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Gotham – “Arkham” Recap and Review
As a contentious city council vote on the future of the Arkham district approaches, politicians from both sides are in danger. Gordon and Bullock must race to protect the council and an old friend visits Gordon.
Gotham has been teasing us with Arkham Asylum for the last three episodes, and this week finally puts the infamous insane asylum in focus. Sort of.
The old abandoned Arkham Asylum is at the center of a turf war between the two biggest mobsters in town – Falcone and Maroni, and the two will do whatever it takes to grab a bigger piece of the pie. It feels like the series has been somewhat building to this mob war, but it really just amounts to a single assassin taking out a few councilmen and going after the mayor. While the main killings and subsequent investigations are underwhelming, the political maneuvering behind them are somewhat interesting, and once again it’s the side stories that really lift this episode up.
“Arkham” picks up right where last week’s left off, with Oswald Cobblepot paying a friendly visit to a very shocked Jim Gordon at his own home. Oswald puts on his now familiar disarmingly friendly guise and Barbara’s equal friendliness is a funny contrast to Gordon’s complete inept to deal with the situation, until he leads Oswald outside and practically assaults him in the streets. “I should’ve killed you. I should put a bullet in your head right now!” Gordon’s rage is something we haven’t seen much of and I definitely like this side of him while he’s young and brash.
“There is a war coming, Jim,” Oswald exclaims before dropping more hints about Arkham. Oswald wants to play every angle he can, and what better way to upset the natural balance of mobsters vying for power than the one honest cop in Gotham?
Their scene in the street and the following one on the car port are shot particularly well, with lots of dark, grimy views of the city. I especially love the perpetual smoke and steam that rises about every block, evoking a noir atmosphere that I always pictured Gotham having.
A councilman is approached by a constituent that turns out to be an assassin for hire (played by Hakeem Kae-Kazim) with a unique murder weapon (which Gotham takes great pains to show and explain). The murder is quite a bit grizzlier than last week’s silly ‘ballooning,’ and Bullock and Gordon are on the case.
Their investigation leads them to the Wayne Manor, and we get yet another scene between Gordon and Bruce. Bruce confesses it was his parents dream to build a new asylum, but Gordon knows it’s a bit more complicated than that. At least this meeting at the Waynes (which have become all too frequent) feels a bit more natural, and Gordon does learn about Maroni from Alfred.
Another councilmen is murdered, but this time it’s one of Maroni’s – even though the same flute-blade unnamed assassin is carrying out the deed. Like any good mobster Falcone wants to send a message with this death, and has the poor man barbequed alive in a barrel while our killer gets to spout more lines about professionalism.
This scene is our first real look at Gotham’s Arkham Asylum, or at least the awesomely creepy gates and foreboding architecture. Once again Gotham seems constantly covered in a cloudy fog, and many of the asylum’s backdrop shots nearly steal the scene away from the actual murder taking place.
We get another visit from Edward Nygma, who reveals that both victims were killed by the same strange weapon, and thus probably the same hitman. Two mobsters battling each other using the same killer? “Only in Gotham,” Bullock quips. He has another contact they can visit who’s currently serving time in prison. IMDB lists Brad Calcaterra as Minks, and I’ve no idea if that’s an actual comic character or just a random incarcerated killer. Either way he immediately recognizes the murder weapon’s mark and points them to simple office worker Richard Gladwell. Case solved!
Except Gordon doesn’t quite go far enough into the backroom, and Gladwell presumably escapes. It’s a weird turn of events which Gotham thankfully plays up for a bit of humor as a woman comes rushing out. “It’s only a box of paper clips, I didn’t think anyone would mind!” They know the killer’s identity (well, his assumed identity) and know the targets, so this case is a bit more cut and dry than our previous murders, making it infinitely less interesting.
Meanwhile Oswald Cobblepot continues to observe the inner workings of Maroni’s restaurant (and base of operations), and witnesses a violent armed robbery. Who would be dumb enough to rob a mob boss’ place? The answer lies in the nicely deceptive ploy Oswald has masterminded. He’s found by Maroni’s goons clutching some of the money, which instantly earns him the trust of the mob boss and a promotion from kitchen dish waster to restaraunt manager, a position which just recently became available. Our little Penguin is moving up in the world.
For whatever reason Gotham chooses this episode for Barbara to reveal the truth to Gordon about her relationship with Montoya (who’s not even in this episode). As was very heavily implied in previous episodes, Barbara was romantically involved with Montoya before she broke it off and met Gordon. The impetus is that Barbara wants Jim to open up about all his shady goings-on and especially about the rumors surrounding Oswald’s ‘murder.’ Gordon is able to flip this and begin grilling Barbara about Montoya, which she is completely honest and apologetic about. Jim remains upset and their whole relationship gets a bit tenser: “You’re going to have to make a choice Jim. Either let me in, or let me go.”
Bullock goes to talk things over with frequently used contact Fish Mooney who’s had a nice little subplot of her own. She’s auditioning women for a job (presumably a spy to work Falcone) which mostly includes singing and seduction. The first woman utterly fails at the latter when she orders her to seduce her, but the second, Liza (played by Mackenzie Leigh), leaves quite the impression. She’s naturally sexy but also refreshingly awkward.
Later the two finalists are forced to “sort it out” between each other as Fish watches. The two get into a brief cat fight before Liza goes straight up street brawl and beats the other woman senseless. It’s a bit shocking and raw; it’ll be interesting to see if Liza ends up as another important player or just a one-off tool that Fish will use in the future. “Don’t worry about me,” she tells Bullock, “I always have a plan B.”
Oswald uses his new insider information on Maroni to tell Gordon that the next hit will be tonight, and Gordon realizes a note Gladwell had dropped contained the initials of the cops assigned to protecting the mayor. Any episode that gives us more Richard Kind is alright with me, and the hilariously corrupt mayor insists on grabbing important (incriminating?) documents from a safe when Gordon rushes to move him to a safer location.
It’s a bit too late, as the assassin known as Gladwell shows up to inject this episode with some much needed danger and suspense (mainly as Gladwell quickly ends up with Gordon’s gun).
Bullock’s meeting with Fish seemed to be equally fruitful, as he shows up right at the moment heroes always do and Gladwell is captured. Except our professional hitman decides to utter one final semi-badass line (“You know why they hire a professional? Because he always finishes the job”) and attempt to, I don’t know, attack two gun-toting cops with his blade thing? It doesn’t go well, and Bullock and Gordon open fire. Maybe a professional should know not to bring a knife to a gun fight. Funny moment – Gordon, Bullock and the mayor all solemnly nodding at each other as if to say “job well done.”
Oswald’s not quite done yet with his inside job as he meets up with the men he hired to rob the restaurant. In a fun little nod to The Godfather he brings some gift-wrapped canolis and offers them to his would-be henchmen. Protip – never except food or drink from an untrustable unless they eat it first.
The men later slump to the ground and Oswald walks away with 100% of the cut, as well as proof that he definitely has what it takes to work both sides and come out ahead. Though Gotham takes some awkward missteps with Bruce, Gordon and others, Penguin’s rise to power continues to be amazingly enjoyable.
Gordon believes that saving the mayor’s life will force him to make the right decision regarding Arkham, but the mayor is ultimately a politician and compromises by divvying up the land between both Maroni and Falcone. This upsets Bruce but Gordon, for once, has a pragmatic attitude, believing this compromise might’ve avoided a violent turf war. Arkham Asylum and the surrounding areas will officially be renovated and reopened, and seemingly controlled by the mob. The stage is being set up quite nicely.
This is a very mixed episode. The behind the scenes political machinations and assassinations are an interesting concept, but the execution with the lone, fairly uninteresting killer is not, and the climax is resolved a little too neatly.
Our first look at Arkham Asylum is amazing, and this was the first episode where I really appreciated the directing style and staging of each scene. Gotham is definitely taking its time with many of its layered plots and sub-plots, which I love, but can’t help but feel was a bit disappointing overall as the episode the previous ones were building up to.
Once again the side stories ended up more interesting than the main one, with Fish’s twisted but intriguing recruitment (“I don’t need a woman, I need a weapon”) and Penguin’s deliciously devious backstabbing, squealing and maneuvering on full display. So far Gotham has excelled at keeping multiple plates spinning and interweaving them, and along with its always excellent casting remains a major strength of the series.
Did You Notice?
- The city district map shows both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, which could be a nod to the recent video game series.