“Go tell that long tongue liar,
Go and tell that midnight rider,
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter,
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down.”
-Traditional Folk Song
One of the most central struggles in the Batman mythology is between Bruce Wayne’s proclivity for the theatrical and the encouragement that his flair for the dramatic gives his enemies. The trouble of this relationship is perhaps most famously described in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight by Alfred when he explains the nature of The Joker to Bruce:
“You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.”
Batman gives birth to the super villains by participating in, and in many ways instigating, an arms race of theatricality.
Gotham’s twelfth episode, “What The Little Bird Told Him,” fully embraces this spirit of costumed one-upmanship in an hour that has the show displaying a shocking amount of maturity, self awareness and super villainy. With the confirmation coming last week that Fox has renewed the adventures of Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock, nothing is more exciting than seeing this show finally feel comfortable with its best material.
The strongest part of “Little Bird” is The Electrocutioner: Gotham’s first true super villain. Initially, I have to admit, I was pretty in love with the idea I put forward two weeks ago, that brain surgery maniac Jack Gruber was using an alias and would be proven to be none other than minor bat-villain Hugo Strange. Last week though, in commercials and tweets aired during Empire, it was revealed that Gruber is actually a radical re-imagining of Jack Buchinski, alias: The Electrocutioner. I wasn’t psyched going into this week’s episode for this reason, which I believed to be a misstep.
I had my doubts shocked out of my brain, however, when I saw exactly how far Gotham is willing to go with its super villains. Prior to “Little Bird” we’d seen various levels of evil superpower, but the villains putting them to use were missing a certain balance that would push them over the top to the classification of bat-villain. The hypnotist from “The Spirit of the Goat” had the mind for it, but lacked the ego; the Viper victims from episode five had Bane’s strength, but lacked his clarity of mind and ability to maintain bone density; The Electrocutioner has everything: a power, an ego, a henchman, a cool costume and a name so cool the Riddler commented on it. The only thing he’s missing, actually, is Batman, and that ends up being his downfall.
Picking up where the show left off in “Rogues Gallery,” “Little Bird” opens with The Electrocutioner, fresh from his Arkham escape, re-seizing his old projects from Irwin Electronics to the tune of Johnny Cash’s rendition of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” He then proceeds to seek high voltage revenge on Sal Maroni, the man responsible for the life sentence he was serving until very recently.
The Electrocutioner cuts a dramatic appearance with his black rubber lab coat, Dr. Robotnik goggles and lobotomized henchman (Amygdala) towing two very large batteries. He’s so much of a super villain that he fails.
After Jim and Bullock lure him to the Gotham City Police Department, using Sal Maroni as live bait, The Electrocutioner instigates the series’ coolest set piece. Using a giant electromagnet, Buchinski electrocutes the GCPD building from the outside, causing arc lightning to strike dramatically, everyone to go unconscious and the power to go out. As he enters, the mad scientist actually comments on how disappointed he is with the lack of drama:
“I expected more… Oomf!”
He’s at least 10 or 15 years too early for a young Batman to spar with, so instead Jim Gordon shows The Electrocutioner how Gotham’s finest deal with failed madhouse Shakespearean actors turned pains in his ass. After besting Amygdala in a quick tussle, Jim comes face to face with The Electrocutioner’s dramatic monologue (fingers pointed into electricity guns for ultimate effect). Before the bad guy can say “…and scene!” Gordon splashes some water on Buchinski’s chest-mounted battery pack and has him readmitted to Arkham.
The Electrocutioner plot is what Gotham should always strive to achieve: a story that comments on why Batman is so essential to the Gotham City we know this town will eventually become. Buchinski was unsuccessful in “Little Bird,” but if this same scheme was pulled under the Caped Crusader’s watch, things might have been different.
Batman enables the kind of monologuing, heavy artillery toting, highly costumed crime we see in this episode, and he takes it way more seriously than Gordon. If Batman “pulled a Gordon” and saved the day with nothing but a coffee mug and some rude timing, he’d have to question why he spent all that time dressing up and applying eyeshadow. Letting a guy finish his monologue is all part of the game but, unfortunately for Jack Buchinski, that game has not yet started.
Gordon solves the case of The Electrocutioner in character-defining fashion. As I’ve mentioned in previous recaps, it is incredibly important for Jim Gordon to differentiate himself from just a plainclothes Batman. Thankfully, the two-episode Arkham job arc has gone a long way in painting Gordon as a unique hero.
“Little Bird” is propelled by a wager that Gordon makes at the top of the episode. He crashes the police commissioner’s briefing on the escaped maniac situation and, using the false claim that he knows where Buchinski will be heading, makes a deal that will see him reinstated as a GCPD detective if he successfully hauls in The Electrocutioner within 24 hours.
Gordon wants to do good by the city – he’s a good guy, just like Batman – but you know what the Dark Knight doesn’t care about? His job (classic rich kid). That is not the case for Gordon. Jim is so defined by his career that he might as well legally change his first name to Commissioner. “Little Bird” is the first time that Gordon’s job has truly been dangled over an episode as stakes, and it goes a long way molding him into a unique character.
Of course, the writers’ efforts to differentiate young Gordon from Batman haven’t always been so successful, and the failures of the past are still lingering and dragging down the episode. Mostly I’m talking about the character of Barbara Keane, who rather than taking a great opportunity to never come back to the narrative, is moving in with her rich ass parents for a few days (and we’re supposed to care for some reason).
Last we saw Barbara, her storyline destroyed an episode. This week her appearance is so inconsequential it might as well just be clipped right out. Sadly, the extraneous inclusion of Barb serves as foreshadowing for an inevitable love-rhombus between herself, Jim, Renee Montoya and Dr Leslie Tompkins, the last of whom frenches Gordon in the episode’s final scene, kicking off what could be a comparatively compelling romance if not for the threat that it might mean more forced Barbara drama.
Gotham is saturated with love plots, all of which are being poisoned by the character of Barbara Keane.
As many lovers as Gotham City houses, there will always be more villains, and “Little Bird” might set a record for number of infamous rogues, emperor of whom is The Penguin.
The duck-footed menace made miracles happen in this episode, and not his usual ones that generally boil down to Robin Lord Taylor’s amazing charisma and abilities as an actor. Oswald Cobblepot somehow blows his cover with Sal Maroni, makes a reputation recovery, and goes on to destroy Fish Mooney by springing his social Rube Goldberg contraption of a master plan.
Gotham’s mob war storyline felt like it was stalling in more recent episodes, and having The Penguin expose Fish’s betrayal shows a huge amount of confidence on behalf of the showrunners. What’s more is that, where previous episodes have left the audience hanging on a major Penguin reveal, “Little Bird” dedicates its final act to resolving the Falcone betrayal revelation.
Previously, Gotham has had success with endings that involve Penguin with showing up unexpectedly or moving a major piece of his plan into place, then waiting for the next episode to show the resolution. A more traditional episode would end when Cobblepot finally arrives at Falcone’s home and tells the old man that Liza is a mole. “Little Bird” goes the extra mile though, resolving the arc with Carmine Falcone squeezing the life from Mooney’s ticking time bomb of a fake lover, and it is incredibly satisfying as a viewer.
Back in the GCPD, more betrayal is brewing too, manifesting in the form of Ed Nigma’s first highly demented and violent riddle. Making the creepiest of moves on co-CSI Christina Kringle, he riddles her this: a pink cupcake with a live bullet smushed into it. His advances fail (thanks largely in part to some bullying by a nameless cop) and the promise of Nygma’s behaviour escalating into a fully fledged workplace harassment suit becomes both clearly inevitable and guiltily tantalizing.
The huge number of villains in “Little Bird” (Zsasz also makes a few scowling appearances) is another comment on the realities of Batman’s world. With so many egomaniacs with costumes and super powers causing a ruckus, it makes sense that the lesser bad guys like Zsasz and The Electrocutioner can gain enough of a foothold to warrant Batman’s bat-gaze. There’s only one Batman, and if there are multiple villains on the loose, even the shitty ones are bound to gain traction. The thing is, without Batman drawing focus and inspiring greater villainy, the lesser crooks are stuck in what must be a frustrating mafia cliche.
And that, in essence, is why “What The Little Bird Told Him” is so fun: it’s an example of why everyone, even the villains, need Batman. The Electrocutioner is everything a super villain should be, he’s just a little too early to the party.
– Nygma wins the quote of the show award this week: “What’s green and then red? Frogs in a blender.”
– The canon villain rundown for the episode: Falcone, Maroni, The Penguin, Zsasz, Amygdala, The Electrocutioner, The Riddler.
– The opening scene, with Electrocutioner and Amygdala be-suited and jaywalking perfectly underlined how simultaneously intimidating and ridiculous super villains are. Speaking of which, any major Batfans out there miffed about such a radical re-imagining of Buchinski?
– Irwin’s writing on the wall after his Electrocutioner encounter: “I will not betray my friends.”
– Anyone have ideas as to who the Arkham sorceress might be?
– Anyone else surprised that the Arkham arc was so short lived? I definitely expected more villainous introductions out of Jim’s demotion. Early press for Gotham teased Scarecrow and Hugo Strange, two characters with strong Arkham associations, so it will be interesting to see how their introductions are handled.
– No Bruce Wayne for two episodes in a row. I never thought I’d miss that little guy, but I do.
– So, who wants to place bets on Fish’s ability to survive Falcone’s punishment? My bet is that this will not be her final appearance.