'Gotham' Recap: To Catch a Crock

Gordon’s manhunt and Fish’s master plan get bogged down by bad writing

Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue, R) pays James Gordon (Ben McKenzie, L) a visit at Arkham Asylum in the 'Rogues' Gallery' episode. Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX

A brief list of occupations that will one day be held by characters on Gotham:

    •    bat-themed billionaire vigilante
    •    whip-wielding jewel thief and cat enthusiast
    •    bird-obsessed crimelord with arsenal of umbrella-based weaponry
    •    master criminal in green question-mark jumpsuit
    •    deranged horticulturist with poison saliva

Note: This list does not even cover such current figures as the guy who murdered people with balloons, or the evil electrician who knows the exact voltage required to briefly knock everyone in a building unconscious unless they're wearing rubber galoshes.

In other words, a goofy newspaper front page is vanishingly low on the list of Gotham's sins against realism, many of which can be absolved simply by remembering hey, this is frigging Batman in all but name we're talking about. Yet there's something about that "THE ELECTROCUTIONER STRIKES!" headline that pops up in the middle of tonight's episode — "What the Little Bird Told Him" — that's emblematic of the show's creeping half-assedness.

The headline covers a crime that detectives James Gordon and Harvey Bullock received a tip about when, per their constantly cited timetable, they had 20 hours to catch escaped Arkham Asylum inmate/electrical whiz Jack Gruber in time to meet the deadline set by Commissioner Loeb. (The latter is played scenery-devouring  and former bosom buddy Peter Scolari, several bat-leagues away from his milquetoast dad character on Girls.) When they talk about the newspaper, though, they say they've got 17 hours remaining. This means that in the space of three hours, they have investigated the crime scene, processed it, and got back to the station house. Meanwhile, some intrepid reporter and photographer got the scoop and filed a finished story, which was then edited, printed, and distributed across Gotham City — all in an newspaper that debuts in the middle of the workday. This would be transparently ridiculous even if it were due to, like, a newspaper-themed supervillain. Without even that meager justification? It's inexcusably lazy writing.

And that's far from the only face-palming moment here. Over in the mob-war storyline, Fish Mooney finally makes her move against Don Falcone by staging a kidnapping of Liza, her mole in the boss's inner circle. "I didn't think it was going to be you," Falcone tells Fish when she makes contact. After playing dumb for 15 seconds, she admits the plot is hers. His reply? "Of course it is. How long have I known you? You're the smart one in the family, didn't I always say so?" So he didn't think Fish would betray him, but he's known her so long and admired her intelligence so much that "of course" he knew she betrayed him? These lines come less than a minute apart in the same conversation!

I wish I could say these flubs got in the way of appreciating smarter stuff elsewhere, but the pickings were slim indeed. There's something to be said for the show not going full Oedipus over Don Falcone and Liza, who was hired by Fish to remind the gangster of his late mother, but Gotham lost whatever credit it earned when they had Falcone strangle her to death onscreen. (Hey, kids! Superhero show!) Homeland's Morena Baccarin returns as Arkham employee Dr. Leslie Tompkins, but no matter how the show forces it, she and Ben McKenzie have about as much on-screen chemistry as creepy Eddie Nygma and his beloved workplace-harassment lawsuit waiting to happen Ms. Kringle. When Gordon's ex Barbara Keane returns to her rich parents' house after breaking things with Renee Montoya, she's greeted by a pair of WASP-snob stereotypes about as lively as one of Gruber's electrocution victims. The Penguin's countless double- and triple-crosses are too byzantine to have any impact when he reveals them, either on purpose or, in the goofy electro-shock scenes, by accident.

The show's one real achievement remains its vision of Gotham City itself — an endless skyline of skyscrapers disappearing into the distance, like a dystopian Sim City project, or like the high-rises of Manhattan sprawling the entire length and breadth of Los Angeles. It's excessive, but the expressive kind of excessive — imaginative, thoughtful, even beautiful. If only that cityscape were populated by characters half as interesting.

Previously: Asylum Seekers