It’s a New Year for Gotham, with a new chance for the show to live up to its Batman-derived mythology. The mid-season premiere kicks off with James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) getting a fresh start (though a rather unenviable one) as a guard at the newly re-opened Arkham Asylum. If Gordon really plans to cure the city of its criminally insane, then this is certainly the place to be.
The decision to move a big chunk of the show to the Gothic asylum was indeed a wise one since the setting’s damp, dank, and depressing nature really draws out the noir tones of the series and gives Gordon a chance to develop his personality a bit more. Whether the writers allow him to do that or not remains to be seen, but while he’s stuck babysitting the lunatics, the truly dangerous criminals are making a play for control of the city. There are (potentially) big changes in the near future, so let’s see how “Rogues’ Gallery” sets them all up. Hit the jump for my Gotham recap.
When an episode opens with a group of asylum inmates putting on a rendition of Shakespeare’s “Tempest” amidst a citywide thunderstorm, you should expect to cut the dramatic tension with a knife. Gotham does fairly well playing up some of the themes of “Tempest” – a power struggle, a dangerous storm, a fair amount of backstabbing, sleight of hand, and misdirection – but it doesn’t get too carried away with itself. Rather, it sets a creepy backdrop to Gordon’s struggle within the asylum system while establishing loose ties to the crime family interactions on the outside; more on that later.
One of the more overt references to the titular storm of Shakespeare’s play in “Rogues’ Gallery” comes with the introduction of what may just prove to be one of Batman’s minor villains. It seems someone who is well versed in the application of electrical stimulus to a patient’s brain is using his (or her) skills to manipulate various inmates. To what end? Well, ultimately escape, but along the way the assailant does a good deal of damage to his fellow prisoners, the obnoxious warden Dr. Lang, and Gordon’s new comrade, Dr. Thompkins (Morena Baccarin). (I’m not sure if she’s being set up as a potential love interest for Gordon or not, but she certainly knows a lot about him for never having actually met him before…)
In the episode’s opening montage, we see Sad Bullock drinking alone (at his desk) in the police station. He’s only too happy to meet back up with Jim once trouble breaks out at the asylum. Gone is the Odd Couple tension between the cops, leaving only one-liners and stilted dialogue. It’s unfortunate, but it moves the procedural’s plot along. In this case, Bullock acts as a third party who’s capable of giving Jim a helping hand and taking the oppressive Dr. Lang out of the equation. Through his gentler-than-usual interrogation methods, Bullock gets some info out of Lang, specifically that Nurse Dorothy Duncan (Allyce Beasley) is not a nurse at all, but a patient who escaped detection. Too bad that Gordon and his intuition have already figured that out. What neither of them appeared to realize is that creepy inmate Jack Gruber (Christopher Heyerdahl) is an electrical genius who manipulated the other inmates (Dorothy included) in order to orchestrate his escape. Who wants to bet that a good portion of the remainder of the season focuses on Gordon and Bullock’s attempt to track him down?
Meanwhile, in the big pond where the heavy hitters of the criminal element play, the power struggle between the crime families is heating up. While Butch (Drew Powell) takes care of the competition for Fish (Jada Pinkett Smith), Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) tries to press the fishermen and dock workers for a bigger cut of their earnings. The web-footed one oversteps his bounds here, and mob boss Maroni (David Zayas) reminds Penguin of his place. While it looks like Penguin’s lust for power has been stymied for the moment, the worst possible thing Maroni can do is belittle the ruthless little cutthroat’s pride. Things don’t look promising for Maroni, which sets the stage for a Mooney v. Falcone showdown, while Penguin waits in the wings (ha!) to make his move. There wasn’t a lot for Lord Taylor to do in this hour, but he only needs a few threatening lines of dialogue and a creepy look or two to get his menacing point across.
Wayne’s Coming of Age:
Well this is an easy one to write up. Wayne gets zero screen time in this episode, so … yeah, I guess he was just Bat-napping. Is this a portent of things to come? Will Young Master Wayne take a backseat to the grownups’ story arcs until he’s a bit more relevant to the plot? Time will tell.
Not a bad episode since it feels like it’s moving the plot forward just a hair to get to what should hopefully be a pretty entertaining second half of the season. Sure, Gotham isn’t what I had originally expected, but it’s not all that bad. The promise that more of Batman’s lore will be explored is more than enough reason to stick around … for a while anyway.
Rating: 3/5 Stars
- Finally! We’re starting to get a few minor Easter eggs from the Batman universe. The biggest one here was Dr. Thompkins, who in the comics is a family friend of the Waynes and even acts as a fellow godparent to young Bruce along with Alfred. She’s known for running a clinic for criminals and drug users, and for having a strict “No Violence” policy in her establishment, which even Batman’s Rogues Gallery adheres to. Another potential character is the minor villain, The Electrocutioner. We’ll see if Gruber ends up taking on this mantle, or if he’s just another villain cooked up by the showrunners. [Edit: Yup! The promo confirms it!]
- How annoying was Dr. Lang? And who among you didn’t think he was going to die by episode’s end? The only potentially interesting thing he said was that there was an authority figure higher than himself that had him quaking in his boots. Yeah, not that interesting though.
- Is the Barbara Kean/Renee Montoya/Jim Gordon mess even worth mentioning? Not only is Barbara a once-upon-a-time lesbian, she’s also a drug addict apparently. And the writers spent so much time getting the ladies together only to split them apart without any time to establish any kind of investment in their relationship. Was this always the plan? Or was it in response to apathy from the fandom? Meh, who knows. Let’s let Sarah Essen (Zabryna Guevara) take over for a while.
- Inmate: “In a cowslip’s bell I lie. There I couch when owls do cry.” Bullock: “Alright, I can dig that.”
- Bullock: “See, I like having you here. I can sit at my desk and look at you. It’s soothing, like a bonsai tree.” Thug: “What’s a bonsai tree?”
- The breakout of the inmates was a fun little action sequence, but not nearly as threatening as it could have been, especially since Gordon essentially shouted all the crazies down. This is not yet the Arkham Asylum we know and love, but it’s a decent start.
- I enjoyed Butch’s little Sopranos-esque conversation with Saviano. Was it meant to cement Butch’s loyalty to Fish? Or is he playing a different sort of game?
- So is Ivy ever going to show any sort of inclination towards plants, or is her name and red hair supposed to be a satisfying stand-in for Poison Ivy’s origin? And is she crushing on Jim, or does she just want to ruin his life in any way she can?