Caution: Spoilers Ahead: Gotham: “Rogues’ Gallery”

Episode One
Episode Two
Episode Three
Episode Four
Episode Five
Episode Six
Episode Seven
Episode Eight
Episode Nine
Episode Ten

Last night marked the return of Fox’s take on a Batman origin story with Gotham: “Rogues’ Gallery”.  The first ten episodes of Gotham have been a mixed bag at best. After kicking off with a respectable pilot that laid down all the pieces for us, the Batman-prequel floundered for a good six episodes with face-palmingly obvious references (every Riddler scene), laughable dialogue (In one episode, a shocked Harvey Bullock utters a confusing “Holy Ghost on a Bicycle!”), and idiotic villains that trip right out of the starting gate (The Ballon episode, anyone?). It seemed that the real battle for Gotham wasn’t taking place in the city streets, but in the writer’s room as the creators struggled to settle on what their show actually was. Was it a gritty cop drama? A campy throwback the golden age of comics? A coming of age tale for a boy who lost his parents? No seemed to know, hence the jarring tone shifts from scene to scene. One minute cartoony henchmen were chasing around kids with nets, another minute one of their eyes were gouged out child. The problem of tones like these kept sinking the show into dreaded “Birds of Prey” levels of awful, with discouraged viewers returning every week with less and less hope.

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Then along came “Penguin’s Umbrella”, the seventh and so far best episode of the series. In it, the previously bland-as-sandpaper Gordon became the intriguing character we know and love, and the manipulative Penguin was made more threatening than in any previous incarnation (even through the worst, Robin Lord Taylor’s performance has been the one consistent bright spot of the show). This was rounded out with a solid standalone episode featuring Black Mask, and then an endearing two-parter where the young Bruce Wayne finally had the chance to act like a kid opposite temporary house-guest Selena Kyle. All in all, the first half had a very rocky start, but shaped up just in time to promise bigger and better things come January.

Like this guy!

What a shame it is, then, that the mid-season premiere would be such a non-starter. Last night’s episode, Gotham: “Rogues’ Gallery”, kicked off in Arkham Asylum with the inmates performing one of worst received productions of The Tempest in recent memory. Rather than throw tomatoes at the actors, a particularly violent audience member rushes up to the stage to beat one actor to death, with only the newly demoted Gordon there to intervene. Once dealt with, Gordon discovers that the attacker has been the victim of some nasty electro-therapy techniques that impact his free will. Together with Arkham doctor Leslie Thompkins (who Batman fans will recognize as a key figure), Gordon investigates the ho-hum mystery of who is electrocuting inmates inside of Arkham’s walls. While there are a few random cutaways to cast members Penguin, Fish Mooney, and Selina Kyle, none of their plot threads hold any impact on the overall arc of the season.

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All this is interesting enough to justify an episode, but none of it builds off of the momentum that the previous episodes have set up. Instead, it seems that Gotham is perfectly content to waste an episode meandering. It’s clear that Gotham wants to copy the X-Files format of being half “story-arc” episodes and half “monster-of-the-week” episodes, but these latter standalone entries feel like a frustrating detour rather than the thrilling change of pace they need to be. One inmate violently hypnotizing another inmate isn’t enough to captivate away from the bigger and more interesting problems outside of Arkham Asylum. This is one area the young show needs to work on, and fast.

The episode isn’t a complete bust. Benjamin McKenzie’s Gordon has a bit more to do surrounded by violent sociopaths than before, where he lounged around his girlfriend’s penthouse lamenting the fate of the city with recycled dialogue from a thirty year old Elmore Leonard novel. Also, the introduction of the deliciously creepy Jack Gruber and his unique henchmen Aaron Helzinger prove that the writers can indeed create their own endearing villains. Finally, Morena Baccarin, who readers will recognize as Inara from Firefly, brings a strong presence to Leslie Thompkins while still evoking enough chemistry with Gordon to make it the most interesting adult romance of the show so far (though that isn’t saying much).

One of these nurses is Leslie Thompkins.
The other is obviously insane.

Overall, this will most likely be remembered as a sub-par episode that introduced some of Gotham’s more intriguing characters. Here’s hoping that next week’s episode does something interesting with them.

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What did you think of the recent Gotham episode?  What would you fix?

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