There's a cop killer on the loose in tonight's Gotham. As has often been the case this season, the plot's broader beats have been sped up to a manic degree, especially when it comes to Oswald Cobblepot's search for his mother. But even the resolution to last week's Bridget "Firefly" Pike story, which ends with a couple of harried murders and a pseudo-ambiguous open ending, feels rushed.
One or two bad ideas work tonight because of good execution, especially the way that Cory Michael Smith’s strong performance almost single-handedly saved Edward Nygma's weak subplot. But for the most part, "Rise of the Villains: By Fire" sprints through the motions, and winds up cramming everything Gotham has gotten wrong in the past season and a quarter into an hour-long installment.
First things first: Who keeps letting Gordon play lone wolf? Gordon is supposed to be in charge of Unit Alpha, a position that he didn't seem to have a problem with until Luke Garrett's death. Now that Luke's dead, Gordon suddenly has (completely reasonable) reservations ... which are promptly swept under the rug by Captain Nathaniel Barnes after he and Gordon argue about Gordon's not-so-by-the-book methods. Speaking of which! Gordon is caught beating up a suspect, and is summarily narc'd on by members of (wait for it) Unit Alpha. Gordon doesn't seem too concerned about being given a warning, but he does claim he did it all because he thought Garrett was too green for the job: "We took him out of the academy, told him he was ready. Now he's dead." Again, this is a totally legitimate concern, one I've been bringing up for the past two weeks. But despite this reprimand, Gordon is inexplicably allowed to storm out of Barnes's office (without supervision!) right after he recognizes Selina as Bridget's partner in crime.
And there's no good reason for that. Barnes warns Gordon to shape up ... but he's not concerned enough to make Gordon stick closer to Unit Alpha, considering Gordon’s supposed concern for his team’s safety? What exactly are Gordon's responsibilities then? And does Harvey Bullock just drop in and out of Gordon's casework whenever he feels like it? He's not part of Unit Alpha ... but he is Gordon's partner, so he's just backing him up whenever? Gordon's loose-cannon shtick gets tiresome when he confronts Selina alone at her pad. Bullock winds up being the voice of reason in this case, telling Gordon that he should bring Unit Alpha — or, in his words, the "Fascist Youth” — along with him. But Gordon balks, saying that approach won't work with Selina. Gordon's case winds up bearing that theory out later in the episode, when Bridget is provoked by one of Unit Alpha's stray bullets.
But let's back up a moment and talk about Bridget. Bridget's bond with Selina is one of the best parts of tonight’s show. That bond is understandably tested when the Pikes kidnap Bridget and force her to be their servant. Unfortunately, the Pike brothers don’t pose much of a threat anymore, as is evidenced by the way Bridget almost instantly breaks away from them and sets them on fire. This is easily one of the least climactic bits of revanchist, pseudo-feminist tripe that Gotham has served up yet. I don’t believe the show’s creators have Bridget's best interests at heart, a reading that was confirmed when Bridget does everything short of twirl a little mustache while boasting to Selina about killing the Pikes ("Cal burned up good, but it was Joe who burned the brightest"). I was also upset to see Bridget unceremoniously dispose of her brothers. The death of the Pikes should feel like a momentous release. Instead, it feels like something that had to be done in between lesser subplots.
Speaking of which: Get a load of Butch's story tonight! After having his hand, uh, removed by Cobblepot, Butch insinuates himself into Theo Galavan's gang, but only after Tabitha flirts with him in a characteristically obnoxious manner ("Like a sad bear," really?). Then Butch visits Cobblepot in his home because nothing says "sleeping with the enemy" like "getting back in bed with your old boss, then going back to sleeping with the enemy."
But wait, if you think that plot development somehow isn't illogical enough, how about this: Butch is then caught looking for information on Mama Kapelput's whereabouts, and consequently must have a whips-versus-mallet fight with Tabitha (oh, by the way, Butch now has a hammer on his stump). So instead of working his way into Galavan's organization, we got a couple scenes with him, then bam, a ridiculously overheated fight scene whose only saving grace is the tantalizing (i.e., underdeveloped) insinuation that Butch is a "servant"/submissive while Tabitha is a dominatrix. This would be an interesting dynamic if it was consciously explored outside of a scene that begins with Butch blinking maniacally — like Ralph Kramden after he swallows a ghost pepper whole — and climaxes with Tabitha choking him out while bombastic organ music accents the fight’s seriousness.
But, hey, there’s always Cory Michael Smith’s satisfying turn as poor, pathetic Edward Nygma to save the day. Nygma’s story went exactly where you should have expected it would: He tells Kristen Kringle that he killed her abusive ex, she freaks out, and he accidentally kills her. Smith’s mewling was, thankfully, moving, even if his wracked sobbing led to an awful canned montage capper that inexplicably juxtaposed Nygma’s sorrow with Cobblepot and his crew as they geared up to avenge Mama Penguin. Did we have to end this week with a sequence that made the show look like Les Bat-Misérables?
- Time For: Fanboy-ish Speculation! Did anybody recognize anybody in Indian Hill? And is this the first time Indian Hill has been a thing in Bat lore? I can't recall any prior mentions of it, but could have easily missed something.
- Selina to Bridget: "Remember when Mickey Slattery called us 'orphan bastards,' and we tried to throw him off the roof?" Really, we're reminiscing? Already? Haven't these two known each other for, like, a week?
- Gordon to Bullock, after fingering Tabitha's handcuffs: "Looks like Selina was telling the truth!" Okay, who let Gordon be a cop?
- Why doesn't Bullock just say "Hitler Youth?" Is this an FCC taboo I don't know about?
- Anyone else hope that Evil Alfred would come back during the sparring match just to punch Bruce Wayne in the nards? I love David Mazouz's Bruce, but come on, that'd be funny. Also, wildly inappropriate.