Every week, Gotham shows us how endangered its city is. Crooks are everywhere. Corruption reigns supreme. Batman doesn't exist yet, and rookie detective James Gordon is struggling so much with his inner demons and his lazy-ass partner Harvey Bullock that he can barely keep justice and hope alive singlehandedly anymore.
Tonight's episode gives us a double dose of city-threatening menaces right off the bat. First is Oswald Cobblepot, in his penguin suit (the show does not favor a light touch), showing up at Gordon's inexplicably opulent home. Any room Oswald is in immediately feels dangerous, but the little guy seems to wanna make nice with the detective. They're partners in a secret, after all: only these two know that Gordon isn't the type of guy who can or will play ball with the outlaw forces governing Gotham. If Oswald spills the beans, Carmine Falcone could knock off the cop and his fiancé, Barbara, before dusk. And yet, out on the street, our hero gives Oswald one message: get bent.
Menace Two, a guy called Gladwell, starts his night on the roof of a parking garage. He's an Anton Chigurh type carrying a handmade weapon that's a hybrid of the No Country for Old Men villain's cattle gun and the T-1000's mega knife-arm. This maniac du jour uses his bespoke death-telescope to take out two Gotham politicians. Terribly fanciful villains are virtually guaranteed to show up in every episode at this point, and they're getting more violent every time.
Those villains are also the thing helping Gotham hopscotch over the perils of becoming another paint-by-numbers cop show. We're still hitting those time-tested beats, but the show's crime plots are just comic-book-sadistic enough to carry most episodes a long way. Enterprising Gordon and heel-dragging douchebag Bullock are typically able to pull the story the rest of the way. Tonight's big battle climax might be the show's tensest moment yet, even if we know Gordon will beat Gladwell. It's an apt follow-up to last week's fracas, too: Bullock gives Gladwell a chance to surrender, the way Gordon is always doing. Turns out it's the wrong move — Bullock has to fill Gladwell with lead, and surprise, the saint can kill as well.
Barbara's brief, predictable participation in her man's life has started to feel like the same scene on repeat, so it's good that they're fighting/broken up for a minute. Gordon is being ridiculous, though — he gets all angry-jealous and table-turny because Barbara's been talking with her old girlfriend, while he’s been lying to her about the aborted Cobblepot assassination. Gordon doesn’t seem capable of doing the "loving another person' routine right now — and that's fine. We don’t really need to keep seeing these two wax pseudo-philosophical, mutually probe the morals of the city, and blearily break down the latest crime clues.
Fish Mooney's B-plots have also been on repeat since the pilot — she sits, diabolically, in her downtown club, murmuring theatrically with henchmen and young performers and various visitors. But Fish pushes her plot ahead a little tonight, forcing two prospective employees to duke it out for the one position. What starts as a hair-pulling catfight (on a week without Young Catwoman) turns into a Fight Club bare-knuckle head-smasher. Liza, Fish's new “weapon,” is vicious. (Side note: it's irritating to see Jada Pinkett Smith's performance half reduced to a vehicle for clumsy titillation, which is still a primetime prerequisite. Ditto for Barbara's bisexuality — it reads more like a tacked-on attempt at salaciousness than an attempt to offer an interesting human character, even if its origins can partially be traced back to the books.)
One piece we definitely don't need on a weekly basis anymore is the Wayne Manor check-in. Alfred is grim and concerned; we get it. Bruce loves reading newspapers and brooding; we get it. It's starting to get silly and uncomfortable, watching Gordon air out all his fears and motivational speech one-liners on Bruce. Fall back, Jim. It's not like you're Batman. Unless you’re exactly that — the false proto-Batman teaching the actual proto-Batman how to be Batman. It’s starting to seem that way, but still, let's take a break. Let the traumatized kid be a traumatized kid, Jim. Just because your actual partner sucks doesn’t mean you can draft your favorite junior high schooler for the job.
The proper introduction of Arkham is a biggie tonight. The well-known asylum from the comics and the video games isn’t just an nuthouse this time — it’s a whole derelict part of town, like an apocalyptic Brooklyn right outside Manhattan (if Tim Burton had his set designer built a big Gothic gate that said BROOKLYN in spooky letters). Slimy mayor Aubrey James is caught in the middle of the Falcone family and the Maroni family when it comes to Arkham. It’s not terribly amusing to hear about this potential war and to watch newscasts about low-income housing projects and world-class mental health facilities, but it’s enough to get the point across: Shit is about to go down in Gotham’s no-man's-land. If not soon, then by finale time.
Another big development, if not the evening's biggest: Oswald Cobblepot’s continued descent into supervillain-dom. In most situations, Oswald skitters around all meek and cockroach-y. In private, though? He's a shark who tastes blood in the water, a smart one, a Machiavellian great white. And he knows his way around a mafia scene — the Penguin's victims this week die thanks to that old Godfather advice, "take the cannoli." Next time, if it's from Oswald, maybe don't take it.
Previously: Fowl Play