Gotham has taken its sweet time to create a fully-realized living, breathing world – and it didn’t even do so in the first half of this week’s episode – but everything clicks so masterfully in the second half of the episode that it makes up for many of the show’s long-standing issues. This week’s Gotham review takes a look at an episode that could go down as the series turning point.
Gotham has always had the issue of an ambiguous “corruption” looming over everything without ever explaining what it is. This week’s episode title, as well as the main promotional point, of everyone “having a Cobblepot” finally gets into just how that corruption works. Essentially, the same scenario that Jim Gordon went through early on in the season is something that every GCPD officer goes through: they either kill someone or be killed. All of this gets documented by Commissioner Loeb and used as blackmail, effectively giving him control over the entire precinct. Being that Gordon didn’t kill Cobblepot, Loeb has no file against him; he is a rogue entity who is essentially free to do whatever he wants. It finally explains why Gordon has been able to fight the often unexplained corruption throughout GCPD without so much as an eye batted at him – there’s nothing anyone can do about him.
The way that corruption is finally laid out and creatively given its own pulse of life almost puts the show on another level. It’s finally a real living thing with rules and consequences, and it goes a long way toward injecting Gotham with a much-needed sense of constant tension. There is a huge difference between a character constantly just saying things are corrupt and having everything done behind the scenes, and putting Gordon right in the center of it.
All of this comes into play in major ways this week. Try as he might, Gordon is finally sucked into the world of blackmail and corruption to a certain extent. The argument could be made that he’s doing all of this for the good of GCPD and Gotham as a whole, but as Bullock reminds him at the end of the episode, no matter how many good things Gordon does it will never make up for the bad. Couple that with the fact that he now owes Penguin a no-questions-asked favor for helping him track down the information he wanted, and Gordon’s world is about to get all kinds of messed up.
To its credit, Gotham even handles its usual procedural segments well. Harvey Dent sort of comes out of nowhere, and it’s a shame they ditch the idea of shading half his face to hint at his tragic future (they do shade half of his face sometimes, but at the same time other character’s faces are shaded as well, so it doesn’t seem intentional), but watching he and Gordon run around and chase down the lead on Loeb’s corruption is genuinely fun.
Somewhere about half way through the episode, after it got all of that pesky Alfred getting stabbed business out of the way, everything just… clicks. If I could pinpiont an exact moment, I’d say it all kicks off when Edward Nigma has his heart broken for potentially the last time. For all intents and purposes, he has finally snapped. Sure, he keeps his cool for now, and he may in the near future, but he is no longer the shy mild-mannered weirdo obsessed with riddles, he has a goal in mind and it involves killing Police Officer Butt-slapper.
In the same vein, it’s safe to say that Penguin is officially Penguin. Carried once again by a fantastic performance from Robin Lord Taylor, we finally see Penguin in total control of his situation. Even if he isn’t in control in the grand scheme of things, the tiny slice of his world that we see in the episode is all his to manipulate as he sees fit. He manipulates everyone he comes in contact with to get his way, which ends in brutal murder and some darkly comedic moments. The obvious implications of him telling Gordon what Falcone’s drink is, is that his favor will be to have Gordon poison the mob boss, and it works so well.
The whole scene with Bullock, Gordon, and Penguin heading to Loeb’s stash of files (or what they think is a stash of files), is extremely well done as well. It’s not difficult to tell what’s coming from the second they get a knock on their car window, but it still retains a great amount of tension – thanks in part to not actually knowing what they are about to find. Even when they do find what they’re looking for (sort of) one final twist manages to get sprinkled in, and it’s all Gordon needs to put an end to Loeb’s corruption.
Admittedly, it’s a little odd just how quickly Loeb caves after realizing that Gordon knows about his mentally disturbed daughter, but it’s at least hinted at in his earlier scenes that he isn’t in control as much he seems. Even when Loeb is presenting Gordon with the evidence of Bullock’s betrayal towards the beginning of “Everyone Has a Cobblepot,” he’s twitchy and constantly on edge. Compare that to a corrupt leader truly in charge – like Falcone or Maroni – and it makes sense that the Commissioner would be much more easily broken.
All of this so far may sound like a near perfect episode, but unfortunately Fish Mooney is still a thing that exists and takes up time each week. As much as she is literally stranded an island with Dr. Dulmacher, her story is on an island in relation to the rest of the show. So far, there is no conceivable way that she can or should interact with Penguin, Gordon, Bruce or any of the other main stories, and her general arc of rising to the top of Dulmacher’s weird little operation he’s running continues to be anything but compelling. Even the big reveal that Dr. Dulmacher is The Dollmaker (go figure) is pretty bad. The abomination that he created out of his former office manager is so poorly animated and blended that it’s unintentionally hilarious.
Gotham takes a month-long break following last night’s episode, and such an excellent hour of television is going to make the wait that much more difficult. With only four episodes left in the season when it does return, it will be interesting to watch Gordon continue to build his unstable house of cards as he ascends to becoming the Commissioner Gotham deserves.
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