This week's episode of Fox's pre-Batman drama "Gotham" starts off directly where last week's cliffhanger deposited fans: the reunion of Ed Nygma and Oswald Cobblepot. But while the clash of Riddler and Penguin has been a thread promised at the heart of the "Rise of the Heroes" arc, the action of the hour titled "All Will Be Judged" mostly sidestepped the war of the former friends – sometimes even letting whole chunks of their story to happen off camera.
It's as fitting an example of what doesn't work about the hour as any. And that's because the "Judged" episode is a parade of reunions and team-ups that rarely pay off the story in any significant way. Instead, we get strung along by a few familiar faces while the real action waits yet another week in this interminably long season.
Keeping with Eddie and Oswald, the two arch foes may be in the clutches of the Court of Owls, but their rivalry couldn't have less an impact on that nefarious organization's grand scheme. Trapped in two conspicuously adjoining cages, the pair soon get over the shock of seeing each other alive and get down to picking on each other like a pair of brothers in the back seat of a road trip. Riddler slaps Oswald and makes him think his coffee is poisoned. Oswald alerts the guards just in time to catch Ed in the act of escaping with a makeshift lock pick, gleefully passing out as they beat his former partner to a pulp. This is really fun material – the kind of snarky dirtbag behavior the show's two most consistent stars excel at. But as this is a B-plot, the episode quickly fast forwards past their actual escape, giving us only enough to know that their temporary partnership will soon turn back to rivalry as the freed villains make new plants to murder each other with their respective armies. That episode would do well to get here and soon.
Instead this week we're invited into the latest dead end thread of Bruce Wayne and his increasingly crazed doppelgänger. The real deal is still in...whatever mountain stronghold is within driving distance of the Gotham City limits and under the tutelage of the mysterious Shaman. While the guru's entreaties for Bruce to erase the anguish he feels over his parents murders via mystic acupuncture doesn't connect, the Shaman takes another track by inducing a new vision for the boy billionaire. In the old man's version of events, the Shaman himself killed the (very much masked) killer of Bruce's parents in retaliation for the apparent Court of Owls op gone too far. The idea that the Shaman is actually working to destroy the Court (a plot point still shrouded in mystery that leaves the character as much ill-defined as he is cryptic) is enough to get Bruce to go through with the sorrow eraser or whatever. The now placid Bruce returns to Gotham in order to take steps to stop the Court as some kind of super Talon. But the question isn't whether Bruce will succeed or even if the Shaman is on the level. The real question is how much longer the audience can be expected to hang with this plot.
Meanwhile, the clone Bruce finally sees his life of luxury interrupted when Selina Kyle arrives at the mansion with a mad on to murder him. In the first of a few fights in the episode that should be more lopsided than they are, Selina fails to cut up the faker and instead is brained by a fireplace poker. When Alfred tries to intervene, he takes one on the head too, allowing faux Bruce to escape. The scene is almost a total dead end, except for when Alfred and Selina wake to deal with the current state of affairs. Alfred leaps into action to save the real Bruce, but when Selina won't play along, the butler offers up a stinging rebuke of her character. Most of the time, the dithering personality work done on this show is dreck, but Alfred calling out Selina for being too much like her irresponsible mother is a moment that we actually believe might shake the young Catwoman out of complacency. And it's not Alfred's only killer moment this week.
The supposed real action of the hour, though, lies in another set of faulty reunions: the ones surrounding Jim Gordon. Not only is his former Captain/deranged psychopath Nathanial Barnes out on the hunt for him, Jim keeps running into his ex Lee Thompkins at the most inopportune moments. It's a shame that Jim has so much baggage weighing him down because for once he's logging in some solid police work. Combining his own investigation into the Court with some judicious studying of the city planning office, Gordon has a lead on where the secret society's weapon of mass poisoning may be hidden. He and Bullock's hunt for the location leads them to discover a crystal owl which projects the map of Court safehouses on it. They're first lead blows up in their faces (literally), but soon Alfred arrives both with news that the Court has taken Bruce AND word that he has his own crystal owl (albeit in pieces).
In theory, the team-up of Gordon, Bullock and Pennyworth just as things seem most dire should be a feel-good payoff plot in an arc called "Rise of the Heroes." But even though there are doubtless charms to seeing the good guys in their best heroic competency mode, the story works overtime to pull in much more dull ideas – particularly the threat of Barnes' comical "Executioner" persona.
Like with last season's Azrael, the writers unleash this long-delayed villain from the sidelines of earlier in the season with a new costume and deadly consequences. But Barnes' over-the-top armor (really sad shades of Judge Dredd there) and superfluous axe hand evoke no thrills. Nor are his schemes of a drawn out "trial" for Gordon and an inevitable rage-filled attack on GCPD HQ (maybe the 12th in the show's short history) anything exciting or dramatic. We never doubt that Barnes will be defeated. He's just there to delay the capture of the Court's erstwhile leader Catherine another week. Not even Alfred stabbing her in the hand and shouting "I'm not a cop, am I? I'm a butler!" can recover from the tedium of watching this all play out.
By show's end, all the stories are scarcely further along than when we started them. Ed and Oswald still hate each other (though they're free now). The fake Bruce is still out there plotting. The real Bruce is still under the thumb of the Court. And our trio of heroes still has no real idea where the bomb is hidden (oh, and all their villains have escaped again). The one major turn comes in the last seconds of the hour, and it's the one that makes the least amount of sense. Lee Thompkins infects herself with the Alice Tetch rage virus. The supposed logic here – that she blames herself for her husband's death – is neither believable emotionally or a logical path to infecting herself. But you can say one thing for the move: it is a point of no return for a show too often caught in a dispiriting loop.