Gotham recap: ‘What The Little Bird Told Him’

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

“What the Little Bird Told Him”.

Note: This list does not even cover such current figures as the guy who murdered people with balloons, or the evil electrician who knows the exact voltage required to briefly knock everyone in a building unconscious unless they’re wearing rubber galoshes. On Monday “Gotham” picked up where it left off two weeks ago, with the escaped Arkham Asylum inmate Jack Gruber running amok with a beefy henchman.

In , Jim Gordon’s (Ben McKenzie) life is complicated by the control held over the city by its two major crime families: the Falcones and the Maronis.With Jack Gruber—a.k.a. the Electrocutioner—on a revenge-trip, Gordon saw a chance to get his old job back, and it’s clear now that the naive, nice-guy Gordon we met back when Gotham debuted in September is a relic of the past.

In other words, a goofy newspaper front page is vanishingly low on the list of Gotham’s sins against realism, many of which can be absolved simply by remembering hey, this is frigging Batman in all but name we’re talking about. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “What the Little Bird Told Him” wrapped up a few secondary storylines this week, and returned some others to status quo for the rest of the season.

Last week’s ‘Gotham’ installment, “Rogues’ Gallery,” saw Gordon making friends and enemies with his new position at Arkham Asylum, Penguin on the end of a harsh lesson from Maroni, and Selina Kyle taking in an ailing Ivy, so how does FOX’s latest episode of Bat-prequel drama shine a light on the city’s villainous beginnings? Triumphantly reinstated as a detective, this Gordon knows how to play the game, juggling various allegiances with the police force, the government, and the criminal underworld with a mixture of finesse and outright menace. On the outside, reunited with some sort of homemade Z-pinch system, among other electroweapons, he terrorized traitorous partners and mobsters before squaring off with Gordon, who took him out with galoshes and an old cup of coffee. (Live by the spark, die by the spark, I guess.

On Monday’s episode of Gotham, it was revealed that Jack Gruber — currently known as the Electrocutioner — has a third alias that we all need to worry about. It doesn’t always work, but with ten episodes left in the show’s first season (and it was just picked up for season two), it does at least appear to leave things in a place where they can step on the gas and make some fireworks down the stretch.

By now you’ve likely heard the news that ‘Gotham’ will return for a second season this fall, which wasn’t ever necessarily in doubt, mind you, but hardly qualifies as joyous news, if you’re anything like us. Meanwhile, Penguin is fumbling after inadvertently uttering the worst possible thing to Maroni (isn’t delirium a convenient plot device?), and Falcone is back to being an actual malevolent force in the Gotham underground—instead of a cute old grandpa mobster tending to his pet bunnies—because Fish’s plan fell apart and Liza’s true intentions were revealed. I’ll leave it to more ambitious Googlers to fact-check the electromagnetic theory at work here.) We wondered last time if Jack Gruber might end up being some other villain from the DC Comics universe — turns out he’s the Electrocutioner, real name Jack Buchinski. In Gotham, John Doman’s Carmine is the head of the family, while in the comic books, Falcone — nicknamed “The Roman” — was believed dead until last year’s Batman: Eternal series, when he re-appeared with the intent of usurping control of the crime families from the hands of the Penguin.

The renewal itself arrived at FOX’s TCA press tour presentation, which sadly lacked an open forum for critics to converse with the show’s cast and creators, but short of a complete creative reboot in season 2, it seems as if we’ll be slogging through ‘Gotham’ for the foreseeable future, at least. I’m often unkind to this show, but at least once per episode there’s a scene that I feel everything clicks into place, and the potential of the series will shine through. Christopher Heyerdahl’s stint as Gruber was little more than a thread Gotham employed to stitch together its larger stories, but his inherent creepiness managed to make every mildly predictable scene worth our time. Meanwhile, some intrepid reporter and photographer got the scoop and filed a finished story, which was then edited, printed, and distributed across Gotham City — all in an newspaper that debuts in the middle of the workday. Either that, or the next Electrocutioner might consider plying his trade in Phoenix. (“It’s a dry villainy …”) When “Gotham” ended its first half in November with Gordon re-assigned to Arkham, it felt like a reset.

Tonight it was all about opening with Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” At least, that was the tune on my screener, hopefully that’s what aired, otherwise I’m going to look more foolish than usual. In the episode, Fish finally decided to make her move against the mafia don, pretending to kidnap Liza and then threatening to kill her if Falcone didn’t take Liza and leave town — for good. What struck me about ‘Gotham’ during tonight’s hour (though the series has been guilty of it from the very beginning) is that the show seems consistently maligned in writing by the wrong direction. However, Gordon managed to take the Electrocutioner down without killing him, which is great and all but guarantees that he’ll return at some point—either this season, or, since Gotham has now officially been renewed for Season 2, next season.

At the very least, it offered a welcome change of scenery from the usual Gordon-and-Bullock-bickering-in-the-station routine, which had gotten a little stale. Falcone was about to do it, too, which really goes to show how good of a trainer Fish is that Liza can have come to mean so much to Falcone so quickly, thanks to Fish’s guidance. The elevated train, the skeevy day that makes even what is probably a rather nice outer-borough neighborhood look run down and dreary, the flickering neon from the storefronts.

A larger example being that we know Bruce becomes Batman and Gordon’s mission to clean up the city will inevitably fail, forcing the writers to draft content in service of an inevitable endpoint, the same often rings true of the finer moments. Leaving that door open is incredibly important, because even though the mob storyline has picked up and is definitely a high point of the show right now, Gotham will always reside under the umbrella of “Batman stuff,” and thus viewers will always expect to meet weird criminals with themes and other marketable gimmicks.

The big Falcone stories are Batman: Year One, Batman: The Long Halloween, both of which are available as collected editions, and the ongoing Batman: Eternal. But then the ever-unstoppable Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot ripped the rug out from under Fish’s feet by telling Falcone the truth about her scheme within a scheme. Take for instance Falcone strangling Liza to death in Fish’s club, an act that itself seems somewhat ineffectual and muted in its staging. ‘Gotham’’s writers know they need the character to die, and push toward the inevitable outcome, ignoring the actual journey to build up its effectiveness.

On the show, he has history with Don Marconi, who robbed four banks with him in the past and then sold him up the river to go down for the crime, but we’re not offered much beyond that in terms of backstory. Now Falcone is justifiably out for revenge against Fish for using the deeply personal, deeply painful stories he told her about his beloved mother to manipulate and destroy him and, well, if the promos for next week are any indication, then things are about to get really, really rough for Fish.

They’re on the hunt for some old partners of Jack, back in his previous life as a bank robber, who sold him out so they could keep his share of the money. The story ultimately wants Nygma dejected, Penguin in hot water or Thompkins as a love interest, and ‘Gotham’ doesn’t seem to care how contrived the means for creating these ends can be. The two episodes Gotham has aired since it returned from its winter hiatus have been two of the show’s best ones yet, even without Bruce making an appearance.

However, considering Gruber was taken down almost embarrassingly easy when he got there by the ever-tenacious Jim Gordon, it seems like we aren’t going to be getting any insights into his background — at least not any time soon. About the only way I can see her surviving all of this is if she somehow manages to pull a Penguin — getting the help of Jim Gordon to get her out of Falcone’s clutches and then clawing her way back to the top, perhaps through the use of an alliance with Marconi.

Granted, those represent minor points of a much larger pastiche, but that in and of itself may be why ‘Gotham’ perplexes me so, an inability to write toward its characters. Yes, the Bruce-and-Selina-heavy fall finale was also very good, and the presence of teen-angst Bruce certainly doesn’t ruin an episode, but it’s telling that while I’ve definitely noticed the lack of Bruce in the last two episodes, I haven’t particularly missed the kid. You’re the smart one in the family, didn’t I always say so?” So he didn’t think Fish would betray him, but he’s known her so long and admired her intelligence so much that “of course” he knew she betrayed him?

Receiving two episodes worth of build-up, only to be taken out in a second and before the final act of his second episode, makes it almost a guarantee that Gruber will be back. After all, Marconi is heavily suspicious of his dear friend Penguin at the moment, after Penguin desperately tried to leave to “visit his sick mother” (a.k.a. run to Falcone with information), and there’s no love lost between Fish and Penguin right now either.

Morena Baccarin has killed near of every role for years, and Ben McKenzie’s Gordon has essentially coalesced into an original enough entity by now, but no regard is paid to how little we know of Leslie Thompkins, or how little chemistry the characters share. After a vocal confrontation with an extraordinarily disinterested commissioner, Gordon gets 24 hours to bring him in, otherwise he’s back to cleaning toilets at Arkham.

It probably won’t be pleasant, whatever it is. “How dare you use my sainted mother against me,” Falcone said. “You’ll suffer for that.” Liza, the late vehicle for said sainted mother-using, definitely lost as well. Leslie Thompkins might be a brilliant doctor with a brilliant actress behind her, but darn it all if ‘Gotham’ isn’t just going to find excuses for her to follow Jim around, wanting the two as a romantic subplot to throw Barbara back into the mix.

There’s something to be said for the show not going full Oedipus over Don Falcone and Liza, who was hired by Fish to remind the gangster of his late mother, but Gotham lost whatever credit it earned when they had Falcone strangle her to death onscreen. (Hey, kids! But in recent issues of DC’s Catwoman, it has been revealed that Selina Kyle (aka Camren Bicondova on Gotham) is actually the daughter of a mobster named Rex Calabrese, and heir to a crime family all of her own. It’s just another one of those moments where I’m not sure when or why good police work is rewarded and why characters act the way they do on this show.

Leslie Tompkins, but no matter how the show forces it, she and Ben McKenzie have about as much on-screen chemistry as creepy Eddie Nygma and his beloved workplace-harassment lawsuit waiting to happen Ms. If nothing else, I’m anxious to see what Jada Pinkett Smith does with her, going forward. • Do you have any more sympathy for Barbara after meeting her catatonic blue-blood parents? When Gordon’s ex Barbara Keane returns to her rich parents’ house after breaking things with Renee Montoya, she’s greeted by a pair of WASP-snob stereotypes about as lively as one of Gruber’s electrocution victims. The problem with busting Jim’s rank down in the first place was that on such a young show, it never felt like they particularly earned that moment in Jim’s history yet.

It didn’t hurt that the set pieces it took to get him there proved some of ‘Gotham’’s finest yet, lending some serious sci-fi menace to Christopher Heyerdahl’s “Electrocutioner.” Dousing the killer’s electro-apparatus in water proved a fairly anticlimactic resolution to the affair, but if ‘Gotham’ can build villains and sequences that amplify its theatrical components as effectively as in the restaurant and precinct scenes, perhaps we’ll start moving away from characters merely winking at future bad guys. The Penguin’s countless double- and triple-crosses are too byzantine to have any impact when he reveals them, either on purpose or, in the goofy electro-shock scenes, by accident. I mean, I don’t know if I even like Gorkins, but I can appreciate that more Leslie means less Barbara and I see what you were trying to do there, Gotham, with that miserable little visit to Barbara’s miserable little family. The show’s one real achievement remains its vision of Gotham City itself — an endless skyline of skyscrapers disappearing into the distance, like a dystopian Sim City project, or like the high-rises of Manhattan sprawling the entire length and breadth of Los Angeles. Sigh. ‘Gotham’’s season 2 renewal doesn’t instill a great deal of hope the network will comes to its senses on the show’s creative missteps, but then again, ‘Sleepy Hollow’’s uncertain future might serve as a reminder that buzzworthy series’ popularity can wane without proper nurturing.

She goes to visit her impossibly posh parents, presumably to stay for a little bit, for one of the most awkward five minutes I’ve seen on TV in recent years. Considering how expensive it might have been, was a bad CG newspaper and Christopher Heyerdahl’s one-off return the best time to spring for a Johnny Cash song? With the destruction of Fish Mooney’s plot against Falcone, Penguin’s delirious foot-in-mouth incident, and Gordon’s return to the GCPD, Gotham has proved that it’s quite comfortable with changing directions fast—a skill that has worked in its favor so far.

I didn’t exactly worry for Gotham when it premiered because at the outset, I didn’t particularly like it enough to care whether it got prematurely canned, but now the show has really turned itself around. Horrific dialogue, ridiculous “foreshadowing,” and a character played so broadly that it’s impossible to imagine how over the top he will have to go before he puts on green tights with question marks all over them.

He couldn’t…get the girl back, and just not leave, or anything!” How does “live bullet in a cupcake” = “a beautiful woman is a dangerous thing?” And for goodness’ sake, how little does ‘Gotham’ respect its characters that she seems to warm to his affections? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and check back next week for our review of ‘Gotham’’s latest installment, “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” on FOX! Why it took so long to actually meet this guy for the first time is anybody’s guess, and there’s a moment where Jim kinda speaks for the audience on that.

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