Only one new episode (“Rogues’ Gallery”) has aired since Gotham took its midseason break two months ago, but the show makes a welcome return this week as Jack Gruber and his brainless henchman Aaron Helzinger are out for revenge after escaping from Arkham. “What the Little Bird Told Him” opens on a newspaper fluttering through the air. Its headline referencing the two escapees, it flutters to the ground as an ominous-sounding Johnny Cash song plays. The two men walk through the streets in black rubber, toting Gruber’s electrical equipment. It makes for a great comic-book splash page.
Meanwhile, Gordon arrives at Gotham PD headquarters, looking to be reinstated on the force, using his experience with Gruber as bait. When commissioner Gillian B. Loeb arrives (played by veteran character actor Peter Scolari, the character was first introduced in Batman #404 as part of Frank Miller’s seminal Year One arc), Gordon rightly concludes he must be desperate since he’s not seen him visit before. Loeb promises him his old job back if he and Bullock nab Gruber within twenty-four hours.
Gordon admits to his partner he has no idea how to find Gruber. But, fortunately, Nygma (who’s been busy trying to woo Miss Kringle with creepy riddle gifts like a red velvet cupcake holding a bullet) has discovered Gruber’s not really a mental patient after all, but a career criminal named Lester Buchinsky who got himself committed to Arkham in order to use it as a hideout. Gordon and Bullock visit Buchinsky’s old electronics shop and find one of its employees fried and its manager in a vegetative state.
Elsewhere, Liza is “captured” by Fish, who’s about to make her move on Falcone and has the young woman call the lovelorn crime lord for help on the phone.
Leslie Tompkins arrives at the station and shows Gordon and Bullock a doll that one of the women in her wing at Arkham had made per Gruber/Buchinski’s instructions, who wanted it “cursed.” The two men note its resemblance to a certain Mafia Don, just as the escapee — now given a third name by the press, “The Electrocutioner” — makes his move on Maroni, a former partner who swindled him out of money. The gangster survives, as does his new recruit the Penguin; though, dazed by the electrical attack, the latter mutters he has urgent business with Falcone. Both men are brought into protective custody.
Lest we forget about Barbara — who, when we last saw her, was dumped by her lover Renee Montoya — she turns up on the doorstep of her parents’ house. They give her a chilly reception, but say she can stay until the weekend. When questioned, she tells them she and Gordon are still happily together.
Fish calls Falcone and tells him she’s heard from people who have Liza. Falcone sees through her ruse, and she tells him the girl won’t be hurt if Falcone leaves Gotham. He agrees, adding that she was always his favorite. Falcone confides to Zsasz that he’s considering retiring to the country, but the hit man insists he crush his enemy.
The Penguin wakes up and tells a now skeptical Maroni that he has no business with Falcone, but that he must go tend to his sick mother. Maroni finally allows him to leave — just as the Electrocutioner and Helzinger strike police headquarters, electrocuting everyone in the building, save Gordon, who’s taken Nygma’s advice and worn his rubber shoes. Buchinsky zaps his gun out of his hand, but Gordon throws a glass of water onto his electrical apparatus, shorting it out. The commissioner takes credit for the arrest before the press, but Gordon is indeed reinstated.
The Penguin tells Falcone Liza was a mole for Fish, who found a girl who looked like his young mother. Falcone slaps him in disbelief. He then meets with Fish, kills most of her men and Eliza, and takes his former confidante prisoner.
Gordon again gets a surprise visit from Thompkins who fumblingly admits she’s attracted to him. Before she can leave he takes her in his arms and kisses her. They’re interrupted, however, by a cop who tells him there’s been a shootout at Fish Mooney’s…
The Jim Gordon we want to see, the Gordon we saw too little of last year, was back in this episode — acting instead of reacting, taking risks, playing bluffs, using his resources as skillfully as his opponents, even threatening the commissioner — after the bureaucrat kept his promise no less — to make him eat his shield if he takes it away again. “I’m done being careful,” he tells Bullock, and I believe him.
Sure the resolution to the Electrocutioner’s final attack is treated abruptly. But at least Gordon, in the best Batman tradition, uses his brains instead of his fists to beat the bad guy. He has no less testosterone from the outcome (nor does screenwriter Ben Edlund), as we see when he embraces Thompkins. I would have preferred that their attraction progress slowly throughout the remainder of the season, especially since they showed such great simmer upon first meeting in “Rogues’ Gallery.” The hastiness also makes the presumably world-weary asylum doctor look a tad too flighty here, but I can’t complain when Gordon is a billion times better with Thompkins than he was with Barbara. Ironically, Babs gets the first hint of a genuine backstory in this episode, and earns our sympathy for the first time, since her parents are so obviously the source of her dependencies.
Falcone is also given a new lease on life, eliminating the one vulnerability he’s had this season. Just don’t ask me why his hired female guns look like refugees from Sin City. (After Loeb, they’re the second of two Frank Miller references in this episode.)
My only caveat with “What the Little Bird Told Him” is Fish’s reaction to Falcone’s execution of Liza. Rather than demonstrate shock, horror, and fear after Falcone has seized her one last bargaining chip, Jada Pinkett Smith reacts as though she’s lost her favorite handbag. If Fish is slain soon, I can’t say I’ll miss her all that much.
— So is Ms. Kringle into Ed or isn’t she? In this episode, she’s at first freaked out by his gift, then appears charmed when he explains it’s a metaphor for her beauty, only to thank the fellow who chases him away from her.
— “Can I take this opportunity to say I have no rebellious fire? Nada.”
— Bruce and Selina were again absent in this episode, and I again didn’t miss them. But Alfred makes everything better. So put Bruce in boarding school, put Alfred on the force alongside Gordon and Bullock, and I will watch the hell out of this show forever.
Next week: Ah, it feels good to type that again… Falcone has a long, slow, painful revenge planned for Fish. Will anyone come to her aid?
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).