As I was watching this week’s new episode of ‘Gotham’, my main takeaway was to ponder just how exquisitely lit the show is. This episode in particular has some truly gorgeous photography. The show’s crew must spend an inordinate amount of time setting up the shots – which is rather unusual for a TV production that has to crank out an entire hour-long episode in a week’s schedule. I’d like them to know that the effort has not gone unnoticed.
Honestly, this may actually be the best episode of the show so far in terms of story as well. Episode ‘Arkham’ has a quite complex plot that showcases the political maneuverings at play behind-the-scenes in the city, rather than just doling out fan service to set up future superheroes and supervillains. This is exactly what I think the show needs to do to establish its own identity. ‘Gotham’ shouldn’t just be Batman’s origin story. It should be the story of Gotham itself.
The episode picks up with Oswald Cobblepot at Jim Gordon’s door. He lies to Barbara and pretends to be “Peter Humboldt,” an old friend of Jim’s. Gordon drags him outside and demands to know why he’s back in the city. Oswald warns him that a gang war is coming, and offers to be Gordon’s secret agent providing intel from the inside. Gordon doesn’t know whether to believe him or not.
When a city councilman is murdered by an eccentric hitman who kills with a unique pointy spike weapon (his M.O. is more than a little reminiscent of Anton Chigurh from ‘No Country for Old Men’), Gordon and Bullock catch the case. As Gordon investigates, he links the murder to an important upcoming vote on a development project for the slum-like Arkham district. The councilman was corrupt, as all political officials in Gotham are. He was set to vote in favor of a plan to rebuild the area originally initiated by Thomas and Martha Wayne, but which is currently backed by mobster Carmine Falcone, who will of course benefit greatly from it. Gordon believes that the murder was the work of rival mobster Maroni, who has an opposing plan to use the area for waste disposal.
A second councilman is killed, this one a lackey for Maroni. Gordon and Bullock assume it was payback and an attempt to swing the vote back Falcone’s way. What’s strange, however, is that both murders were committed by the same weapon and thus the same killer. It’s unusual for a hitman to work both sides of a conflict like this.
Gordon follows one set of clues while Bullock hits up Fish Mooney for info, which Fish is a little too eager to provide. Oswald also calls Jim to warn him that another murder is coming. The trail eventually leads to a contract killer calling himself Gladwell (a stolen identity), who’s targeting the mayor next. This climaxes with a brutal fight between Jim and Gladwell at the mayor’s residence, until Bullock shows up to save Jim’s butt. Gladwell then pulls a suicide-by-cop and provokes them to both shoot him full of many bullets.
The next day, Mayor James announces that a compromise has been reached between both development plans. The Arkham area will be split between new low-income housing and waste disposal. (How pleasant for the low-income families!) Rather than build a new mental health facility, the old asylum will be refurbished and reopened. The mayor calls this a win-win for everyone, but really it’s a terrible outcome for the citizens of the city. The real winner is Maroni, whose position is greatly strengthened. While Falcone is hurt in the new deal, he’ll still profit from it. When young Bruce Wayne laments that his parents’ plan has been bowdlerized and the city conned, Gordon explains to him that this compromise was the only way to avert a major gang war that would claim many lives.
As all this is happening, a crew of robbers stick up Maroni’s restaurant and kill the manager. They escape with a bunch of money, but Cobblepot hides in a freezer and protects a big chunk of the cash. Maroni rewards him for his loyalty by promoting him to be the restaurant’s new manager. It should come as no surprise that Cobblepot himself planned the whole thing to advance his own standing with Maroni. He ties up loose ends by poisoning the robbers he’d hired.
Elsewhere, Fish Mooney auditions a couple of new performers, ostensibly for her nightclub. She makes them sing and then orders them to seduce her. One is a great singer but a lousy seductress, an the other the opposite. Ultimately, Fish has them fight it out for the job. The lousy singer wins. Fish hints that she has big plans to use this girl as some sort of weapon, presumably against Maroni.
With this episode, I feel that ‘Gotham’ may finally be coming into its own. Perhaps this is still too early to draw any conclusions about how the rest of the series will go, but I’m interested to see what happens next.