Gotham continues to be surprising, and a little frustrating, as a show. This episode, in particular, manages to show off its strengths and even address some weaknesses, while still having some problems.
For example, Jada Pinkett Smith dials it back a bit and starts showing why Fish Mooney should be a part of this show. Her training of her “weapon,” not to mention her dressing-down of a Niko Bellic knockoff, manages to be both funny and more than a little creepy. Similarly, the episode manages to tie in Bruce’s story in a way that makes sense both to the central plot and to the overall arcs of the show, revealing corruption within Wayne Enterprises and involving Bruce in what’s unfolding as a complicated drama about a corrupt city.
But there are still too damn many of those arcs. In addition to the central plot about the origins of the drug Venom and thus Bane’s poison of choice, there’s the Penguin’s rise to power; Maroni going against Falcone; Fish Mooney training her “weapon”; AND Bruce piecing together the real reasons behind his parent’s murder. What, they couldn’t cram in Barbara getting whined at by Montoya, too?
That said, the episode’s plot is stock, but largely carried by Daniel London‘s shell-shocked performance and by the fact that Viper, the Venom ancestor, kills you horribly. I can’t believe what this show gets away with; there may not be any blood as Viper users see their skeletal structure collapse, but man, all you need are the sound effects and body distortions to be grossed out. It’s an odd tribute to the horror comedy Street Trash, but it works.
The episode is leavened somewhat by the show realizing that it needs to give all the funny lines to Donal Logue and just let Ben MacKenzie play off him. It’s also another clever use of a supervillain without actually dragging him into things; we never hear the name “Bane” once, and knowing who he is isn’t integral to the plot. The show’s really excelling in using elements of Batman without being a show about Batman, and considering it needed that to work, it’s a good sign.
In short, Gotham is becoming more focused as a show, something that needed to happen. And it’s beginning to balance the fairly intriguing story of how the Wayne murders were a political hit with a complicated background with its sometimes campy villain-of-the-week style. But it still needs to tie some of its threads together, and we’re intensely curious to see how that’ll come together.