Gotham plays to its strengths and cleans up its convoluted plot in “What the Little Bird Told Him.”
Last week’s episode wasn’t a fluke: Gotham is getting better. While the first ten episodes were confused and inconsistent, the Batman prequel series has returned from its midseason hiatus with more focus and an understanding of what it does best. Gotham still has its problems, but they are getting less severe while the show plays up its strong points.
Picking up where “Rogues’ Gallery” left off, a pair of inmates have escaped from Arkham Asylum and it’s up to Arkham guard Gordon to hunt them down. However, since the escapees technically fall under GCPD jurisdiction, he has to stand up to the commissioner to let him back into the department. The idea of forcing Gordon to work within the walls of Arkham was interesting and was expected to be a longer arc for the character, but it turns out this is definitely a good move for the show.
Gotham tended to take itself too seriously before the break, and putting Gordon into Arkham didn’t afford many opportunities for jokes that weren’t at the expense of the inmates. A detective again, Gordon is working with Bullock and now Donal Logue (Bullock) doesn’t have to carry the show’s meager sense of humor. Gordon is a lot funnier and versatile, and his character is far more enjoyable for it.
After realizing the absurdity that is Gotham City, Gordon chooses to embrace it. He’s taking chances and doing so with a sense of humor. All the while, he maintains his altruism, making his character more interesting than the stubborn, “law and order” hero we had earlier in the season.
Meanwhile, the criminal underworld that was largely ignored last week takes up most of this episode, with a few stories and relationships reaching resolutions. The end result is some great characterization and development for Falcone, but more importantly we hopefully won’t have to keep track of as many betrayals, spies and clandestine deals.
Ultimately, this episode and last week’s both come across as efforts to rebuild the show. Get rid of the unmanageable plot and unfocused storytelling while playing up the stronger characterization and absurdity of this world. There are still moments of cheesy dialogue and questionable decisions, but it is so much less than viewers had to deal with before.
And not for nothing, both of the kid characters, Bruce and Selina, are completely absent in this episode while Barbara has a minimal amount of screen time.
Watching Gotham was frustrating before the holiday break. It was hard to say it was a good show; there was always a qualifier: “It’s a good show, but…” If the series continues to produce episodes of (at least) this quality and manages to stay focused with its storytelling, we might be able to simply say, “It’s a good show.”
Gordon’s Back? Gordon’s Back.
When Gordon was sent to work as a guard at Arkham Asylum, it looked like this could be an area the series would explore for some time. However he returns from his month-long exile in “What the Little Bird Told Me” and it looks like he’s here to stay. His sudden return to the GCPD as a detective isn’t a huge surprise, but at first it’s a bit disappointing to see the Gotham wouldn’t commit to what appeared to be a major change, even for a little while.
It’s for the best, though, as Gordon is far improved compared to the earlier episodes. He was never a terrible character, but he was rather boring as a protagonist driven only by the desire to make things right in the twisted city of Gotham. Now that he has seen just how warped the politicians, police, and criminals can be, he’s coming back with a fresher, more direct attitude. Gordon is still committed to changing the city for the better, but he’s learned he has to be a little devious and have a sense of humor about it.
There was always some chemistry between McKenzie (Gordon) and Logue (Bullock) – mostly thanks to Logue – but thanks to some better writing, that chemistry has been kicked up and is reciprocated by McKenzie. It’s refreshing to see Bullock and Gordon take turns being the jokester and the straight man. This new attitude for Gordon compliments his new methods for handling everything from the commissioner to the villain-of-the-week, the Electrocutioner.
Ignore the “Science”
Jack Gruber, or the Electrocutioner, returns this week after escaping from Arkham, seeking revenge on those that betrayed him. Mainly, that’s Sal Maroni, leading to a pretty exciting confrontation with a fun villain. His brutal electroconvulsive therapy to brainwash and control his victims in “Rogues’ Gallery” was creepy, and now he has all his toys.
His weapons are inconsistent and odd and I’m pretty sure electricity doesn’t work like it does in this episode, but just ignore the bad science and enjoy what’s happening. Whatever nonsense is going on is entirely worth it to see how Gordon finally takes the Electrocutioner down. It’s a fantastic moment that proves both that Gordon is fairly clever, but also that this show is capable of not taking itself too seriously.
Killing Off Loose Ends
This week’s stories set in the seedy underworld of Gotham City are less humorous. Rather, the focus is on cleaning up the show’s convoluted stories on that side of the series.
Untangling the threads of deception on Gotham could take an extra page of text, and no one wants that. Not surprisingly, it’s not too appealing to general audiences to keep up with from week to week either. “What the Little Bird Told Me” works to unravel these threads as both Maroni and Falcone become aware of the betrayal in their ranks, with Falcone taking lethal steps to address it.
Jada Pinkett Smith is a big enough investment to avoid the death of her traitorous character, Fish Mooney, until (potentially) the end of the season. Rather, when Falcone literally takes matters into his own hands, it’s to kills off her mole, Liza. It’s a great characterization moment for Falcone, simultaneously brutal and heartbreaking, as Liza was manufactured by Mooney to take advantage of all his sympathies.
Bottom line: It’s still not the top of the comic-based series on TV right now (especially with Agent Carter out there), but Gotham has far improved over its previous episodes.
Recommendation: A fun episode with a few big adjustments for the seasonal arc, don’t miss “What the Little Bird Told Me.” Those that have skipped the series so far should really look to get on board.[rating=3.5]