Season One, Episode Twelve – “What the Little Bird Told Him”

Gotham-season-1-episode-12-5By Jarrod Jones. If the first season of Gotham will be remembered for anything at all, it won’t be for restraint.

For a series that can only boast a mere twelve episodes, Gotham is much further along in its pre-Batman saga than anyone could have anticipated. In a mere twelve episodes, Gotham has reached and surpassed at least three narrative arcs, all of which would be ripe material for a full season’s worth of show. That level of hyperactive eagerness is certainly admirable, and it’s refreshing to see a network like Fox embrace the sheer audacity of Bruno Heller’s madcap ensemble that is Gotham. But that level of eagerness can also grate the nerves for those with more tempered expectations when it comes to their serialized dramas, and when Gotham aims to please everyone at once, it frequently misses its mark.

Gotham‘s return from a six week hiatus two week’s ago didn’t adequately tamp down fears that the show had mellowed with rest. If anything, its last episode only sought to confound its audience further by casting its favorite social pariah – Ben McKenzie’s Jim Gordon – into the labyrinthine hallways of the most infamous madhouse in popular fiction, Arkham Asylum. The storytelling possibilities for such a conceit were certainly bottomless, but in the wake of events in this week’s episode, tilted “What the Little Bird Told Him”, it seems that the show’s cadre of writers could only squeeze out a single episode from all of that potential. From what we’ve seen before, that’s not much of a surprise.

What is surprising, and even encouraging, is that “Little Bird” manages to take the momentum of the last two episodes and direct it towards an uncertain future, while playing to the shows strengths more competently than it has in a good, long while. And that’s the real fuck about Gotham: it may frequently confound with its storytelling decisions, but it certainly keeps us guessing.

“What the Little Bird Told Him” is an episode that suffers some of the standard hindrances Gotham viewers have come to accept, though it appears that steps have been taken to iron out the varied kinks: Barbara Kean’s perpetually annoying presence is given some much-needed perspective in this episode, with the show banishing Gordon’s Girlfriend (Erin Richards) to her parent’s affluent estate (where it appears that Barbara’s prickly demeanor apparently didn’t fester from inside a vacuum).

Everything about the elder Keans smacks of a more cartoonish version of Woody Allen’s Interiors, and it’s apparent in all the details: Barbara’s mother – played by Caroline Lagerfelt – has the presence and chilly disposition of Geraldine Page, the person who answers the doors is an outmoded African American servant, and the pretense of civility between family members is bolstered only through the durability of their ancient tea set. The sequence doesn’t sate my desire to see Barbara Kean disappear forever, but it helps me to better understand.

Gotham-season-1-episode-12-7The rest of the episode is a testament to narrative parallelism, where the subplots inhabited by Jim Gordon and Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) occur alongside each other for most of the episode’s duration (David Mazouz’ Bruce Wayne is still blissfully MIA this episode), never converging once until the final third act, where a showdown of some anti-climatic significance takes place concerning Gordon and the very Hannibal Lecter-esque Jack Gruber (Christopher Heyerdahl) within the halls of the GCPD.

While that particular story beat fails to excite, it’s even less relevant in the face of the ensuing intrigue between Carmine Falcone (John Doman), Sal Maroni (David Zayas), and Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith). The mounting war between Gotham City’s opposing mafias – all foretold by the Penguin in Gotham‘s pilot episode – has come to a head in this episode. Doman’s Falcone finally ceases to fuck around, taking back the city that is rightfully his with his own two hands (though we slough through quite a bit of Don Falcone navel-gazing to get there). It all culminates in a semi-important death, the first the show can actually own. That death aids in pushing Gotham into the more respectable territory of high drama, but there is still much work that needs to be done.

Gotham has been given a second season, and while there is only so much room left for this show to explore (if we’re counting on comic book continuity to mean anything), it looks like Bruno Heller and his armada of writers are looking to entertain other avenues along the journey to Gotham City’s impending dark night. (Gordon’s burgeoning relationship with Morena Baccarin’s Dr. Leslie Thompkins is a telling example of how slash-fic this series can potentially get.) And while Gotham is still a visually striking and jarringly amusing romp, production values have never been Gotham‘s problem. The issue remains: Gotham needs a hero, but the Penguin is still vastly more appealing than Det. James Gordon. And right now, nobody can deny that.

Gotham-season-1-episode-12-1Passing Thoughts: 

-Peter Scolari may be the first television Commissioner Loeb, but he ain’t the first to play the character: Colin McFarlane portrayed him in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and Jon Polito provided his voice for the animated Batman: Year One. (Where, funnily enough, Ben McKenzie provided the voice for Batman.)

-Here’s a weird thing.

Lester Buchinsky is the DC Comics’ villain known as the Electrocutioner. With this episode, it’s revealed that Jack Gruber’s actual name is Jack Buchinsky. That means that his moniker is valid and the Electrocutioner is Gotham‘s first fully realized supervillain. BUT: it appears that Lester Buchinsky has already had another live-action television appearance, in the CW’s super-good Arrow, but only as a name in Oliver Queen’s book of people who HAVE FAILED STARLING CITY. Could an Arrow and Gotham crossover happen? No, probably not. But damn, it feels good to exercise those dork muscles.

-Eddie Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) has inexplicably become one of Gotham‘s most valuable supporting players: with his aggressive approach towards love becoming a story beat worth waiting for (where he completely alienates co-worker Ms. Kringle, played by Chelsea Spack), Smith’s soon-to-be Riddler has the makings of a worthy origin story, one the character has always lacked in his 67 year-long campaign of buffoonery.

-The following episode’s trailer promises a lot of Hostel-like torture porn. It seems that when Gotham teeters towards narrative strength, it totters right back to bullshit in record time.

-Gruber’s attack on Maroni’s restaurant is more frightening than it had any right to be.

-I’d almost appreciate Jim’s simplistic “glass of water” approach to unplugging Gruber if the show didn’t make it feel like there’d be a helluva lot more cat-and-mouse between the two. Instead, it felt like the show was carrying on for the sake of carrying on.