gotham 2.12: here we are, back again.
The midseason premiere of Gotham kicks off with a handy verbal recap as Gordon is grilled by none other than Harvey Dent on the circumstances of former mayor Theo Galavan’s death. In case we forgot, though Oswald engineered the former mayor’s kidnapping, it’s Gordon who delivered the final bullet. Despite that, given the lack of evidence or eyewitnesses, Gordon’s let off the hook after he says he had nothing to do with it, a story that’s corroborated by Cobblepot when he’s brought in to face the music. Notably, it seems to be a lie he’s told to Lee, too, which will doubtless come back around to bite him later on in the season.
It’s Gordon’s episode from start to finish, which is a mixed blessing. Gordon is the show’s main character, but his storyline remains its weakest part. His character fluctuates — he’s morally strict one week and willing to bend the rules the next, he’s wracked by guilt and then a ruthless killing machine — and that inconsistency means that the characters whose storylines depend on him are made inconsistent, too. Even carrying his child, it’s impossible to see why Lee stays with him, and Michael Chiklis has been largely wasted in a role that was much-hyped in the lead-up to season two. He begs Jim not to make him look like a fool for believing him, but the damage is already done. Donal Logue is the only exception to the rule, and he’s barely in the episode.
Gotham’s most valuable assets are David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne — surprisingly absent from the midseason premiere — and its guest stars, who consistently turn in great performances, but are underutilized as Gotham goes through its villains like Kleenex. This hour introduces three new villains to an already jam-packed roster. Victor Fries, Hugo Strange, and his accomplice Ms. Peabody provide a jolt to an episode, but it’s hard to invest in any of them considering how quickly their predecessors have been killed off. This is a pity considering how lovely Nathan Darrow and Kristen Hager are as Victor and Nora Fries, giving performances that aren’t subsumed by the occasionally stale dialogue they’re given (it’ll be too soon if I never hear someone ask for science-y dialogue to be repeated “in English” again), and how fantastic BD Wong — most recently seen on the excellent Mr. Robot as White Rose — is, almost so fantastic that he might as well be on his own show.
Speaking of other, the dynamic between Nygma and Cobblepot remains inexplicable as anything other than fanservice and a way of conveniently explaining Nygma’s eventual entry into Gotham’s criminal world as the Riddler. It is, after Cobblepot goes so far as to ask Nygma to look after his mother’s grave, cut short as Cobblepot is sent to Arkham on an insanity plea. From the way he is mocked by his fellow inmates to the sly way that Strange tells him he has high hopes for his rehabilitation, it’s evident that Cobblepot’s stay in Arkham is going to be far from the lax sentence he thought it would be when he told Barnes he was insane.
As the latest case on Gordon’s plate, the Fries family are facing an infinitely more sympathetic plight. Victor has been freezing and kidnapping people in an attempt to discover a way to safely freeze his wife, Nora, before her illness kills her. When the police finally cotton on and take Nora into custody after she discovers that the mice her husband has been experimenting on are in reality not mice at all, he turns himself in, but is relegated to sit and wait with a crop of Gotham lunatics who have all come in to confess the same thing. Unfortunately, one of Fries' frozen subjects, brought into the station along with Nora, unfreezes and, instead of melting like Fries' previous victims, revives and begins to wander the precinct like a disconsolate Rip Van Winkle. Upon seeing this, Victor realizes that he finally has the formula he needs to freeze Nora without killing her, and leaves before anyone can get his confession.
As we enter into the second half of the second season, it's worth keeping this in mind: from the very start, Gotham has had trouble committing to a tone. The animated series and the Burton movies were gloriously camp, accentuating the fantastical in a premise that is admittedly strange and producing a sense of pathos out of unapologetic fun. The recent Nolan movies went in the other direction, putting every egg into realism’s basket and ushering in the age of “dark and gritty” superhero movies after an era of technicolor. Gotham falls into an unfortunate middle. It veers camp, even recruiting Paul Reubens to reprise his role from Tim Burton’s films as the Cobblepot patriarch, but its desire to be taken seriously means that it counterbalances its wilder instincts with violence and angst that doesn’t quite mesh. Take, for example, Victor Fries’ melting test subject (gruesome and gross) in juxtaposition with the broad acting of the catty pharmacy clerk he deals with just moments afterward. They might as well be on different shows. The pity here is that Gotham has proven it can do both elements well, just not in concert with each other.
Odds and ends:
- Butch, now sharing his rule over Gotham's criminal underbelly with Tabitha Galavan, is accessorizing his hand, mounting a drill onto the stump where, last we saw him, he’d had a hammer. Any bets on whether or not we'll ever see an Evil Dead-style chainsaw?
- Speaking of bets, how long do we think Victor Fries' story is going to last?