‘Gotham’ Review: “What the Little Bird Told Him”
FOX’s ‘Gotham’ detects its 12th installment in “What the Little Bird Told Him,” as Gordon reclaims his old job to track down escaped Arkham inmate Jack Gruber, while Fish finally makes her move on Carmine Falcone, and Penguin finds himself caught in a compromising position. Last week’s ‘Gotham’ installment, “Rogues’ Gallery,” saw Gordon making friends and enemies with his new position at Arkham Asylum, Penguin on the end of a harsh lesson from Maroni, and Selina Kyle taking in an ailing Ivy, 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 12, “What the Little Bird Told Him”!
By now you’ve likely heard the news that ‘Gotham’ will return for a second season this fall, which wasn’t ever necessarily in doubt, mind you, but hardly qualifies as joyous news. The renewal itself arrived at FOX’s TCA press tour presentation, which sadly lacked an open forum for critics to converse with the show’s cast and creators, but short of a complete creative reboot in season 2, it seems as if we’ll be slogging through ‘Gotham’ for the foreseeable future, at least.
Last week’s Arkham-centric 2015 premiere proved exceptionally droll for the series, in all likelihood a casualty of the decision to expand ‘Gotham’’s initial episode order to 22, which certainly allowed “What the Little Bird Told Him” a wide margin for improvement. And improve it does, as despite how quickly Jim’s tenure at Arkham seems to have been abandoned, “What the Little Bird Told Him” had quite a bit more going for it, likely the most eventful episode since 2014’s borderline-competent “Penguin’s Umbrella.” Not only does this week afford us the first tangible appearance of a costumed supervillain, but also brings to fruition Fish Mooney’s schemes against Don Falcone, even returning Gordon his detective’s shield.
Thing is, the approach brings with it at least a few bugs. What struck me about ‘Gotham’ during tonight’s hour (though the series has been guilty of it from the very beginning) is that the show consistently writes itself in the wrong direction. A larger example being that we know Bruce becomes Batman and Gordon’s mission to clean up the city will inevitably fail, forcing the writers to draft content in service of an inevitable endpoint.
Take for instance Falcone strangling Liza to death in Fish’s club, an act that itself seems somewhat ineffectual and muted in its staging. ‘Gotham’’s writers know they need the character to die, and push toward the inevitable outcome, ignoring the actual journey to build up its effectiveness. The same goes for Nygma’s cupcake riddle, Penguin revealing his duplicity to Maroni, or Gordon planting one on Dr. Thompkins. The story ultimately wants Nygma dejected, Penguin in hot water, and Thompkins as a love interest, and ‘Gotham’ doesn’t seem to care how contrived the means for creating these ends can be.
Granted, those represent minor points of a much larger pastiche, but that inability to write to its characters’ strengths may be why ‘Gotham’ perplexes me so. Morena Baccarin has killed near of every role for years, and Ben McKenzie’s Gordon has essentially coalesced into an original enough entity by now, but no regard is paid to how little we know of Leslie Thompkins, or how little chemistry the characters share. Dr. Leslie Thompkins might be a brilliant doctor with a brilliant actress behind her, but darn it all if ‘Gotham’ isn’t just going to find excuses for her to follow Jim around, wanting the two as a romantic subplot to throw Barbara back into the mix.
Which ... ugh, Barbara.
Anywho, I won’t ignore everything that “What the Little Bird Told Him” got right, particularly in shifting a bit to Falcone’s perspective, and drawing the ‘Gotham’ crime lord out of the doddering lovestruck old man we’ve seen in recent episodes. A Falcone re-committed to organized crime should make for some interesting changes toward Fish and Penguin, especially with the former deposed and seemingly out of the game altogether. What timing too, that Falcone would reemerge as ‘Gotham’’s big bad just as Jim returns to the police force!
In many ways, “What the Little Bird Told Him” also felt like something of a reboot for Gordon, now back at his old post with a wry enough attitude to get one over on Commissioner Loeb (hi, Peter Scolari!), and worry less about playing by the rules. It didn’t hurt that the set pieces it took to get him there proved some of ‘Gotham’’s finest yet, lending some serious sci-fi menace to Christopher Heyerdahl’s “Electrocutioner.” Dousing the killer’s electro-apparatus in water proved a fairly anticlimactic resolution to the affair, but if ‘Gotham’ can build villains and sequences that amplify its theatrical components as effectively as its restaurant and precinct scenes, perhaps we’ll start moving away from characters merely winking at future bad guys. Cue the Scarecrow’s pappy in two weeks. Sigh.
‘Gotham’’s season 2 renewal doesn’t instill a great deal of hope the network will comes to its senses on the show’s creative missteps, but then again, ‘Sleepy Hollow’’s uncertain future might serve as a reminder that buzzworthy series’ popularity can wane without proper nurturing. In the meantime at least, “What the Little Bird Told Him” seemed to bring with it more good ideas than bad, bringing several major stories to climax and setting up new threads along the way. No Bruce, Selina, or Ivy this week, while Barbara non-starters were kept to a merciful minimum, and that’s about as much as we can hope for ‘Gotham’ at this point.
AND ANOTHER THING…
- Considering how expensive it might have been, was a bad CG newspaper and Christopher Heyerdahl’s one-off return the best time to spring for a Johnny Cash song?
- For the life of me, I could not tell who the inmate’s doll was supposed to resemble. That, plus a vague “Mr. M” in a city of millions, yep, gotta be Sal Maroni!
- “Boss, your vision is genius! You told a major crime boss to leave town with a vague threat against his girlfriend, and it solved our problems forever! He couldn’t ... get the girl back, and just not leave, or anything!”
- How does “live bullet in a cupcake” = “a beautiful woman is a dangerous thing?” And for goodness’ sake, how little does ‘Gotham’ respect its characters that she seems to warm to his affections?
Well, what say you? Did ‘Gotham’’s 12th episode “What the Little Bird Told Him” help set the stage any further for Batman’s beginning? How do you think the prequel drama fared in its latest? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and check back next week for our review of ‘Gotham’’s latest installment, “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” on FOX!