Gotham 1.04: “Arkham”

Gotham should be subtitled “Rise of the Penguin,” as it’s clear by this fourth episode that this season is all about Oswald Cobblepot’s bid for power.

Focusing on the villain is a tradition in Batman screen adaptations, all the way back to Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman. And Oswald is perfectly cast to fill this need. Robin Lord Taylor has on-screen charisma to burn, enough so that while he’s a cheerfully unrepentant murderer, I find myself rooting for him. Oswald took a big step forward with this week’s orchestration of a robbery and then dispatching his hired help via poisoned cannoli. (He takes the gun, the cannoli, and the money.)

As I was watching the double-cross, it occurred to me that Oswald is an excellent suspect for the mastermind behind the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Their deaths caused the chaos he needs to thrive and he certainly tried to use the killings as leverage to get rid of Fish, his one miscalculation so far. If this is the case, it adds more resonance to the scene at the end of the pilot in which Jim Gordon, sworn to find the murderer of the Waynes, refuses to kill Oswald. 

We need more out of you, Jim Gordon.

Yet Oswald’s ascension has caused a problem. Every good protagonist needs an antagonist and so far, Jim Gordon isn’t up to the job. Gordon needs to be more intelligent, more of a detective and, most importantly, more than one-note. Being the one “honest man in Gotham” is a description, not characterization. Power and prestige drive overlooked, reviled Oswald. What drives Gordon? Even before the Waynes are murdered, he’s driven to be a good cop and I don’t know why. Yes, his father died in an accident and, yes, he’s a war veteran but none of that gives me any insight into why he’s so determined to risk his career, his life, and the lives of those around him in pursuit of justice. Of course, he can want justice because it’s the right thing to do but everything’s stacked against him at this point. Yet he stays in Gotham rather than trying for a career somewhere else where he might do more good. Why?

If the show answers that question and Gordon’s goals and motivations start clashing with Oswald, it could turn this show from entertaining to something great.

Nice to finally meet you, Barbara.
Not so one-note is Barbara Kean, Gordon’s fiancée, or, rather apparently, former fiancée. In a terrific scene, she’s willing to trust Jim with all her secrets in a roll of the dice on their relationship. Now, why this very personal scene takes place in the police station of all places, I don’t know, but, hey, at least Barbara is out of her clock tower for the first time. Barbara values Gordon’s for his essential honestly, especially when she seems to have led a tumultuous life. But other than the fact Erin Richards is gorgeous, I’ve no idea why Gordon looked at this woman and thought “she’s the one.” Again, we’re back to the problem of Gordon’s characterization. He’s going to have to gather some allies at some point. The love of his life seems a good first choice.

Perhaps the problem is also one of focus because this episode, like the previous three, tries to cover many stories at once, and hits shallowly on most of them instead of providing depth.

Hello, unnamed hitman number 3.

Aside from Oswald’s scheming and Gordon’s personal troubles, a hit man is knocking off officials connected to plans involving the revitalization of the Arkham area of Gotham, including the decrepit old Arkham Asylum, the future home of many of Batman’s rogues. In the end, the hit man is dead, and it’s decided that a waste disposal plant is to be built next to low-income housing while the Asylum is doing to be restored. It’s a perfectly Gotham solution.

Meantime, Fish Mooney’s new plan seems to consist of to-the-death girlfighting. No, not really, but close. Fish wants a new sex toy to toss at Falcone, presumably. Fish and her intensity are beginning to grow on me. Not growing on me is creepy young Bruce Wayne’s obsession with criminal cases. Or, rather, that Gordon seems to already view him as an adult, filling Bruce in on the current crime spree because the Waynes were tangentially involved in a plan to revitalize the Arkham section.

I know this is supposed to be fore-shadowing of Bruce becoming Batman but Bruce should really be getting out of the house, if only to go to school or something. Maybe he should go find a hidden wardrobe and disappear for a while, having adventures and saving a different kind of world.

Next up: Oswald now owns all the cannolis, Maroni works on a plan to overthrow Falcone, and Gordon gets in more over his head. Let’s hope he begins to develop a plan on learning not only to swim in Gotham’s sewers but how to clean them up.

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.

Read all posts by Corrina Lawson for Criminal Element.

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