Gotham S02E09 “A Bitter Pill to Swallow” REVIEW

Gotham S02E09 “A Bitter Pill to Swallow” REVIEW

•• Jim and the Werthers Original Killer

 

stars 3

Airing in the UK on Channel 5, Mondays, 10pm
Writer: Megan Mostyn-Brown
Director: Louis Shaw Milito

Essential Plot Points

  • Tabitha walks past a newspaper stand. The headline is MAYOR GALAVAN ARRESTED!
  • She talks her way into the secret room at a bar. Which is actually an Assassins Night Club/Bureau.

• MISSY!

  • RUN BY MISSY! THIS IS AMAZING!
  • MEANWHILE, AT NYGMACIDE TOWERS!
  • Ed wakes the Penguin up who he’s nursing back to health like the angriest of all birds. Penguin is having none of this. Ed drugs him anyway.

Ed drugs penguin

  • MEANWHILE, AT GCPD HEADQUARTERS!
  • Jim gets back from seeing Barbara and is confronted by Lee. In another edition of At Home With Lee And Jim she again shows just how much of a grown-up she is and politely points out how awfully he’s acting. He agrees, kind of apologises and runs off to help Captain MachoFace search Galavan’s apartment.
  • MEANWHILE, AT STATELY WAYNE MANOR
  • Silver shows up and, because it’s Bruce’s turn to be an idiot this week, he believes she had no idea about her uncle’s intentions.

cockneyman!

  • Alfred arrives, throws her out and basically tells Bruce he’s awful at this and needs to stop. Bruce tantrums. Cockneyman is having none of it.
  • MEANWHILE, AT EVIL TOWERS!
  • Jim gets into an elevator with a polite, gentle man who is very clearly a horrifyingly violent criminal. After Jim turns down what we choose to believe is a poisoned caramel, the Werther’s Original Killer opts for good old-fashioned piano wire. He and Jim beat the crap out of each other until Jim drags his unconscious form into the penthouse.
  • The assassin’s phone rings, Jim answers it, they hang up. No one really does anything.
  • MEANWHILE, BACK AT WHAT WE CHOOSE TO BELIEVE IS MISSY’S TARDIS!
  • Missy puts the call out: Jim Gordon dies. Now. She also calls Flamingo, an unusually horrible, cannibalistic assassin who was previously off her love list.
  • MEANWHILE, BACK AT NYGMACIDE TOWERS!
  • Ed chats to the Penguin and asks for his advice about his newfound fondness for homicide. Penguin, crushed by the loss of his mum, is having none of it and even turns down the offer of a quick brutal murder of one of Galavan’s hoods.
  • MEANWHILE, BACK AT EVIL TOWERS!

• Barnes and Parks

  • Jim beats the assassin, threatens him and hangs him out of a window. Barnes actually reacts to this and stands him down which is nice. What isn’t is the realisation that a hit team is on the way in. With only Barnes, Jim, rookie Officer Parks, a CSI and presumably a stick with an angry face drawn on it, the GCPD is in big trouble.
  • Nonetheless, they prevail. Although they lose the CSI along the way and Barnes gets knifed in the artery, meaning they’re trapped there and more assassins are coming…
  • While they wait to see who gets there first – their back-up or their killers – Jim and Barnes talk. Barnes explains, in a moment that’s actually really well done, why he’s such a stickler; he executed a young prisoner during his third tour. That awful experience, and deed, haunt him. He makes it clear he doesn’t wish that on Jim.
  • MEANWHILE, BACK AT NYGMACIDE TOWERS!
  • Ed plays Penguin a piece of music he was singing when he fell asleep. Penguin reveals his mother used to sing it to him every night. Again, Ed tries to bond with him. Again, Penguin vows to leave. This time though, Ed gets through; he points out that Penguin’s empty life is also his strength. He has no weaknesses now. And neither does Ed. It’s a surprisingly great, really dark scene.
  • MEANWHILE, BACK AT EVIL TOWERS!

Jim and Flamingo fight

  • The GCPD back-up arrives. Hurray! And they’re all instantly killed by Flamingo! Booo! Despite orders not to, Jim answers Flamingo’s taunting walkie talkie message and goes down to fight him. They beat the hell out of each other and Jim wins, ending up kneeling on Flamingo with his gun in the killer’s mouth. Ignoring the laughter of his opponent, he refuses to kill him and reads him his rights.
  • MEANWHILE, BACK AT NYGMACIDE TOWERS!
  • Ed and Penguin celebrate their new found MurderBrohood with takeout and homicide. BFFs forever!
  • MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE GCPD
  • Flamingo is brought in, feigns illness and tears Officer Parks’ throat out.
  • MEANWHILE, IN THIS WEEK’S EPISODE OF AT HOME WITH LEE AND JIM
  • Lee basically points out Jim’s a human dumpster fire. He agrees and asks why she’s with him. She jokes that she has no idea and yet again, somehow, these two are the most interesting and real part of the show. Their conversation about Jim’s astronomically huge anger issues is a real highlight. And one completely shut down by Jim getting the news about Parks.
  • MEANWHILE, AT BLACKGATE!

inmate galavan

  • Tabitha shows up to visit Theo. He tears a strip off her for hiring the assassins and points out they’ve almost won anyway. She admits she was angry over Jim hurting Barbara and he points out that, sister or not, he’ll kill her if she screws up their plans again.
  • MEANWHILE, AT STATELY WAYNE MANOR!
  • Bruce, who’s been shut down from sneaking out throughout the episode, is met by Selina. She tells him Silver’s evil and helps him sneak out so she can prove it.
  • MEANWHILE, AT THE DOCKS!
  • The Monks of St Dumas arrive and proceed to murder a poor patrolman a LOT before walking slowly into Gotham…

 

Review:

After two weeks in the gutter, Gotham is back on the sidewalk.

Just.

There’s a lot to enjoy here. And, amazingly, a lot of that involves Ed. The ghastly time-wasting of the last two weeks is replaced by a plot that’s as bleak and psychological as Gotham always thinks its being. Ed “saves” Penguin and points out the pair of them have nothing left to lose, which means they have no weaknesses. It’s a horrifying, dancing-in-the-ruins style moment and it finally, FINALLY, puts the all new all-evil Ed in something other than a lousy Dexter ripoff. This is the Riddler being born; a fiercely analytical brain built on a foundation of revulsion and dreadful, curdled self-actualisation. Disturbing, tragic and genuinely funny – instead of just trying to be – the Ed and Penguin scenes are a highlight of the episode. Who knew we’d be writing that?

Elsewhere the episode also scores highly. The dismally bad action scenes of the last few episodes have been replaced with actual fights! With actual choreography! And actual meaning! It’s startling and pleasingly burly. The assassins/GCPD throwdown is especially good precisely because it’s messy. There’s something desperate, untidy and scrappy to it. It drives and is defined by the plot, just like the other two fights here and that’s such a welcome change.

Plus, no return to a gunfight carried out through a building, which is a bonus.

• At home with Lee and Jim

Even better, the episode finally turns the entire focus of the show onto Jim being an awful human being. The bad-conduct kiss from last week? Addressed. His ridiculous propensity for violence? Addressed. Ish. His getting officers killed because he’s an idiot? Addressed. To be fair that continues this week but at least it’s not under the rug anymore. All of this stuff is fun, interesting and often surprisingly well written character development and its weeks past due.

Then there’s the murder.

We go into detail about the murder of Officer Parks below. It’s very finely balanced writing, so much so it’s difficult to call if it’s good or awful. The scene is definitely within the boundaries of gratuitous at the very least. It’s also certainly a massive tonal shift from everything that went before and, depressingly, sees the show change the channel from “Pretty good action procedural” to “CHECK OUT THE AWFUL!” again.

But most of all it feels jarring. And perhaps a little mean-spirited. After an episode that’s finally honestly pretty good, ending it like that feels almost belligerent.

The Good:

  • Michelle Gomez! Michelle Gomez as the head of a Gotham Assassin Bureau/Night Club is wonderful. Much more of her please.
  • Context! We find out the awful thing Captain Barnes did. We see Jim called on his nonsense. We see him acknowledge he’s very nearly dangerously unbalanced. We even see Ed and Penguin find a curious kind of wholeness in the realisation of their bleak, empty, predatory existences. This is really good stuff.

bag fu

  • Really solid fight choreography. Gotham has been bloody awful at this for weeks now with the dire “Extras stand in position and fire off camera” attempt on Galavan’s life being an all-time low. Here we get:
    • A pretty solid close-quarters punch-up in the lift between Jim and the first assassin. The “run up the wall” move is a little OTT but it worked for Jack Bauer all those years ago. Also EXCELLENT Bag Fu Jim!
    • A nicely burly, untidy fight between the second wave of assassins and the GCPD.
    • A good, methodical duel between Flamingo and Jim. No big flashy moves, no showboating, just two guys beating on each other until one of them doesn’t get back up.
  • Tone. This feels, for the first time in weeks, like a Batman show. The balance of brutality and high drama is (mostly) spot on, the characters act far more believable than they have in weeks and the pacing actually serves the show instead of dragging it down. After the catastrophic last couple of episodes this isn’t so much a relief as it is cause for celebration, fireworks and small feral warrior bears to play the drums on the helmets of the Stormtroopers they’ve killed and, we presume, eaten off camera.
  • “Most people fight their dark side. Lately, you find ways to give into it.” Lee nails Jim to the wall every time she opens her mouth this episode but this is the best one.
  • “Getting information out of a girl like that requires a level of deception you do not yet possess, Master Bruce.” A great line because the more you read it, the sadder it becomes. Alfred is essentially paying Bruce a compliment because he’s not good enough at subterfuge to find out something to his disadvantage quiet yet.
  • “I believe in the beauty of extreme measures.” So do we, Not-Quite Missy! Come back soon!

• ed and penguin

  • “If you’re planning on killing me could you get on with it? At this point it would come as a welcome relief.” Penguin articulating our feelings about the last few weeks of the Ed plot beautifully there.
  • “I’m just a man and at the right moment a man might do anything. Any man. There is no line. There’s just the law. That’s what separates us from the animals.” This is a pivotal moment for Jim. This is the first time we’ve really seen the man he’ll become start to appear and it’s also the first time this show has come within a hundred miles of giving Michael Chiklis lines worthy of his ability. Nicely done.
  • “A man with nothing that he loves is a man that cannot be bargained, a man who cannot be betrayed, a man who answers to no one but HIMSELF! And that is the man I see before me. A free man!” This is another wonderful, horrible piece of dialogue. This is Ed acknowledging and embracing how broken he is and turning his own inner Tyler Durden on Penguin. And it WORKS.
  • “I almost crossed the line tonight.”
    “No kidding. How out of character.”
    “Scared me a little.”
    “Welcome to my world.”
    “Why the hell are you with me?”
    “Beats me.” Never change you two. Actually, Jim, change a lot you’re an enormous asshole. Lee? You’re perfect.

The Bad:

  • The GCPD arrested the Mayor. This is a case that will make or break careers and the reputation of the Force for a generation. It requires subtlety, diligence and precision. It gets: Captain MachoFace, JimJim the Hot Mess, a SINGLE CSI and a rookie. God damn it, Captain Barnes…
  • Where the Hell are the Jimshirts this week? Did he kill them all off? AGAIN?

• Flamingo

  • Flamingo. In the comics he’s not that interesting but Gotham turns the volume on him all the way up and breaks the dial off. The fact he’s a cannibal in the show but not in the comics sums up the problems with him and the show very neatly: endless excess with little regard for character.
  • For an episode filled with surprisingly well done violence there’s a really lazy tic in here. When Parks is killed we get a long shot of the cops failing to pull Flamingo off her. Barely two scenes later, we’re shown the order of St Dumas all stabbing a single watchman to death. Why? The spectacle’s obvious but like everything this show screws up, it’s not necessary. Parkes’ death is just as shocking without the pile-on; the monks are scarier if one of them kills the guard not all of them like a horde of homicidal pigeons.

 

The “Honestly Don’t Know…”

  • Right. The murder of Officer Parks. On the one hand, it makes perfect thematic sense. Jim has had his long night of the soul and chosen to let Flamingo live. He’s made a definite ethical choice and feels like he’s turned a corner. Then, his ethical choice tears the throat out of a good hearted rookie.On the other hand, the scene could, and will, be read as offensive two different ways. Firstly there’s the gratuity of it. We get three separate, extended shots of Parks’s weeping, terrified, screaming face as her throat is torn out. We see her pain. We see her blood spread across the floor. We see her terror and her helplessness.
  • Yet again the suffering of the female characters of Gotham is fetishised in a way that’s at best misguided and at worst disturbing. This is certainly the first scene in the show that’s truly got under my skin.Then there’s the confused symbology of it. Parks shares a name with civil rights activist Rosa Parks and, like everything else with this deeply weird and upsetting plot that could be read one of two ways. The positive view is that she occupies Rosa Parks’ position within the universe of Gotham; a woman whose actions ultimately change her world for the better.
  • The negative view is that even if that is the case the catalyst of that change denies her of all agency. Rosa Parks changed her country through polite civil disobedience. Officer Parks may have changed Jim Gordon by being murdered and, it’s implied, changed him for the worse too.
  • The end result is a punch that lands but feels like one that lands below the belt. You understand her death, you understand why the episode goes there but you find yourself desperately wishing it hadn’t. In some cases that’s the mark of genuinely great horror. Here it simply leaves you feeling numb.

 

The Random:

  • Not-Missy has excellent musical taste! “Peaches” by The Stranglers plays over our first view of what is very clearly not her TARDIS but just a night club full of assassins.
  • Special thanks to Nick Eden, who pointed out the infinitely more logical spelling of ‘Lee’ to me than the one I’ve been using.

Review by Alasdair Stuart


 

Read our other Gotham reviews

 

 

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