Gotham Review: 'What the Little Bird Told Him'
Fresh off of a second season renewal, Gotham's twelfth episode was one of the best yet, although it's still unclear whether that's saying very much. There were still plenty of flaws, and the show as a whole seems to be making its peace with being completely unsubtle and campy (and expecting us to do the same), but this episode was fun, streamlined, and did a better job of intertwining the disparate plots of Gotham than any other installment.
For once, it didn't feel like several entirely disconnected plotlines jumbled together for no apparent reason; the Jim Gordon/Electrocutioner plot clearly tied into the Penguin/Maroni plot when the Executioner knocks out Penguin, which of course tied into the Falcone/Liza/Mooney showdown when that attack prevents Penguin from helping Falcone in a timely manner and possibly tips off Maroni to Penguin's duplicity. Even Nygma's little romantic detour felt a little more relevant to the other plotlines than it actually was, simply because his scenes with Kringle in the GCPD were preceded by scenes with Nygma, Jim, and Bullock. It felt much more seamless this week, which is essential to a show that is trying to portray the interconnectedness of Gotham's corruption by the complex criminal underworld.
The only one who was truly marooned in her own disparate story was, of course, Barbara. And although she as a character was just as irrelevant and annoying as usual, the oddly isolated scene with her parents was actually one of the most well-written scenes of the episode. Gotham has a bad habit of constantly saying its subtext out loud (which I guess means it doesn't usually have any subtext, just text), so I expected Barbara to come out with something like, "Well of course you only want me to stay for three days, you never loved me growing up anyway." Or, when the parents ask after Jim and Barbara says he's "fine," she's clearly lying, but her parents, and therefore the writers, let that hang in the air rather than calling her out on it. Not explicitly stating every theme, intention, and character trait is kind of a low bar to clear for the writers, but it's a start.
But while the smaller character scenes worked better than usual this episode (the scenes between Liza and Falcone were unexpectedly affecting), the plot was just as ludicrous as ever, and the overall decision to end the Arkham storyline so quickly was anticlimactic. Just as the Electrocutioner was built up for a rare two-parter episode, just to be defeated with a little cup of water in the lamest showdown since those stupid aliens in Signs, Arkham Asylum was built up as a huge game-changer in the midseason finale, only to be history within two episodes. I'm almost glad Jim is out of Arkham, just because Gotham is not sensitive enough to handle mental illness with any measure of respect, but narratively speaking there were definitely missed opportunities.
This can be clearly seen in Jim's interactions with Leslie Thompkins, which have already accelerated from sexual tension between coworkers to a full-on love affair. Not only is this unnecessarily rushing the relationship and squandering the chemistry between the actors, but it demonstrates that Thompkins is now being relegated to a relatively thankless "love interest" role. Now that Jim no longer works with her at Arkham, she's now in danger of becoming extraneous to the story. If they have to take Jim out of Arkham, then they need to find a way to make Leslie relevant to the overall plot, because no one wants another Barbara.
-The "extortion for my badge back" plotline was ridiculous for so many reasons, but mostly, I love that Jim thinks he knows everything about Arkham patients now because he was stationed there for five minutes.
-When psychiatrists diagnosed Gotham villains recently, they predicted that injuries to Edward Nygma's ego might inspire him to become the Riddler, which is looking more and more likely after his sad cupcake debacle.
-The cheesiest, more cringe-inducing line of the episode: "Where did you get this rebellious fire in your belly?" was followed by some much-needed comic relief from Bullock: "I have no rebellious fire in my belly, just saying." I don't know if they were trying to undercut the cheesiness on purpose, but it's somewhat promising.
-I'm always excited to hear Johnny Cash, and "God's Gonna Cut You Down" happens to be my favorite song of his, but the drama of the song felt unearned, especially when the Executioner turned out to be a relatively lame one-off villain. The song would have been perfect for an introduction to a major villain like the Joker or Scarecrow, as it immediately injects a sense of foreboding and significance to the proceedings.