“I must obey: his art of such power,
It would control my dam’s god, Setebos,
And make a vassal of him.”
-Caliban, The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2
After leaving us in December with the series’ best episode, Gotham has returned with an hour that clearly displays all of the show’s quirks, from the good to the insufferable. “Rogues Gallery” is Episode 11 of Gotham and, just like the series as a whole, when it’s good it can be great, but when it’s bad it is very, very bad.
“Rogue’s Gallery” really wins with its case of the week. When we last left our earnest and honest hero, Detective Jim Gordon, he had been sent to Arkham Asylum on security duty as punishment for getting his goody two shoes all covered in corrupt billionaire Dick Lovecraft’s blood. We catch up with Jim as he watches the inmates he’s babysitting put on a performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in the Arkham Cafetorium.
Here we see Gotham at its very best, giving a visualization at the top of an episode that pays homage to the hour’s themes and plot line. The primary role of the wizard Prospero is played by the incarcerated Jack Gruber (if that is his real name…) and we get to see him command lesser inmates with his “art of such power.”
The allegory is a one-to-one comparison for the rest of this week’s A-plot in which Gruber (who – I’m just going to say it – is probably really the bat-villain Hugo Strange) chooses to use his time in the nuthouse to slowly perfect his invasive electroshock mind control techniques on his castmates.
Gruber’s headlining performance is rudely interrupted by a disgruntled and deranged audience member, who quickly finds himself on the wrong end of some in-brain electrodes. Things get out of hand quickly in the Asylum and Gordon calls his old partner (and series favourite) Harvey Bullock for assistance on the investigation.
As usual the old buddy cops solve the mystery in the nick of time, but not before Gruber uses his brainwashed hench-nurse to spring the male inmates and escape with Aaron – an honest murderer whose brain damage will likely lead him to take the name of Amygdala and join the ranks of Batman’s less popular rogues.
So, with the A-plot, “Rogue’s Gallery” has a lot of rewards for the viewer who likes clever story telling. It also nails some horror film beats, particularly with the “therapy” scenes and lines like this one delivered by Arkham’s now dead head honcho, Gerry Lang (Isiah Whitlock Jr.): “He’s still breathing? Unaided? For all official purposes, well, he’s still alive.”
For all its fun horror and treats for clever bat-fans, some old demons crop up in the case of the week. Some of the music choices kill the atmosphere completely (I’m thinking of the interrogation montage in particular) and there is a weird uncertainty about Jack Gruber that doesn’t sit well with me.
If Jack is, as I (and surely many others) suspect, Hugo Strange, then why the name change? What is gained from having a character be a minor icon in all but name? If Gruber is just Gruber, then how is this related to the Batman mythology and not just a waste of time? Gotham often shoots itself in the foot with its tendency to be overly cautious and reserved in terms of using up its canonical characters. The Strange-Gruber conundrum (which we will all call this tendency from now on) changes the satisfaction fan recognition with confusion and that’s too bad, because this Asylum escape A-plot was otherwise pretty exemplary.
It’s All In The Game
The ongoing mob war storyline is an example of Gotham maintaining its established status quo. Fish Mooney is continuing to plan her Falcone coup, looking to weed out competition for when she detonates her time bomb, and Penguin (sorry, THE Penguin) gets thrown in jail for the hour.
Fish’s portion of the story is slow going, and feels like a bit of wheel-spinning on the part of the writers’ room. She tests the waters with Carmine Falcone’s number two, Jimmy Saviano, just to see where he would stand if she hypothetically tried to seize power (he would not stand with her). Jimmy is old pals with Butch, and for the majority of the episode I was convinced that Fish’s main goon was about to play Judas. The final scene of the episode genuinely surprised me though, with Butch shooting his childhood friend in the skull down by the pier.
Surprise or no, it doesn’t change the fact that we didn’t learn much and very little progress was made in Fish’s storyline. The final scene was a really nice piece of TV, evoking the atmosphere of crime genre film thanks to the juxtaposition of sudden violence with It’s All In The Game by Tommy Edwards, but all we get out of it is the reaffirmation that Butch is a loyal dude.
The Penguin is arrested down by the river after trying to raise the taxes of Sal Maroni’s fishermen. The time behind bars is meant to teach Penguin a lesson in hubris, according to Maroni, who personally springs Cobblepot after preaching about the heroism of the men who go out into the sea to bring Gothamites food.
Even more than with the Butch betrayal plot, Penguin’s stint in a cell feels like an obligatory appearance by a popular character that simply can’t progress too fast for the sake of the show’s longevity. One could argue we get first-hand evidence of how much power Maroni has over the Gotham Police, but that’s something that has been implied since the Pilot. Everything that happens with the mafia families in “Rogues Gallery” feels like stalling as we watch the clock tick away the season’s 11 remaining hours.
Cats, Plants and (Ugh) Barbara Keane
Speaking of obligatory appearances, Barbara Keane (Erin Richards) is back and making lesbianism seem like a crime in the continuing and confusing romance between her and Detective Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena). The single scene between these two characters is so bad that it’s actually interesting to watch.
As the two fight for the sake of Jim we see a weird dissonance in acting ability. Cartagena, who is among the better actors in Gotham’s supporting cast, looks like she’s doing her best, but that only serves to underscore the poor dialogue and lack of either commitment or ability from her scene partner.
The storyline is introduced with Montoya bringing Barbara coffee in bed. The cup that Renee hands Barbara is empty, which is not something that should readily be apparent on TV, yet Richards unconvincingly sips it commenting, “Extra sweet… You always remember.”
The absurdity of seeing these actors play a game of house turns even crazier when the two female lovers start arguing over the well being of a man, namely Jim, and break up. Barbara kicks Renee out of her own apartment, but not before Montoya summarizes their relationship perfectly (though not in the way, I expect, the writers intended): “We are toxic together, you and me.”
The problems I have with the depiction of this relationship are numerous, but the primary one is that it makes the characters’ love for one another seem like a malevolent force that’s acting upon them in order to fuck up Jim Gordon’s life. Barbara and Renee’s love seems to only exist under a veil of guilt based on an assumption that love between women hurts men. It’s an offensive, subtle, oddly conservative attitude for a show to take. Toxic seems like the perfect word for it.
All the while, Selina Kyle and Ivy Pepper are taking refuge in Barbara’s condo, which hasn’t been lived in for quite some time. Nothing much happens between the two, but it’s nice to see the characters getting along. That is, until Barbara brings her toxicity to that story line too.
Barb calls her condo expecting to talk to Jim but Ivy picks up the phone and things get even more toxic. The 13 (?) year old girl goofily plays coy with Barbara, and is taken as a lover(!). Barb chucks the phone at the wall of Montoya’s apartment in anger, the little street kid laughs and the audience is left with a disjointed, pointless and upsetting C-plot.
Gotham has done some pretty stupid things in its first 11 episodes, but never has it stood out so much in comparison with what might otherwise be a pretty great episode of superhero themed television. If the two scenes in question were electrocuted out of the episode’s metaphorical brain, there would be very little here to complain about.
Sadly, thanks to the strange treatment of the already extraneous Barbara’s affair plot, “Rogue’s Gallery” puts Gotham’s greatest peril prominently on display: a growing polarization between the nearly excellent and the borderline offensive.
-Bullock speaking for the audience: (To Penguin) “See, I like having you here so I can sit at my desk and look at you. It’s soothing. Like a bonsai tree.”
-This episode also introduced Dr. Leslie Tompkins, Bruce Wayne’s godmother in the comics.
-Do all hospitals for the criminally insane have on button or lever that can open every door in a wing simultaneously? Is it for safety reasons?
-Strange to have an episode with no Bruce and Alfred, especially right after finally learning to love them in “Lovecraft”.
-Bullock’s entrance at Arkham was amazing. Great to see Donal Logue having fun with his character.
– Do five rogues add up to a gallery? I counted The Penguin, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Amygdala and (potentially) Hugo Strange. If you include Fish and Maroni that’s seven. Am I missing anyone?