If you have complaints about last night's episode of Gotham, I'm going to assume "not enough happened" isn't one of them. "What the Little Bird Told Him" took Gordon out of Arkham, pitted him against the show's first real supervillain, and even brought a major status quo change to the myriad mob machinations.
This is, in fact, about as good as Gotham gets, so let's take a few minutes to celebrate what the episode achieved. By bringing back escaped Arkham Asylum inmate Jack Gruber — as well as giving him a real gimmick as the Electrocutioner — Gotham has created its first real supervillain. He's got a mobile electric generator, a willingness to murder people, and the intelligence and the skills to stage a full assault on GCPD HQ even while it's completely full of cops — that's classic supervillain material to me.
Gordon seems to recognize it too, and sees an opportunity to return to the police. He shows up at HQ to announce that only he knows how Gruber thinks, and thus is the city's only chance of catching the fugitive. With the city in a panic, Commissioner Loeb gives Gordon the standard 24 hours to catch Gruber, or else he and Bullock are going to be working Arkham fulltime. Bullock is not pleased at somehow getting roped into Jim's gamble, nor is he pleased to discover that Gordon is completely bullshitting Loeb — he actually has no clue what Gruber is up to, but is reasonably sure he can catch him with some decent police work. It's not the boldest of character developments, but it's cool to see that Gordon has actually learned something from being GCPD's scapegoat in the first half of the season, and is now more than willing to lie to the corrupt officials in charge.
Bullock, of course, despairs of catching a criminal in 24 hours, but Gordon isn't worried. Maybe he should be, but he gets help from two silly sources: 1) Nygma, who is apparently so bored with his medical examiner job he's just rooting through old case files, and discovers that Gruber likely wants revenge on his old crime partners for abandoning him, and 2) Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who, and I swear this is real, brings in a voodoo doll that Gruber basically ordered from Arkham Asylum's resident "sorceress." Gordon, despite the fact the doll is very homely, somehow instantly recognizes it as Don Maroni. This is so completely absurd I actually appreciate it.
Gordon figures Gruber wants revenge on Maroni, and will be more than willing to attack the entire precinct to do so — "He'll appreciate the challenge," says Gordon, doing some solid deductive reasoning. Indeed, Gruber does, somehow shocking every single person in the building into unconsciousness… except for Gordon, because he wore rubber shoes that Nygma had earlier suggested he put on. Look, I know you're about to talk about how virtually all shoes have rubber soles, and how the hell is this possible, but don't. You might as well ask how Gruber's doohickey is also somehow able to magnetically pull Gordon's gun directly to their left, which is also something that happens. I am pretty confident basic physics — which Gotham should ostensibly be beholden to — does not support any of this, but alas, Gotham has bigger problems (which I'll get to momentarily). For now, it's enough to know that Gordon defeats Gruber by tossing a small glass of water onto him, shorting out his power pack, in an anticlimax we can probably attribute to screenwriter Ben Edlund (who made many of Angel's best episodes, and created The Tick).
That's pretty solid procedural work on Gordon and Bullock's part, followed by an attack by a seemingly powerful villain who is outsmarted by our hero — good stuff! And yet this is only half the episode. The rest is devoted to the Falcone/Fish/Penguin mob storyline, but at least this time stuff happens in it. Fish, as tired of waiting around as the audience is, decides to make her move. She "kidnaps" Liza, and, using a disguised voice, tells Don Falcone that the only way he'll see her alive is to leave town. Falcone, in another of the show's fits of good characterization, realizes he doesn't actually want to run Gotham's organized crime anymore, which jibes with John Doman's subdued performance over the season. He also tells Fish he knows she's behind the kidnapping, Fish pretty quickly fesses up (which is another anticlimax). It's kind of welcome that Fish's coup is finally out in the open, but it's also sort of aggravating seeing as we've been watching Fish's plot with Liza for what seems like forever and for Falcone to suddenly, instantly see through it makes me wonder why the show bothered setting it up for so damn long).
But even as Falcone contemplates a quiet life with his hot young candy, the Penguin bursts in to reveal that Liza herself was part of Fish's weirdly elaborate plan. Falcone is devastated — you can tell because he slaps Cobblepot for merely uttering the idea — and this is of course a betrayal serious enough to give Falcone a new, evil lease on mob life. He storms Fish's nightclub, announces he's decided to stick around, strangles Liza with his bare hands, seizes Fish and her henchman for some serious punishment, and lets the Penguin waddle in at the last minute, just to let Fish know the umbrella-holder she tossed out in the first episode helped engineer her downfall. Cobblepot is too delighted for words.
With Falcone back in charge and pissed, Fish captured, Penguin triumphant, and Maroni having discovered he's working for Falcone (and I'll get to that in a second) that's been the most exciting Gotham mob developments since the pilot, I believe. And yet… holy hell can Gotham still be terrible. For all the good in this episode — and I truly believe there was some — let me just point out three terrible things in this same episode, and I won't even mention the electric shit, okay?
• Commissioner Loeb gives Gordon 24 hours to catch Gruber. Why? What happens at the end of 24 hours? Gotham relies far too heavily on these tired clichés for its basic storytelling, and it's not going to be great until it moves past them.
• Gotham finally gives a bit of attention to Nygma, and it's this: Nygma is crushing on a girl who also wears glasses and is thus theoretically obtainable to him, but he freaks her out with a creepy riddle, and a bully/jock cop stops Nygma from hitting on her. This is an even more tired cliché and frankly, it's insulting as hell. If Nygma's inability to get a date is what turns him into the Riddler, I am 100% truly done with this show.
• Barbara. For some reason, even though the show has completely ignored Bruce Wayne again, it keeps giving us Barbara scenes, and literally the only thing the show can thing of to do with her at this point is to send her to her aloof parents' house. Please raise your hand if you think Barbara's parents will have anything to do with any future non-Barbara plot, because if you do I have a bridge in Gotham City to sell you. In either some outrageously terrible or brilliantly meta bit of TV writing I've seen, Barbara's parents' butler doesn't even recognize her when she comes to the door! Because apparently his employers have no pictures of her and never discuss her. And remember, last episode — the very last episode — Barbara apparently had a crippling drug addiction, which is now gone. Wheeeee!!!!
There are other issues, of course, but these pretty well sum up Gotham's problems. And yet the show still obviously has so much potential! That's the reason I'm pleased Fox announced they've renewed it for a second season. Here's hoping showrunners use the break to fix what needs to be fixed — or at least jettison the stories and characters neither the audience nor the show seem to be interested in. Maybe that even means getting rid of Bruce Wayne — certainly his absence helped this episode move along, and that's one problem Gotham seems to have fixed. And in next week's episode, it appears Penguin takes control of Fish' nightclub, while Fish may finally get herself offed. Hey, if Gotham can't achieve great, I'll happily accept "not boring."
• Discovery: I do not approve of the use of Johnny Cash songs in my Batman-based entertainment. Who knew?
• That was Peter Scolari as Commissioner Loeb, doing a fine job with very little. Scolari is best known as the dude who wasn't Tom Hanks in the sitcom Bosom Buddies, and I find him utterly fascinating. No, I don't know why either.
• Leslie Thompkins: "You owe me a double six-pack of root beer." A double six-pack? What human talks like that?
• Speaking of Leslie, at the end of the episode she enters the GCPD's men's locker room (kinda weird) and kisses Gordon (obvious). They don't have a ton of chemistry, but compared to the Barbara stuff they might as well be filming hardcore pornography.
• Oh, I forgot to mention: Maroni discovers the Penguin is working for Falcone when the Penguin, while shocked and semi-conscious from a Gruber attack, literally yells "I need to meet with Falcone" and passes out. It's yet another absurd anti-climax, which would be more effective if the episode weren't already full of them.
• Nygma's "riddle" to Theoretically Attainable Girl With Glasses is a cupcake with a bullet in it. Someone needs to teach the Gotham writers exactly what a riddle is.
• Um, did anyone else see that totally bizarre commercial where actor Robin Lord Taylor is driving a Ford Hybrid and gives a weird, small behind-the-scenes look at Gotham while extolling the car's virtues? It was totally surreal.
• Fish wants Falcone to sign papers to give her control of Gotham's organized crime. Falcone is as confused by this as I was. What mobsters work in legal documents?
• Hey, wasn't there supposed to be multiple Joker candidates in the first season? What the hell happened there?
• And doesn't Barbara own the giant rooftop apartment she and Gordon had been staying in? Why the hell can't she go back there instead of to her absurdly estranged parents?