Gotham Midseason Premiere Review: 'Rogues' Gallery'
Gotham's midseason premiere was last night, and it showed that the writers are beginning to fix some of the major problems of the show; there were clear A, B, and C plots without too much overstuffing, and there weren't nearly as many none-too-subtle winks to the Bat-canon (indeed, the introduction of Leslie Thompkins bore little resemblance to the comics). But over the holidays, it managed to find a brand-new problem: dullness. I was incredibly bored almost the whole time, which doesn't happen often while watching this show.
On paper, the Arkham Asylum story should have been exciting; the setting allowed for the show to indulge in its noir-ish tendencies, which I enjoy, and Gruber is a satisfyingly scary villain for the rest of the season, even if he does come off as a poor man's Hannibal Lecter. But it was just difficult to care. It hit all of the Cuckoo's Nest cliches to a tee: inhumane electroshock therapy, evil nurse (sort of), jaded warden, serial killers/psychopaths. I expected it to be cliched, and I pretty much expected it to be somewhat insensitive to the issue of mental illness, but I didn't expect Gotham to fail to make the audience feel any stakes whatsoever. The inmates are living in horrible conditions, it's true, but they're dehumanized from Gordon's perspective, not just the warden's. They're used to unsettle the audience by virtue of their existence as much as for their human rights violations, so we don't feel the injustice nearly as much as we should. When all the inmates break out, it should be terrifying (and the trampling scene came pretty close, that was brutal), but we know all the significant characters will be safe, and absolutely no one cares if the obnoxious and unsympathetic warden bites the dust. I love stories about asylums and mental illness, and I found it extremely difficult to care at all about what was happening.
The B and C plots didn't take up too much screentime, so the episode felt more streamlined than usual, but they were also fairly inconsequential, feeling completely unnecessary to the proceedings. Penguin finally took on his infamous mantle, which should have been a huge moment, but once again the writers failed to make the audience feel the emotional impact. Selina helping Ivy and breaking her into Gordon's home had a few good character moments, but nothing really happened, except that Ivy hilariously tricked the idiotic Barbara into thinking she was Gordon's new lover.
Speaking of Barbara, I guess there was a D plot in this episode, but I'm trying to repress it. After all that build-up, the relationship between Barbara and Montoya lasted for approximately two scenes. Whatever. I realize that we need more representation of homosexual relationships on television, but this poorly written relationship that's clearly meant to titillate the audience is not what we're looking for. And far from solving their Barbara problem, the Gotham writers somehow manage to make her more annoying every week. (From an EW commenter: "Barbara has now reached 'Lori from The Walking Dead' levels of annoying.") I realize that the writers feel boxed in, as the DC Comics mythos mandates that Barbara and Jim end up together, but if there was ever a time to diverge from the comics, it's now. The entire fanbase is so annoyed with Barbara, I doubt even the most devoted comics fans would care.
The introduction of Morena Baccarin's Leslie Thompkins was the highlight of the episode for me, and Barbara's terribleness only heightened my goodwill towards the character. Baccarin is a great actress to begin with, but the character is also a notable improvement on Barbara, regarding both a love interest for Jim and female representation for the audience. In her few minutes of screentime, she already has more wit and personality than Barbara has ever been given, not to mention infinitely more chemistry with Gordon. I would have been slightly annoyed that they were shoving the idea of her and Gordon down our throats if I wasn't so desperate for Barbara to be kicked off the island. And beyond her potential as a love interest, she's just generally a welcome addition to the show, as her idealism and compassion is a great contrast to most of the ensemble and may lead to more humanization of the asylum inmates.
-Seriously, Barbara? You didn't realize that was a child on the phone? And what right do you have to be openly angry when you're calling from your lover's apartment? And- never mind, I'm not even going to bother.
-Does it make any sense that no one noticed a patient was pretending to be a nurse? I have a sneaking suspicion that it doesn't.
-I missed David Mazouz this week! But I asked them to streamline, so I can't really complain.
-Just to clarify: as far as I know, electroshock treatment is not inhumane anymore. It's not even painful, and it helps a lot of people with commonplace mental disorders like depression. One could argue that Gotham isn't being disrespectful, as ECT was inhumane at one point, and it's not completely tethered to a present-day time period. But the combination of this trite depiction of ECT and the lack of sympathy for the inmates makes me think that the writers aren't too bothered with being sensitive to these issues.
-I think it was a mistake to extend the season order. Gotham could still be a good show, but if I had to guess, I would say that they won't truly find their footing until season two. That's happened with a lot of shows that I ultimately love, but it'll be a slog getting there.