The return to the norm begins and ends with the Penguin. Oswald Cobblepot has always worked best on this show as the sniveling striver working his way up the mob ladder, and now that the show has put him in the Gotham mayor’s chair, the action is centering on whether he can keep that power. Just as our boy is unveiling statues of his dear, departed mother on the steps of city hall (a welcome use of taxpayer money, we’re sure), up barges the new and improved Red Hoods to decapitate mama’s likeness. But what ever could be behind this very public rebuke to the would-be hero mayor?
Okay. Whatever. It’s Butch. How could it not be Butch? While the episode teases out Oswald’s former #2 motivations for attacking the big boss via the proxy of Blossom’s older brother and other no-name mooks, the story is everything you’d expect. As Butch worries about being caught in the act. As his former fling Tabitha dithers on helping him versus saving her own skin. As Penguin’s new right hand Edward Nygma puzzles out the truth even after Butch kills off his own crew to re-ingratiate himself to the mayor. As all the core story beats roll along, there’s no tension or style to the story at all.
Things pop a little bit more when Nygma makes his grand return to the GCPD. Again, we expect the former crime lab associate turned crazed cop killer to squee his way through his old stomping grounds. But here the audience has the benefit of Cory Michael Smith’s ever improving take on the future Riddler to breeze through scenes (props to his reading of the potentially groan-worthy “I’m sane. I have a certificate” line). And just beyond the fun of his new “diplomatic immunity” as the mayor’s chief of staff, we’re treated with the hint of new twists to come whether that be the ticking timebomb of the infected Captain Barnes or the new dynamics set by Lucius Fox’s role in Ed’s old job. Heck, even the slightly off-character turn that sees typically timid Leslie Thompkins cold clock Nygma carries through with a little spark.
But things crash back to earth with the rest of the water-treading subplots featuring our main cast. Like Penguin, Jim Gordon finds himself back in his own square-one scenario: another busted ass love triangle. He’s trying to forget his life with Leslie while lurching forward with his certified non-girlfriend Valerie Vale. There’s still some charm left in a relationship where our white knight is so clearly out of his depth with the no strings attached reporter, but by episode’s end, we’re back on melodramatic footing as Jim works to accept his lady for who she is and treat her to a real meal on the town. Who could guess whether this domestic bliss could ever last? Jim’s weak romantic tea spreads to Bruce Wayne too, but at least his deadend overtures to Selina Kyle have a bit of a humorous edge.
The show tries to pick up the tension by injecting a series of twists into the big finale: a party for mayor Penguin at Barbara and Tabitha’s Sirens club. Nygma entreats Butch with one more major backstab – commanding the one-handed goon to don a Red Hood and kill Oswald or see creep Mr. Zsasz cap Tabby. We’re supposed to believe that Riddler is making a sincere play for Gotham’s underworld, but none of it rings true. Butch’s assassination attempt is botched by a blank gun provided by Nygma. Tabitha breaks free just in time to watch the big man get arrested as Ed and Oswald are predictably drawn closer together. And by the very end of this predictable play, the new/old battlelines are drawn again with the famous Batman villains in one corner and the show’s original supporting staff in the other. What a wild and unpredictable outcome.
At least the teasers for future installments hold some slightly more original promise – if equally worrisome on their own terms. Aside form Captain Barnes regaining his wounded leg thanks to his Alice Tetch-created infection (his rage bomb ticks ever closer to blowing up), we also have “Gotham’s” most ridiculous idea of the year in the wings. Yes, the sexy, vamping Ivy Pepper (still with the mind of a preteen) is back on the scene and giddily teasing former pal Selina of her identity. It’s no secret that this story has trainwreck written all over it, but at least it’ll be a new trainwreck. Somwhere in between Barnes and Ivy stands Jervis Tetch – another villain hellbent on killing Jim Gordon and the ladies he loves. That villainous plot is up next week, and viewers can only hold out hope that the adventure will present a more honest set of twists than we got this time.