Gotham is a busy show, and necessarily so. At times it seems the series continues out of force of habit, that no one in particular is piloting the ship, so characters find themselves pushed headlong into crazy storylines because that’s what Gotham does. The deliberate aimlessness that has kept the series from realizing its full potential is certainly on display in the season 4 midseason premiere ‘Pieces of a Broken Mirror’, which, for the most part, is more devoted to playing catchup than it is progressing the many storylines left by the series back in December.
For Gotham season 4, the winter hiatus stretched almost into spring. Pushing the second half of season 4 to March was a risky bet. But, then again, the time off presumably means more time for the writers’ room to work through story ideas. Except, that too may be considered somewhat risky; part of Gotham’s charm lies in how half-baked most of its storylines seem, and how that underlines the enjoyably campy nature of the program.
Thankfully, although the time between ‘Queen Takes Knight’ and ’Pieces of a Broken Mirror’ felt longer than usual, Gotham is quickly up to its old tricks, introducing Peyton List as Poison Ivy 3.0 and establishing that Edward Nygma’s Riddler persona has already returned, completely without his knowledge. For any other show, those two threads would be more than enough to comprise a solid hour of television, but Gotham isn’t like any other show. As such, it goes the extra mile by catching up with Alfred in the Narrows, just as Lesile Thompkins begins a campaign to unite that section of the city — whatever that means. Meanwhile, Bruce is seen perfecting his drunken billionaire playboy persona by popping into Sirens for some underage drinking with a bunch of models, and Jim searches for, and finally finds, Bullock, who’s now slinging drinks at a Narrow’s dive bar.
Again, this is a busy show, and again, Gotham could easily have made any one or two of these storylines into a more focused episode of television. Instead the audience is left with a salvage pot premiere where storylines are brought together and served in a lightly seasoned narrative stew. The result, then, is that important moments for characters wind up getting short shrift, as the episode plows through their progression to set up seemingly unnecessary confrontations. That’s perhaps most apparent in the re-introduction of Poison Ivy, who gets a hasty introduction when three street kids stumble upon her while she's emerging from her plant cocoon thingy. Things don’t go too great for one of them, as it turns out Ivy is toxic to the touch. But don’t worry, even though she only barely retains memory of her past, she’s able to cook up an antidote to her poisonous touch, saving Selina after they get reacquainted near the episode’s end.
Gotham has always been an ensemble show, but with ‘Pieces of a Broken Mirror’ you are left wondering why three quarters of the ensemble needs to have their own separate storylines in a single episode. There is a sense that Gotham wanted to go big with its midseason premiere and it did for the most part, moving speedily through a number of events, like the attempted assassination of Leslie and Alfred’s hours-long quest for vengeance against an abusive boyfriend who murdered a waitress the former butler had grown fond of during the 20 or so minutes they spent together. But at that speed everything just sort of whizzes by in a blur. Nothing has much chance to leave an impression, which makes the title of the midseason premiere seem inadvertently appropriate.
The most interesting aspects of the hour both feel underserved but for entirely different reasons. Poison Ivy 3.0 emerges as something of a blank slate, with only vague memories of her past and instinctual reactions to the people she once had a relationship with. That mostly explains why she ends up at Sirens after seeing a TV spot for the joint (which is admittedly very funny) while enjoying a little snack following her re-birth/murder of a street urchin. But it doesn’t really provide much indication as to how invested the audience should be in her attempt to team up with Selina. To the show’s credit, though, the third time certainly seems to be the charm as far as the green-thumbed villain is concerned. The show never really had a point of view for the character that fit with the actor playing her on screen. Here, though, it very quickly become apparent that List embodies a more cold-blooded Ivy who is comfortable with what she’s become, and from the look of things that seems to be where Gotham is most comfortable with the character, too.
From a wider perspective, the increased focus on the Narrows is mostly interesting due to the surprising number of characters who seem to have left their former lives behind to take up residence there. Both Alfred and Bullock have found a new lease on life after their respective falling outs with Bruce and Jim. Bullock appears to be in his element, pouring drinks and occasionally serving a few, but Alfred sticks out like a sore thumb. That actually works in the series’ favor, as it gives Sean Pertwee some much-deserved time in the spotlight without Bruce, yet at the same time, Alfred flying solo presents a strong case as to where the character truly belongs. Jim’s rightfully incredulous when he runs into Alfred on the street, and the story the one-time butler tells the doomed waitress about how he found his way to the U.S. is one of few times Gotham said something meaningful about a character’s sense of purpose, without having them come right out and say it.
That’s also what’s going on with Nygma, to a certain extent. The sneaky return of the Riddler frees him from being relegated to a lifetime of being Leslie’s hype man, even though he's pretty good at it. Meanwhile, the apparent bifurcation of his mind complicates things in a soap opera-y but potentially fun way. Viewers will have to wait to find out, though, as the reemergence of the Riddler winds up being like everything else in the hour: a hazy blur as the show works to get most of its various pieces on the same board (Jerome and Penguin are noticeably absent here). It’s fine enough after such a long time away, but hopefully Gotham has more one-on-one time planned with the characters as season 4 moves forward.
Gotham continues next Thursday with ‘A Beautiful Darkness’ @8pm on FOX.