"Welcome Back, Jim Gordon" is a welcome complement to last week's Gotham episode, since it reminds us that there's a whole world of supporting characters whose lives were affected by Carmine Falcone's dismissal of Fish Mooney. It not only gives virtually all of the show's major players something to do — still waiting on the inevitable Harvey Bullock episode, one that will presumably address his alcoholism — it also acknowledges the presence and significance of rarely-seen characters like Commissioner Loeb and "Judge Bam-Bam." These are the people who make the rules in Gotham City, rules that Jim Gordon and social-climbing gangsters like Oswald Cobblepot actively try to break. Violence has consequences in "Welcome Back, Jim Gordon" because virtually everyone learns that the show's status quo is still up in the air, and you can't push a new agenda without being pushed back.
As usual, the narrative center of tonight's episode was Gordon's investigation-of-the-week plot. Gordon's pursuit of killers involved in an undercover narcotics investigation was satisfying partly because it addresses Gordon's brazen war on crime-stoppers directly. It also forces Sarah Essen to pick a side and help Gordon disturb the peace that has bonded Gotham's cops and crooks. Tonight's investigation requires Gordon to wade through a lot of red tape, so he gets help from both Essen and Cobblepot, though he understandably turns to Cobblepot first, since he doesn't trust Essen to back him up.
The scene where Gordon asks Cobblepot for help is a thoughtful parallel to the sequence in Gotham's pilot where Bullock takes Gordon to Mooney's place and teaches him how to cut corners the GCPD way. The biggest difference between then and now is that Gordon learns tonight that he doesn't need to make an ally out of an enemy. At episode's end, he's confronted by a corrupt cop who begs him to leave his family out of his bad-cop-busting agenda. At that point, Gordon can't just walk away without confronting or at least clearing things up with Cobblepot, his not-so-silent partner. At last, an episode of Gotham that doesn't feel like it exists in a vacuum!
Gordon's story is well directed and well scripted enough for what it is. The episode keeps it together when it seems most likely to fall apart, especially during Cobblepot's drunken, celebratory montage and Gordon's stymied interrogation montage. (Side note: What is with the cruddy stock guitar rock music here? This soundtrack doesn't belong in either scene.) The episode's big-action set pieces also work fairly well, particularly those wherein Butch rescues Mooney and Victor Zsasz saves Cobblepot, chasing Mooney away in the process.
But realistically, most of what works in "Welcome Back, Jim Gordon" isn't a matter of execution. It's not worth dwelling on the creative failings of episode director Wendy Stanzler and writer Megan Mostyn-Brown, since they get nothing wrong that hasn't been previously botched in the same ways before. You have to suspend your disbelief in parts of tonight's episode because the very fact that some of these characters exist in the same show still makes no sense, as is obvious in the scene where Gordon warily accepts Cobblepot's word that nobody will get hurt in his private, uh, investigations. It doesn't matter how stubborn Gordon is supposed be: When confronted with a power-high Cobblepot, who at the time is entertaining his obviously intoxicated mama, you can't seriously tell me any sane person will blithely think, Well, okay, guess I can believe this guy! If you have two eyes and/or aren't a poorly defined fictional character, you'll know that nothing about Cobblepot indicates that he's a trustworthy person. Gordon and Cobblepot's allegiance makes no sense — it just has to exist.
On the other hand, thankfully, "Welcome Back, Jim Gordon" persistently reminds the viewer that its characters do not exist in a vacuum. Even the Edward Nygma–Kristen Kringle subplot, the weakest in this week's episode, redundantly establishes that Nygma is totally still in the series and is still foolishly enamored with Kringle. That's not especially interesting since Nygma's story doesn't really advance much in this episode. This week's only complication comes after Nygma gets bullied by G.C.P.D. alpha-types for writing laughably bad poetry for Kringle. Kringle responds by telling him she thought his poem was "thoughtful." There was realistically no other reason for Nygma's subplot to be in tonight's episode. We already know Nygma can't catch a break, not even when he's pitiably flattered. It's kind of his thing.
Still, tonight's episode establishes that Gotham's characters need to maintain the status quo, even when they're no longer sure what the status quo looks like. Selina Kyle tells Bruce Wayne that she lied about having information on his parents' murder because she wanted to stay out of juvenile detention. Bullock helps Mooney escape Gotham because of their previous bond, a relationship that may or may not have been romantic. (Their kiss is too short to be serious, but too long to be just friendly.) And Cobblepot gets ambushed by a vengeful Mooney because, well, he stabbed her in the back and then gloated about it. A lot of people want things to go back to the way they were, but that won't happen — it can't. Change has finally come to Gotham, and no one can stop it.
In that sense, this is another step in the right direction for Gotham. It's not a milestone episode by any means, but it is compelling for its showy attempts to make the show's main players look like they're still actively dealing with problems that previous episodes established, but never fully resolved. It's a placeholder episode, but tonight felt better than that.
- Harvey Bullock to Ed Nygma: "Can it with the riddles, Ed!" Oh, brother. This sitcom-worthy schtick is so, so bad. Can we skip ahead to the part of the show where a heartbroken Nygma is a crazy, riddle-slinging ne'er-do-well? Please?
- "Bob" to Fish Mooney: "It's just a formality." Does Bob have to file an invoice after he tortures Mooney? Is there a lot of paperwork in his line of work?
- Jada Pinkett-Smith is awful in this episode. The squeal she lets out when Mooney psychs Bob out, and revives magically, gasping, "Is that all you got?" also sounds weirdly like husband Will. Which is ... creepy, actually, but not productively creepy.
- Cobblepot to Gordon: "I'm so glad you called, Jim Gordon." Ha! I love that he calls him by his full name. Like a house elf.
- Alfred to Bruce Wayne: "Or would you rather continue crying over the shattered fragments of your young dreams?" Alfred and Bruce's relationship is basically Batman, Year Zero: The Whiplash Years, no?