Wednesday, 15 October 2014

GOTHAM, 1.4 – 'Arkham' • big developments

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


"Arkham" arrived in the nick of time for GOTHAM, as I was poised to cease writing these reviews. I'm still unconvinced it's rich enough to bother with for the entire season, but episode 4 was a more interesting and layered hour, with less of the silliness that unbalances the show's tone. I liked this week's villain, assassin Gladwell (Hakeem Kae-Kazim), who favours a telescopic blade to kill his prey, and the story wisely introduced Arkham Asylum as a prized real estate the city's two biggest mobsters—Falcone (John Doman) and Maroni (David Zayas)—are interested in exploiting. The twisted politics of the city are becoming quite enjoyable to watch...

Some of my frustrations remain, but at least there's a feeling Gotham's writers have quickly realised what's working: the villains. Falcone and Maroni are fun presences (almost because they're so clichéd), lower-level baddie Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) is also fun to watch—spending this episode interviewing girls to become her "weapon", under the pretence of a singing audition. It got a bit too silly when Fish decided to have her two favourite girls street-fight for the position, but I'm interested to see what Fish has in store for her new employee.

What's differentiating Gotham from its small-screen rivals is the level of violence and weirdness. Gladwell's eye-stabbing instrument, and a scene where he torched a politician inside a steel drum doused in fuel, were both tough viewing for a comic-book drama that could be playing things softer. I appreciate the decision to be this grim, although one has to wonder if Gotham will regret not targeting the wider demographic who enjoy Arrow.

Oswald Cobblepott (Robin Lord Taylor) continues to be the main reason to watch Gotham, and I like how he feels indebted to "old friend" Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) after the good cop spared his life. Oswald is destined to become one of Gotham's most feared crimelords, and I'm enjoying seeing him rise up the ranks by manipulating those around him. A lowly cook one day, he's now manager of a top restaurant frequented by Maroni—having paid three goons to attack the joint and kill the staff, portraying himself as the lone survivor who selflessly protected Maroni's cash. Said hoodlums were later poisoned by canoli, of course, because Oswald has to kill people every episode. Or so it seems.

I'm still not excited by anything Gordon and irritable partner Bullock (Donal Logue) are doing, as both feel like overplayed archetypes stuck doing the legwork a procedural demands. The twisted villains are having all the fun, as they're less constrained by narrative demands to catch a criminal. Maybe Gordon and Bullock will get to do more interesting things soon (especially now Gordon's got 'number one fan' Oswald to contend with), but having scenes where Gordon visits Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) to discuss city politics and his parent's legacy isn't cutting it.

I'm beginning to think the marketing desire to include Bruce and Alfred (Sean Pertwee) isn't doing the show any favours, because where can the story take those characters? Bruce won't make fundamental steps towards becoming Batman for years to come, if they're even contractually allowed to do that, and I'm not sure what role a teenage Bruce can play in Gotham that'll be truly engaging to watch. It'll certainly be increasingly hard to do much if his storyline has to tie into whatever Gordon's doing, because they operate in such very different circles.

Still, "Arkham" was the best episode of the four that have aired, and early ratings are good enough for Fox to have ordered another six hours (taking the season total to 22), so there's hope a good show can come of this knotty concept... eventually...

written by Ken Woodruff • directed by TJ Scott • 13 October 2014 • Fox