The ending of “Worse Than a Crime” teases not one, but two new villains. You may get giddy at our first look at Mr. Freeze, or the very mention of Dr. Hugo Strange. It’s more than understandable: This kind of fan service can be powerfully flattering stuff. You might even forget how tacky the last episode was. But don’t worry, that’s why we’re here.
Tonight’s mid-season finale has very little of last week’s fitful inspiration. Even the all-out brawl between Brother Creel’s evil monks and Penguin’s gun-toting hoods feels rushed and uninspired. It’s dopey to see Creel launch into mid-air, then be dispatched by Harvey Bullock. But it could have been dopey and fun if Bullock’s one-liner — “That was a lot of stairs” — wasn’t such a dud. The scene reminds me of Tabitha Galavan’s admonishment to brother Theo at the beginning of the episode: “Yes, it’s all yours. Smile, for God’s sake.” The show’s major characters are poised for a big showdown with the Galavans, but series creator Bruno Heller can’t seem to translate that bombast into a fun time.
To be fair, there are some high points in the episode, though they’re mostly due to the show’s charming cast. The scene where Chris Chalk’s Lucius Fox answers Edward Nygma’s riddle and leads Harvey Bullock to Jim Gordon’s hide-out is priceless. Chalk really nails Fox’s no-nonsense-genius shtick, and actor Cory Michael Smith does a great job transitioning from smug superiority to flustered dejection. (“Who are you again?”) The interaction between these two supporting characters is so good that it almost makes you forget Nygma’s bloated, generic road-to-psychopathy subplot. Maybe these two can team up instead of Nygma and Cobblepot? Or maybe the show can just find more for Fox, whose character, in the space of two or three scenes, proves to be so well-defined and so well-performed that he puts Bullock and Nathaniel Barnes to shame.
Speaking of Barnes: Is anybody else sick of him? Although casting Michael Chiklis as a tough-minded, straight-arrow police chief theoretically sounds great, Barnes’s presence in Gotham has been disappointing. Barnes is supposed to set an increasingly out-of-control Gordon back on track, but he never does. That’s even true tonight when he prepares to arrest Gordon, since nobody can produce enough evidence to put Theo Galavan away. (Does no one else do actual police work in the GCPD?) Barnes is conveniently knocked out by Cobblepot right as he’s about to cuff and arrest Gordon, which takes away the burden of backing up all his tough talk about “proof” and “by the book” police work. Sure, Barnes talks a good game, but he never seems to stick to it when the going gets tough.
Moreover, he’s just not a credible stick-in-the-mud. You know you’re in trouble when a civilian can find flaws in Barnes’s police work. Why does he insist that Alfred Pennyworth’s testimony is worthless? Barnes says that Alfred witnessed nothing that could be used as admissible evidence in court because he was trespassing and lawfully pursued off of the Galavans’ private property. But really, what part of a knife in the back, a massive gut-wound, and a junkyard chase is covered by self-defense? I don’t care if your only exposure to the U.S. judicial system is Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit — you don’t have to be a legal consultant to believe that persistently stalking and attacking a home invader might be more than a little illegal.
Barnes’s toothlessness is symptomatic of how wishy-washy Gordon’s character arc has been throughout season two. His previous encounter with the Flamingo suggested that he would follow Barnes’s example by letting justice take its course. But he snaps tonight when Galavan taunts him. (“Wanna make a bet?”) This felt like an essential regression for the character, a flaw that will determine who Jim Gordon is and what he’ll have to grapple with during the back half of season two. It makes sense that Gordon allows Cobblepot to beat Galavan with a baseball, then murders Galavan himself by putting a bullet in his head. But Gordon not only walks away from this cold-blooded execution as a free man — in slow motion, no less! — he also gets to propose to his sweetheart, Leslie Thompkins.
If you think that Gordon will be held accountable for his actions, just look at the way his subplot ends. Instead of being disgusted with his actions, Thompkins smiles at Gordon when he asks her to marry him. This is such a cop-out, which completely lets Gordon off the hook for a heavy crime just because Thompkins does what Barnes was not prepared to — give Gordon another chance. Gordon doesn’t deserve one at this point. He’s tortured witnesses, killed people to help Cobblepot, and generally abused all of his powers as a police officer.
Thompkins rebukes Barnes by saying that if he were really a father to Gordon’s surrogate son, he would have “shown more faith.” But again, why does Gordon deserve the benefit of the doubt at this point? Because he does bad things for good reasons? Gotham isn’t exactly Jessica Jones, so one shouldn’t expect characters to answer for their crimes. But would it be such a bad thing if Jim Gordon were forced to confront the dark side of his personality that everyone has seen, including Barnes, Thompkins, and Barbara Kean?
The only major subplot that works well in “Worse Than a Crime” is Bruce Wayne and Silver St. Cloud’s stymied tween romance. Actors David Mazouz and Natalie Alyn Lind brought just enough sniffly, sullen angst to the scenes where Wayne talks about being resigned to his fate, and St. Cloud tries to save her own skin by seducing him. You can see where this story is going, beat for beat. But thankfully, the strong ensemble again picks up the slack left behind by Gotham’s creators. Masseuse and Lind are the real reason why masochistic viewers (like myself) should stick with the show. It’s not the show’s super-villain cameos, nor its high production values. If you watch Gotham for anything but its inconsistent yet satisfying performances, it will almost certainly break your heart.
Did anybody else roll their eyes repeatedly during poor Alfred’s flight from Tabitha Galavan? First, he gets garbage dumped on him. Then, he tries to steal a bystander’s car. (“I’m in a frightful hurry!”) And then, he gets tazed in the face. The comedic direction of poor Sean Pertwee’s character really doesn’t work. Less fuddy-duddy jokes, more flamboyant ass-kicking, please.
Wayne to St. Cloud: “I pity you.” Oh snap, Master B, you just got pitied!
Brother Creel to Penguin’s men: “Sacrilege!” I guess that’s better than yelling “Food fight,” right?
Tabitha to Theo Galavan: “Bite me.” Really? You knock out the brother you’ve been having a weird incestuous relationship with, and then you say “Bite me?” That’s all you’ve got?
Gordon to Thompkins: “Will you marry me?” No! Just no! What the … seriously, bro? Marry me? You just shot the mayor in the face! I mean, okay, Thompkins doesn’t know that. But she must be able to put two and two together after she tells him to come back to her when it’s all over, no? What else did she think Gordon would do, arrest the man? Hell no! Don’t marry him! Try Lucius Fox, he’s a much safer bet.
Tabitha to Theo Galavan: “I don’t know who you are anymore.” Shouldn’t Thompkins says this to Gordon? C’mon now. Murdering a bad guy is not a small, one-and-done offense!