Did anyone else get a massive hit of deja vu from last night’s Gotham? I couldn’t shake that black cat in the Matrix feeling through the entirety of “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon.” And upon closer examination, there’s a very basic reason why: “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” may appear to be a shiny new Gotham, but it’s really just a Frankenstein’s monster of used Gotham plotlines, stapled together around the new (well, semi-new, he popped up briefly last week) inclusion of Det. Arnold Flass (Dash Mihok).
Here’s what Gotham gave us last night, and why it was so deja vu-like.
What We Saw: Gordon, Bullock and Captain Essen take a stand in the face of insurmountable police corruption, that ends up being at least semi-successful.
Where We’ve Seen It Before: “Penguin’s Umbrella,” when this non-corrupt triumvirate hounded Mayor James and Carmine Falcone, and were able to escape without themselves or their loved ones getting mangled beyond repair (that’s about as close to a win as you can get).
Where Where We Saw It Last Night: The same three try and take down the much-lower-in-stature Det. Flass, Gotham’s very own Vic Mackey (anti-drug cop with anti-drug task force seizes drugs, keeps them, sells them). And they win. Probably. They got cuffs on Flass, at least, but he’s got a Commissioner and a judge on his team, so any real justice is a lost cause. Best case scenario… probably a long stretch of community service.
What We Saw: Character delivers a heated inspirational speech in the middle of the station, rousing so many lazy, semi-criminal detectives and beat cops to do the decent thing for once.
Where We’ve Seen It Before: Bullock goads the Gotham police into tracking down a kidnapped Gordon in “The Mask.”
Where We Saw It Last Night: After Gordon channels Viggo Mortensen at the end of Return of the King, the GCPD agrees to maybe not give a murdering drug dealer free reign among their ranks.
What We Saw: Gordon does something very unlawful regarding the Penguin, is forced into a secret I-know-what-you-did brotherhood with him.
Where We’ve Seen It Before: The pilot, when Gordon faux-executed Penguin, only for Penguin to come back and lord it over him.
Where We Saw It Last Night: Gordon, in desperation, asks for the Penguin’s help in bringing down Flass, but makes the waddling junior crime lord promise that “no one gets hurt.” People get hurt. Gordon is now a feared family-threatening goon in league with the Penguin.
What We Saw: Ed Nygma makes an awkward move on Kristen Kringle, who rebuffs his advances. She’s weirded out, but is a nice enough person to try not to hurt his feelings.
Where We’ve Seen it Before: Every single time Kringle’s been onscreen.
Where We Saw It Last: Nygma gives his unrequited lady love a handwritten card and she laughs about it with the Drug Dealin’ Bros (not the social circle I would’ve expected her to hang with). Later, she finds Nygma and calls the card “thoughtful” (of course, that’s a “thoughtful” dripping with “I’m terrified of you but I don’t want you to be upset”).
What We Saw: Little Bruce cuts himself off from an emotion humans normally feel.
Where We’ve Seen It Before: Burning himself with a candle to conquer pain, starving himself to conquer hunger, bashing a bully’s face in to conquer fear.
Where We Saw It Last Night: With a little help from Alfred, corking up his tear ducts to conquer “a girl hurt my feelings.”
What We Saw: Fish Mooney is suddenly yanked from a position of power and thrown to the absolute bottom of the food chain.
Where We’ve Seen it Before: Last week, when that whole “kill Falcone and usurp the mob throne” idea blew up in her face.
Where We Saw It Last Night: Fish Mooney goes from “Penguin groveling at her feet” to “alone, Butch-less and on the run” in the span of like fifteen minutes.
That’s a lot of deja vu glitches for one hour of TV.
On a week to week basis, Gotham’s a pulpy, electric mess of goodness (especially when the show sheds its cop show inhibitions and embraces the comic-book stuff – say, last week’s Electrocutioner rampage). But “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” didn’t have any cartoon villains. Nor any particularly goofy lines (remember the days when Bullock would wax romantic about snack food?).
That’s not to say it sagged anywhere major. The story rolled out at an exciting pace (especially Fish’s escape) and Mihok makes a convincing enough jackass to be our weekly bad guy. But in the grander scheme of things, it’s starting to feel like Gotham’s spinning its wheels.
Which is an odd thing to say, given that in the last two episodes a recurring character (Liza) was choked to death and another (Fish Mooney) lost every last ounce of power and was forced off the show for at least a few episodes (probably). On any other show, either of those events would be a Huge Freakin’ Deal. But not on Gotham. Because Gotham has clung too tightly to the status quo for too long, and now we know that Huge Freakin’ Deals are likely to be undone in one or two episodes’ time.
I’m not worried about Fish in the slightest. Know why? Because Penguin once escaped the wrath of the Falcone clan by the skin of his teeth, and was exiled from Gotham City, just like Fish. That was the pilot. And in Episode Two, Penguin walked right back into town and started stabbing people with impunity. Then he decided his new name was Paolo and rejoined the goddamn mafia without anyone ever recognizing him as the creepy bird weirdo who worked for Fish. Since then, things have gone swimmingly for ol’ Penguin.
So whenever or however Fish wants to come back, it’ll probably work out just fine for her.
Ok. “Gotham Spinning its Wheels” rant over. Now for the positive stuff in “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon.”
Chief among them was Jada Pinkett Smith. Thirteen episodes in and Gotham has relied far less on Smith than I would have expected – of the three mob players battling it out each week, she seems to have the least to do (although that might be based less on actual screen time and more on my own expectations of large quantities of Fish Mooney). But here, the Fish we’d seen bits and pieces of (in the early episodes, mostly) was on display in a big way. Creepily oversexual and intense with a kind of laser precision – the kind of person who, when she sidles up close to someone, could just as easily go in for a kiss or a knife to the face.
Just seeing Smith get a decent chunk of “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” makes it glaringly obvious that between her, Falcone and Maroni, she’s by far the most interesting player. If Gotham knows what’s good for it, she’ll come back in a few episodes’ time with a game-changing weapon/army/supervillain costume in tow (maybe some green hair and clown makeup? That’d certainly be a shock).
Gotham’s use of Arnold Flass is just as noteworthy. Typically, any Batman story that includes Flass includes him for one purpose: a symbol of corruption in Gotham City. When he meets his swift, Bat-themed justice in the comics, it’s as though he’s the first domino/playing card/Jenga block to fall, and soon afterward, the whole system comes tumbling down.
It’s not clear if Gotham is going the same route with its own Flass. Maybe from here, Gordon and Bullock will turn their focus squarely towards jailing the corrupt cops in their own house. Maybe Flass will cut a deal somewhere around the season finale and send one of our head mob honchos behind bars. It’s too early to tell for sure, but there’s a lot of potential here, if Gotham wants to get all “Year One” on everybody’s asses.
Like I said before, “ Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” may run in circles most of the time, but even those old, tired circles still have a lot of entertainment value. And something tells me Gotham won’t be stuck in this rut for too long. Maybe it’s the presence of a Scarecrow two-parter that starts next week (the next episode’s titled “The Fearsome Dr. Crane,” and the following “The Scarecrow”). Also, showrunner Bruno Heller recently hinted that his semi-realistic supervillains may eventually don a costume or two. In his own words: “There’s going to be an episode that involves the Red Hood, which picks up that strand, the costume strand… before we start rolling into the more spectacular spandex type of deal.”
And I will gladly remain loyal to Gotham for years, if just to see that moment several seasons down the line, when our real-world cops first contend with a villain. And that villain is wearing a cape. And they have to take that villain completely seriously, cape an all. It’s gonna be so worth it.