[This is a Review of 'Gotham' Season 1, Episode 4 – There Will Be SPOILERS!!]
Now that the notion of a quirky vigilante has been introduced to Gotham, the Fox drama returns its focus to the organized crime that has managed to keep the city from teetering over the brink into utter chaos. And with the new era of Gotham City on the horizon, the show manages to strike a promising balance, even with some rough edges persisting.
In "Arkham," written by co-executive producer Ken Woodruff (The Mentalist), the sudden deaths of city councilmen sends Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bullock (Donal Logue) on the hunt for the killer, and a reason why an organized crime rivalry may be to blame. Meanwhile, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smkith) prepares her own plan for seizing power in Gotham's underworld, as Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) begins to gain favor with the head of mob kingpin Sal Maroni (David Zayas) - while also fanning the flames of Barbara's (Erin Rircahrds) desire to know just what Jim has gotten himself into.
With the wealth of characters and concurrent story lines seen in the recent "Ballonman" episode, the strength of "Arkham" can be placed in what the show's writers have chosen to highlight; and which background elements have been left out of the action. After explaining their influence on Gordon and Gotham as a whole, the likes of Detectives Montoya and Allen are absent, along with crime boss Carmine Falcone. As a result, the events shown are limited to those immediately relevant to the plot, or expanding on the series' strongest members.
Surprisingly, it isn't the moments shared between Gordon and Bullock that show the most promise, but their time apart. Developing this relationship seems vital to Gotham becoming must-see television at any point, and the growing understanding between the two is a sign of what strengths may lie in the future, if these glimpses are a genuine sign of the dynamic being sought by the showrunners.
Where Gordon was initially quick to judge Bullock's unorthodox means, and the previous episode had him awkwardly shrugging off any police responsibilities whatsoever, the two seem to be shifting into place. When Bullock departs, Gordon knows just who it is he's going to see, and seems to accept that his partner's approach may have its merits.
That separation extends into the scenes focused on Fish Mooney as well, as not just a means to spice up the visual and aural landscape of the episode, but offer a glimpse into her character outside of police investigations. Mooney's desire to take on a new singer is ambiguous to begin with - and sadly, concludes in a showdown that's likely to turn off more viewers than it thrills - but at this point, any nuance or subtlety to Pinkett Smith's performance is welcomed.
As Mooney begins her plotting against Falcone's loosening grip on Gotham's crime, so too does her former henchman, Oswald Cobblepot. At this point it's unsurprising that the future Penguin continues to be a standout, hatching a plan to earn him both increased influence in Maroni's organization and cold, hard cash.
Clever flair for criminal plotting aside, viewers are forced - on a weekly basis, it seems - to juxtapose the likable, charming version of Cobblepot eager to help Jim Gordon ("the only good man in Gotham") with the cold-blooded killer that he is. What are his plans for Jim once his rise has continued? Or for that matter, his loved ones?
Unfortunately, this week also sees the return of Gotham's nagging habit of juggling more balls than can be done justice, resulting in a scene that takes away more from the episode than it adds; or more accurately, what it could have added elsewhere. The episode's opening scene between Jim, Barbara, and Oswald ('Peter') was a showcase for all three actors, albeit a brief one, but for all intents and purposes, Barbara's character had no real place within this episode's story. Further emphasis on the pair's relationship feeds a larger arc for Jim, but in an episode brimming with conflict, the dispute seemed like yet another issue for Jim to handle, instead of the painful decision it should have been.
It's a shame, since Barbara has been framed as Jim's sole believer and supporter to this point, and the secrets being kept by both were bound to boil over at some point. But in delivering it so soon, in an episode already dedicated to a much larger plot, the ultimatum delivered by Barbara is nowhere near as powerful as it could have been. Besides lacking the emotional weight to carry any impact (we're four episodes in, after all), losing Barbara - Jim's link to the idea that he can be better than those around him - could have been a crushing blow if saved for later in the series.
That decision to focus attention outside of the most relevant plot also lessens the meaning of Arkham Asylum, or its surrounding district. When the issue of exactly who will control Arkham's fate is resolved, the outraged reaction of the characters may be the only sign viewers have that something has gone wrong. A risk that comes with placing a city council vote alongside a hired killer on the loose, perhaps, but needing to tell viewers that a recent development is significant can't be the writers' goal.
Meanwhile, the direction taken with a young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) is likely to have its fans and detractors. For some, the boy's shift from panicked and emotional to calm and resolute on a scene-by-scene basis is likely wearing thin. But the thrill of seeing the boy take his first steps towards the vigilante the world knows is undeniable, and exactly what the show is counting on.
It's fair to say that while Gotham's biggest challenge (keeping so many separate threads in line) persists, this week's episode succeeds simply because its standalone sections were mostly on point. At this point, Gotham has shown the kind of series it hopes to be. Now it's up to the writers to divide their talents between each piece on the board.
Gotham returns next Monday with "Viper" @8pm on FOX. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below:
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce for updates on Gotham as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.