After an excellent mid-season finale, Gotham’s re-pilot episode picks up with a whole new set of problems, for the characters, and the return of some old problems, for the show. Plus a whole bunch of montages and tired asylum tropes and a 12-year-old passing for a phone sex operator and even a musical sequence and a gang of people with microcephaly chanting “Gabba Gabba! We accept you! One of us!”
Okay, so I’m lying about one of those things.
When last we left our fateful Boy Scout, Jim Gordon, he had been transferred to Arkham Asylum as a security guard, and that’s right where we pick up: during a production of The Tempest performed by and for the inmates. As we’re serenaded by the sweet tenor of an inmate named Royston, we cut to a montage of Other Characters Poignantly Contemplating Their Existence (and here I thought we’d left behind the over-stuffing of references and episodes. One step forward, two steps back). Fortunately, an inmate by the nickname of “Frogman” agreed with me that it was all a little heavy-handed, and so he attacks the actors in the middle of the performance and a scuffle ensues.
As far as I’m aware, Frogman—so named for his belief that he is being controlled by a bullfrog that lives in his stomach—is not an existing Bat-universe character, although if he were, I guess I wouldn’t be that surprised.
And so we acclimate ourselves to Gordon’s new life at Arkham. Unlike GCPD, where his attempts at do-goodery were constantly suffocated, Gordon’s not quite on his A-Game at the Asylum, much to the chagrin of Director Doctor Lang, who’s already got his hands full dealing with, ya know, an asylum full of insane and violent criminals and therefore doesn’t have time for Gordon’s altruistic aspirations. Asylum work is a gritty, dead-end, hopeless job, the weight of which is already bearing down quite heavily on Gordon, but as far as Director Doctor Lang is concerned, Gordon just thinks he’s too good for the job. It’s an interesting change in dynamics from the first half of the season; unfortunately, it looks to be a short-lived shift. We also meet Dorothy Duncan, the conspicuous Nurse-Ratchet type, as well as Dr. Leslie Thompkins (played by Morena Baccarrin!), who is setup to be Gordon’s new partner-in-crime-slash-romantic-interest.
Frogman is found with electroshock burn marks on his temples, which appear to be the result of an illicit, unofficial, and certainly unsafe procedure. At first, Gordon accuses Director Doctor Lang of mistreating his inmates, but it’s soon discovered that an inmate had stolen keys from another guard during the scuffle at the “theatre” and has been performing these electroshock therapies when no one’s around. This provides a great opportunity for us to meet the rest of the inmates as Gordon interviews them all in the episode’s second montage sequence, which was just slightly less offensive than the opening sequence from Toxic Avenger 4. Oof. Even Ryan Murphy is more subtle than this. At least the wacky camera angles were cool and asylum-y?
Still, Director Doctor Lang wants to keep things under wraps to maintain the illusion that he has control, but Gordon wants to do things the “right” way. So he puts in a call to GCPD, which brings Bullock into the investigation. There’s a nice power play here, as Director Doctor Lang tries to assert his authority to Bullock, who in turn concedes control of the situation over to Gordon to help make him shine in the Director Doctor’s eyes. That’s what friends are for, right?
There’s some info-dumping, some checking in with sub-plots (we’ll get to that), then eventually everyone realizes that Dorothy Duncan is an inmate and not a real nurse, and therefore the culprit of the electroshock therapies. She was apparently locked up at Arkham over a decade ago for a string of murderers she committed as a nursing student, and hid in the basement during the intervening years when the asylum was closed, I guess as part of her long-con game to insinuate herself into the staff? Why would she want to stay at the Asylum after it closed, and then re-submit herself as an inmate? And how did no one ever stop to consider that the crazy woman in the comical nurse get-up wasn’t actually on staff? It was a clever misdirection, only in that it tricked the assumptions of the audience, sure; unfortunately, it’s hard to believe that the characters were just as gullible.
But none of that was important, I guess, because chaos ensues when she frees the entire inmate population from their cells, but fortunately Gordon’s there to give a good speech and escape with Dr. Thompkins before any of them can make it past the Asylum gates.
Back at GCPDHQ, Commissioner Essen compliments Gordon on a job well done, and wishes she could override the mayor’s orders and bring him back to the force. But lo! Before they can crack a bottle of 18-year, they learn that Dorothy Duncan has burn marks on her temples too, which can only mean one thing—she was an accomplice! They rush back to Arkham, but it’s too late; the real culprit, an inmate named Gruber has escaped, killing Director Doctor Lang on the way out and stealing a van alongside his other accomplice Aaron, aka Amygdala (probably). We’ll be seeing them again, I’m sure.
Because this is Gotham, let’s not forget to check in on our various sub-plots, which are basically presented as bulletpoints in the episode anyway, so here goes:
- Penguin, now officially and proudly going by The Penguin, gets busted for trying to extort additionally money from some fishermen who already owe protection money to Maroni.
- Fish Mooney moves against Falcone blah blah blah blah we needed to fill time.
- Selina Kyle and Ivy have been living together on the streets, but Ivy is probably catching pneumonia, so they break into Barbara Kean’s abandoned penthouse apartment for shelter because Barbara…
- …is spending all of her time at Montoya’s crib (why don’t they ever go to Barbara’s? It’s huge and fancy!). But then Montoya breaks up with Barbara because apparently their relationship is toxic and whenever they’re together they both start abusing substances again I guess, which could actually make for interesting drama but instead is just delivered via exposition because the writers need something to do with Barbara.
- No but seriously I want an episode where I actually get to see a pill-poppin’ Montoya struggling to do her job.
- Perhaps most importantly, we learn that Ivy Pepper is a vegan. And that she somehow does a convincing Sultry Older Woman voice when she answers the phone after…Barbara calls…her own apartment?…looking for Jim…and then seems sufficiently convinced that the sexy 12-year-old-with-pneumonia is actually Gordon’s new flame, who he’s having sex with in his ex-fiance’s abandoned apartment? Okay.
- Where’s Bruce? Couldn’t we have cut out that whole Butch subplot to make room for Wayne Manor?
I’ll give this to “Rogue’s Gallery”: there was a noticeable difference in the waterfront backdrops used, and I enjoyed the spooky / weird visuals at the Asylum. As a new setting, Arkham has a lot of potential—but I’m also concerned about the writers getting lazy and falling back on the wacky-escaped-inmate-of-the-week. Then again, with the way this show works, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gordon was back with GCPD by the end of the next episode. At this point, it’s not clear what the overarching-season-story is actually working towards, especially since the whole Falcone-Maroni-Fish-organized-crime story felt incredibly tired this week. One step forwards, two steps back.
Other than that, ummm…I liked Morena Baccarrin and I’m excited to see what Leslie Thompkins brings to the story. That’s something, right?
- I used to enjoy the somewhat anachronistic nature of this show, the psuedo-contemporary-1930s-noir vibe it has going on. But I was kind of taken out of the moment by Director Doctor Lang explaining electroshock therapy to Bullock as being a regularly accepted practice. I know it still happens, of course, but I feel like it’s at least somewhat controversial, in that it’s, well, electrocuting people? Am I wrong?
- I should keep a running list of Maroni Metaphors. Like “You’re a smart monkey. But you’re a monkey. And I’m the zookeeper.”
- I was both surprised, and disappointed, at the lack of noticeable Bat-continuity references thrown into that ridiculous Arkham Inmate Interview montage. Did anyone catch anything? Besides Gruber, I mean…
- Gruber, who is allegedly Electrocutioner, though I personally got more of a Hugo Strange by way of Maxie Zeus vibe.
- I also think I saw Maxie Zeus in the disappointing prison break.
- Ya know, I try to use the official production photos for each of these recaps but man, some of them are ridiculous, and they very rarely actually tell the story of the episode, or provide any other insight beyond generic posing.
- I like to think that maybe there was some deeper reading of The Tempest going on here, but then I remind myself: it’s Gotham, Thom.
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. Find out more at thomdunn.net.