If last week's episode felt like the true finale for the first half of the season, this week's installment of Gotham leaned hard on its long-running conflicts. Most of the characters opened new chapters in their own personal sagas, but overall, the competing plotlines did very little to add any urgency to the series as a whole.
Start with Fish Mooney. The would-be usurper of the Falcone crime family begins her day on the slab in what promised to be a wicked torture chamber with what the show's ever-uneven tone hinted was a gleefully sadistic interrogator named Bob. One toothless torture bit with a plastic bag later, and Fish is set loose by her instantly Houdini-esque muscle Butchie. With a few scenes, the show breaks its record for manufactured peril cut short (previously held by Gordon's one-episode stint in Arkham Asylum).
Speaking of Gordon, the newly emboldened detective uses his sense of righteousness to launch on another doomed murder investigation. But while Jim's method this time betrayed a hint of competent police work (drugs discovered on the victim's body in a secret shoe compartment), the case soon devolves into another desperate shaking of the tree after a key witness is murdered in a police interrogation room. Once again, Gordon is confronted with the cartoonishly corruptible nature of the Gotham police department as recent series bad cop Flass and his narco unit all but flaunt their drug-dealing ways. And once again, rather than outwit his foes, Gordon is left to solve a case by waiting for an outside force to drop the solution in his lap.
This time, that force is Oswald Cobblepot. The Penguin perhaps best illustrates the show's unwillingness to truly mix things up as the character starts out the hour high on the hog. Finally in control of Fish's club after his long-simmering mob triple-cross paid off, Oswald spends time providing drunken men for his momma to waltz with before playing make-believe big shot to an empty room. His time at the top is as short lived as any triumph on Gotham when Fish and Butchie return to settle their score. Despite another wickedly fun turn from Robin Lord Taylor -- careening as he does from sniveling wimp to maniacal murderer -- Penguin doesn't feel any more dangerous or devious than he ever has. So of course he's only saved by a last-minute intervention from Mr. Zsaz and his leather-clad machine-gun molls.
The only true character turning point of the episode comes from young Bruce Wayne. After tracking down his only lead/not-so-secret crush of Selina Kyle, the boy vigilante makes a last-ditch effort to woo the alley cat into his home with the textbook middle-school vacation gift of a snow globe. When Selina rebuffs with a leaden "I'm saying I never really saw your parents' killer, but really I'm just afraid to care" turn, the countdown to Bruce breaking the snow globe begins. Thankfully, we never watch the spurned tchotchke fall to the floor in slow motion, but at least after Bruce shatters it, we see a boy hardened toward logical casework in a manner we'd expect of the Dark Knight. For a moment, it appears as though Bruce was truly ruthless in his desire for Selina -- only chasing her for what she might reveal about his parents. But when Alfred enters to mock the boy for crying over love, it's no secret who the biggest dick in Wayne Manor really is.
Sadly, this show is years away from paying off on the promise of young Bruce's quest for justice. But in the meantime, at least it ends this hour with some incremental movements toward interesting stories.
After Penguin's muscle threatens the wife of a crooked narcotics officer under Flass' command, Gordan gets the evidence he needs to make a stand against the department's more corrupt forces. In his most self-righteous declaration yet, Jim wins over just enough support to slap the cuffs on the sleazy king of bad cops (despite his being watched over by the commissioner himself). But after Flass is under lock and key, Gordon is confronted with the twisted method by which his evidence was delivered. Can Gotham's golden boy live with justice earned through threats on the innocent? Probably not, but putting him in a morally compromised spot is the most the show has done to really challenge who its lead is.
Even more encouraging is a late-episode twist that sees the repeatedly underutilized Harvey Bullock go to bat for Fish. After barely escaping Zsaz's attempt on her life, the scenery-chewing Mooney gets a rare moment of vulnerability when as she leaves the captured Butchie behind to go on the lam (our best guess for when she'll come back from exile is after the first commercial break next week). But it's Bullock's leaning in for a kiss that opens up the opportunity to use Donal Logue for something besides one-liners.
If its opening chapters were any indication, Gotham's back half won't find much depth or drama in its players. But in a town this dark, hope springs eternal for the dawning of a new sense of quality.