Somehow, I expected Gotham’s biggest flaws to have vanished in its return. But the quick cuts between stories, the failure to give Gordon any plan for accomplishing his objectives, and the introduction of Batman villains for no particular reason are all flaws in stark evidence in “Rogues’ Gallery.”
It’s a measure of how off Gotham’s return was that a Shakespeare play performed by the inmates at Arkham Asylum instead reminded me of a King Tut routine from the campy Batman television show of the 1960s.
And then there are the vast issues with the show’s worst-written character: Barbara Kean. We learn why Barbara never left the Clocktower: all she does, apparently, is hang around the place and do drugs, a lifestyle that even Montoya can’t get behind. Montoya claims she and Barbara are “toxic” for each other but it’s Barbara who’s bringing everyone down. (What do Jim and Montoya see in this person?)
But onto the story, such as it was. Jim Gordon has been reduced to a uniformed guard at Arkham Asylum, Gotham’s home for the criminally insane. Jim tackles this job just like his previous work as a detective: with general contempt for the incompetents in charge but without any kind of plan of his own to change things.
It doesn’t help that he’s working inside an “unsafe and unsecure 200-year-old maze.” Jim’s determined to find out who’s frying the brain of various inmates and why — a search that leads him to clash with authority (surprise!), stupid guards (one would have to be stupid to work security anywhere in Gotham), and inmates who are depicted with the worst clichés of the mentally ill.
The last bothered me. Mental illness carries an incredible stigma in our society and yet Gotham tackles it with its usual lack of subtlety and nuance, i.e. like a brick to the side of the head. I know in Gotham, public funds are lacking and I know these inmates are the criminally insane, but there should be some evidence that someone is trying to medicate or treat them in some way. Instead, the inmates are a collection of drooling, delusional messes, save for our main bad guy. To see this group of inmates portrayed as freaks that make even the jaded Gordon twitchy instead of with some compassion only plays to the worst of our stereotypes about mental illness.
The brightest point of the Arkham story is the introduction of Dr. Leslie Thompkins, played by Morena Baccarin, best known in geek circles for Firefly. Leslie seems to be the one competent doctor assigned to Arkham and she’s a nice breath of fresh air.
The comics once fixed up Leslie and Alfred. That would work well in Gotham, as Baccarin and Sean Pertwee would work well together. But instead, Leslie seems more interested in Jim.
She’s not alone. Gordon should shift his name to LL Cool J (Ladies Love Cool Jim), because many of them seem to want him in this episode: Leslie; Capt. Essen, who gives him a warm welcome and a drink when he visits the precinct; the creepy inmate nurse played by the fun Allyce Beasley; Creepy Ivy, who pretends to be his girlfriend; and, finally, Barbara who turns to Jim when Montoya leaves her. But she’s blocked from that because Ivy and Selina are crashing in the Clocktower and Ivy gives the impression she and Jim are dating when Barbara calls looking for her ex. (Did I mention that Ivy is creepy?)
In the end, the mastermind behind the Arkham shock treatments is revealed as the lead from The Tempest or, as I call him, crazy King Tut, and he escapes with an inmate that he’s turned into a minion. This super-strong minion, is a character known as Amygdala, Aaron Helzinger, who you wouldn’t like when he’s angry.
As for the mastermind? Jack Gruber is an unfamiliar name in the Batman mythos but his behavior is similar to the crazed psychologist Dr. Hugo Strange, who appeared in Batman: The Animated Series, or even Jeremiah Arkham, a mad-scientist scion of the family that once owned the property.
There is some of the mob story. The highlight is when Penguin oversteps, is arrested at Maroni’s order, and ends up in a cell near Bullock. Penguin asks nicely to be freed and Bullock replies he likes having Penguin around, and that he’s calming, like a bonsai tree. To which another prisoner says “what’s a bonsai tree?”
Penguin shows contrition so Maroni lets him off the hook but cautions our criminal mastermind against overstepping. (Note: Penguin is likely going to kill Maroni for that comment.) Apparently raising fees on poor fisherman is over-the-line for Maroni. They work hard, he says, and Penguin needs to leave them alone. Maroni, protector of the downtrodden fisherman is not a turn I expected, but I speculate that the director or the writer of the episode wanted to use the setting at the docks and wrote a plot around that.
And, last and probably least, Fish. She gets a tiny slice of the plot this week as she tries to convince Falcone’s number two guy (I cannot ever remember seeing this dude before) to help her take out his boss. Number two is Butch’s old friend and it seems for a bit that Fish’s most trusted minion might swap sides but, of course, he doesn’t. Butch is an intriguing character (at times) and he gets a nice sequence set to “The Still of the Night” and “It’s All In the Game” to close the episode.
This is a great example of how Gotham’s lack of focus works against it. Butch’s plot might have worked well as a full episode, much as the Arkham inmates’ plot could’ve benefited fleshing out in this episode. Gotham tries to juggle too many characters and plots at once, to the detriment of all of them.
What’s up next week? I’ve given up on the show providing Barbara with a personality but I suspect she’ll wander in and fall asleep somewhere. Jim will go after the escaped inmates, Bullock will (hopefully) get more great one-liners, Selina and Ivy will hang out at the Clocktower, and maybe we’ll see what Bruce and Alfred have been doing on their break.
Incidentally, as I watched Ivy and Selina crash in the Clocktower, I thought of the short-lived Birds of Prey television series in which Barbara Gordon (Jim and this Barbara Kean’s daughter) and Helena Kyle (Selina’s daughter) hang out in the Clocktower as BFFs. That series had all sorts of problems, too, and was cancelled after one season.
I hope Gotham sorts through its issues so it lasts longer.
Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, though not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom blog at Wired and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.