TV Review: Gotham – “A Bitter Pill to Swallow”

So far, Gotham‘s second season has shown a lot of improvement over the first (which I did not have the highest opinion of). It’s still not there yet, though, and there are problems that will be hard to shake off. This week’s episode had great individual elements, but it was unable to weave them together into a coherent whole. The result was a disjointed, inconsistently paced episode, but one that was enjoyable nevertheless.
Warning: this review contains spoilers.
On Captain Barnes' orders, nobody sleeps until they find Jim.In typical Gotham fashion, "A Bitter Pill to Swallow" juggled three barely-related plot threads. The main one, featuring Jim Gordon and Captain Barnes fending off assassins, was the strongest. In fact, I kind of wish the entire episode was devoted to just that story. Imagine a full hour of nothing but Gordon, Barnes, and a couple of rookies, trapped in a building, battling wave after wave of hitmen. If done right, we would have had a stellar, gripping episode on our hands.
As it stands, we got an abridged version whose intensity was undercut by having to switch away to less urgent subplots, but even that was still gave us a pretty good, action-packed episode. Tied to those events was Gordon’s personal battle with his dark side, which is an effective character arc in and of itself, although the show hadn’t done the best job building up to it. Barnes also opened up to Gordon about his past and gained some welcome shades of grey in the process.
The secondary thread dealt with Riddler and Penguin. Now, Season 2 was starting to rectify Season 1’s scatterbrained storytelling by tying all of the main players—Gordon, Penguin, Bruce—to the Galavan narrative, but the only character that was left out was Riddler. Nygma’s story itself was good enough, with a strong performance by Cory Michael Smith, but it was completely unrelated to anything else that was going on. It was like watching a different show. Last week, though, Ed ran into Penguin, and I thought, "Surely this is how Riddler’s going to be roped into the main plot." So far, that hasn’t been the case. Instead of Penguin bringing Riddler in, now they’re both living on the show’s fringes.
PenguinThe subplot itself was very fun, though, so I’m giving it a pass. This long-anticipated pairing was worth the hype, and watching Ed bring Penguin out of grieving was both amusing and heartfelt. Penguin will always be Gotham‘s most compelling character, and Riddler’s evolution shows promise.
The third storyline, focusing on Bruce, I could have done without. I mentioned earlier that Season 2 successfully made Bruce relevant, but now that Galavan is behind bars, his arc is back to being divorced from the main plot. Bruce contributed nothing to the episode, and his strange belief that Silver St. Cloud was innocent and could help him was pretty contrived. Seeing Galavan arrested should have been enough, but the show’s manufacturing reasons to keep him around much like it did in Season 1. Hopefully it won’t last long and Bruce will be back on track soon.

Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Notes and Observations

  • Gotham‘s been pretty violent this season, and this episode’s no exception. I like that it isn’t afraid to go there, but there are times it feels excessive, and gory for gore’s sake.
  • Looks like Barbara’s been put on hold. She’s really improved since last year, so I wish she hadn’t been left out. (Though I’m still annoyed that she almost got a great death scene last week, only to be saved by some bushes.)
  • You could see some Joker graffiti in that opening scene, a reminder of Jerome’s continued influence.****
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