“Friends don’t owe friends, silly. They just do favours because they want to. Because they’re friends.”
Friends are the most important thing you can have in Gotham City. Sure, super powers are great; henchmen make life easier; and a rasp, a Halloween costume and some eyeliner can disguise the richest man in the city from even his lovers, employees and most intimate enemies, but friends trump all of that.
In “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” – which serves to restate the primary series conflict of man versus corruption – we get to see a whole bunch of examples of how friendship connections keep Gothamites safe regardless of social standing, moral alignment or level of sanity.
Friends In High Places
As the name right out states, “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” serves to bring our hero back where he belongs. After last week’s gamble against The Electrocutioner, Jimbo has been reinstated as a GCPD detective and is eager to show everyone how much he didn’t learn about stepping on the toes of important assholes.
The A-plot of “Welcome Back” begins by putting Jim on site at the crime scene of the week with partner Harvey Bullock and police department bully Arnold Flass. Bullock labels the case as “public service homicide” – the late Pinky Littlefield, member of the Uptown Assassins, hangs from a piece of industrial machinery as Jim makes a point of being the only guy who cares about this kind of crime.
When the death site’s night janitor, Leon Winkler, who claims to have seen the killer’s face agrees to be a witness is subsequently murdered in the GCPD interrogation room, it becomes readily apparent why Gotham’s finest are never too eager to investigate low level gang related crime. Corruption runs deep and wide in the GCPD, and Jim has chosen to put the magnifying glass to Arnold Flass’ participation in a narcotics scheme.
The trouble is, as always with Gordon’s peers, that the corrupt cop is under protection from extremely moneyed friends. Not only that, but when Internal Affairs rules Leon’s death as a suicide, it is clear that the commissioner is at least part of the same LinkedIn groups as the killer if not an outright Facebook friend.
The circle of protection that keeps Flass on the GCPD payroll is breached, and though he’s the one who pays with a potential life sentence by the end of the episode, it’s his bad cop buddy Delaware who ends up worse for wear when his friends abandon him in favour of Gordon’s ideal police force of white knights.
In fact, Delaware is a perfect example of the power of friendship in Gotham City. Jim publicly busts him after finding the same kind of drugs in the trunk of his car that were on the body of Littlefield, but he’s sprung by friends in high places. When Gordon and Bullock find him in a stash house handling contraband with his own hands, Delaware produces a warrant signed by the commissioner that allows him to be there under the pretense of investigation. But it turns out Gordon also has friends – very good friends who are a little more advanced in the area of giving favours – Delaware doesn’t only lose his friends, he becomes the poster boy for what happens to the disconnected in Gotham.
Gordon, in a moment of usual late-case desperation, heads to Fish Mooney’s for some inside help, but to his surprise The Penguin is running the joint. After the cutest, most threatening endorsement of friends I’ve seen in a 45 minute superhero drama (see the quote at the top of this article), things start going very well for Gordon and very poorly for Delaware.
Penguin sends a goon to put pressure on Delaware to flip, and though it gets results, it leaves the bad cop broken. A very quick intimidation scene takes place in Delaware’s bathroom, and it is one of the few cases of Gotham using excessive violence to properly hammer its point home.
The big Penguin hench is pointing a gun at Delaware with his foot in the man’s bathtub. A gut wrenching reveal shows us that Delaware’s wife is under the mobster’s foot, and he’s threatening to drown her for Jim Gordon’s information. It’s as upsetting as its supposed to be and it sells the final scene like a hotcake.
After the case is done, Delaware confronts Gordon in an alleyway for the episode’s stinger. The cocksure man from before is no more. Friendless and in tears, the cowering cop begs Jim to promise that his family is safe. That’s the power of friendship in Gotham City.
Old Friends and New
The growing rogues gallery also got friendly this week as Ed Nygma made more moves on Kristen Kringle, Butch proved himself to Fish Mooney and The Penguin found salvation at the bald sadistic hands of Victor Zsasz.
“Welcome Back” opens with Fish becoming acquainted with her Falcone-appointed torturer, Bob, who is tasked with extracting an apology from Mooney. She proves a tough nut to crack though, and after some bludgeoning and suffocating inside a plastic bag Fish is saved by her best friend in the whole wide world: Butch.
The torture scenes seem excessive in “Welcome Back”, taking weight away from the aforementioned Delaware interrogation. Maybe its Jada Pinkett Smith’s maniacal laughter as she taunts Bob, or maybe its the fact that despite all her improvements Fish has just not managed to win my sympathies alone.
When Butch saves Mooney it becomes clear what has made her character work for the past few better than average episodes of Gotham. Her connection with Butch endears her more than any amount of taunting she could give a torture-goon. With the two reunited, they actually pull off what is possibly the most difficult feat in all of Gotham; Fish and Butch upstage The Penguin.
Alone, drunk and celebrating his good fortune a bit too prematurely, The Penguin is interrupted mid-victory speech to no one by the rightful owners of his brand new club. Fish carries a baseball bat, somehow pulling off the invincible villain swagger she couldn’t when laughing in Bob’s face.
Her re-victory is short lived though, because as much as Fish’s Butch-friendship makes her strong, Oswald Cobblepot has some seriously fucked up friends. Victor Zsasz saves or spoils the day depending on who you’re rooting for by interrupting the reunion and giving chase to Mooney and her main man, leaving Penguin laughing at his good friends and fortune.
Mooney escapes out the back window, Butch having bought her some time by forcing a showdown with Zsasz. Sadly, the henchman takes a fall with one of Victor’s well placed non-lethal shots and the scariest man in the room decides to take Fish’s best bud home to play.
Friendship isn’t just ammunition in a power struggle though, a fact that “Welcome Back” illustrates with Ed Nygma’s continued pursuit of GCPD lab tech Kristen Kringle. This time, Ed moves with a bit more panache, handing his little bullet cupcake of a love letter instead of a morbid riddle. Once again, he finds himself publicly bullied by Flass, placing him firmly on Jim Gordon’s list of friends come the episode’s conclusion.
A bigger, more surprising expression of love comes at the Gotham City Port, when Bullock says goodbye to Fish, urging her to never come back and receiving a big ol’ smooch. Again, at risk of implying Fish is best defined in scenes with male counterparts (writing problem), the scene has heart and sticks the Fall of Fish arc’s landing.
Both complicated love plots serve to position relationships as stakes and succeed, which is extra remarkable considering how much Gotham has struggled to do this (Barbara Keane, I’m looking in your direction). Between the relationship building and friend-based favour giving, it becomes pretty clear that in the city’s current state nothing is more important that who like who.
Your Own Best Friend
Of course, when everybody’s putting their stake in friendship, the potential for disruption is huge if someone else decides they’d rather be their own best friend.
Bruce is back this week after his two episode absence when he was at the Wayne Chalet in Switzerland, laying low with Alfred. In terms of friendship, the Batboy’s little C-plot serves to show us where the Caped Crusader finds his greatest power as Gotham’s defender: loneliness.
Using his network of street kid “friends,” Bruce lets Selina Kyle know he’s back in town and wants to speak with her. She meets him at home and it becomes immediately clear that rather than having anything truly important to tell her Master Wayne just wants company.
True to form, the future Catwoman rebuffs Bruce’s offers of a billionaire’s home and his confused affection, bringing him to a tough conclusion. Bruce redoubles his efforts to figure out who killed his parents and takes the most important step towards his heroic future. Bruce (with some nudging from Alfred) embraces being friendless, and in doing so accidentally chooses to not play the social games that are ruining good cops like Jim Gordon.
“Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” might feel a little laggy at times – maybe even boring after last week’s super fun Electrocutioner plot – and definitely has a few tonal issues, but its handling of theme is spot-on. Gotham City is built on friendships; to fix it you need to be alone.
-Quote of the week is a tie between the one at the top of this article and Ivy Pepper’s baby super villain delivery on “ Look who it is: millionaire Bruce Wayne.”
-Anyone else get the impression at first that the A-plot was going to involve Nygma framing Flass? There was something about Gordon’s discovery of the case’s first clue that got my hopes up for the long awaited (at least for me) proper Riddler episode.
-Two instances of this episode nailing a Batman-ish tone: the interrogation scene in which Ben McKenzie delivers an uninterrupted monologue while the officers he’s questioning continue to change and the Club Cobblepot scenes that had Penguin showing off his success to his mom.
-Not sure how I feel about The Penguin’s solo-celebration scene. It was fun, but when Gotham gives in to its impulse to have a character dance around to a non-diegetic pop song, it really betrays its serious intentions.
-Zsasz wins crazy face of the episode award for the mug he gave the camera after asking his henchwomen if he should take Butch home.
-Mild-spoilers: judging by the titles of the next two episodes, we’re about to be on the receiving end of an exciting two-episode arc. Titles like “The Fearsome Mr. Crane” and “Scarecrow” are about as unambiguous as you can get.