FOX’s ‘Gotham’ detects its fourth installment in “Arkham,” as the impending vote over a dilapidated city district brings out a killer seemingly working for both sides of the mob, while Oswald Cobblepot continues his return ascent, and Fish Mooney prepares a move against Don Falcone.

Last week's ‘Gotham' installment "The Balloonman" saw the Gordon and Bullock pursuing a vigilante killing corrupt city officials via weather balloon, while Oswald Cobblepot returned to the city, and word of his supposed demise put Gordon's career at risk, so how does FOX’s latest episode of Bat-prequel drama shine a light on the city's villainous beginnings?

Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about ‘Gotham’ episode 4, “Arkham”!

“Arkham” was the first ‘Gotham’ episode not provided to critics in advance, something of a curious decision given the episode’s overt tie-in with Bat-mythology, and the clear show of support for the series established by FOX’s expanded order for the initial season. Fans and commenters tend to disagree with me in pointing out that reception to the series has been polarizing, though declining the opportunity to evaluate episodes in advance wouldn’t seem terribly wise for a show on such shaky ground, even if the network opted to reverse its decision to keep ‘Gotham’ at a manageable 16 hours. I know, reviewer problems.

It also didn’t help that news of Marvel’s incorporating Robert Downey Jr. into ‘Captain America 3’ for an adaptation of the “Civil War” storyline broke just as the episode was ending, an unfortunate distraction in favor of those continually weighing either company’s approach to superhero franchises. Marvel is Marvel and DC is DC, yes, and DC has had plenty of individual successes in their own right, though it’s hard to muster investment in a campy Batman-free series when his neighbors from another dimension keep raining down some fascinating cross-pollination.

I digress. As where last week’s ‘The Balloonman” actually grappled with some interesting and appropriate material for a ‘Batman’ prequel to follow, namely that of a city willing to embrace a vigilante taking action against the corrupt, “Arkham” managed to strike a similar note. Not only does the titular district connect the city’s decay with Bruce Wayne’s past, present and future, but so too does it clarify the mob war between Falcone and Maroni, finally shading in the stakes of that war Oswald Cobblepot keeps expositionally babbling about. The real shame is that while the titular vote marks a strong plot point for the series to tackle, the episode itself again winds up bogged down in its campier nonsense.

Take for instance Robin Taylor’s future Penguin, who last week provided a semi-intriguing twist in showing up to Gordon’s apartment, though this time around seems to luck into every bit of the ascension the character gains. Sure, the slimy ne’er-do-well managed to pull a fast one on Maroni by hiring goons to stage the attack himself, but how lucky for him that the Don so cavalierly hands out promotions and expositions, or that three hitmen would blindly bite into non-suspicious cannolis!  More baffling still is the mysterious hitman doing the dirty work for both sides, armed with little more than a switchblade flute, and apparently working at the employment of a man whose identity he’d stolen, no questions asked.

Somewhere in there, Fish Mooney auditions a few minorly talented singers, before inviting them to seduce her, and ultimately pitting them against one another for the job. The dots are easy enough to connect, Fish intends to hire a girl capable of replacing Carmine Falcone’s late squeeze, before presumably killing him, but at what point in that sentence did you remember that the episode chronicled a corrupt vote on a mental institution purportedly bringing hope to a decaying city?

Elsewhere, “Arkham” managed to take Barbara and Jim’s conversations out of the apartment for a change, but still fared no better connecting the thread to the main storyline. The two end up at a crossroads over Jim’s secret-keeping on Oswald Cobblepot, despite the fact that the man physically showed up at their house, and seems in no way a threat to Barbara moreso than he already is. Compounding that is Barbara’s admission of hers and Montoya’s romantic past, though she curiously follows up the admission with an insistence that Jim keeping any secrets would represent the end of their relationship. At least in the case of the week’s superfluous visit to Wayne Manor, Bruce actually has input to offer on his parents’ dream for the Arkham district, and the frustration its subsequent compromise brings, though the series still isn’t yet certain how best to incorporate its most recognizable character.

Look, I want to like ‘Gotham.’ I want to see what some of the fans see, and not end up so disinterested in the storytelling, particularly with Marvel running circle after circle around DC. The series actually can has some of the ingredients that make for a compelling new look at the Batman mythology, “Arkham” providing a fine example of that in all its cityscape/mob aspects, yet it insists on heightening supervillain drama where none exists. Expanding the order to 22 episodes will only increase that strain going forward, so I can only hope ‘Gotham’ comes to recognize its best elements sooner than later

AND ANOTHER THING...

  • I had the alley confrontation between Gordon and Cobblepot on mute at first. I guessed that they'd be talking about rivers of blood in the streets.
  • So far, it seems every 'Gotham' killer starts with "okay, but what if he didn't kill with a gun, but something weird instead?"
  • "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" is an exceptionally weird mantra, coming from a killer who has to twist together a tubular contraption that pokes people to death.
  • How is "they were both stabbed by weird blades" a paradox, Mr. Nygma?
  • I'm going to start taking shots everytime Gordon picks up an arbitrary clue like "CLM," and deduces its all-important significance at the last moment.

Well, what say you? Did ‘Gotham’’s fourth episode “Arkham” help set the stage any further for Batman's beginning? How do you think the prequel drama fared in its first major attempt at Batman lore? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and check back next week for our review of ‘Gotham' episode 5, "Viper" on FOX!