I think this is going to be my shortest review of an episode of the show yet which is saying something considering that I kept bringing up how excited I was for the Arkham storyline since my second episode review, but now that we got the first real taste of the things that are about to come in connection with that subplot, I found myself slightly unimpressed. I wanted something more from the supposedly establishing premise for this particular arc but I simply did not get it here in this episode. I also derived little enjoyment from the featured scenes and the characters themselves, though I would acknowledge that there were necessary developments in some characters and that their choices and actions do look as if they are heading to more compelling directions.
My overall assessment for this episode is that it's probably the most underwhelming of the season so far, and I'm still trying to figure out why that is. There wasn't that much material to discuss here and only a few notable exceptions managed to shine through the screen. I would like to think that an episode entitled Arkham will be a thrilling one and though the potential was on the surface in the first fifteen minutes or so, the pacing just began to slow down in the most awkward places and once we neared the credits, the entire story just didn't carry a whole lot of weight and there just wasn't any punch in the end. Still, I think the writing is beginning to take itself more seriously in a promising way. There are no more cheap gimmicks or cartoonish plot devices. Characters are starting to feel more in tune with the show's gritty atmosphere and new developments have been tackled which will hopefully play larger roles in the next stories. Arkham may not be an enjoyably action-packed and suspense-filled episode unlike the last three but the fact that it seemed to be deliberately less silly has allowed the characters and the subplots to breathe better in the sequences.
I would like to believe that this might be the calm before the eventual storm. If I strategically look at it in that way in a narrative perspective, then I'm setting up myself with high hopes that the episode that follows this one will contain the punches I'm looking for. I would certainly not dismiss that possibility. After typing these paragraphs, I just realized why this episode was a tad unmemorable. The main plot was simply not engaging enough but a few of the parts that made up its sum can hold up to their own. So let's talk about the strongest features that the Arkham episode offered us. And that prominently belongs to two characters whom I am pleased have now stepped up their game, one more consistently than the other but the latter has certainly started to come to her own after too much scenery-chewing from the last three episodes. I of course pertain to no other than Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot and Jada Pinkett-Smith's Fish Mooney. They are the show-stealers for this episode and while McKenzie's Gordon busied himself saving corrupt politicians from the villain of this week as he once again faces personal moral dilemmas, Cobblepot and Mooney had kept this episode afloat with their own separate scheming tactics to take the city for their own now mirroring each other perfectly, and have therefore kept me insanely excited for what they plan to do next.
Oswald Cobblepot continues to have the most fleshed out character narrative from the cast. His development since the pilot episode is now becoming the backbone of the show considering he is going to be one of Batman's legendary villains, the Penguin, in the future so it really is only a natural progression for the writers to focus on his journey before he reaches that destination. After two episodes of killing and plotting in the shadows, Cobblepot has finally aligned himself with the opposing crime boss Salvatore Maroni by showing tenacity and investment from the first moment they crossed paths up until the point he orchestrated a robbery at a restaurant where Maroni has kept some of his money so he could be in a position to save the day and prevent the crooks from stealing from Maroni. I knew he planned that all along while the scene was taking place (I think we all did). To be clever and perspective is one thing but what truly sets up Cobblepot as a vicious player in the organized crime game is that he is a man of action who is willing to play dirty as long as his strategy sticks, and he makes these decisions quickly with an almost maniacal willingness which then provides viewers the entertainment value that this show often lacks in some places.
I've also liked the fact that he's trying to win over Jim Gordon by volunteering himself to be his snitch whether Gordon would accept it or not. I've had a theory that Cobblepot will purposefully try to become Gordon's friend, but only to a certain extent. He acknowledges that Gordon is the "last good man" in Gotham, and Cobblepot knows that it's in his best interest not to antagonize someone like Gordon especially when a beneficial working relationship is still possible between them. Personally, I want to see more of this angle explored once we reach crucial plot points in the season where Gordon does eventually learn to trust him--or at least value Cobblepot's contribution. I don't think Gordon will ever delude himself to believe that Cobblepot only wants to express his gratitude for sparing his life back in the pilot episode. Their association could possibly mirror what Fish Mooney and Harvey Bullock has as a corrupt cop and Falcone's second-in-command respectively. I'm betting on a harmonious, if not a bit parasitic (mostly on Cobblepot's part), alliance between these two to blossom.
Moving on to Fish Mooney. My biggest complaint in the last episode was the fact that Jada Pinkett Smith hasn't been given any great material to work with which was why she's coming off cartoonish and a bit over-the-top with her dialogue delivery. We also only see her in one location which can get very grating after a while. However, this episode has marked the very first time since her appearance in the pilot episode where she is actually more dangerous and cunning than she lets on--and I don't even mind that she's still lounging inside her club because now she's actually doing something of interest to me as a viewer: holding out auditions for women who might one day replace her as the club owner once she claims Carmine Falcone's throne. There are two contenders for that position and she had them fist-fight each other in a dark alley somewhere as she watches on and discerns for herself what they are capable of and whether or not they will be willing to do anything to rise from the ranks. The promising young lady heralded as the winner was Liza (Mackenize Leigh) who proves quite violently that she is going to be more than just a pretty face for Mooney. Though hesitant at first to fight another girl, she shockingly beat her up to death which further sealed in Mooney's mind that she's something special. Another working theory was that she might be a potential spy for Mooney, someone who may seduce Falcone and lead him to his downfall. After all, Mooney had just disposed of Falcone's former mistress from the last episode or so which would then make sense for this new girl Liza to fill that role. Not to mention the fact that Mooney had asked both girls to 'seduce' her which meant she was trying to size up their ability and appeal when it comes to fulfilling carnal desires.
It's great to see that the main villainess, as she was billed in the casting and promotions for the show, is starting to show her claws. Sooner or later she might bite onto something juicy. If there is one thing that the writers keep on stressing from the beginning is that Falcone is getting old and soft and will eventually be replaced. Mooney is the next in line while Maroni (who has unsuspectingly turned Cobblepot into an ally) is gunning for the same. I can understand that it's only the fourth episode and this is the place where the chess pieces are still being set-up before the climactic showdown later on so I'm trying to be patient as much possible as these things unfold. I'm just glad to see Mooney placing herself in a position where the action is at especially when we see her scenes complementing that of her former 'apprentice' Cobblepot's. This will lead to a clash that I am most looking forward to. Frankly, the entire mob wars plot is something that piques my interest a lot more than Gotham's villain/case of the week installments so I hope the writers will put more time and needed developments in featuring this.
I honestly don't feel like discussing the Arkham City plot anymore because it was the least interesting thing (shockingly enough) even though it was heavily featured in this episode and what mostly drove the story forward. I still maintain that perhaps the next episode might give us a continued exploration of just how vital Arkham as a plot point is, especially when you consider that the general score for now where the mayor of Gotham decided to reach a compromise for both opposing mob bosses (Falcone gets his housing projects and Maroni gets to build a waste disposal system) while short-changing the Wayne Foundation's plans for a better mental care facility, much to young Bruce Wayne's dismay (who is now starting to take a more active role in protecting his parents' legacy). I wonder if Bruce will become more involved in this, considering he's just thirteen and I don't see him taking over the company just yet because of age restrictions. Meanwhile, Bullock and Gordon continue their buddy-cop tension, Edward Nygma has pulled back from the theatrical acting but is still not given enough material to work on, and Barbara Kean has given Gordon an ultimatum: let her in or let her go. Gordon looks like he is unable to make any straight choice so she might just make it for him. We also don't see any Renee Montoya and Selina Kyle here which is okay because they barely have any roles that could fit for this week's plot. To officially end this review, I'd like to give props to the guest actor Hakeem Kae-Kazim for his portrayal of the professional assassin Gladwell who was unfortunately not going to be reprising his character (too bad, I thought he showed promise).
Oh, by the way. HARVEY DENT HAS BEEN CAST! :D
FINAL VERDICT: 3 STARS
There have been interesting developments with specific characters that gave us a glimpse of the new directions they might go to, but the episode in its entirety was just unable to stand on its own given its abrupt and often slow pacing and scope.