It’s been quite a while since our last Gotham. Forty-two days, to be precise, but even with that lengthy Gotham gap, “Rogues’ Gallery” isn’t particularly interested in re-stating what happened last year. The episode’s own “Where are they now?” gives the same two-second answer for every character: “sitting in the dark, looking morose.”
Instead, the first Gotham of 2015 is ready to jump into the new. Specifically Jim Gordon’s job working Arkham Aslyum security. A la The Wire, Gordon (or his Baltimore counterpart, McNulty) was demoted for being too real (and ruffling the feathers of a few important higher-ups) and is now donning his old policeman’s uniform on a dirty, menial and wholly unpleasant beat. Also, his boss is played by Isiah Whitlock, Jr, who’s best known for his turn as The Wire’s Clay Davis. That casting cannot be a coincidence.
Admittedly, Wire similarities end there. “Rogues’ Gallery” hurriedly introduces us to what will likely be the Arkham standard: ridiculous, violent camp. All the time. Non-stop. Forever. Our first glimpse inside the Arkham walls finds a group of disturbed inmates in full costume, jittering their way through Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” One of them clearly has knives on his fingers (you’d think the Arkham staff would nix that particular costume choice). Alas, an audience member isn’t satisfied with the Arkham version of Ariel, and rushes out of the audience to savagely beat the performer in question.
That’s about the norm going forward. Someone, you see, is frying the inmates’ brains with a crude form of electroshock. But who could it be? There are four possible culprits:
- Director/Doctor Gerry Lang (Whitlock), an Arkham bigwig with a general Clay Davis-level of corruption/incompetence.
- Nurse Dorothy Duncan (Allyce Beasley), an Arkham nurse often found behind the scenes.
- Dr. Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin), a doctor called in to assist when inmates started turning up braindead.
- Jack Gruber (Christopher Heyerdahl), a terrifying mad scientist-type inmate who believes he has psychic abilities.
(Usually a “Rogues’ Gallery” refers to a hero’s collection of recurring villains – we don’t get that in “Rogues’ Gallery,” so this group is probably the closest substitute).
Obviously, the psycho Dr. Frankenstein roaming the halls is our serial brain-tamperer. But Gotham plays it cool, throwing out unsubtle hints that every character except Gruber might be the real villain. Lang feigns ignorance and is terrible at it; Nurse Duncan appears onscreen with a burst of creepy music, Thompkins pops into frame as soon as it’s hinted that the killer (well, not “killer” so much as “brain-damage-causer”) might be of the female sex. Meanwhile, Gruber lounges in the background and smiles at the walls, so that when he’s revealed as the mastermind it’s both a “duh” moment and a welcome revelation.
Also, anyone with a working knowledge of DC Comics could probably guess that Thompkins ain’t the killer since Leslie Thompkins is a fairly well-traveled Batman character.
She first appeared in 1976’s “Detective Comics 457,” in a story titled “There is No Hope in Crime Alley.” It’s nothing too complicated – Batman, on the anniversary of his parents’ death, heads down to a particularly nasty part of Gotham to visit Thompkins, stopping a few mild street crimes on the way there. Thompkins (in the comic, an elderly woman) is revealed to have found Bruce Wayne just after his parents had been killed, and given him kind words and a hug. Thus, every year, the caped crusader returns to the same spot and gives the same woman a hug and a kiss (although she doesn’t understand the connection, nor why this feared crimefighter is kissing her forehead).
Sweet, right? In the ensuing years, Thompkins and Batman’s relationship would develop, with her becoming somewhat of a mentor/combat medic for ol’ Batsy. Thompkins didn’t approve of the vigilantism, nor the young boy sidekicks (at one point, during the “War Games” storyline, Thompkins purposely allowed a former Robin, Stephanie Brown, to die to try to discourage Bruce from taking on more young sidekicks). But aside from a few rough/murderous spots, their relationship was a warm one.
Ideally, we’ll see Thompkins start to develop a relationship with Bruce in future Gothams (although it would take some serious retconning to create a “Thompkins rescues Bruce after parent death” moment). Right now, it looks like the show’s positioning her as a future love interest for Gordon (especially considering Baccarin is signed on through next season). It could work – Baccarin and Ben McKenzie have solid chemistry, and “Rogues’ Gallery” seemed oddly devoted to making Gordon’s current love interest look as unsympathetic as possible. Barbara cheats on her fiance, throws temper tantrums and spends a fair amount of the episode just shouting variants on “NO, YOU CALM DOWN!”
Turning this Jim-Barbara-Montoya love triangle into a love square might not be such a bad thing.
But that’s it for the major comic references this week. Gruber’s a closed book as there are no Jack Grubers in Batman’s (or anyone else’s) comic history. Like Thompkins, he’s set for more than one episode (at least until next week, this storyline’s a two-parter). So perhaps Gotham might tie him to Hugo Strange (crazy bearded doctor in Arkham?), Mad Hatter (mind control?) or the Electocutioner (electroshock therapy?). Or maybe he’s just Jack Gruber, totally normal weirdo.
With Gruber (and basically every other character in Arkham) came a serious dose of camp. Perhaps it was the Gotham-less month and a half that dropped my tolerance for graphic violence committed by people in funny costumes, but “Rogues’ Gallery” seemed especially ridiculous. Partly, it was the mental patients behaving like a school of fish, stopping en masse when Gordon yells at them or giddily trampling Nurse Duncan (did anyone think this was weirdly goofy? I get that it was supposed to be gross, but her falling and getting stepped on seemed strangely over the top). Also, that montage of wacky, criminally insane killers. Rarely are insane asylums sillier than this.
Also contributing to the camp factor was every word out of Sal Maroni’s mouth. Maybe the writers were watching too many Edward G. Robinson gangster flicks. That would explain why Maroni is now an endless font of insane, old-timey gangsterisms.
- “What am I, talking Hungarian? Open the cage, mook!”
- “You’re a smart monkey. But you’re a monkey. And I’m the zookeeper.”
- The Penguin is also a “limping little chicken butt second banana.”
The “brain-drainer” story really was the brunt of this episode. It’s a positive for us because the Gothams that hone in on one storyline tend to be the strongest Gothams (remember “Penguin’s Umbrella?”). But other players received a few smatterings of plot. Selina Kyle and Poison Ivy just showed up to torpedo Gordon and Barbara’s relationship even harder, and make Barb think Jim’s got a girl on the side. Although Barb does… have a girl on the side herself. So this isn’t making her any more relatable. Just unpleasant, and kind of whiny.
Butch, though, is getting a much-appreciated boost this week. Up until now, Butch was confined to a “stand behind Fish Mooney and look intimidating” role. Snippets of dialogue hinted at a depth to the character and a wealth of charisma from actor Drew Powell. But not much opportunity to flex it.
Meeting his old mafioso buddy finally gave Butch that opportunity. It didn’t last long, though. Any hint of intrigue or inner conflict was shot down real quick when Butch chose to not to play sides and to gun down his old bosom buddy. But Butch still comes off strong here; if Fish’s push to ascend the throne is coming soon (and from her urgent planning, that seems likely), it’ll behoove the show to build a little emotional muscle on the mob side of things.
Also, if more Butch storylines mean more classic cars and ’50s hits (this time, Tommy Edwards’ “It’s All In the Game” and the Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night”), let’s have all Butch all the time, please. Nothing like a little retro cool to emphasize Gotham’s weird multidimensional culture hodgepodge from the ’30s to the present day.
If there was a weak link in “Rogues’ Gallery,” it was the Penguin. Not because of Robin Lord-Taylor (eleven episodes in, and he can do no wrong), but because Penguin’s “why am I locked in jail” bit came off like filler. From the non-sequitur of Penguin getting decked by a cop (is that standard Gotham cop protocol? Walk up in silence, then punch the perp?) to Maroni’s explanation that Gotham’s fishermen are a proud and industrious people, there were far too many mini-holes in logic here. Penguin’s brief stint in jail looked pretty termite-worn by its end.
But Gotham is back, and it’s so very enthusiastic. Bloody stomping, mind controlling enthusiastic. I have absolutely no idea how long Gordon will be staying in his new digs, but if “Rogues’ Gallery” is any indication, let’s hope it’ll carry at least through the season’s end.