying what they are doing with him in theory, but his actions this week are a lot better portrayed than all the random killings he went for last week, based out of his own dumb decisions. One thing is for certain: showrunner Bruno Heller must have seen something in Robin Lord Taylor, as the actor can at least deliver on slimy facial expressions and adjust them accordingly.
The last thing I want to address is the final scene between Gordon and Bruce. Last week I got into the themes of this series and its decision to address Gordon acting as a savior head on, despite knowing that he will not be the one to save Gotham. This week features the following exchange:
“Do you believe Gotham can be saved?”
“I believe it’s worth trying.”
That is what I want to hear. I can credit Ben McKenzie and David Mazouz (who has been doing solid work as Bruce Wayne, even if some of his dialogue is heavy-handed) for the delivery, but writing a line like that into the script for this episode encapsulates so much of what I like about the Gordon character and why I think a show like this can play out effectively, if it sticks to procedural-type plots enhanced by the comic book world around them. If Gotham can figure out how to play up this balance, the show should be in good shape; and if “Arkham” is any indicator of the show finding itself, then we may have a little ways to go, but at least it is getting there.
From Det. Jim Gordon’s Police Files:
- Ben McKenzie seemed to be channeling Christian Bale in the way he was growling at Cobblepot.
- So what do we call Gladwell’s weapon? Flute Dagger?
- I did not go too far into the actual plotline surrounding Arkharm, but I would like to think that area of Gotham City will play a larger role later in this season or next season, once it actually becomes developed. That said, I did enjoy how it worked as a natural way to involve Bruce and Alfred in the episode. Keep doing smart things like that, Gotham!
- As opposed to the portrayal last week, I appreciated how seriously the deaths were treated this week.
- Nygma’s word of the day – “Paradox.”
- Barbara gets all weepy about Jim’s secrets and Jim doesn’t budge. Don’t worry, she’ll be back, as I don’t think this show budgeted in building Gordon’s apartment, but Barbara seems to only exist at her place or GCPD.
- “Seduce me.” – I hope Fish made the right decision.
- Dammit Oswald, don’t make me fear cannolis!
- This week’s Classic Gordon Clip