This week on Gotham, the chickens (or should that be crows?) came home to roost, in more ways than one.
For a drama built on fits and starts of comic book ideas — characters and plotlines often showing up with blunt force before disappearing for weeks or months — the series has been anything but subtle with its short game. And while its long game didn’t reveal itself in last night’s episode with what anyone would call a light touch, long-simmering developments paid off with fun flourishes. What’s more, the show’s much-lauded visual style came together with its intermittent black humor for a string of memorable moments. With its latest introduction of a beloved Bamtan rogue, “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” presented the best version of what the series has been trying to be since day one.
That all began in the opening shot, with a dizzying look down one of Gotham’s skyscrapers as our presumable title character fusses over a blindfolded captive rigged to a rickety chair and pulley system. After confirming the man is sufficiently conscious and terrified, the crackpot criminal pushes his experiment off to a quick death by hanging. But rather than gleefully watch the man die with gore or other grim tones, the end comes silently as a high-rise maid continues to clean up for the city’s wealthy while wearing headphones — oblivious to the city’s ugly face. It’s a brief, effective start whose mix of sick and silly carried over to the rest of the plotlines that were finally more payoff than setup.
Take, for instance, the latest bit of quivering and sniveling brought on by the Penguin. Seemingly top dog both in his new role as owner of Fish Mooney’s former club and as double agent for Don Falcone’s crime organization, the would-be arch-criminal finally had the bottom fall out on his Starscream-esque “I only live to serve you” routine with rival boss Sal Maroni. When Maroni is tipped off by a still-living Fish to Oswald’s duplicity, the boss takes him for a network TV version of The Sopranos’ “Pine Barrens” outing. From the “Who’s got a better secret?” showdown in a secluded cabin to Oswald’s last-minute escape from a junkyard car crusher, the Penguin’s character comes more into focus. And considering the umbrella-wielding villain was never the most defined Batman foil, this show making him the ultimate coward/survivor works just fine.
Speaking of cowardly actions, Jim Gordon finally came to confront his absentee fiancée Barbara this week, and viewers heaved a great sigh of relief that she was nowhere to be seen. His investigation into his own personal life brought one of the other long-unresolved threads to bear: the Wayne murders. With Selina Kyle sticking to her “basically true if you squint at it” story about never seeing the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents, not only does the ensuing confrontation between Gordon and Bruce let the former off the hook from the dead-weight story of him solving the case, it also sets Bruce up on his Dark Knight quest in the most satisfying manner since the pilot.
Meanwhile, Edward Nygma finally, thankfully turned a major corner this week in that he’s added one more dimension than his constant, annoying riddle-making. Faced with suspension when his creepy-creepo nature led him to poke around the body of the cold open’s murder victim against a direct order, Eddie turned his lowest moment into a chance for romantic triumph when an off-hand comment from the object of his stalking led him the only place he could go: to crime! No, the idea of the future Riddler lock-picking his way into the medical examiners locker to stuff it with dismembered limbs wasn’t the most original twist, but it was much needed forward momentum, and the obvious punchline of “It’s not what it looks like” from the examiner landed as well as Gotham’s black humor ever does.
However, the big turn of the week was for Harvey Bullock. Just after opening himself up to the doomed Fish last week, the detective ran mostly solo on the hanging case once a fetching acquaintance of the deceased named Ms. Summers caught his eye. Bullock’s attempts to tamp down his rude, know-it-all nature both to win Summers’ heart and to sneak his way into the phobia support group the killer operates out of were fun to watch. And Harvey’s admission that he’s afraid to die alone was a rare moment of truth from the show that works.
The procedural aspects of Gotham are still woefully inadequate, as is Gordon’s awkward relationship with Dr. Leslie Thompkins, but this week both plotlines moved forward without major groan-worthy moments and led us where we wanted to be all along. The killer, of course, was not the titular Dr. Crane we expected. Instead of the future Scarecrow, we got his father — a rogue psychological experimenter who comes down as hard on his son as he does his patients. That the revelation came right before Harvey’s saving of pool-phobic Ms. Summers from drowning was a fine climax to the episode, and leaving the Crane boys loose for another week is great setup going forward.
All in all, this week’s Gotham felt most like another DC show of recent vintage: Arrow. While Oliver Queen’s CW exploits have always been consistently stronger and more character-centric than Gotham, its strongest suit has been a fine balance of an original tone and great twists on existing comics mythology. For once, Gotham brought both of those factors to the table this outing, making for a much more pleasurable experience. There’s still no real depth to mine from the series, and plenty of plots are awaiting their own moment of real development (what the hell happened to Harvey Dent anyway?). But bit by bit, it’s becoming something worthy of a cowl.
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