After last week’s very meh episode of Gotham, this week the show was very much back on track. Dr. Gerald Crane continues his terrorization of Gotham, taking adrenal glands from unwilling victims in an effort to produce a fear vaccine. Ironic, to say the least. Lee is instated as the new GCPD medical examiner, and she and Jim must decide how much of their personal relationship to bring into work. Fish Mooney finds herself stranded with a variety of other seeming low-lives in an unknown location for an unknown purpose; she quickly rises to the top of the heap through a combination of cunning and sheer personality. Bruce and Alfred continue with harsh lessons, as Bruce sprains his ankle seemingly alone in the forest and must rescue himself. And Don Falcone meets with Don Maroni to discuss the fate of The Penguin, after his very narrow escape from the jaws of death.
I stand by my repeated assertions that Gotham needs to work on narrowing its focus. The show has a habit of jumping around and not integrating its various storylines with much finesse or coherence. However, last night’s installment manage to defy the odds, skipping around as much as ever while not giving me the same disjointed feeling it usually does. None of the individual storylines dragged the episode down, which was also a pleasant surprise. Although I find Gotham mob drama fairly boring, the meeting between Don Falcone and Don Maroni was actually quite engaging, and produced a moment of dramatic irony that prequels are especially disposed towards – an observation that Cobblepot is too “freakish” to ever rise beyond his status as right-hand-man. Oh, if only they knew…
Tasked with reopening Fish Mooney’s old night club – under the name “Oswald’s” – The Penguin gets it in his head to invite Jim. He makes a visit to the precinct to hand deliver the invitation and it is there that he has his first encounter with Ed Nygma. The sequence of their meeting was one of the most memorable scenes Gotham has yet produced. It is understated, but still stylized enough in its choreography, cinematography, background music and dialogue to befit a first encounter between two iconic criminal masterminds. The scene was perfectly staged and acted by Robin Lord Taylor and Cory Michael Smith, and it is an acute reminder of what Gotham has the potential to be all the time, in an ideal world.
Speaking of stand-out performances, Jada Pinkett-Smith really shines this episode as her character, Fish takes in her new situation with surprising aplomb. I have casually enjoyed her character all along as the over-the-top stock villainess, but I never found her to be especially engaging until last night. She manages an almost effortless rise to queen bee in her new hive of scum and villainy, using nothing but her wits and sheer force of personality. And although this unlikely turn of events should have made me incredulous, honestly, all I felt was mad respect. For the first time, I felt like I really saw was Fish Mooney was made of and how she got where she was in the criminal underworld of Gotham. That brand of scrappy charisma deserves more screen time, for sure.
Returning to the Penguin’s plot, Oswald implores Jim to attend his party. Jim of course declines, anxious to put any association between himself and the Penguin in the past. This is not at all surprising; what is surprising is the fact that Cobblepot seems genuinely hurt by Gordon’s rejection. Although he tries to cover over his hurt with subtle threats, it is clear his threats are more to save face than they are necessarily in earnest. He seemed to think they were actually friends of a sort, and it stings to discover he was wrong on that count. This is what makes Penguin a continually fascinating character, from my perspective. Despite his unequivocal evil, he still manages to invoke a surprising amount of sympathy on occasion. Additionally, his loyalties and motives are not nearly as predictable as his more conventional criminal cohorts like Falcone or Maroni, which makes him still one of the wildcards of this piece…although that role is perhaps destined to be superseded quite soon by the literal wildcard, the Joker.
He is set to appear in next week’s highly anticipated episode and the casting of up-and-coming star Cameron Monaghan (Shameless US) suggests this is not going to be just a one-off trivial nod. They appear to be setting up a real storyline for him. It is a bold and somewhat controversial direction for the show, given The Joker remained deliberately origin-less in the comics. Hopefully, it will be satisfying and not overly indulgent. It is always tempting, from a writing perspective, to over-explain villain motivations, particularly through their origin stories. And sometimes this is a useful tact, as with this episode, which gives The Scarecrow (Jonathan Crane) his genesis quite compellingly.
But the Joker is a character who benefits in a lot of ways from being without a definitive pedigree, and I’d like to think Gotham can find a way to make him part of the story without trying to over-explain his motivations or background. Nolan’s Dark Knight was unequivocally the best of his Batman trilogy because it was premised on one basic, profound insight: some men just want to watch the world burn. Gotham does the Batman universe no favors by trying to retcon that now. I can only hope they are smart enough to realize it.
Don Maroni wants my scalp and you’d have me redecorate? – The Penguin
Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light – The Penguin
We’re all afraid, every man and woman on the planet. We’re all standing at the edge of the abyss paralyzed by fear – Dr. Gerald Crane