Robert Tiemstra ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
“Do you honestly think you’re the only who had the orders to take a punk down to the end of the pier and put a bullet in his head? Huh? The difference is my Cobblepot didn’t come back.”
It’s business as usual back in Gotham City. The series still has some well-drawn characters as well as excellent atmosphere, but it desperately grasps for tone amidst a parade of subplots, none of which appear to be going anywhere. While this opening quote may very well have given away the destination of this review, there are many interesting things about “Everyone has a Cobblepot” that are worth discussing beyond its success (or lack thereof) as a unified episode of television.
When any given episode of Gotham begins, viewers are allowed a few minutes to figure out which show to which this reference belongs. Gotham has imitated several different shows since its inception back in 2014, so what was it this week? The graphic Bonny & Clyde meets Scream melee of “Red Hood,” the One Flew over Hannibal Lecter’s Nest of “Rogues Gallery,” or the comic goofiness of Balloonman Begins? Oddly enough, this episode shares the DNA of two early episodes: Harvey Dent and Pilot. Viewers may be forgiven for not particularly remembering anything about the former, since it was one of the early first season episodes that named itself after the iconic character the episode introduced instead of what actually happened during the episode’s plot.
It’s back to police procedural work with Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Dent (Nicholas D’Agosto), who must reap the field of corrupt cops as officer Arnold Flass (Dash Mihok) has been cleared of all charges (in case viewers have forgotten, the episode pointedly reminds us that this man is both a drug dealer and a murderer, so it is astonishing that he got off scot free, even by Gotham standards). The interesting parts of this plot are slim pickings early on, as we explore why the GCPD remains under the thumb of anyone in Gotham who has an enormous ego with a wallet to match. The most compelling sequence in this half comes when Gordon and Dent climb down into the basement of a Chinese restaurant to confront a potential suspect—the subsequent descent into the hellish subbasement emphasizes just how comfortable this series is with its visual storytelling compared to its actual writing.
In the early moments of this episode, everything smacks of being a return to form: Gordon et al investigating corruption like it will make a difference, Alfred (Sean Pertwee) recovering in the hospital, and Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) with a fresh new left eye following her dramatic gesture last episode. Here viewers are introduced to a character who was hinted at in both the last episode and the second of the series, Dr. Francis Dullmacher (Colm Feore). Known as “The Dollmaker,” he is a surgeon who rearranges the body parts of his patients while repressing his deep frustration that the visual effects department just isn’t able to keep up with his creepy performance. It’s incredible, really—he gives an eerie monologue about how human beings are only a collection of parts, but the minute we see one of his victims, it completely undermines his presence as a villain in a hodgepodge of ugly compositing that can’t be saved by any amount of ominous music.
And then something peculiar happens. While investigating Commissioner Loeb (Peter Scolari) for corruption, Gordon and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) inadvertently discover a better episode hiding halfway through. Gordon and Bullock team up with Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) in order to make their move against Loeb—and it is always fun to note that Gordon is most fun as a character when he is forced into a situation that makes him break the rules in order to uphold his own morality. Everything that was “safe” about the first half goes out the window once they reach Loeb’s “skeleton in the closet,” which Gordon assumes must be a collection of blackmail material in file cabinets early in the episode.
In the attic is Loeb’s extremely disturbed daughter who murdered his wife by accident twenty years ago. He’s been hiding her to keep her out of Arkham ever since. Timeline issues aside—the series already having established that Arkham was abandoned years before being reopened a dozen or so episodes ago—this sets up Gordon in a very interesting place, being able to blackmail Loeb to get what he wants. There are some interesting questions raised here about using amoral means to achieve a moral end. By using blackmail against the Commissioner, is Gordon becoming corrupt in his own right? How far does moral authority go when laws are arbitrary? Is Gordon becoming a vigilante in his own right? The series comes perilously close to brushing all of these questions aside, before Harvey Bullock (ever the voice of reason) steps up and pointedly reminds Gordon that he owes Cobblepot a favor for the ‘justice’ he just served. Juxtapose that with a scene that features Cobblepot callously murdering two sociopathic pensioners, and viewers have themselves an effective episode closer.
In the end, the GCPD remains the best metaphor for the series as a whole: it works on paper and is designed to follow standard rules and procedure, but in practice is a just men in costumes one-upping each other when a juicier piece of blackmail floats to the surface. Rules are arbitrary, and anything the show does can and will be upended by the writers’ jolly abandon. We don’t demand that all our shows be breaking genre convention and boldly defying expectations, but can’t they at least establish a consistent internal structure for doing so?
Overall Episode Grade: C+