'Gotham' Recap: Toys in the Attic

The Commissioner's crazy secret — and Gordon's power play — keep the show's hot streak going

Gordon (Ben McKenzie, L) and Bullock (Donal Logue, R) follow a lead to a farmhouse in the country in the "Everyone Has A Cobblepot" episode of Gotham. Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX

The Scarecrow. The Joker, maybe. Fish Mooney carving her own eye out with a spoon. Gotham has really been cooking lately, and the madness and mayhem of its villians are what's kept the fire burning. In that light, the prospect of an episode about bad apples in the GCPD is about as welcome as a VIP pass to a nightclub performance by the Penguin's mom. But on the mean streets of Gotham City, miracles, like full-body transplants, can happen. And tonight's cop-centric installment "Everyone Has a Cobblepot" was the latest in a long line of beautifully berserk hours of pseudo-superhero TV.

Credit the decision to tailor the police intrigue to the series' usual strengths — i.e. being extremely, cartoonishly weird — instead of trying to play things by the book. The last time we followed Detectives Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock in their attempts to root out criminality among Gotham's Finest, we were forced to face facts: This show is simply not a very good procedural. The dirty cops are too filthy and their crimes are too over-the-top (murdering a witness in a locked interrogation room inside the precinct house?) for the hunt to hold our interest.

This time out, the series leaned into its larger-than-life tendencies, however, and it paid off. Instead of a run-of-the-mill drug ring, Gordon, Bullock, and their ally Harvey Dent take aim at the head honcho himself, Commissioner Loeb. The evidence they're searching for won't help them close a case — it's a motherlode of compromising files that enable the top cop, and his boss Don Falcone, to engineer every act of corruption in the department. Forget cleaning up the squad one officer at a time; the secret files give Gordon a chance at a headshot.

Accordingly, the set piece that the dynamic duo (no, not that dynamic duo) must survive to complete their quest is something special. With the help of Gordon's pet stool pigeon the Penguin, they locate Loeb and Falcone's safehouse, staffed by kindly caretakers (House of Cards veteran Dan Ziskie and Girls' Becky Ann Baker; since Peter Scolari plays Commissioner Loeb, this means both of Hannah Horvath's parents play villains in this episode). But the secret stored here isn't what they expected. It's the Commish's demented daughter Miriam, locked in the attic for 20 years following the murder of her mother, which her doting dad covered up. We find this out through a genuinely memorable monologue in which the madwoman describes killing birds to make macabre jewelry: "They land on my windowsill, and you can catch ‘em if you're really silent and still. And I can be really silent and still. Silent as a mouse." Our heroes' dawning soon realize that they're chatting with a murderer.

After a hilariously clumsy gunfight and the completion of their flowers-in-the-attic interrogation, Gordon and Bullock have enough to confront their boss. Jim takes pity on his nemesis, recognizing that while he may be a bastard, he covered up his kid's crime more out of a desire to protect her from abuse in Arkham Asylum than to keep the scandal quiet. He forces Loeb to stay in office, figuring that the devil he knows is better than the devil he doesn't. He orders him to restart the murder case against the dirty narco cop Arnold Flass, and to hand off his file on Bullock, who'd been forced to kill or be killed by Loeb's goons years ago.

Finally — and it's here where the episode really surprises — Gordon plays some genuine political hardball and makes the Commissioner endorse him for president of the police union. This is a side of this straight-laced, scowling protagonist we've never seen before, and the first sign that this guy is actually capable of playing with the big boys. With moves like this, "Commissioner Gordon" is a much more likely future than it's ever been before, and he's likely to be a far livelier figure in the here-and-now as well.

With Gordon triumphantly proclaiming "a new day in the GCPD," it falls to Oswald Cobblepot to clean up the loose ends. He does this in a deliciously nasty little coda, revealing that he allowed the shotgun-wielding, senior citizen safehouse guards to escape — then forcing them to fight to the death for his only ticket out of town. Thus we're treated to the sight of Baker's character strangling her partner of 20 years to death, then getting blown away by a cackling Penguin. If you're gonna pepper your crazy comic-book drama with cameos, this is precisely how to do it.

The Fish Mooney material, unfortunately, stands on slightly shakier ground. Actor Colm Feore is appropriately dapper and devilish as Dr. Dulmacher, the sinister surgeon in charge of the organ-harvesting ring Fish has gotten hooked by. And the bon voyage prepared for his underling, played by Re-Animator star and B-movie legend Jeffrey Combs, is itself like something out of the scary section of your old video store: His head is transplanted onto a woman's body, in a scene that's as grotesque and sociopolitically dubious as anything the grindhouse ever cooked up. Yet Fish's acceptance into her captor's organization never really makes much sense — seriously, just kill her! — and the hospital-horror nastiness isn't enough to sell it. When Gotham returns in April, here's hoping we check out of this storyline soon.

Previously: Fisheye View