The holidays brought about rest, relaxation and new beginnings. This fresh start did not rejuvenate everything, however. As I was afraid would happen based on its fall finale, Gotham’s return episode, “Rogues’ Gallery,” perpetuates the series’ fractured structure and unclear overarching story.
This episode is a perfect example of showrunner Bruno Heller’s inability to balance its crime-drama ambitions with its simultaneous desire to be a procedural. This balance is not an impossible goal – the show has achieved it on several occasions – however, more often than not, Gotham is overrun with sloppy storytelling.
In the opening moments of “Rogues’ Gallery,” relevant storylines are re-introduced via montage (its first strike in my book). Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is on guard at Arkham Asylum as the inmates attempt to put on Shakespeare. Cut to Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) as he ponders his next move in his new life without Gordon as his partner.
Then the show transitions over to Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) as she peers out into the rain and Barbara (Erin Richards) asleep next to Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) with pill bottles strewn about the nightstand. I really hope Barbara’s storyline resolves itself quickly. Gotham is already weighed down with so many issues that it would be dreadful to see the back half of the season focus on something as trivial as a love-triangle.
This opening demonstrates the exact problem with Gotham. The ideas are fine, the execution is not. The opening changes too quickly. It moves from the comedic (the inmates production of Shakespeare) to a suddenly somber contemplation of Gordon’s situation before covering the widespread corruption of Gotham. The lack of balance is upsetting to say the least. Gotham‘s ambition for itself is too high, which manifests in a poor narrative structure.
The chief issue is the writing. Tone is often established but relevant themes, cohesive dialogue and character development are thrown out the window. Gotham has always towed the line between camp and exposition, both of which clash with the more serious tone of each episode.
The episode is not a complete flop. Gordon’s position in Arkham Asylum begins to expose just how deep Gotham’s corruption lies and that is a more interesting story than the crime-of-the-week plots. I would absolutely watch an origin story episode about how Gotham became so overrun with corruption. That would be interesting. Otherwise, his battle for a better Gotham should overlap with the shows most interesting characters: Penguin (Cory Michael Smith) and (sometimes) Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith), neither of whom get enough screen time this week.
After half a season I am genuinely surprised that Heller has not figured out that his best (and strongest) episodes revolve around Oswald Cobblepot. He is the show’s breakout character. There needs to be much more of him in the series. Gotham has been at its best when it has compelling, character-centric narratives that mix in subtle references within their procedural structure with the main cast (e.g. “Penguin’s Umbrella” and “Spirit of the Goat”).
“Rogues’ Gallery” doesn’t present a compelling case-of-the-week and continues the show’s trend of thematic confusion. Therefore, ”Rogues’ Gallery” is an unimpressive episode of television. Gotham has so much story potential in both the characters and the city that I hate to watch the show struggle. If this show does not find its balance soon, this stretch of the season will be very difficult to get through.