Hey? Did you know Jim Gordon has a dark side? If you’ve watched five minutes of any episode of Gotham you did, but that didn’t stop the show from devoting an entire hour to an idea that the whole damn show has been built upon from the start.

“A Bitter Pill to Swallow” isn’t dull, then, as much as it is pointless. It’s a way to pass the time until next episode, and as such it doesn’t need much of a recap. Gordon and Barnes go to Galavan’s apartment to look for more incriminating evidence after arresting the new mayor in the last episode. Meanwhile, a petulant Tigress (Galavan’s sister) calls up “The Lady” to have someone kill Gordon.

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The Lady is played by Doctor Who’s Michelle Gomez in pure “Missy” mode, and she’s easily the highlight of the episode. In her brief appearance she perfectly walks the line between sinister and camp that the rest of Gotham ceaselessly flails back-and-forth over; she would be a perfect addition to the cast if the show weren’t beneath her. At any rate, she’s basically in charge of Gotham City’s assassin’s guild, and she sends assassin after assassin after Gordon.

The first one manages to shoot Barnes in the artery (hate when that happens) so if he “moves” he’s going to “bleed out,” as we all know blood only circulates through our body when we’re in motion. So Gordon and Barnes are trapped in Galavan’s apartment with a rookie cop—I believe her name is Officer Redshirt—as wave after wave of assassins attack them.

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It’s here where Gordon starts complaining about the darkness inside him, as recently pointed out by both Barbara and Lee, revealing he “nearly crossed a line” and shot down Barbara himself last episode. Our hero, everyone! Barnes tells an even more horrific story about murdering a kid during the war—not just shooting in combat but jamming his gun down the kids throat and firing—telling Gordon that people are animals, and that “there is no line—there’s only the law.”

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After the scrub assassins all fail, Missy (seriously, Michelle Gomez is basically playing Missy, moonlighting in Gotham for kicks) calls Eduardo Flamingo, the cannibalistic assassin that Grant Morrison introduced a few years ago. The Flamingo singlehandedly murders all the cops who arrive simultaneously as back-up, and then makes sure Gordon knows he’s also eating them, too. You can see where this is going; Gordon is just so durned mad that this jerk is eating all these cops he has even laid eyes on that he runs out, attacks Flamingo, and shoves his gun down his mouth—because for Gordon, Barnes’ story about murdering a child wasn’t a moral lesson as much as it was an idea—but Gordon manages to not murder this person, and let the law do its job.

What would merely be someone showing basic humanity in a better show is a triumphant moment of morality in Gotham. Even if you don’t think it’s kind of gross, it’s still hard to register as actual character development since this has basically been the same “lesson” Gordon has been learning and forgetting since Gotham debuted.

Meanwhile in the “B” story, Nygma has brought the ailing Penguin back to his apartment for what ends up being the weirdest version of The Odd Couple I’ve ever seen. Penguin is morose over his mother’s murder and his failure to get revenge; he’s ready to quit and leave Gotham City forever. Nygma, who has totally embraced his new life as a murderer, basically talks Penguin into getting back on that evil train. Penguin spends most of the episode in bed, while Nygma tends to him, plays him music his mother used to sing to him, and gives Penguin a pep talk—a pep talk about murdering those who have wronged him. It’s very strange in the best Gotham fashion, but it’s not nearly strange enough to make turn a bad episode into an entertainingly bad episode.

Look, if I really thought the show was going to have Gordon evolve from his current law-ignoring brutality machine into something resembling his law-abiding, deeply moral comic book counterpart, I could get behind the scenes of Gordon wallowing outside the law he’s sworn to uphold, but again, Gordon hasn’t evolved even slightly since the first episode. He’s still willing to toss people out windows to get information, he’s still happy to shoot anyone who gives him a reason to, and honestly, if he was close to gunning down his ex-fiancée while she was unarmed last episode, he’s actually getting worse.

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And the worst part is that I think Gotham thinks this is character development, that Gordon is actually evolving into the law-breaking, trigger-happy hero Gotham City needs. Because after Gordon fails to murder Flamingo, the assassin manages to tear the throat out of Officer Redshirt with his teeth, even though he’s handcuffed. Gordon’s act of mercy in effect got another cop killed. I can’t see Gordon making the same mistake again.

By the time Batman finally shows up, there may not be any criminals still living for him to face.

Assorted Musings:

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• God I hope Riddler and Penguin stay roommates.

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• If you’re a Doctor Who fan and are curious about tuning into Gotham, if only to check Gomez out, please don’t. She was absolutely the best part of the episode, but her appearance was very brief and not even close to worth all the other crap you’d have to sit through. Just rewatch her on Who instead.

• Both of the pictures in this recap are official stills from this episode. The show does not give a fuck.


Contact the author at rob@io9.com.