Gotham began its second season with a renewed energy, thanks in large part to a shift in storytelling philosophy. Instead of giving viewers a weekly villain, plus small pieces of a larger, season-long story, the show graduated to a serialized structure. With increased focus on the big picture, the season began its run as a speedy affair, moving the plot along in large chunks, rather than dribs and drabs. But, as we reach the quarter mark, the show has begun to stall.
“By Fire” felt closer to a Season One episode than any before it (save for the dismal fourth entry, which we would all be wise to forget). That’s not to say last night was downright poor. Had it come in the middle of last year, it would have been regarded as one of the better outings, but it felt overstuffed in a way that most of season two’s episodes haven’t. Instead of focusing on the Galavan’s ongoing plan, and Theo’s desire to kill Bruce, the hour spread out in several directions with little clarity in regard to the main storyline. In all, we had the evolution of Bridgit Pike from abused victim to the villainess Firefly, Penguin’s devious plan to employ Butch as a means to get close to the Galavans (and save his mother) and Edward Nygma’s continued courtship of Kristen Kringle. Though it only adds up to three storylines (not including a few minor scenes with Bruce), “By Fire” felt unsure of where its focus should be. The natural fit, coming off last week, was Bridgit and her transformation into Firefly, but that metamorphosis wasn’t well thought out, leaving us with a story half-baked.
On the other end, my favorite plot of the night came from Ed and Kristen. I have praised Cory Michael Smith’s newfound fervor this season, and I’ll do so again here. With Ed’s new confidence and paramour, Smith has been able to stretch his legs more than ever, and he’s enjoying the opportunity. The writers also seem smitten with the new Ed, as the dialogue between he and Kristen has been some of the crispest all season. In fact, I wish we had spent more time with Gotham’s odd couple, as the rest of the episode was non-essential. That’s the problem with serialization on a network show. With 22 entries, there will be hours that either standalone or act as padding. But, Gotham does not do the small things well enough to slow the storyline down and keep it compelling. A show like SundanceTV’s beautiful, emotional Rectify can burn slowly, because the individual moments are just as good as the progression from the first episode, to the last. Gotham, with its vast caricatures and camp tendencies, cannot succeed in the small moments. Instead, the show should put pedal to metal, and let it all hang out.
That’s my biggest frustration at the six-week point. Gotham has done a lot of good in its second season, addressing numerous issues that plagued the show’s first year. But, at this point, the plot is moving too slowly. The minute the Maniax ceased to exist, progress halted. Since then, we’ve learned smaller parts of Theo’s plan, but nothing has moved forward in any significant way. After “The Last Laugh,” and Jerome’s sudden death, I felt as though Gotham was finally living in a state of uncertainty. The path has since straightened, and the Fox drama once again appears to be on a linear road, when it should be zigging and zagging, leaving viewers gasping for breath and forever astonished as to its direction.
?One thing the show has done since Jerome’s demise, is tease. Gotham loves to tease story possibilities, new characters, comic tie-ins and more both within the show and outside it. The problem with teasing is it only works if viewers know a payoff is coming. Gotham has never been strong with payoffs, and still has much to prove on that front this year. There are chances coming, starting with a showdown between Galavan, Penguin and Gordon next week, but the most interesting possibility came from the closing moments of “By Fire.” We were given a brief glimpse at Indian Hill, which you may recall as the small scrap of land traded between Falcone and Maroni last year. Though a chemical plant above the surface, the facility is a division of Wayne Enterprises and appears to be where experiments are conducted on a certain, special, segment of the population. In an interview with Observer, producer Rebecca Perry Cutter was coy, but did note that Indian Hill will be of import in the coming months, bringing along a major character. If the underground lab means a sudden influx of supervillains for the “Rise of the Villains” season that finds itself oddly lacking in bad folk, color me intrigued. My excitement will remain tempered, however, because at this point, Gotham needs to cut the teasing, and start delivering.
Eric Walters is the Assistant Tech Editor for Paste and a regular contributor to the TV section. For more of his thoughts on comic book television, listen to his podcast.