Jim Gordon returns this week to find himself a lowly guard at Arkham Asylum, his new haunt after his rebellion against corruption at the GCPD landed him in trouble with the mayor. The episode opens with an in-house play coordinated by the asylum inmates; when it gets a bit too rowdy, Jim breaks it up, but not before the incident lands one of the patients in the medical ward. It is there that Gordon is, ahem, ripped a new one by Arkham’s director, Dr. Lang (The Wire alum Isiah Whitlock Jr.), who blames him for not being able to control his assigned wing.
Soon after, Jim’s new love interest, a Dr. Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin), enters and the two exchange a nice bit of banter. They are clearly possessed of more chemistry than Gordon ever shared with Barbara, who is still hiding out with her previous paramour – Renee Montoya – drinking, doing drugs and clearly not recovering from the incident with Falcone.
This episode follows several narrative threads simultaneously; the primary case is of a mysterious someone in Arkham serving up homemade electric shock ‘therapy’ to several inmates. However, there are a number of other developments including Selina Kyle taking pity on Ivy Pepper, whom she finds sleeping in a cardboard box in the rain and takes temporarily to Barbara’s abandoned loft, Fish Mooney continuing her plans to overthrow Falcone, and The Penguin taking a bit too much initiative and getting in over his head with his own bosses.
Understandably, the episode reads much like a set-up for the rest of this season, jumping around a great deal and introducing a lot of narrative strands that were left unresolved. By the end, we do discover who exactly the guilty party at Arkham was, after he manages a successful escape. Red-herrings out of the way, including a guard, the director himself and even an escaped patient from the female ward posing as a nurse in the male ward, we finally land on —-drum-roll please — one of the patients! I know, who’d have thunk it? It was Jack Gruber (Christopher Heyerdahl), who was using his fellow inmates as lab-rats to conduct mind-control experiments. His diabolical scheme is laid bare in a note he leaves for Jim on the very fresh corpse of Director Lang in the episode’s penultimate scene.
As the gifted character-actor who played one iteration of Alistair on Supernatural (“On the Head of a Pin”), Heyerdahl makes good use of his relatively minimal screen time in this episode, and I look forward to him returning to Gotham in the coming weeks. He plays bag baddies with such bombastic relish, and the result is always so much delightful, sinister camp. I also found myself surprised by how much I enjoyed Selina and Ivy’s interactions. Although the actress playing Ivy (Claire Foley) could use a bit of work, she and Selina have an interesting dynamic that I would be quite happy to see more of, if the show could only find a compelling way to make them genuinely relevant to the larger plot.
Indeed, this is Gotham’s larger problem overall. Its’ parts are so much great than the sum of its whole. It has a variety of well-conceived fragments, and no clue how to weave them coherently together. The show vacillates between being a police procedural, a mob drama, an origin story for Batman’s villains, a coming-of-age story for Bruce Wayne, a buddy cop yarn, a moral crusade for Jim Gordon’s endangered integrity, and a thinly veiled allegory for the fucked-up-ness of “the system.”
Gotham is currently trying to be a little bit of everything, and the result is that it fails to be much of anything at all. I have written elsewhere about where I, personally, think the show should focus its energies. But regardless, they need to pick a focal point and stay true to it. Some TV-shows can get away with that whole multiple-storylines-that-casually-intersect plot style. This is not one of them. Gotham needs to decide what it is, it needs to commit, and it needs to do it soon. Up until this point, the show has been riding largely on its pre-established connection with the Batman universe. But that narrative couch won’t hold forever, and soon enough, the show is going to have to stand on its own two feet. I just hope it manages to find a solid center of gravity before that happens.