Gotham S02E06 “By Fire” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Channel 5, Mondays, 10pm
Writer: Rebecca Perry Cutter
Director: TJ Scott
Essential Plot Points
- Butch is having his entrance interview with the Galavans. It’s going well. Less so for the chap behind him in the noose, balancing on a pile of books. Butch gets the job, the noosed gentleman, who turns out to be a Congressman, gets to live in return for backing Galavan for Mayor. Cautious yay!
- On the mean streets of Gotham, Jim Gordon is chasing his man down! His man in this case being a disfigured former arsonist who, in the first of several dreadful lines this week, tells Jim that a female arsonist is “Mad real, like a unicorn.” Jim beats the guy up to get this non information.
- The Strike Force members who are accompanying Jim tell him Captain Barnes has ordered them to write up all infractions of conduct, even with superior officers. Jim Gordon doesn’t care! He gets results!
- At Selina’s squat, Bridgit is hiding out. In fact, Bridgit is cleaning up because she doesn’t know what else to do. Selina suggests they do some crime and takes them to a human trafficking auction. Bridigt is adamant that they should help the women being auctioned off but Selina’s all about the money. They rob the place and make a pretty good team. In fairness as well, the fact that combined they weigh maybe 150 lbs and there are only two of them is offset by the fact Bridgit HAS A FLAMETHROWER and clearly enjoys using it.
- MEANWHILE, AT THE GCPD!
- Jim Gordon’s results include a note in his file. Barnes writes him up and Jim fights him on it. Jim argues that Gotham requires grey areas, Barnes believes it’s black and white. He also, intriguingly, hints at something very bad in his past that gave him this black and white world view. He tells Jim they have a lead and shows him security footage of Selina and Bridgit escaping from the human trafficking auction. He then tells Jim they’re going to take down the killer. Which sounds a lot like executing the killer. Which, if that’s true, means Barnes is a colossal hypocrite or has no short term memory.
- Jim recognises Selina and goes to talk to her. Harv suggests he take the Jimshirts, sorry Strike Force, but Jim decides to go in quietly.
- MEANWHILE, AT STATELY WAYNE MANOR!
- Alfred and Bruce are boxing. Alfred is in the process of tucking his young ward up like a kipper when Bruce bites him. Complementing his student/boss/ward for fighting dirty, Alfred tells him Silver invited him over for dinner. Bruce blisses out.
- Alfred punches him in the face.
- Bruce accepts that he maybe needs to focus a bit more and goes back to training.
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE GCPD!
- Yay it’s the Ed scenes for the episode. Ed overhears Leigh and Kringle talking about Dougherty and himself. Kringle admits that she wants Ed to be a little more forceful and he steps in, maximum suave, and tells her what they’re having for dinner that night. It is, in fairness, actually quite sweet.
- Nearby, Harvey interrogates Ivy Pepper. Remember her? In return for a candy bar (which Harv may have stolen and be eating himself in later scenes), Ivy gives up Selina’s location and then patiently waits to be used again in another ten episodes time.
- MEANWHILE, NEAR THE GOTHAM BUS STATION
- Selina walks Bridgit to the bus but is interrupted by the Pike brothers. Boo! They are both evil and awful awful characters! They kidnap Bridgit and Selina, despite kicking one brother’s ass and getting his gun off him does precisely nothing other than look a bit sad as her friend is driven away.
- The reason? The guns she had at home were better, apparently. She’s tooling up when Jim shows up and they have a standoff. Selina explains Bridgit’s past and Jim orders her to stand down. She refuses and Jim promises he’ll do everything he can to bring a wanted cop killer in. I’m sure this will go excellently.
- MEANWHILE! BACK AT THE PIKES!
- Bridgit is chained to a radiator and her brother throws firecrackers at her until she agrees to work for them again. The Pikes, because they’re idiots, are overjoyed and tell Bridgit to fix dinner. Instead, she decides to fix VENGEANCE.
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT PENGUIN GARDENS!
- Penguin is very amused by Butch’s new hand and not at all amused by how little finding Penguin’s mother he’s done. He sends the big guy back into the fray and Butch isn’t happy.
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE PIKES!
- The Pike brothers stand very still while Bridgit incinerates them to death. Not long after, Harv and Jim arrive and find the corpses. One of them wakes up, spits the word “BITCH” and is kicked the rest of the way dead by Harvey.
- This actually happens.
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT EVIL TOWERS!
- Butch finds the remote cunningly hidden on Galavan’s desk and discovers nothing that Penguin didn’t already know. Galavan arrives, good naturedly sees through Butch’s lies and figures out Penguin is controlling him. He offers to “help”.
- Tabitha comes in and beats Butch up unconvincingly.
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE GCPD!
- Jim is now completely on board with bringing Bridgit in alive. Barnes wants her, its implied, dead.
- Selina meets Bridgit at the pigeon loft they used to hang out in. She asks why her friend doesn’t just leave and Bridgit says she wants to stop the people who hurt them, like her brothers. Selina hugs her friend and leaves her to her fate.
- MEANWHILE, AT EVIL TOWERS!
- Bruce has dinner with Silver and the Galavans. Tabitha arrives late and has WHAT IS CLEARLY BLOOD ON HER FACE. No one says anything.
- MEANWHILE, AT NYGMA TOWERS!
- Ed and Kringle have dinner. Ed confesses he likes her. She feels the same. They kiss and head off to the bedroom.
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE HUMAN TRAFFICKING AUCTION!
- Jim gets a call from Selina saying she thinks she knows where Bridgit is going. She’s right. Bridgit goes back to the auction, torches a guy and lets the victims out.
- The GCPD arrive and Jim tries to talk her down. Barnes orders no one to fire and, of course, someone does, opening a leak in Bridgit’s suit. She then, for no reason other than the plot requires it, torches a GCPD car until it explodes and sets her on fire too.
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT EVIL TOWERS!
- Galavan talks to Bruce. He assures him his father was a good man and if elected mayor, he’ll help Bruce clean up Wayne Industries. Bruce is very cool with this.
- MEANWHILE, AT PENGUIN GARDENS!
- A bloodied Butch staggers back to Penguin, sans mallet and tells him he’s found his mother. Penguin is overjoyed and, maybe, not paying attention. Butch may not be under his control anymore…
- MEANWHILE, AT HOME WITH JIM AND LEIGH!
- Selina is holding a gun on Leigh. Just go with it, Leigh does. When Jim comes home she demands to know what’s happened to Bridget and Jim tells her she’s dead. Selina goes for Jim, telling him he promised and Jim defends himself very very badly. He even, in arguably the most callous moment in the last two episodes, tries to get Selina to flip on who employed Bridgit. She lets slip it was Penguin, refusing to believe Jim will go after his “friend” and leaves in disgust. And you can’t blame her for it either.
- MEANWHILE, AT LOVENYGMA TOWERS!
- Kringle, in a genuinely sweet moment, opens up about being frightened of Dougherty. Ed reassures her by first confessing and then proving that he murdered Dougherty. Kringle panics, tries to flee and Ed inadvertently suffocates her to death while trying to explain he’s not a murderer.
- And montage!
- Ed cradles Kringle’s lifeless body, sobbing hopelessly.
- Penguin and his boys tool up to go get Mrs Penguin.
- Nearby, Selina cries for her friend.
- At Indian Hill, a Wayne Industries facility, two interns explain the plot to us as Bridgit, very much not dead, is wheeled into a room lit like a pop video. She’s a monster now, she’s fireproof! Her suit is melted to her skin! Dramatic music!
The short version of this review is, “This is a bad episode of Gotham.” The plots stumble over one another, things happen for no reason other than they need to and there’s some dismally bad dialogue.
Here’s the long version. This episode demonstrates everything that’s wrong not with Gotham individually but as a concept.
Firstly, the ludicrously big cast. While it’s always nice to see Cockney Butlerman and his amazing sidekick Billionaire Boy, we get Alfred for maybe two minutes here. Those two minutes are entirely expository. He’s not the only one either; poor Leigh is reduced to being the foil for Kringle and Selina in her two scenes.
This happens every week, as I mentioned last week. But this time it’s different. This doesn’t feel like a natural collection of characters. It feels like a show working off a tick list of who is scheduled to be in this week’s episode. Some of it works but some of it, a lot of it, really doesn’t. It feels disjointed and choppy, like you’re changing channels inside the TV show.
Then there’s the wildly uneven tone. I’m increasingly thinking of Gotham as a 1990s action movie filtered through the old Adam West Batman TV show because there really is that amount of tonal movement inside every episode. Sometimes inside scenes too. We get jet black comedy, sickening violence, moments of impressive character work within seconds of one another and the whiplash that leads to is difficult to sit through at times. Witness the massively uneven Galavan stuff this week, veering from the cartoon lunacy of Tabitha showing up to dinner with blood on her face to Galavan sweet talking Bruce and Tabitha “deprogramming” Butch. That’s horror, psychological drama and badly-staged action all in the space of 43 or so minutes.
That brings us to the action. For a show that promises one gunfight a week or your money back, Gotham’s actually getting worse at staging fights. Selina vs the Pike brothers is nonsensical, Bridgit vs the GCPD (Round Two) is a bad cover version of their first, also badly-staged fight. Worst of all, the Butch and Tabitha scene exists to do nothing other than remind us that Tabitha likes whips because it’s sexy and that the show has no idea what to do with the one-note gag of Butch having a mallet for a hand. Inside this season, we’ve had the genuinely impressive fight between Gordon and Aaron, the terrifying havoc the Maniax wreaked and Alfred and Gordon taking on a room full of thugs in a manner that was brutal, practical and character driven.
This week? No snap, no spark to the action and very little point.
Worst of all though is the show’s tendency to get in its own way. There’s actually a lot of good stuff this week. Selina and Bridgit’s plotline is great. Their similar upbringings and different world views are the most Batman-like thing in the episode and Selina in particular benefits hugely from this plotline. She feels. She doesn’t want to, and denies it, but Selina cares about people. The seeds of the woman she’ll become and the razor line she’ll dance between hero and villain are sewn here and done so in a manner that’s subtle, organic and impressive.
Then Bridgit’s carted off to the monster factory as Intern Exposition explains the screamingly obvious.
Gotham isn’t a good show. It’s not a bad show either. It’s about five wildly variable TV shows struggling to gain your attention and constantly being pushed aside by their siblings. Most of the time, the fun elements come to the fore. Sometimes all you hear is five different voices screaming for attention. That’s this week. Next week, who knows?
- “I tried to help her it just went a different way.” “IS THAT WHAT YOU CALL IT WHEN SOMEONE DIES?!” This is great Jim’s a sanctimonious ass who has no idea of the consequences of his actions a lot of the time. It’s way past time someone called him on it.
- “Ah yeah, my kicks did it maybe it’s because he was FRIED LIKE A TAQUITO!” Nice line. Awful characterisation.
- “There’s a line. I learned that the hard way.” “Respectfully sir, this is Gotham. There are grey areas. I learned that the hard way too.” I love this. It’s one of the smartest things they’ve done with this version of Jim Gordon. He’ll go toe to toe with anyone, including a man who’s basically him in 30 years just minus the ’tache.
- “Hey! Last time we saw this chick she had a shotgun pointed at us. Maybe you should take the Fascist Youth huh?” I think Harv might have a problem with the Jimshirts. Hard to tell.
- “Dear me, a mallet.” THIS IS PERFECT. It’s a ludicrous plot that gets even more ludicrous this episode but Penguin’s delivery, along with Butch’s Barney Bear-esque glower is wonderful.
- “You’re cute. For a Doctor.” “Thanks, you’re cute. for a gangster.” Despite having no apparent reason for existing, the Selina and Leigh scene is actually rather sweet.
- “Hi Selina. Sorry about this Leigh.” “Oh hey no problem.” Again, the At Home With Leigh & Jim sitcom within Gotham gets the best moments. You can almost hear the laugh track on this and I mean that as a compliment.
- The Captain Barnes/Jim ethical do-si-do at the centre of the episode is interesting ground. I really want to see this build to a head, either with Barnes forced to compromise himself or Jim forced to do something for the greater good long-term not short term.
- The Pikes aren’t characters they’re walking cliché machines. Not only are they playing snaps when Bridgit comes in but they stand there like idiots for a good ten seconds before she incinerates them.
- You’re two of the only honest GCPD cops. You’ve just found a crime scene with two deeply charred bodies. Do you…
A) Confirm they’re dead?
B) Call the paramedics immediately?
C) Make an off-colour gag about barbecue and then kick the one survivor the rest of the way dead while panicking?
Yeah. Thought so.
- There’s a lovely moment of fight psychology where Selina uses her smaller size and lower centre of mass to flip one of the Idiot Brothers and take his shotgun. It is instantly negated by her doing nothing with the loaded weapon in her hand as Bridgit is driven away.
- The lingerie model human trafficking auction. The one that Bridgit liberates. The one where, the way the episode is cut, it looks like the cage the slaves are being kept in IS NOT LOCKED.
- Why exactly was Selina holding Leigh hostage? Was it to try and force Gordon into bringing Bridgit in alive? If so could she maybe have told him that?
- “They tell people she’s dead. But that’s a lie.” In an episode dotted with staggeringly bad dialogue, Interns Rosencrantz and Guildenstern explaining what the Secret Facility they’re in is for is a new low.
- Tabitha Galavan sits down to dinner with three other people, one of whom is very clearly not evil, with blood on her face. It’s very very clearly blood. There is nothing else it could be. It’s treated like she has spinach in her teeth. I’d love to think Bruce notices, notices that no one else is making a big deal out of it and is suspicious. But let’s face it, the chances of that aren’t high.
- The Butch/Tabitha fight is lousy in a couple of dozen ways. The choreography’s awful, the selling is worse and the story behind the fight is completely lost in the half-assed way it’s blocked out.
- “Oh snap, Bridgit’s gonna get it!” STOP.TALKING.
- “Damn. I hate how it smells like good barbecue.” Much like Captain Barnes’ line about the exploding arsonist last week this is a pretty good gag. Exactly like Captain Barnes’ line about the exploding arsonist it’s also a ludicrously callous, unfeeling thing to say that makes a previously sympathetic character look like an enormous tool.
- “There’s a freaky firefly chick on the loose with a flamethrower. Let’s start there.” No! Bad Gotham! No alliteration for you!
- “It’s mad real! Like a unicorn or something!” The really sad thing isn’t that this is a Godawful line that should never had escaped from first draft. It’s that his point about women getting to do anything meaningful in Gotham is pretty much true.
- This episode Leigh talks to Kringle about boys and is held hostage. I can only assume Morena Baccarin is catching up on her reading during the vast swathes of nothing to do.
- It’s tempting but too early to call Bridgit’s story as yet another, “You who are hideously disfigured must become a monster for only handsome people are good!” story. That particular framework has blighted comics and related media for decades. Remember how every time there was a slightly alternate or non-squeaky-clean kid on Smallville’s first few seasons they’d be the meteor freak of the week? Yeah. That.
- Anyway it looks like whoever’s running Indian Hill is building their own little monster farm and that may not go well. But we’re not there, so let’s give them a shot.
- Shot of the week is this gorgeous silhouette of Selina’s brief moment of badassery during the fight. Shame the episode didn’t do anything with it.
Review by Alasdair Stuart