This week’s episode of Gotham, “Arkham”, named after the city’s infamous asylum/district, is a baby step in the right direction after the water treading of the show’s last two installments. Focusing on the mounting three-way war between the revenge-minded Fish Mooney, Gotham overlord Carmine Falcone, and the ambitious Don Maroni. The latter two are fighting for control of the episode’s titular property, which we learn was also a passion project of Thomas and Martha Wayne. It’s here that longtime Batfans like myself may suffer from lingering confusion.
I say “lingering” because Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins established, for a mass audience at least, that the Waynes weren’t merely a wealthy couple that falls victim to a random mugging and murder. But rather an integral part of Gotham’s destiny. This new incarnation takes things a step further by implying their deaths were ordered by criminals battling over real estate. I understand that in order to make Bruce a continual part of the show, his story must be connected to Jim Gordon’s newly declared mission to clean the city of criminals. But by removing the random madness at the heart of Batman’s crusade, it lessens the universality of the Dark Knight’s legend, and decreases the possibility that any one of us could be Batman.
In the world of Gotham, Oswald Cobblepot is, strangely enough, the most identifiable character, the little guy trampled by the system who picks himself up and sets out to make his fortune. Granted that fortune will be paid for in human lives, as again illustrated this week when the future Penguin, after playing both sides against each other and earning a promotion to manager of the restaurant in which he’s been working, wipes out a squad of associates with a box of poisoned cannoli (a touch of whimsy is a constant in most every incarnation of the Bat mythos). Robin Lord Taylor continues to steal every scene in which he’s featured, finding new ways to convey Oswald’s ambition. It’s a vastly different interpretation of the character than Danny DeVito’s in Batman Returns, but there’s an equally palpable German Expressionism in his face, makeup, and body language. The show’s almost worth watching for his work alone.
As for the rest of the cast, “Arkham” gives Ben McKenzie a small opportunity to react to something different when Barbara reveals to Gordon that she’d had a year-long relationship with his colleague Montoya before they met. (Unlike in the last episode, Barbara’s permitted to remain fully clothed this week.) Alas, Gordon’s partner Harvey is still scripted with one note, again threatening criminals and fellow cops, again consulting with Fish Mooney, for the fourth time in as many episodes. As the vengeful club owner Jada Pinkett Smith doesn’t get much more to do, other than allow for the show’s second lesbian kiss when she auditions pretty young “weapons” to use against Falcone.
The standout villain of the week is newcomer Richard Gladwell, who uses a retractable steel spike embedded in a telescope-like device, to carry out hits against councilman voting against his clients’ interests. As a physical threat, Gladwell works much better within Gotham’s milieu, and helps keep the focus on its gangster storyline, than last week’s Balloonman or the week people’s child traffickers.
Not that improvements aren’t still needed in Gotham‘s scripting. In the episode’s climactic action sequence, for example, Gladwell announces his intent to still kill the mayor before making his final move to kill him, this giving Gordon and Bullock more than enough time to shoot him dead. (And the mayor, who apparently lives in a huge house by himself, answers his own door, despite Gotham having more crooks per capita than any city in America.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let us know in the comments below.