Gotham Review: "Welcome Back, Jim Gordon"

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Jim Gordon is back to his normal duties in GCPD with last night’s episode of Gotham. Similar to the mostly pointless events of him being sent to Arkham Asylum in the first place, “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” is an episode that probably didn’t need to exist. Not only is it filled with flimsy plot points and some baffling characterization, but it once again completely wipes out the events of last week’s episode within the first few minutes.
Things were really looking up for Gotham last week. Something big finally happened with the mob story, Fish Mooney was in real trouble, Jim Gordon was doing interesting things with interesting villains, and Penguin was beginning his rise to super-villain stardom. Last night, however, it undid all that good will with an extremely boring filler episode that did more harm than good.
At its best, any filler episode should at least nudge the story in the right direction and give some insights into established characters. “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” did exactly the opposite. Mooney, captured and being tortured with TV-friendly torture devices such as a plastic bag, never feels like she is any real danger to begin with. Her “torture” scenes lack any atmosphere or sense of tension thanks to her strange cackling and being way too “into it.” I get that being strange and into that sort of thing is part of her character, but it completely kills the scene. This is made worse by her muscle, Butch, comically breaking out of a truck and escaping his captors to come save her at just the right moment.
Butch’s escape is the first point in this week’s episode where Gotham’s writing wheels begin to fall off, thanks to a series of coincidences and poor decisions that just-so-happen to work out for the shows main characters. The passenger in the van carrying the captive Butch has to go and get him out of the back alone because the driver “needs to find the keys to the incinerator.” Naturally, Butch is gone (somehow?). Then, when the sound of a head clearly hitting something hard and the horn blaring can be heard, our intrepid kidnapper walks to the driver side door, opens it, and just stares at the dead body. No sense of urgency, no acknowledgement that someone is clearly dead while someone they kidnapped is not where he is supposed to be. Just enough plot convenience so that Butch can sneak up behind him and start to strangle him before asking where Mooney is.
And where is Mooney? Who the hell knows, but Butch tracks her down in record time. Before the real torture gets underway, she’s saved – and just like that, the whole purpose of the last episode where she lost her empire and it finally felt like something was happening, is erased. She may not have her people anymore, who were mostly pointless in the show anyway, but she is the exact same character she was before last week again.
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At the end of the episode, Mooney does eventually get dealt with, but only in the cliche way that every antagonist has been dealt with in the show. She is simply “sent away” where she will likely be off the show for a few episodes, then come back to exact some kind of revenge on Penguin. The same exact thing that Penguin did in the earlier part of season one, when he was meant to be killed but instead was just sent on his merry way. It’s a trope that Gotham is leaning far too hard on, and its refusal to actually deal with any antagonist who isn’t a weekly guest is starting to wear thin. It makes sense that mainstays such as Penguin, Riddler, and others can’t be killed, but Mooney is supposed to be the one that can be dealt with in such a way. At this point, after so many miss fires and weak writing leading to her escapes, it just doesn’t matter. There were several opportunities to kill her in a satisfying way and Gotham blew every single one of them.
During all the events of Mooney’s cliched escape and revenge fantasy was Jim Gordon, who was solving a murder ripped straight out of the pages from the most generic procedural cop drama you can dream up. An unknown person is murdered, a pointless witness is killed, a cop with no background is pinned for the murder, Jim saves the day. Hooray.
There is one point in the episode where I thought it was going in an interesting direction, but it did not last long. For once in the show, it actually felt like Gordon couldn’t solve a murder thanks to the rampant levels of corruption among the police force. The corruption that everyone in GCPD constantly rabbles on about seemed to take hold, and had some real weight to it. If the story line would have ended there, and finally given Gordon some true adversity, Gotham could potentially avoid being a serialized mess. But, instead, he just carries on and overcomes the presumed years of corruption and police abuse with a rousing speech and flashing his badge in he air. Apparently, to the uber corrupt members of the GCPD, cheesy speeches are more important than the paychecks that corrupt cops are giving them because they all agree with Jim and arrest the corrupt, murderous cop.
Up to this point, Gotham has cleverly hidden the fact that it’s a generic serialized show by using established Batman characters and stretching their stories over the monster-of-the-week murder investigations. Honestly, when those weekly antagonists are actually something interesting and superhero-like – such as last week – it works. But when it’s nothing more than a boring murder that someone should be solving on Law & Order instead of a show based on a comic book, Gotham’s faults rip through its thinly-stretched Batman overcoating.
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Strangely enough, Edward Nigma was the most compelling character of the episode this week. It’s becoming clearer where his line in the sand will be as he turns into the well-known Batman super-villain, Riddler. He is clearly emotionally and mentally unstable as it is, but he’s now having his emotions tugged in all kinds of different directions at the hands of the woman he has heart set on, Ms. Kringle. To any stable human being, the signs have been clear that she has no interest in him, but Nigma – being the volatile personality that he is – refuses to accept it and continues pushing on, even after being completely embarrassed in front of her, and having his invitation to a date cut short. He’s still not the best character on the show by a mile, but his incessant riddles are very toned down in this episode and he shows some signs of being a real person, instead of just a caricature.
The only real important thing established in this episode, that likely won’t be wiped out come next Monday, is the fact that Bruce and Alfred have returned from their time hiding away from assassins in Switzerland. Not much is done with them yet, however. Bruce and Selina have a tiff (thanks to Selina saying she doesn’t actually know who killed his parents to hide her affection for him), Bruce breaks a perfectly good snow globe, and everyone gets a little sad.
I’ve been a staunch defender of Gotham ever since I came into the show and fell in love with its characters, mostly compelling storylines, unique look at the origins of Batman and the city of Gotham, and great directing. But, while the editing and directing is still as great as always, the writing goes completely off the rails, and with it the entire episode goes too. Jim Gordon’s religious crusade against “the corruption” of Gotham is wearing terribly thin, and it just can’t carry a whole episode on its own any more.

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