Each week of Gotham brings new disappointment. I want to like this show. I recommend it to people who ask my opinion. I try to get excited when Monday night rolls around and I always pray that the new episode will be the one to capture my love and adoration. After watching “Arkham,” I fear I hope in vain. The episode is a mess for various reasons, not the least of which are its structure and pacing issues.
This show has become too exhausting to watch. The “villain of the week” structure was intriguing at first but has veered toward tiresome. It seems showrunner Bruno Heller cannot find a balance between exploring the complexities of the huge ensemble cast and solving the crime of the episode. The pacing is inconsistent at best and confusing at worst. Heller attempts to squeeze too much into an hour-long procedural.
That is why more and more each week, I either hear or read about people who say they care more about Mooney and Penguin than they do that week’s guest villain. In “Arkham,” Heller attempts to meld these ideas together.
The fate of Arkham Asylum is at stake as everyone in Gotham wonders who will get to build on the old estate. Before the Waynes died, they wanted to develop low-income housing, as well as revamp Arkham into a state-of-the-art facility for Gotham’s needy. Carmine Falcone (John Doman) is behind the Waynes’ plan 100% because he stands to gain a substantial amount of money from the deal. Feuding mob boss Sal Maroni (David Zayas) has his own ideas as he seeks to set up a waste disposal site on the Arkham grounds. These warring bids turn deadly, resulting in a case for Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bullock (Donal Logue).
While the feud between Maroni and Falcone made sense narratively speaking, the plot felt uninspired. Two crime bosses fighting over territory is a tired story. Fortunately, this plot exists merely as a backdrop for Oswald Cobblepot’s shockingly quick rise through Maroni’s ranks.
Robin Lord Taylor is always a pleasure to watch onscreen. The command he has over his scenes is mesmerizing. It is a surprise Taylor didn’t burst onto the scene sooner.
Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), on the other hand, are no longer so enjoyable to watch. Nygma comes across as incredibly obnoxious as he overacts in every scene. He does everything short of screaming “Look at me, I’m the Riddler!”- destroying all pretense of nuanced character development along the way. Perhaps Smith and Taylor should hang out after shoots in hopes Smith can pick up a few tips on subtlety.
Pinkett-Smith also flounders as she overemphasizes Mooney’s accent. Every time she opens her mouth, I roll my eyes. Her pronunciation of some words is ridiculous enough to ruin the flow of her scenes. In “Arkham,” she auditions young girls she might groom to eventually take down Falcone. These sequences are cringe-worthy. Mooney’s absurd request for the girls to try to seduce her is awkward, unnecessary and felt a bit like the show is pandering to its male audience.
Maroni’s actions throughout the episode take him from stereotypical Italian mob boss to gross caricature. There is one point when he grabs and eats a steak with his bare hands. These absurd moments take away the reality the show seemed to be establishing.
I was also unhappy with the “compromise” Mayor James (Richard Kind) landed on for Arkham in the final moments of the episode. His decision seemed like a stretch, even for a character as corrupt as he is. His choice is not only detrimental to the people he ostensibly protects, but it is also well beyond what any responsible mayor would agree to. His greed will only spell disaster for Gotham and its citizens.
While it was nice to see multiple storylines coming together this week, it would be nice if there were a larger focus on the key players in Gotham. The show could use an episode or two that focus on a single crime committed by either Oswald or Mooney. I think I speak for many audience members when I say we’re all more interested in learning what Oswald is about than we are political drama. An Oswald-centric episode, with flashbacks to his childhood, would be a refreshing change to the show’s predictable formula.
I had so much hope for Gotham. Although it’s been picked up for a full 22-episode season, I would be surprised if Fox renewed a series this inconsistent for next year. With “Arkham,” it still feels as if the show is still building up to something. So the question is, where is it all headed? Are the “rivers of blood in the streets” Oswald keeps raving about the endgame?
It’s hard to say. Maybe next week’s “Viper” will paint a clearer picture.