Can Jim Gordon be redeemed?
Well, of course he can, and he will. That's one of the things about a prequel show like "Gotham." While the path may take some strange, sad turns along the way, the end destination is never in doubt. Even the most inexperienced superhero fan knows that the endgame for this series will be for the currently disgraced detective to rise up as the white knight of the G.C.P.D. and take his position as the department's incorruptible commissioner.
But the show has worked in its second season to test fans' patience on that front. It's not just that Gordon has dabbled with his dark side. He's downright succumbed to it by murdering the (corrupt, but whatever) mayor of the city in cold blood. When a character gets pushed that far off course, the question becomes not whether the show will try to redeem them but whether the path towards the heroic will at all be believable. For some, the distinction won't matter (we live in the culture where mass murderer Kylo Ren launched a million Tumblrs, mind you). But if "Gotham" wants to salvage any semblance of a real story by the end of this season, than the path to light for Gordon that begins in tonight's "Into The Woods" has to work hard to connect with fans.
In most respects, the early action swirling around our man is predictable. His betrayed Captain Barnes is gunning for him with all his might. Everyone from beat cops to random citizens fear that the escaped convict is a dangerous criminal. And his best ally Harvey Bullock's best methods for helping him out involve sleeping with a low level Internal Affairs officer to get Jim access to his own file. These plot points work out in flat fashion, but it's all setup to Jim finding a tape of the anonymous call that set him up (or actually turned him in, but who's looking for details here?).
In other areas of a predictable nature, Oswald Cobblepot remains dumb as dirt after the funeral of his long lost father. Apparently, the patriarch's sudden death raised no red flags, and our poor Penguin is left begging for mercy from the gold digging maniacs who offed his pop. To the show's credit, the story turns towards an interesting twist when the false family welcomes Oswald into their home as a whipping boy rather than jumping directly to the blood-soaked revenge story, but it's a temporary reprieve. Before long, our boy finds the poisoned wine that killed his father (stuffed in a drawer in the kitchen they've set him up in? Okay, whatever). After a test run killing a dog, the wild cackle of Cobblepot reveals the turn we've been waiting for. While the particulars haven't been surprising in the least, it's always to the show's credit the way they burn through stories at a fast clip.
More simmering subplots spin their way through the edges of the episode. In one of its best moments in months, the series catches up with the now street smart Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. The future Dark Knight appears to be good at everything about the criminal lifestyle except actual criminality as he abandons stolen funds with, well, abandon. The snappy banter between the future vigilante and future cat burglar is a rare one in "Gotham" -Â the kind of moment that reminds us that superhero shows are actually supposed to be fun. Less entertaining but still working to tickle the audience is the return of Jim's ex Barbara. Even in admitting her crimes in an insane asylum, Babs still plays like broad comedy. We'll see how funny the joke remains now that she's been released by a chaotic Dr. Hugo Strange.
But aside from these detours, the hour remains focused on Jim Gordon and his possible redemption. The tape (an actual reel-to-reel number that's only the latest example of the show's surprisingly fun "city out of time" art direction) contains a series of garbled clues as to the called that apparently only Medical Examiner (and secret mastermind of the whole damn plot) Ed Nygma can decipher. Contrivance aside, the showdown between the disgraced cop and the secret psychopath is strong material especially when Ed truly has Jim's number over the murder of Galavan. Jim did commit cold-blooded murder!
The tables soon turn when Jim puts together the fact that it's been Ed all along who's been setting him up, and from there the episode is a cascading row of dominos delivered with a little blunt force and a little bit of style. Jim runs to Selina and Bruce for help, the trio concoct a plan to draw Ed back to the burial site of his murdered girlfriend, and the killer admits to all his crimes in a snowy scene straight out of "The Sopranos." It's surprising that the series turned Nygma into a full-on heel this earl in the run, but the character may have more potential trying to think his way out of prison than he ever did trying to creep his way into love.
But by episodes end, the status quo is mostly restored for the non-Riddler segments of the cast. The Penguin is back as an unhinged killer thanks to some uber-Gothamy cannibalistic revenge. Bruce runs from the first entertaining plot he's been a part of all show and returns to Alfred to investigate whatever is going on with his father's computer. And Jim is reinstated at the G.C.P.D. and rededicated to catching the Wayne family killers while his fractured love life grows worse as he avoids Leslie while Babs shows up on his doorstep.
While this episode proved a turning point in the season's long-running plot surrounding Jim Gordon, it did little to really grapple with the state the character is in. Bringing the Wayne killer to justice won't absolve his sins any more than saving Barbara or setting Leslie free or whatever kind of self-flagellating acts of "heroism" they cook up for him in the weeks ahead. And sure, the odds on bet is that Season 2 will end with the shocking revelation that Galavan lives thanks to Hugo's strange science -Â technically letting Gordon off the hook for one needless killing. But unless the show continues to work to clear his conscience in a major way, "Gotham's" Jim Gordon will never feel like the man we all know he's meant to be.