“The Son of Gotham” is a mostly sleepy, albeit high-strung episode of connect-the-dots. It never goes anywhere you don’t expect it to, and always ends exactly where the show must in order to resolve canned conflicts, particularly Theo Galavan’s incarceration. But if you wade through all the predictable twists and blasé jokes, you’ll find not one, but two genuinely bonkers fight scenes at episode’s end. The best of these two fight scenes is Alfred Pennyworth and Tabitha Galavan’s gloriously over-the-top, surprisingly well-choreographed throwdown, easily a highlight of season two. This galvanizing fight scene is so good you can’t help but wonder why Gotham isn’t always this much fun.
The rest of “Son of Gotham” answers that question, alas. Unimaginative plotting is one thing, but in this episode, executive producer/series writer John Stephens delivers some of the season’s most banal dialogue. Take the scene where Oswald Cobblepot calls Edward Nygma, now his Odd Couple–style roommate, while Nygma is at work. The idea of Nygma and Cobblepot getting into wacky shenanigans as mismatched sociopath buddies is a good one. What isn’t as memorable is the so-so material given to poor Cory Michael Smith and Robin Lord Taylor.
Smith brusquely tells Cobblepot how to flush his toilet, hissing at him to ask what he’s depositing anyway. And when Cobblepot calls back, he tries to figure out where Nygma’s spicy mustard is. (This is not a euphemism.) These jokes are adequate, but they’re close enough to being good that it hurts to watch talented actors like Smith and Taylor — the show’s most consistently satisfying performers, no question — deliver lines that need a decent punch-up.
The kidnapping of Bruce Wayne and Silver St. Cloud is a similar missed opportunity. Let’s pretend you can’t guess the twist of this sequence. (We’ll get back to this in Bat-Bullets.) For the most part, the tension only works if you fear the Knife, Tommy Flanagan’s flamboyant, scar-pocked bogeyman. Flanagan’s performance is (pardon the pun) on point. You genuinely get the sense that his character is only doing his job, and that job happens to be torturing kids, tying them up, and threatening to cut off their fingers with a switchblade.
But again, Flanagan doesn’t get much material that’s worthy of the energy and menace he brings to his role. You keep expecting the Knife to say something amazing, but he never does. There’s nothing to these scenes beyond Flanagan’s (ahem) sharp performance, and David Mazouz and Natalie Alyn Lind’s decent, but unremarkable performances as terrorized moppets. Without something specific to latch onto, the Knife just looks kind of dull.
Underwhelming dialogue also hamstrings James Gordon’s investigation of the Order of St. Dumas and Theo Galavan. This is the most disappointing part of Gotham, and not coincidentally, it’s the one where characters’ motives are explained most poorly. Gordon can’t let go of the Galavan case. He hangs on to it because (get this) of the tone in Galavan’s voice when Gordon talks to him in prison. When Captain Barnes presses him, Barnes does what he does best: Put up a good front, then fold like a soggy newspaper as soon as Gordon starts to push back with evidence.
This is a recurring problem on Gotham: Dialogue that sounds like it was tossed off without sufficient polish or consideration, put into the hands of talented actors who try to sell unbelievable plot twists with the flimsiest of pretexts. Did anybody believe that Gordon was more concerned about Detective Parks’s murder than, say, any of the other Unit Alpha/Strike Force members that died before her? If the answer is yes, it’s almost certainly not because of Stephens’s dialogue. That’s a problem. Likewise, when Galavan kidnaps Gordon and threatens him, their banter doesn’t work. Threats of impending violence can only be taken so far by Ben McKenzie and James Frain in these scenes.
Thankfully, the scene where Galvan takes down Gordon is actually good. It’s well-choreographed and imaginative enough to make you worry about Gordon. This is despite the physical mismatch between the actors: Could a man of Frain’s size really school the well-built McKenzie like that?
Better still: How about that fight between Alfred and Tabitha? This scene is fairly disappointing until the two actually mix it up, partly because of — you guessed it — the dialogue. Would you want to see a fight between someone who, when threatened by a whip, rejoins with “I see you’re a bit of a player, are ya? How’s it work then, Tabi?” Seriously, Alfred?
But then the fight starts, and the episode gets good. Like, really good. Again, this isn’t just a matter of appreciably ludicrous ideas, but rather, well-executed ludicrous ideas. Nothing could save this scene if it were overedited, listlessly performed, or unimaginatively choreographed. But for once, the stars align and every blow sticks. You know the scene is working when the fight seems to end … right before Tabitha lands on the top of Alfred’s elevator, then takes after him again.
At that point, you can’t help but want the scene to continue, and Stephens obliges us, as Tabitha throw a knife at Alfred while he escapes in the back of a garbage truck. This is Gotham at its best: a show full of overheated ideas that only work when they’re expressed with enough passion and craft to make you want to care, let alone cheer for characters like Bruce Wayne’s crazy man-servant, and his psycho-domme sparring partner.
- I correctly guessed that Flanagan was working with Bruce, but for the wrong reasons. I assumed Alfred was helping them based on Tommy Flanagan’s accent, and because Alfred was shown admonishing Bruce for not having the skills to take Silver St. Cloud and Theo Galavan.
- Time for: Fanboyish Speculation! Did you catch that Matches Malone reference, guys? For the uninitiated: Malone, the name that Silver offers to the Knife, is an undercover alias that Bruce Wayne uses in the Batman comics. He’s got a pretty great mustache!
- Barnes to Gordon: “Does the universe normally like you this much?” Okay, this was a good line.
- When is Penguin’s dad showing up? Are they saving Paul Reubens for the mid-season finale?