After the mess that was last week’s “Balloonman,” I was tempted to jump off the Gotham train. Last night’s episode, titled “Arkham,” found Gotham returning to its established patterns, although even those are beginning to feel more like spinning wheels. Given the expansive setting of Gotham, with the spectacular wide shots of the immense city, the stories are feeling a bit claustrophobic. I get the feeling Gotham’s heading somewhere, but holding back too much.
“Arkham” is named for the last undeveloped real estate in Gotham City, one where Tom and Martha Wayne were spearheading a project to tear down the old asylum and rebuild affordable housing for the less fortunate citizens of Gotham. After their murder, local organized crime bosses Falconi and Maroni are moving in with their own initiatives for the land, muscling around politicians as is the way of this corrupt city. Soon things turn murderous as a cryptic hitman under the name Richard Gladwell begins to murder councilmen on each opposing side of the issue with his cool metal spike. The episode’s cold open features a great demonstration of the spike, although it calls into question the intelligence of Gotham’s elected officials when they just entertain a mysterious man in a parking garage that wants them to look at his tool. (That sounded wrong.)
That’s basically “Arkham” in a nutshell, with some other character stuff we’ll talk about in a minute. But what’s so special about the Arkham plot? Are these two crime families really going to the mattresses over real estate money? It’s a little hard to buy given the level of crime we’ve comes to expect on this show. Although, there’s been little information given that develops Falconi or Maroni’s characters. We pretty much know they’re the bad guys, and we have to bring our own knowledge of what that means to the table. Sure, they’ve killed some people, but this is a bit of a bigger jump in terms of character, so it makes the motivation hard to buy. We do know that the Wayne name is still attached to the project to drum up public sympathy, but sympathy for what is unclear, and there’s little else of their original initiative remaining. It’s muddy as a plot and it shows once you try to track with it.
Better here is the Penguin stuff this week. “Balloonman” brought him back to Gotham, and had him killing for a pair of work shoes, but “Arkham” has the character up his game in Machiavellian ways. He’s still spouting off about a war that’s coming, and I like the unlikely pairing with Gordon. Will Gordon trust him? Hopefully not, although Penguin is giving him intel, but only the intel he wants Gordon to have. It’s been fun to watch Penguin rise through the ranks, revealed to be more than a sniveling hanger-on. And the cannoli is a great Godfather reference, that turns out to be just as lethal as a gun.
The Bruce stuff still feels like it’s trying to find some traction, but not having much luck. Some of that issue could be that we already know where this character is heading. It’s nice to check in and see his darker mood here or there, or a budding interest in doing detective work, but if we’re going to be spending more time with Bruce it’d be nice to have a surprise or two. Sure, Alfred’s cool, but give me something to sink into here.
“Arkham” stumbles in the heavy lifting department when it tries to tackle some sexual themes and materials. I’m not going to mourn Barbara’s departure, but the revelation of her relationship with Montoya doesn’t exactly play out very well. We get that Gordon’s more upset about Barbara’s dishonesty, given his reputation as noble and honest, but I don’t feel we spent enough time here, picking these emotions apart. And we can’t forget Gordon’s been lying too. Then there’s the weird auditions with Fish that brings in some girl on girl action in the form of kissing and cat fighting. Gotham seems just as muddy in this area as the main plot. I get that this isn’t what the show is necessarily about, but if you’re going to play in that sandbox and introduce these points of conflict, I’d enjoy a more nuanced exploration of how these characters react.
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