Last week, Gotham had its season one order extended from 16 episodes to a robust 22. On the one hand, this is great news: The network brass has faith, which will allow everyone involved to keep stretching their legs and help the series find a true identity. The complex webs being woven above Gotham by the once and future Penguin and assorted other nefarious folks will now get a little more time to develop into big, brilliant super villain plans.
Maybe too much time, though? Stretches of 10 to 13 episodes seem to be working really well — for network TV, cable shows, and premium services like Netflix and HBO. Can a procedural-tinted series on Fox cook up nearly two dozen episodes in its first season, much less in 2014, and remain fascinating all along the way?
The extended episode order is oddly timed, too, since tonight's episode (the show's fifth) feels like the first time the writers might be stalling a bit. Sure, we get small narrative advances for Fish Mooney, Carmine Falcone, Bruce Wayne and Albert Pennyworth, and medium-sized bumps for James Gordon and Oswald Cobblepot — or rather, "the Penguin," as he's routinely being called at this point. But the episode's overall pacing is sluggish; apparently, the folks behind Gotham have been watching Game of Thrones, and its imitation of that masterpiece’s scheming-plotting-drinking-eating format is pretty threadbare. Set up a gathering of various crooks, let them run their sinister mouths about the allegedly earthshaking events to come, and cut to the next scene. "Show, don't tell" is storytelling's golden rule, and when the scheming is this bland, a lot more showing would go a long way.
The Penguin is still slinking around Maroni’s perpetually empty restaurant, where Dexter’s David Zayas likes holding court over meals that require giant napkins tucked into one’s collar. Maroni is working on taking Gotham over “inch by inch,” which doesn’t allow much division of chow time/work time. The atmosphere is very Scorsese meets Mob Movie of the Week, hitting all the right organized crime points. Maroni even threatens the Penguin with a crab leg!
Detective Harvey Bullock honors his meals as vigilantly as Maroni. “Jim, c'mon, it's lunch time, relax," Bullock pleads as Gordon gets antsy to work the latest case. "It's LUNCH time!!" Bullock fiercely protects every single second he doesn’t have to be working. (Also, the weekly 30 seconds of Bullock wearing his glasses at his desk are becoming one of the best parts to watch out for. Donal Logue is nailing this slightly underwritten part.)
This week's eccentric murderer is the type to leave tiny nip-shots of green vapor in musicians' busking pots. The superdrug gets its first user super high and super strong, bath salts style, and has him telling a bodega adversary, "Don't vex me, mortal." (He also has an obsession with milk, because #science.) Soon enough, the Thom Yorke–y Potion Man — real name: Stan Potolsky — is walking through town and handing out samples like he's the guy at Trader Joe's with the tiny paper cups of chili for everyone. The first victim’s strength leaves him just as he has a whole ATM above his head, resulting in the ickiest ATM death since Breaking Bad. If a bunch of Gothamites cycle through these vicious symptoms, it’s more than a recipe for a nightmare; it's a guarantee.
A superdrug-dealer targeting average Joes suits this city well. In the comic books and movies, Gotham is a place whose citizens are always being mass-threatened by the Riddler's latest brainwashing scheme or the Joker's latest poison-the-water-and/or-air scheme. Hence, this episode's vibe fits, especially with its Joker-green gas-spouting resolution. The question, though, is why we’re continuing to spend time learning about each week’s villain — Mario Pepper, Gladwell, the Balloon Man — just to see them perish before the credits roll.
Gotham’s criminals and their obsessions with quotable vigilante justice are getting a little played-out, too. The Potion Man’s old academic colleague gets all philosophical about hypocrites and the "real" bad guys, just like the Balloon Man did a couple episodes back. This time Wayne Enterprises is The Man being railed at (a new development). Right after, the complaining party pops a dose of that Viper and Hulks out in his senior citizen glory. It doesn't last long, as Gordon blasts him into the next world. That's two kills for Goodie-Goodie Gordon in two weeks. He still can’t stop the Potion Man from pontificating "on behalf of all living creatures,” though. Groan. (Also: notice how Edward Nygma was crazily intrigued by the Viper serum. The psycho lurking in him would love to do something so dangerous.)
Bruce and Alfred get another decent chunk of screen time this week. Alfred is still tsk-tsking at Bruce's old-man-ish obsession with the city's latest crime news. "I wanna understand how it all works, how Gotham works," says Bruce, going on to ramble about City Hall’s corruption like a bitter septuagenarian. Young Batman, a.k.a. Lil Brucie, will one day have trouble obeying his butler/guardian or really treating him with much respect, and his habits are taking shape quickly. A lot of Bruce’s lines and discoveries feel like things that could interchangeably come out of Jim Gordon’s mouth, but maybe the parallels are so on-the-nose to show us that these two are obsessive do-gooder peas in an obsessive do-gooder pod.
Fish Mooney's secret weapon, Liza, is being drilled to learn a soaring opera piece that sounds like something Hannibal Lecter might listen to while cooking his favorite brain souffle over on NBC. By the end of the night, we learn that Fish has been sexy-timing with the enemy, and that she’s sent her weapon out to catch the eye of Falcone, a lecherous old fellow indeed. Falcone thinks Liza is the second coming of his mother, and he's intensely attracted to that, which is doubly creepy. We’ll see if he’s dumb enough (or just sex-starved enough) to fall for Fish’s scheme.
And since there can never be enough players on the board, we’ve got a new villain to watch in Wayne Enterprises and/or its shady high-level employee and/or its subsidiary chemical branch, the one responsible for Viper. As to why Wayne Industries is producing biochemical weapons, not to worry: Wee Batman is on the case.
Previously: Take the Cannoli