'Gotham' Recap: One Side of the Same Coin

The man who would be Two-Face makes his series premiere — and that's about all that happens in this uncharacteristically dull episode

Nicholas D'Agosto as Harvey Dent in the 'Harvey Dent' episode of 'Gotham.' Credit: Jessica Miglio/Fox

Holy wheel-spinning, Batman! While Gotham has given us some strong episodes and a couple of dull ones, it’s waited until tonight to serve up an almost completely immobile nothing-fest. The occasional near-hour of dead air is bound to come in a 22-episode season, but that doesn’t make “Harvey Dent” any less stupefying to sit through.

Even the introduction of Harvey Dent, the legendary supervillain for whom the episode is named, feels limp. As played by the talented Masters of Sex alum Nicholas D’Agosto, Dent is a fresh-faced assistant district attorney who, as even Batman lightweights know, enjoys flipping a coin to settle disputes. Along with detectives Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Renee Montoya, and Crispus Allen, Dent's planning to implicate a crooked billionaire named Dick Lovecraft in the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Aside from a rage flare-up, Dent doesn’t have much to do in his first outing. Yet almost every time he’s on camera, his face is conspicuously split into two halves — one shadowy, one well-lit. The Two-Face cometh….

Most of these proto-villains and actual bad guys are, well, starting to seem a little airless. Edward Nygma keeps flitting around the police precinct with a toothy grin and a goofy demeanor, but we’re not getting much of a look at who he is, or why he might someday become the Riddler. Carmine Falcone, Fish Mooney, and Salvatore Maroni are power players who’ve barely made any power plays. Oswald Cobblepot has tallied up a body count, but his scheming and creeping is slowing to a repetitive trickle. Who should we really be watching here?

The show's dominoes are presumably being arranged for some spectacular toppling; last Monday's episode seemed to be pointing to a major move in this direction. But it’d be wonderful if more of that big-picture action could unfold along the way. So far Gotham’s strongest assets are its well-drawn weekly murderers — who tend to perish or get locked up by the end of the hour — and Gordon and Bullock, who don't always get the shine they deserve. (Don't even mention the patience-testing farce that is Gordon and Barbara Kean's relationship. She's now left Gordon to rekindle her old romance with Montoya, because hey, why not?)

Never mind the titular D.A.; the majority of this episode's screen time goes to Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. The latter is Gordon’s only witness for the Wayne murders at this point, so she’s ferried to Wayne Manor to hide out until she’s needed for trial. All we know about Kyle so far is that she's homeless, friendless, acrobatic, and a klepto who loves to sass authority figures. Her visit is an opportunity to deepen her character; instead, she keeps doing the same bored antagonist act. Young master Wayne is smitten, no matter how much "Cat" belittles his attempts to train himself for the dark future he envisions. "You're the weirdest kid I've ever met," Kyle tells him when she finds him holding his breath in the pool, fully clothed. To be fair, that's definitely weird. He can clearly afford a bathing suit.

The budding sleuth Bruce is interested in learning more about Selina, but she takes a minute to open up, and is vague when she does. She says her mom's a millionaire performer who's secretly a government agent on a mission, but that she'll be back soon. Then she coaxes some long-awaited smiles and giggles out of the lad in the form of a foodfight. It's a moment of age-appropriate fun that even the perpetually tsk-tsk-ing Alfred can't bring himself to shut down.

In lieu of a conceptual killer this week, we get Ian Hargrove, a mentally ill, well-intentioned bomber being transferred from Blackgate Penitentiary for psychiatric care. Mooney sends a squad of Russians with shotguns to capture Hargrove and use him for his skill set. A string of explosions seems to be building to a caper that will bankrupt Falcone, but it's really just an unnecessarily elaborate way for Her Fishness to eliminate the Russians, a squad we were never that familiar with, and to take one more inconsequential jab at the mafia don. A phone triggers the last detonation to the bleat of "The Final Countdown" — the season's second moment of comic-ringtone relief after the bald psychopath Victor Zsasz took a call to the tune of "Funkytown." (Speaking of which, where is Zsasz? Bring that compelling maniac back, let him wreak havoc for a few uninterrupted episodes.)

One last development of note: Mayor Aubrey James has reopened the ancient Arkham Asylum. After the kerfuffle with Hargrove and another scolding from Gordon, James orders the transfer of all mentally ill Blackgate Penitentiary inmates to Arkham. They'll receive proper care and rehabilitation — until some supervillain finds the keys, of course, and sets them free. That can't come soon enough.

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