“Rogues’ Gallery” introduces new characters, Arkham Asylum, and better writing. It’s time to start watching Gotham.
Gotham has returned after a brief break with “Rogues’ Gallery”, the first episode set in scenic Arkham Asylum. The episode introduces some new characters and highlights someone from the background of earlier episodes, but most importantly we are treated to great writing by newcomer Sue Chung.
The previous ten episodes of Gotham haven’t all been winners. The series, in case you forgot, is a prequel spin-off of the Batman universe, focusing on James Gordon before he earned that “Commissioner” title and creates new origin stories for Batman’s villains. Oh, and kid Bruce Wayne wanders around. Most of the time, the series has been hindered by clichéd dialogue, inconsistent characters, and plot holes.
“Rogues’ Gallery” isn’t perfect, and there are still better comic book shows out there right now (Arrow, Flash, Agents of SHIELD) but it is an improvement for the series. Notably, this episode is slimmed down on the global narrative (Bruce never shows up) and focuses on Gordon’s case: someone is performing crude experiments on Arkham’s inmates. There are still moments dedicated to building the seasonal arc, but they don’t impose heavily on the episode’s main story.
In fact, this might be the episode to get on board with Gotham. The story isn’t wrapped up in the machinations of feuding criminal and political factions and the episode makes good use of the (somewhat) fresh start offered by the midseason finale, “LoveCraft“. There are enough details in this episode to let you know what’s going on in Gotham City, but not too much to confuse new viewers. Since this is one of the better episodes as well, it might be the best point to start the series if you want to skip the weaker earlier episodes.
Those that have stuck around are treated to the first look inside the oft discussed Arkham Asylum, where Jim Gordon is now working as a security guard. It’s a crappy job in a crappy place with a crappy boss (played by The Wire’s Isiah Whitlock, Jr. though!). One downside of the episode is the decision to jump headfirst into the “crazy people are creepy and weird” trope. It’s not a surprise given the style of the show and the setting, but it’s an unfortunate decision if you care about representation of people with mental health issues (something Batman has done both really well and really poorly).
Not all is bad in Arkham Asylum, though. Gordon is joined by Doctor Leslie Thompkins, another personal fave from the comics. And lucky for fans of sci-fi, Firefly’s Morena Baccarin is portraying Thompkins for the recurring role in the series. She’s great as another morally-driven character for Gordon to work with, and their flirting is actually adorable.
Most surprisingly, though, is the focus on Butch (Drew Powell) for the episode’s scenes outside Arkham. Butch is the right hand of the manipulative and dangerous Fish Mooney, a gangster looking to usurp her boss, Carmine Falcone. In the past Butch has had great lines and Powell brought a lot of humanity to the mob enforcer in his brief screen time. The showrunners apparently realized the potential of the actor and the character, giving him the best scenes in “Rogues’ Gallery”.
Gordon has been at Arkahm for a month at the start of the episode, and his boss is blaming him for the weekly violent outbursts of the inmates. The newly single Gordon meets with Doctor Thompkins after a patient is beaten, and even the injured inmate can see the sparks fly. Already, these two have more chemistry than Gordon ever did with ex-fiancée Barbara Kean, who is shacked up with GCPD officer Renee Montoya. What brings Gordon and Thompkins back together later on is less than sweet, though.
After a patient is found awake but unresponsive thanks to some brutal version of electroconvulsive therapy, Gordon handles the situation as a detective would, even if he no longer carries the title. After some medical babble/pseudo-science it’s revealed these experiments may be an attempt at mind control. In a twist anyone can see coming, we learn that one of the nurses is actually an inmate and is presumably responsible for the experiments. Before she can be questioned though, she is killed in a stampede of prisoners she released in her escape attempt.
Then comes the slightly more surprising twist: she was another victim, acting under orders of the real culprit, one of the more stable inmates named Jack Gruber. He’s long gone though, after killing Gordon’s pain in the ass boss (sadly, we don’t get any more of Senator Clay Davis), but he’ll surely be back as Gotham’a interpretation of The Electrocutioner. He took with him his latest subject, Aaron Helzinger (or Amygdala).
Butch never dominated any of his scenes before in his limited screen time, but from the first episode he has been one of the most consistent characters on the show. Even with a relatively violent job description, he’s been funny, respectful, and not excessive in carrying out his duties. He’s a mob enforcer who seems like a genuinely nice guy with no mean streak. He carries all of that into his own side-story this week.
Mooney is concerned one of her “allies” won’t let her take control of the family after she takes out Falcone, but Butch steps up to try and convince the fellow mobster. He’s known the guy since they were kids, so when he offers Butch the chance to betray Mooney and join him, it’s hard to tell which way Butch will go.
Powell brings a conflicted sadness to Butch for this episode, and it works really, really well. It wasn’t until a bit into his final scene with his old friend that it became obvious which way he was going to go. Butch has been a minor treat in Gotham when his part has allowed for it, and hopefully this episode signals a larger role he will play.
- Bullock, Gordon’s former partner, is only around for a couple scenes, but Donal Logue knows how to make the most of his screen time. He’s funny, sharp, and hugely interesting as one of the “good guys”. Hopefully he’ll return to the main stage sooner rather than later.
- Montoya dumps Barbara (something the showrunners should consider), but rather than show us how their relationship is toxic, Montoya just says it is. Barbara is lying in bed a lot and there is a pill bottle near her, but otherwise there’s just nothing going on there. Maybe the writers are just trying to wrap Barbara up quickly (well, we can hope).
- The homeless Selina Kyle and Ivy Pepper get up to no good, breaking into Gordon’s (actually Barbara’s) apartment for a warm place to sleep. Ivy messes with Barbara’s head when she calls, but otherwise this whole side-plot seemed rather pointless.
Bottom line: Gotham is back, and relatively better than before. Given the use of Butch and complete absence of Bruce Wayne, it’s looking like this show is starting to know what its strengths are.
Recommendation: This is a great episode for newcomers to jump in. In fact, you could likely skip the first ten episodes and start now. While there’s nothing crucial for the overall story here, it’s one of the series’ stronger episodes and gives enough of an introduction to the world.[rating=3.5]