"Gotham" Recap: Trial By Fire, Death By Derangement

In "Gotham's" opening season, the show's heroes made their way through the future Batman's hometown through a series of slipshod investigations and pathetic procedurals. But as Season 2 of the show has gotten underway, the show has smartly set aside ham-fisted cases of the week in favor a slightly more satisfying run of grotesque mysteries. And in tonight's latest episode, that shift was on display in a sometimes thrilling, sometimes frustrating cat and mouse game.

Or maybe that could be more accurately called a cat and bug game. At the heart of the hour is the hunt for Brigit Pike - AKA Firefly. The abused and increasingly unhinged teenager remains on the run after killing one of the true blue cops of the G.C.P.D.'s strike force last week, and at her side stands a willing savior in Selina Kyle. But saving people ain't as easy as it seems in this town. Even as the girls rob their way into getaway cash at a human trafficking market that's overblown even by "Gotham" standards, Brigit gets picked back up by her overbearing brothers, leaving Selina left to try and salvage the plan.

That's where Jim Gordon joins the hunt. After his early season dalliance with walking on the dark side (that's code for killing a guy in cold blood), the square-jawed lead of the show seems more willing than ever to break the rules and bust some heads in order to track down the young cop killer. That reliance on the gray areas in Gotham's DNA brings Gordon into conflict with his by-the-book Captain Nathaniel Barnes for the first time. It's a consistent thread for our favorite future commissioner that only works if viewers are willing to forgive the show's supposed hero for going too far over the line once before. To date, actor Ben McKenzie hasn't done much to give fans faith in Jim's possible redemption, but he does a surprisingly decent job of selling the internal conflict here.

Teamed up with Selina thanks to a tip from Harvey Bullock (for once in fine supporting player form as he shakes down the fellow ginger that is the future Poison Ivy), Gordon gets placed in a hypocritical sweet spot. He promises Selina to do anything he can to save the arguably coerced Brigit even as he promises his Captain to play the hunt for the killer as straight as possible. So of course the young Firefly makes things worse for herself by torching her two brothers with a crooked smile.

But before the full fallout from the flames can be seen, "Gotham" has a few other showdowns to explore. For one, there's the "who's got the bolder grip on Butch?" conflict between Theo Galavan and Penguin. While the latter mob boss has sent his brainwashed muscle man on an undercover mission into his rival's ranks, the future backer of the Sword of Azrael seems to be one step ahead on breaking Butch's resolve. While the resolution remains hidden until next week (but maybe it involves Galavan's sister being some kind of cannibal for no reason?), the machinations of the psychotic would-be mayor do allow us to check in with young Bruce Wayne for a spell. Smitten with the underdeveloped pre-teen Silver St. Cloud, Bruce seems more than willing to trust that Galavan is on the up-and-up as the big bad promises to help take down the sinister forces in Wayne Enterprises, but this storyline continues to fall flat. So far, the deck is so comically stacked in Galavan's favor that all we have to wait for is when he drops the hammer on an underprepared Bruce. While the impending showdown with the Penguin is rife with drama, Theo's masterplan feels less so with each new turn.

Similarly stifled is the stalkerish romance between Ed Nygma and Kristen Kringle. After eavesdropping on his new lady love (because of course he is), the riddlesmith learns that his gentle ways are every bit as much of a strike against him as they've been a point in his favor lately. Kristen wants a take charge man, so she says, but not so much that she leads the charge into bed with what she thinks is a sweet, kind boyfriend. When Nygma feels compelled to reveal how he murdered Kringle's former flame to prove how much of a pushover he ain't, this long-struggling plotline is put out of its mercy when his plan backfires. At first the (understandably) horrifying news sends Kringle packing, and then Ed's attempts to hold her in place and explain see him accidentally strangling her to death. The whole affair plays to "Gotham's" most annoying soap opera grimness in a sequence that is both unbelievable (he can't even try CPR?) and over-the-top. This story will be better off with stalker Ed in the rearview, but lord did it take its sweet time getting there.

Far more satisfying is the finale of the Firefly hunt. As Brigit returns to the underground flesh market to free her abused sisters in the city's criminal machinery, Gordon and company race to the scene to capture or kill. Despite a tense standoff where Jim makes an honest attempt at bringing in the youth unharmed, stray fire from an itchy police trigger severs Firefly's fuel line and sees the teen go up in flames. While the scene is one of the more controlled showdowns in a series that's seen no problem threatening busloads of kids for kicks, the real impact of the story comes when Gordon has to break the new of Brigit's apparent death with Selina that night. When she responds to his soft talk of "I did my best" with a venomous retort about how full of it Gordon's intentions really are, we get one of the few truly affecting character moments the show has been able to deliver. Points to the usually flat actress Camren Bicondova for delivering the goods when it counts and even to McKenzie for showing off a facial expression to clicks of the dial away from grimly determined.

But the full force of Gordon's inability to be both good cop and bad isn't exactly where this story ends. Before the screen cut to black, we get one more glimpse at Firely - captured afterall by sinister forces beneath the city. As the burnt to a crisp criminal teen is strolled by gurney deeper into the bowls of some slick hospital, we catch a few quick peeks at other notable Gotham flameouts whose aspirations at supervillainy have landed them at this Area 51-esque location called Indian Hill. But this shaky-cam scene's creep factor gets multiplied when Indian Hill is revealed to be a Wayne Enterprises installation - the first really strong twist in the endless hinting at the company's horrific background. If more of these character moments and conspiratorial thrills await readers behind the curtain, "Gotham" may be saved just yet.

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