This week’s episode of “Gotham” started out at its scenery-chewing peak. Disgraced police captain Barnes is being transferred from Arkham Asylum in a clandestine late-night move. But the brick wall of a man still poisoned by the Alice Tetch blood virus breaks free of his chains and clobbers his way through a few prison guards as Alice’s brother the Mad Hatter watches on. The scene makes absolutely no logical sense. Why are there no guards on grounds duty at an asylum? Who gave crazed serial killer like the Hatter a room with access to the main grounds? What the hell is Barnes’ scheme outside of “act like a Frankenstein”?
But if the audience is able to look past all the massive plot holes, at least the scene looks cool. As is typical for Fox’s pre-Batman drama, the action is shot with a gritty, carnival-like style and hits with brute force. The promise of the scene is that the shackles are off. The shit is really going to hit the fan. What little safety and normalcy Gotham has left is about to fall…except they get Barnes back under control. The wild man is caged again, returned to the hands of the long-missing mad scientist Hugo Strange, and the murky mystery plot of the Court of Owls continues on.
This is the baseline for this week’s “Light the Wick.” Appropriate to its name, the hour is all burn and no boom. At every chance the episode has to open up the action and let things go wild, instead we get wheel-spinning on nonsense as the producers wait another week before really paying anything off. But even the show’s more ardent hanger-ons are likely getting bored of this game.
The drag rolls on with Jim Gordon – otherwise known as the world’s least-convincing undercover agent. Since joining the Court of Owls as a ruse to figure out their doomsday plan for the city, Jim has never felt like a true believer. And this week, the master detective pushes his credibility to the limit by skulking around where he shouldn’t be. First, he pulls a print from the mask of the Court’s spokeswoman Catherine in order to divine her real identity and is nearly caught as he fumbles around with his powder kit like something out of “The Pink Panther.” Then Jim infiltrates Catherine’s home, stealing a Wayne Enterprises keycard before just bumbling into her living room and declaring that he’s there to demand a stronger place at the table. To Catherine’s credit, we suppose, she reveals her (extremely obvious) plan to weaponize the Tetch virus as an airborn explosive only when she can keep Jim on a short leash. But who would have trusted this guy to get that close? Either way, all the air is let out of the conflict when it’s revealed that the bomb is just a test run to kill off socialites rather than crash the city,
We’re similarly teased with tension-less work in the story of Bruce Wayne. Still trapped in a mountain fortress with the so-called Shaman who is trying to force the boy billionaire to be Gotham’s protector, Bruce is balking at nearly everything thrown his way. First he won’t fight. Then he fights with all the rage he can. Then the Shaman reveals he can somehow take away Bruce’s feelings of anger over his parents’ murder with some sort of mystic acupuncture needle. And of course, it’s slyly revealed that the Shaman (who’s finally confirmed as the head of the Court) doesn’t want Bruce to become a savior anyhow. But at that point, we’ve spend the better part of the hour watching Bruce struggle with the offer to…take away his pain? The effects of the Shaman’s treatment and how this exactly weighs on Bruce is never clearly defined, and the story builds to no noticeable climax. After displacing Bruce’s own motivation for saving the city (you know, the core point of Batman as a character), the show is trying to test the idea of what Bruce really is here, but the lack of detail or drama makes the whole sequence worthless.
Most of the smaller plots of the hour fare no better. Lee Thompkins has convinced herself that Gordon is off his rocker and possibly covering up crimes. But after confronting Bullock and Lucius Fox about this to no avail, she declares that she’s leaving her job and the city to Jim, and in response he angrily lashes out at her. There’s no character change. No convincing human moments. No real resolution to anything happening. Similarly, the comatose Selina Kyle sees Ivy Pepper come to her bedside for a “I know you’ll survive” vigil. Despite the still surprising charms of the “14-year-old in a woman’s body” premise of Ivy, this is an extended dead end. The doctor’s believe the Selina is beyond hope, but Ivy seemingly saves her friend by…really believing in her? There’s no reason for Selina to wake up at the end of the episode except for the fact that it’s the end of the episode.
Last but not least is the Penguin’s place in this dull drama. At first blush, it may seem that the character moves forward slightly more than the others, but right alongside that is the revelation that pretty much nothing the character has done in weeks matters. Oswald confronts Jim early in the hour demanding answers as to what the Court is, believing the organization will bring him closer to his plan to murder Ed Nygma. Later, when Jim decides to throw off his undercover guise and battle the Court’s deadly Talon assassin, he calls Oswald in for an assist. The Talon is burned by Penguin’s enforcer Firefly, and the socialites are spared. But as Penguin returns home, he rants and raves about losing both Ivy and Mr. Freeze somehow. When the Court finally arrives and takes him to a secluded location where he finally comes face-to-face with fellow captive Nygma, we’re left wondering what was the point of Oswald forming this whole gang of freaks to begin with.
And that’s the feeling the hour leaves viewers with on the whole. The return of Barnes and Strange and the Hatter combine with the promise of a mad bomb to entice us with the idea that a final battle is in the offing. But really, all these characters are empty shells of Easter Eggs. Very few of them have anything to add to the story trajectory and instead appear mostly to let the guest stars run out their contracts. In the bitter end, Catherine unchains Barnes – now going by the oh-so original name of The Executioner – to sick him on Gordon. But is there any reason that confrontation could have been set up at the beginning of the hour instead of the end?
In reality, the best answer “Gotham” can probably come up with for why nothing happens this week is “We’ve got a network order of 22 episodes.” Maybe something will actually happen next week.