Robert Tiemstra ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
“You’re like a human roller coaster, except you only go down.”
As a television show, Gotham has a very tenuous relationship with reality. The city itself is described in Bruno Heller’s pilot script as “timeless”, which is a statement the show has held true to (for better and worse) for its first season thus far. Heller’s City of Gotham, unlike in Christopher Nolan’s films, has no real-life counterpart, but is also not the formless gothic mess from Schumacher’s. It instead is a purgatory of sorts for film noir and comic book tropes to wander in and play around until they grow wearisome – if they weren’t already at the time they arrived. The best episodes are ones that have the most fun with the aesthetic at play in Gotham City, and use the series’ abundance of mob movie archetypes sparingly.
Which brings us to tonight’s episode. You may have noticed that the vast majority of our reviews of this show have relegated the “mob plot” to one paragraph toward the end of each review because, frankly, Carmine Falcone (John Doman), Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) have all been in a holding pattern for what feels like half of the season. But yes, for better and worse, this is the first episode in a long time that gives all the principle mobsters more to do than try to ignore how out of place Fish Mooney looks at all their meetings. In fact, if not for the continued presence of a reinstated Detective Gordon (Ben McKenzie) pursuing an escaped prisoner from Arkham Asylum, Carmine Falcone might very well be the protagonist of this hour.
As mentioned above, “What the Little Bird Told Me” picks up directly where “Rogues Gallery” left off – notorious Hannibal Lecter impersonator Jack Gruber (Christopher Heyerdahl) is on the run with a lumbering lobotomized lunatic as a henchman, and Jim Gordon must once again strong-arm his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) and the entire GCCPD into allowing him to track down the madman. The immediate disappointment in this plotline is how it marks a severe digression from the previous outing – at least in terms of plot & setting. Although characters from Arkham re-emerge (a welcome presence is Morena Baccarin’s Leslie Thompkins), the Asylum is nowhere to be seen, despite being one of the most unique and twisted locations the series has yet to create.
A side note here: what exactly are the language restrictions for shows on Fox? It is really jarring to hear police officers in a gritty crime drama react to bad news with “Oh fudge…”
However, there is one important aspect that keeps this digression from being a simple return to form for the series – the villain. While Jack Gruber (this isn’t his real name, but it is certainly much easier to spell than his real name) isn’t given much unique material to work with – his motivation proves surprisingly straightforward once Gordon figures it out – he makes his “Electrocutioner” one of the standout villains of the series purely through his robotic vocal tones and eerily psychotic cadence. His inevitable defeat, like most of the villains of the show thus far, is a touch anticlimactic, but brazenly so, like the writers knew they had too much plot material left to cover to allow this maniac to prance over the remaining ten minutes worth of episode.
But back to the Gangsters. Fish Mooney’s plan to overthrow Falcone finally comes to fruition in this episode, and it isn’t a particularly impressive strategy, using her trained ingénue Liza as a fake hostage to force Falcone into tipping his hand. There is a certain glee this episode has (mostly thanks to the script by Ben Edlund, one of the stronger writers this show has in its employ) in letting the house of cards come tumbling down, most of them landing far from their intended places. The resolution preserves an unfortunate status quo that belies a fear of drastic measures, particularly when sparing minor but important characters in comics lore, but it does lack the didactic tone-deafness that made the mob storyline so uncomfortable in episodes past. Whether it has anywhere interesting to go from here has yet to be seen.
And now to address the most irritating part of an episode that felt fairly lean otherwise: The continuing saga of Barbara Kean (Erin Richards). The series still has yet to come up with a single reason for her to exist, and now she is wandering the fringes of the plot trying to have an emotional journey. At least early in the series she functioned as Gordon’s link to a life outside of the police force, but now her scenes are feeling more and more like contractual obligations to the actress than anything else. And since Leslie Thompkins is now Gordon’s official love interest, we are forced to confront just how bland Barbara is by comparison, which is unpleasant for everyone – most of all Gordon when Barbara inevitably returns and starts whining at him for hooking up with a woman who uses a voodoo doll as an excuse to visit the men’s locker room.
Overall Episode Grade: B-