“What the Little Bird Told Him” has absolutely no time to waste. Within seconds, it’s cranking up the Johnny Cash (“God’s Gonna Cut You Down”) and sending the Electrocutioner (Christopher Heyerdahl) and his hulking, mind-control manservant Aaron (Kevin McCormick) on one of many murderous errands. The two are dressed in full rubber (rubber trenchcoats, too, to keep these fellows looking sharp and not like sex gimps). They zap a man to death via doorknob. He continues to stand upright, even though he’s very much dead. Presumably, his boots have melted, and he’s glued to the floor.
And all this within the first minute of the hour. Because that’s the kind of hour “What the Little Bird” is – one with so much to do, so much to say and so much style oozing out its ears that of course it’ll start with a Johnny Cash shoe melting kill-fest.
(Although the Electrocutioner’s melting technique isn’t perfect. The body’s flat on the floor by the time Gordon and Bullock are on the scene. We’ll call that a B+.)
This week’s Gotham is a continuation of last week’s, which introduced Gordon’s new digs (Arkham Asylum) and unleashed a new villain (the Electrocutioner) upon the Gotham public for a two-parter’s worth of madness and shoe-frying. It’s good. It’s really, really good, and a sizable portion of that goodness falls on the Electrocutioner’s shoulders. Not even because of Heyerdahl (his “nutty superscientist with a God complex” routine is solid, but nothing you haven’t seen on any other superhero show), but because Gotham’s just having so much damn fun with this guy.
His rubber costumes and electric gizmos have a distinctly homebrew, lo-fi style, like something cobbled together from rusted chunks of car and the old PA system from his supervillain garage band. They also look authentically cheap; the kind of cheap that might actually come from a crazy old tinkerer. Also rare for a Gotham villain is the Electrocutioner’s abundance of gadgets. Most baddies get one (and only one) predetermined Cool Thing. The unnamed antagonist of “Arkham” had his pointy extend-o-stick; the Balloonman had his balloons; Viper junkies had their few short hours of super-strength.
Electrocutioner’s got the two suitcase-sized zappers he uses on that first doorknob victim, an electricity grenade, a giant electromagnet and a boxy, chest-mounted piece that can move guns with sheer electrical power. Oh, also he can control people’s minds with electricity. You’d think there’d be more of that in this one (besides an early victim turned into a morbid, chalkboard gag Bart Simpson), but I guess this villain’s satisfied with a single unquestioning super-slave.
And the most baffling part about all this is that the Electrocutioner is not supposed to be cool. At all. Much less cool enough to earn a two-parter over a villain like Black Mask. Electrocutioner’s something of a redshirt – nearly all of his previous incarnations have ended up dead after a short period of time.
The original Electrocutioner was born in 1981’s “Batman #331,” in a story titled “Closed Circuit.” Here, our villain’s motivations are less black and white: he’s a vigilante, taking the law into his own electrically-charged hands (one-hand touch = very painful, two-hand touch = insta-death) and killing heinous criminals who’ve slipped through the justice system. Batman would be totally down with that… except for the whole “killing” thing (as we all know, Bruce is strictly anti-murder), so the two fight and the Electrocutioner ends up clinging for dear life on a metal rail. Which then zaps him, causing him to drop to a likely death.
This Electrocutioner would later resurface in the pages of “Vigilante,” where he’d be murdered for real by Vigilante.
Eventually, the Electrocutioner was rebooted in the early ’90s. First was “Detective Comics 626” (seemingly coming back from the dead in a story titled “Return to the Electrocutioner”), then with a little more oomph a few issues later, in “Detective Comics 644.” Now this guy was an Electrocutioner, the first version of the character to have a first and last name (“Lester Buchinsky,” brother to the original villain and the basis for Gotham’s “Jack Buchinsky”). The guy lasted long enough to face down multiple heroes (and not die) and partner up with other weak sauce villains like Blockbuster or Cluemaster.
But this kind of luck couldn’t last, and in the 2009 Justice League crossover storyline “Cry for Justice,” Electrocutioner blew up a good portion of Green Arrow’s hometown Star City, killing Red Arrow’s daughter in the process. Red Arrow promptly went batshit crazy and restored order to the universe, killing Electrocutioner once more.
The character took one last shot at relevancy in 2013, appearing in the game Batman: Arkham Origins as one of eight super-assassins on a Batman hunt. He talked a good game and wore some hardcore armor (with matching hardcore facial scars), but all you have to do is kick him once in the face and he falls over, unconscious. Later, he makes the mistake of playing mobile games around the Joker and is shoved out a window to yet another humiliating demise.
Gotham’s Electrocutioner not sucking is a crowning achievement, but the episode’s not done there. It’s second goal is giving a much-needed jump-start to Don Falcone. Falcone hasn’t done much in this slightly-more-than-half-a-season of Gotham. He’s the old blood; a hilariously out-of-date Italian mob stereotype sitting at the top of the food chain and awaiting the many up-and-comers hoping to shove him out of his chair. “What the Little Bird Told Him” (the “him” in that title referring to Falcone) is the moment when one such up-and-comer finally makes a move.
Fish’s power play is obvious, but what seems equally obvious is Falcone’s imminent demise. This episode plays all the “This Character is About to Die” cards a TV show has at its disposal. Over the course of the hour, Falcone:
- Is clearly unsatisfied with the mob life, half-heartedly executing a family member
- Is given a peaceful, nonviolent out from a life of crime
- Is willing to take that out because of the woman he loves (who’s secretly being used as a pawn against him)
- Is featured for the first time in flashback, with his mother and a startling portrait of Jesus
- Is constantly doodling with a red Chrysanthemum, a symbol of that goopy old romanticism that’s overtaking him.
The portrait being painted is clear. Falcone is old, weak, probably depressed and willing to give it all up over a case of puppy love for a woman who will probably end up the death of him. This is the TV Goodbye, an hour of TV that gives the overwhelming impression of character walkin’ on the Green Mile, so to speak. See also: Boardwalk Empire and Jimmy Darmody or The Sopranos and Adrianna La Cerva (Big Pussy, too).
“What the Little Bird Told Him” seems more than ready to be the end of Falcone, until he does the unthinkable. When faced with the possibility that his newfound love might not be the perfect ball of sex appeal and mommy issues he thinks her to be, Falcone ditches the saccharine stuff and switches to cold, hard logic. Then, murder. He strangles Liza to death, because obviously she’d been playing him the whole time (she was starting to fall herself, but it’s too late for that now).
This will surely upend every aspect of Gotham’s mafia wars. Fish’s entire segment of organized crime is gone and Falcone is about to toughen up on anyone else interested in dethroning him (a portion of the crime population that no doubt includes Sal Maroni). Also, Penguin’s playing his Maroni-traitor status much more openly this week. He may have to pledge public allegiance to the Falcone clan soon.
This is the kind of episode Gotham should hold up as the standard. An episode that still swaps between “Villain of the Week” and “Villains Who’re Here Every Week” but provides a coherent link between the two (Falcone is at the top of Electrocutioner’s kill list). An episode that throws us a significant chunk of story meat, but not so significant that things are changed permanently. Jada Pinkett Smith is the biggest name Gotham’s got, and only a fool would assume she’d spend the rest of her time here languishing in some Falcone hole in the ground. She’ll be back on the streets in some form, eventually, letting the mob stuff continue anew.
Really, there’s only two things I can fault “What the Little Bird Told Him” on.
One, that it took only two episodes to get Jim out of Arkham and back in detective’s clothes (if you want to make a change like that, Gotham, you’ve really got to stick it out, otherwise, we’ll start assuming that any major alteration/death/twist will undo itself in an hour or two). And two, that Ben McKenzie’s upset face at the end of the hour was waaaaaaaay too much. He cycled through at least five different grimaces in as many seconds – like he was either chewing on something with a lot of gristle or suffering through severe bathroom unpleasantness. Maybe both.
But if that’s the worst thing we can level at this one, let’s go ahead and call “What the Little Bird Told Him” a win.