Gotham: Arkham? I Hardly Know ’em!

This week on Gotham: the personal gets political and the politics get personal as the city’s economic policies intersect with the coming turf war, and Barbara Kean (Gordon-to-be) does something I never, ever, ever, expected to see happen. SPOILERS ahoy….

The episode opened with a remarkable change in tone: Barbara Neal actually did something! Granted that thing was opening a door, and the reason was because Cobblepot knocked on the door, but still, I’m pretty sure that was the first time we saw her before the half-hour mark of the episode, the first time she’s showed any agency (well, “agency”), and the first time she didn’t just stop by to deliver a lump of exposition. PROGRESS! And that wasn’t even the end of the progress!

As seen at the end of last week’s episode, Young Cobblepot stopped by to see his buddy / savior Jim Gordon, who is (understandably) not-so-happy to see him. In thanks for saving his life, Cobblepot offers himself up to Gordon as an informant or spy, though of course, Gordon wants nothing to do with it and is kind of seriously flipping out about the prospect of Falcone and Bullock learning that Cobblepot is still alive and that Gordon tricked them. Before they part, Cobblepot explains his cryptic apocalyptic ranting has been about: there is a war coming, because war is politics and politics is money.

Gotham Arkham

Our main story follows a hit-man working for both Maroni and Falcone, alternately taking out City Councilmen in the opposing gangster’s pocket with a steel stiletto (like a spike, not a high heel). Bullock and Essen are both convinced that the first murder was a wrong-place-wrong-time kind of thing, but Gordon has other thoughts—especially once its revealed that the dead councilmen had opposing stake in the upcoming Arkham Redevelopment Plan, which is coming to a vote very soon. The Mayor reveals two competing plans to revitalize the dilapidated Arkham City neighborhood: Falcone’s developers want to build affordable housing units, Maroni’s want to build a waste treatment facility, and the late Martha & Thomas Wayne left behind plans for new state-of-the-art mental health treatment facilities.

Gordon visits Wayne Manor to get more information about the Arkham plans, and Alfred reveals that it really only belongs to the Waynes in name. But Falcone has a major stake in the project, and Maroni wants to keep him from getting it. Young Bruce suspects that it’s related to his parents’ killing as well, and he reads a touching personal letter from his mother about her belief in the need for Arkham. Bruce believes the asylum must be built, so that his parents’ dreams don’t die with them.

Gotham Arkham

Meanwhile, back in Penguinville: Cobblepot continues eavesdropping on Maroni’s plans at the Italian restaurant. He’s eventually noticed and reamed out, but manages to keep his job. This turns out to be good luck for Maroni and his gang, because the restaurant gets burglarized, and their sacks of gambling money stolen—except for one, which is saved by Cobblepot hiding in the freezer. He’s rewarded for his bravery by receiving a promotion to restaurant manager, now having officially endeared himself into the Marconi family…

…But you knew that Cobblepot setup the burglary himself, didn’t you? And that he cleaned up the evidence by poisoning his own hired thugs, and keeping the money for himself? Oh you know that was coming. But it still felt so good.

Gotham Arkham

Fortunately, Barbara Neal shows up right on time around the half-hour mark, when she asks Jim Gordon about the name Oswald Cobblepot (he had given Babs a psuedonym when they met earlier). Gordon figures out that Barbara learned the name from Montoya, and Barbara comes clean about their romantic history. But is Gordon upset because Barbara lied…or because she dated a woman? By the end of the episode, she apologizes for lying to him, but when she offers Jim a no-secret ultimatum—let her in, or let her go—Gordon watches her walk.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because Fish Mooney is holding auditions for her new sultry lounge singer / spygirl. I’m sure this will be important later.

Gotham Arkham

Bullock and Gordon pursue the killer for a while, eventually learning that he stole his identity, and track him to his day job where they almost catch him (but still manage to find some crucial evidence). The two cops butt heads some more, then split ways and each tries to solve the case himself. Bullock goes to Fish Mooney, Gordon gets his own lead when Cobblepot calls him from a payphone, revealing that Maroni put one more hit for that night, before the voting happens on what to do with Arkham City, even though all the city councilors are under police protection. Gordon puts the pieces together, and realizes that the next target is the mayor, whose police protection has been paid off.

Gordon arrives at the Mayor’s just in time, and there’s a tense showdown between Gordon and Gladwell inside the Mayor’s home. Luckily, Bullock shows up just in time to put a bullet through the would-be killer. The Arkham City Redevelopment vote reveals a compromise: low-income housing, mental health facilities, and a waste disposal planet. Meaning both crime families now have a stake in the real estate, making them reluctant business partners and temporarily delaying the impending gang war, which means everyone’s happy. Except for little Bruce, whose parents’ dreams are now in the hands of criminals. Oh well.

Commentary

That…was a pretty decent hour of crime drama television. With the exception of Barbara Neal’s writing (still), I don’t even have that many criticisms that aren’t just personal preferences. Even some of the predictable elements, like Cobblepot’s machinations, were so rooted in genre traditions and well-grounded enough that I was totally on board. “Balloonman” had me tricked into accepting that the show was going to own up to the campy roots of Batman ’66, but “Arkham” was just a solid cop show, from political scheming to, ya know, actual detective work.

Gotham Arkham

That may have been my favorite part of the episode: seeing Bruce, Bullock, and Gordon all investigating the case on their own, and each getting a chance to display their own sleuthing skills (and a crime plot that involved more than 3 steps). I especially like the idea that Bullock is driven to try harder out of jealousy—Jim Gordon is always right, and Bullock can’t stand it. It’d be really interesting to see the character taken in a direction where his pettiness is what actually leads him towards redemption—those are the kind of moral conundrums / ambiguities that a show like this is rife for (although I could do with a little variety from Bullock just saying “I know a guy we can talk to” and relying solely on underworld contacts). I guess what I’m saying is, that’s what happens when you stop trying to cram every single subplot and side character into every single episode—give the show some room to breathe, and we finally get a chance to see the characters come to life.

That being said, Barbara is still frustratingly problematic, and the show does still have trouble with nuance and subtlety. I would have liked to see a different reaction to the reveal of Barbara’s past than for Gordon to just yell about being lied to, for example. Discovering that the identity of someone with whom you are intimately close is not precisely as you knew it to be can be a difficult to grapple with, and there are more sides to it than just “YOU LIED!” and “BI-PHOBIA!” Let’s hope the show gets there.

Gotham Arkham

I also hope to see more of the clever noir political maneuvering as the show continues, and would especially like to see it get even more morally complicated than this week’s episode (it certainly seems like they’re going there). While I like the idea of gang bosses owning major stakes in real estate with altruistic functions, I did have a trouble accepting the exact details of the Arkham City revitalization. This might be because of my own neighborhood and political awareness, but I felt like cramming poor people and crazy people into a corner together with a toxic waste dump was a bit too mustache-twirling ghettoization. Granted, I wouldn’t put that past politicians, but I would expect some outrage from the citizens and media—even Gordon himself, as the show goes.

Furthermore, how is any of that profitable for anyone (aside from exploiting government contracts)? I would imagine more gentrification by means of adding more “luxury condos” with some affordable housing units included, and then maybe to make room for that, the waste treatment facility has to be moved to a different part of town which is also where low-income families currently live, which turns it into a political Pyrrhic victory where someone’s getting screwed all the time. Things like that could put Gordon into a difficult position about where it’s not just about being caught between mobsters, it’s about being caught between mobsters who are doing good things for bad reasons, and upstanding citizens doing bad things for good reasons. That’s the kind of stuff that could make Ben McKenzie squirm.

Also? I am totally team Gordon-Cobblepot working together to achieve their opposite aims. That’s an awesome uneasy alliance.

Gotham Arkham

Stray Observations

  • Why is Fish Mooney auditioning these singing telegram seductress assassins? Also I definitely thought that Liza was supposed to be Harley Quinn at first, but now I’m not so sure.
  • I loved Jada Pinkett-Smith in the pilot, but I’m already looking forward to a Fish getting eaten by a Penguin.
  • I think I need to accept that Gordon and Barbara live together, and just write-off that line from the pilot episode as an attempt to make him seem like a more righteous character by having him not “live in sin” with his fiancé before marriage the way that people like me live our lives.
  • Is it that Bullock really likes to dump lead into perps at the end of the episode, or is that a trapping that the writers have just fallen into? I understand the corruption and police brutality aspects but man, does anyone in Gotham City even get to stand for a rigged and corrupt trial?
  • I really just wanted to type the phrase “dump lead into perps.”
  • Once again, I failed to notice any kind of Joker reference. So either that’s a dead trail, or I’m dumb. And if you figured out anything, please let me know.
  • Unless…my Harley Quinn impulse wasn’t that far off? Or the waste treatment facility is the place where some iterations of the Joker are born? And… this is just a case of apophenia isn’t it? Apophenia… which is a word I learned from a Grant Morrison comic about the Joker! HA!
  • Fox has given the official greenlight for a full 22-episode season order for Gotham, so folks—we’re in it for the long haul!

Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. Thom enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey and robots). He is a graduate of Clarion Writer’s Workshop at UCSD, and he firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Thom is currently recovering from his first bout of Con Fly from NYCC. Find out more at thomdunn.net.

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