Gotham S1-Ep4 Review: Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli
This week on Gotham: lots of world-building. While last week's episode, "Balloonman," was named after the awesomely ludicrous villain, this week's episode was fittingly named "Arkham," because it was much more focused on building the complex politics of the criminal underground and setting the stage for the imminent gang war that prophet Penguin keeps warning us about.
As usual, Penguin was the best part of the episode. He starts the episode warning Jim about the coming war and offering his assistance, and then promptly turns around and does his best to start that war. He's an opportunist to an exponential degree, which doesn't sound like a great or fascinating villain, but he makes it work. (It doesn't hurt that he kills people with cannolis.) But David Mazouz also did some great work in this episode; so far Bruce has felt slightly superfluous to the proceedings, and bringing him into the story has felt forced. But baby Batman provides all the poignancy in this episode, as he tells us that Arkham Asylum was originally an altruistic, idealistic effort to help those in need. Like the Batman, Arkham was meant to be an emblem of hope for a nearly hopeless city. The episode as a whole was solid and tightly paced, but in these relatively quiet scenes it managed to be a little more than a slick crime drama with talented actors and high production values; it was a story about despair and disillusionment as the pervasive sickness of an entire city, a city that will eventually need Batman to serve as whatever symbol they need at the time.
Also as usual, there were several issues with the Jim and Barbara plotline. I was relieved that they didn't drag out the Montoya reveal for too long, but almost everything else was annoying. Both Barbara and Jim were being extremely hypocritical; they would criticize the other for having secrets and then admit to more secrets of their own in the next breath. But, par for the course, Barbara was being much more annoying, especially considering her immature ultimatum at the end, because she must know that Jim's secrets could potentially get her killed. In a more relationship-driven show, we might be able to see that she has the right to be upset because he's not letting her in emotionally, as well as just not telling her about confidential police business, but as it is she just seems self-centered and petty.
Which brings us to the real problem: their relationship just isn't very well-developed. They have approximately two scenes together per episode, and approximately one and a half of them are spent bickering about his work and his secretiveness. The writers can't expect us to care about Barbara when they never have normal, happy scenes together. We can't care about a threat to a relationship when that relationship hasn't really been established. Barbara smiled more in her short interaction with Penguin than she has in all of her scenes with Jim combined, partially because Penguin is a lighter, funnier character, but also because the writers have never bothered to show why Barbara and Jim are in a relationship to begin with.
I wrote last week that I was happy to have an LGBTQ character on a mainstream superhero show, and that's still true, but the sexual politics on this show are still questionable. At first, the Barbara/Montoya plotline seemed progressive, even if the love triangle story is annoying as a whole, but after this episode it seems like it might be a cynical ratings ploy. I liked that Jim seemed more concerned that Barbara might still have feelings for Montoya than with the fact that she's bisexual, but the combination of showing Fish kissing women and the lack of any gay males on the show makes it seem like they might be less concerned with normalizing homosexuality and more concerned with pandering to people who want to see conventionally feminine and attractive women kiss.
I know Batman is supposed to be intelligent, but Bruce seems to understand and care more about the dry politics of real estate than any normal twelve-year-old. And maybe they're trying to draw attention to the fact that Bruce is forced to grow up quickly as a result of his parents' murder, but Gordon still seems to be treating more like an adult than is appropriate.
Does no one recognize Cobblepot? I realize he wasn't all that high up the food chain before he disappeared, but Gordon killing him was supposed to be an initiation from the entire criminal underworld, a sign that he was game. Regardless, with this new promotion he'll be recognized soon enough.
Edward Nygma is completely wasted thus far. I know they don't have time to prominently everyone every episode, but these little teasers aren't really doing anyone any favors. I would also request a Poison Ivy episode. It's possible that they just shouldn't have introduced these villains until they had the time and space for them.
How much did Ben McKenzie sound like Christian Bale during the "I TOLD YOU NEVER TO COME BACK TO GOTHAM" scene?