Now as a guard at the notorious Arkham Asylum, James Gordon investigates a rash of assaults that leave victims brain dead.
Gotham Recap
Credit: Jessica Miglio/Fox
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Heroes are born when they’re at their lowest. This popular trope has been the predictable upside-down bell curve for most of our favorite heroes and heroines. Luke gets his hand chopped off by his own dad. Ripley squares off with a bloodthirsty alien that’s already killed her entire crew. Marty McFly kisses his mom.

At the end of last year’s “Lovecraft,” former GCPD detective James Gordon follows a similar trajectory. After being punished for righteous insubordination by trying to imprison Carmine Falcone and mayor Aubrey James Gordon, Gordon walked slump-shouldered into Arkham Asylum, taking his new post as a common security guard.

Until “Rogue’s Gallery,” Arkham Asylum, Gotham’s notorious criminal psych facility, has existed on the periphery, a somber specter of the city’s truly lost and deranged. It was also the centerpiece to a volatile land grab between two of the city’s top mob bosses. Oh, and that one guy was set on fire in the parking lot. So yeah, the audience hasn’t really seen much of what goes beyond the iron gates at Arkham.

But this episode changes all of that. Gotham channels madhouse clichés as if ripped from a Francisco De Goya painting or maybe the more culturally relevant American Horror Story. In short, Arkham is a complete shithole. From the episode’s opening moments, you get the sense that the newly opened institution is in disrepair and woefully understaffed. It’s hard to peg if most of the staff is morally contemptible or just doing the best with what they have. Either way, Arkham Asylum is a place where people go to be forgotten. Just as the mayor wanted Gordon wiped from the GCPD, so too are all the “patients” really just living out their lives as living ghosts until time does its eventual mortal business.

Because of this oppressive feeling of isolation, it’s fitting that we’d open up with ramshackle production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Like the island that Prospero finds himself shipwrecked, Gordon is in similar isolated circumstances at Arkham. The scene is also completely dripping with foreshadowing, and even before you know what the episode is really about, you get the sense that these will be important characters in the 45-minute traffic of our show.

NEXT: New friendships and failed relationships

A violent outburst interrupts the pathetic play and Gordon goes in to break up the fight. However, it isn’t until later that Gordon discovers the consequences of this fairly innocuous confrontation. After discovering that an inmate has been electroshocked into a vegetative state, Gordon quickly dons his detective persona and begins investigating what’s really going on at Arkham. In his newly adopted crusade against Arkham’s unknown ne’er-do-well, Gordon meets Dr. Leslie Thompkins, played by Morena Baccarin (Homeland), who is a doctor in the women’s ward.

Of course, Thompkins is gorgeous, and with Barbara currently on a drug-fueled treatise with her past bae, Renee Montoya, the stars would be well-aligned for Thompkins to become Gordon’s new love interest. Hopefully this won’t be the case.

Gotham varies Thompkins from her DC Universe origins. In the comics, she’s a close friend and confidant of Martha and Thomas Wayne, but it would seem this Thompkins has no real associations with the Wayne family whatsoever. Instead she seems more like an ally and a surrogate stand-in for Harvey Bullock, while Gordon remains unjustly locked behind Arkham’s wrought-iron gates. She’s strong-willed, confident, and compassionate considering her position at the asylum. It would be lovely to keep her that way, with no romantic entanglements required.

But that most likely won’t happen. Barbara and Montoya are already splitsville, which throws their entire affair into “what was even the point” territory. The writers still seem completely baffled by what to do with Barbara. She is so emotionally volatile, it’s hard to determine what she’s really doing or thinking or even saying sometimes. In “Rogue’s Gallery” when Cat brings a sick Ivy to Gordon’s neglected apartment, Ivy answers the phone when Barbara is (of course) going to crawl back to Gordon, only to get mad when she’s hears Ivy’s voice and assumes she is… Gordon’s lover? Can she not tell that the person on the end of the line is like… 12?

Her decisions and actions are so irrational, whether on a bender or on a Monday, that it’s hard to even relate to her, and worse, even care what happens to her. After one episode, Thompkins is already more interesting than this forced, awkward, and poisonous relationship between Gordon and Barbara. But unless Gotham considers seriously retconning the DCU, Barbara is Gordon’s future, and the audience will just have to deal with it.

NEXT: A new chapter, a new beginning

As Gordon continues his search and more brains are fried, Gotham takes a few detours outside of Arkham to catch up on other characters, chief among them being Penguin and Fish Mooney. In atypical fashion, Cobblepot’s mini-narrative feels like filler because hardly anything really happens. Cobblepot heads down to the wharf to strong arm more protection money from fishermen without the knowledge of his boss, Sal Maroni. Why is he doing this? The show doesn’t say. Cobblepot is also now claiming “The Penguin” (the definite article is very important) as his own. This seems like a big moment, right? Or, at least you’d think so, but viewers never learn about Cobblepot’s change of heart. It almost feels jammed in there so that they could give short TV spots a kind of “shit is going down” vibe.

But whatever the reason, Cobblepot’s ascendancy into badassery is cut short when the police coldcock him and toss him in a GCPD jail cell. Near the episode’s conclusion, Maroni does the whole teaching you a lesson shtick, calls Penguin a “smart monkey but a monkey,” and eventually lets him out. While his back is turned, Cobblepot gives him a smoldering stare as if he’s already plotting his revenge. This does gives viewers a sense that there’s trouble in gangster paradise and that The Penguin might be close to making his move, but we already know that he’s on Falcone’s payroll from previous episodes, so this small, dangling narrative thread feels kind of pointless.

However, in “Rogue’s Gallery” actor Drew Powell gives an unsuspectingly powerful performance as Butch Gilzean, Fish Mooney’s right hand. As The Penguin seems to be scheming his boss’s eventual demise so too is Mooney, and she’s finally ready to lash out at Falcone. After meeting with a few crime bosses in secret, Mooney decides she needs to persuade or eliminate some competition that could fill the vacuum once Falcone is gone. One boss, a childhood friend of Butch’s, tries to pilfer him from Mooney by offering clubs and cash. He thinks it’s over and finally comes to a decision. In the episode’s best exchange, Butch recounts how when they were kids and stole 50 pounds of meat, he kept all the best cuts for himself. Baffled by Butch’s sudden nostalgia, he tells him not to worry about it, and Butch thanks him with a bullet to the brain thereby eliminating Mooney’s main competition to the crime lord throne.

This says volumes about Butch and Mooney’s relationship, far more than what’s been shown on screen. You’d think crooks like Butch being bribed to join a rival gang would be commonplace. After all, as the show continuously tells us, there is no honor among thieves. But killing a close friend for a mob boss, who already questions your loyalty and seems all-around cold and uncaring, creates more questions than answers, but hopefully questions explored in future episodes.

Gordon’s Arkham investigation continues as he weaves among possible suspects, questioning completely insane and completely creepy patients and also the horrendously incompetent Arkham staff. Gordon eventually alerts the GCPD of the assaults and Bullock shortly arrives, after a great exchange between the former partners, Bullock begins questioning Gerry Lang, the asylum’s big boss. The duo learns that one “nurse” isn’t actually a nurse at all, but rather a patient from before the asylum was closed who hid in the basement until it was reopened. When she’s discovered, she unlocks all the cells but is quickly trampled to death.

But all this commotion is a red herring as the true villain emerges from the woodwork. One of those creepy criminals, specifically a calm-mannered Jack Gruber, kills an unsuspecting guard and Lang with the help of another inmate, now a zombified killing machine thanks to Gruber’s electroshock tampering. The murderous duo escape and leave behind a note before they depart, insinuating that this is just the beginning.

This also feels like just the beginning for a new chapter of Gotham. With circumstances changed, relationships altered, and new characters created, “Rogue’s Gallery” feels like a definite second act for the often misguided Batman drama, and one that hopefully learns from the first act’s many mistakes.

Before you go, be sure to read EW TV critic Doc Jensen’s review on Gotham‘s midseason premiere and the series to date.

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