A city council vote decides the fate of Gotham's Arkham Asylum, and the wrong result could plunge the city into a deadly gang war.

By Darren Orf
Updated October 14, 2014 at 02:24 AM EDT
Credit: Jessica Miglio/Fox
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Arkham Asylum is a place Gotham has only spoken about in whispers. In comics and films, Arkham serves as a home away from home for all of Gotham City’s most bloodthirsty criminals. But in an era where Batman isn’t around to keep the padded cells at full occupancy, the derelict facility lies in disuse. But two crime bosses are ready to rip the city apart just to get a piece of it.

So far, this show has only mentioned Arkham in passing by making allusions that its fate was now undecided because of the Waynes’ untimely death. But the truly terrifying stakes—the threat of a citywide gang war—were reserved for the series’ fourth installment, aptly named “Arkham.”

The asylum, and its surrounding land, is the driving force behind this entire episode. It’s one of the first words from Cobblepot’s mouth as he babbles to Jim Gordon in the episode’s opening minutes and one of the last words as Gordon details the facility’s fate to Bruce Wayne before end credits. But what happens in between those moments are 45 minutes of fast-paced action that serves as Gotham’s best episode so far.

For one, Gotham is really starting to embrace its crime noir sensibility. Gordon and Cobblepot’s opening exchange in a rain-soaked back alley, with camera angles all askew, sets the breakneck pace for the rest of the episode. After Cobblepot blubbers out a cryptic and nonsensical warning involving Arkham, elsewhere a council member is cut down by a metal spike-wielding assassin in a secluded parking lot.

Once Gordon and Bullock begin investigating the homicide, Gotham slips into its familiar formula. Murder. Case Assignment. Murder Solved. Repeat. For what Gotham is, which is essentially a surface-level crime drama, this is a time-tested formula that clearly works well. Hopefully the screenwriters will work in at least a few curve balls throughout the season just to keep things from getting stale. Regardless, as Bullock and Gordon visit familiar criminal haunts searching for their political-minded criminal quarry, Mayor James details in a brief press conference why Arkham is so important.

NEXT: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Turns out that the asylum lies at the heart of the only undeveloped plot of land in the entire city, and it’s precisely that land that Gotham’s biggest crime bosses, Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni, are willing to slit the city’s throat over.

As the chess pieces begin moving into position, putting Gotham in the middle of a violent stalemate, Arkham finally makes an appearance. Gotham continues to do an amazing job bringing Batman’s city to life for television. From the opening moments of the series, it was obvious that the series understood the aura that sets and scenery needed to convey, and the imposing black wrought iron gates, inscribed with the words “Arkham Asylum,” are no exception. The assassin, who goes by the name Gladwell, drags his second victim to the front steps or Arkham and sets him on fire. What’s so great about this scene is its implied foreshadowing—how this is only the beginning of Arkham’s violent legacy as a madhouse for the criminally insane or just the insanely criminal.

As the assassin continues snuffing out councilmen left and right, the show’s writers respond to the growing intensity by going through many scenes in short succession. Edward Nigma reveals the killer is actually one assassin playing both sides. Cobblepot schemes his rise to power while toiling away in one of Maroni’s kitchens. Bullock and Gordon learn the identify of the killer yet Gladwell still manages to slip away. All while Bruce Wayne continues to exercise his fledgling detective skills as he tries to draw connections between the current corruption surrounding Arkham, his mother’s bright-eyed plans for the facility, and his parents’ gruesome deaths.

All these scenes build toward the episode’s eventual conclusion, which, until now, hasn’t always been the case for Gotham. The writers trimmed a lot of fat for “Arkham” by dropping side characters like Selina Kyle, Renee Montoya, and Carmine Falcone. The result is a lean script that feels more cohesive and focused.

Unfortunately, there are a few exceptions. Fish Mooney’s strange sexiness tryouts and then confusingly making two women beat the s— out of each other serves absolutely no purpose in this entire episode. This is probably just laying groundwork for future plot threads, but almost every Mooney scene was a frustrating pause in the action.

And Barbara and Jim’s scenes together are even stranger. “Arkham” only makes it more apparent that the show has no idea what it’s doing with Barbara. In this episode, she confusingly gets mad at Gordon for not mentioning Cobblepot to her though in the last episode we saw a moment of reconciliation between the two, which (at least it seemed) put the matter to rest. There also wasn’t anything to provoke Barbara to bring it up again, so why is this still a thing?

Not only that, but when we finally get into the argument, the whole thing mutates into Barbara apologizing and trying to out Gordon as some sort of bisexual bigot. Also, the argument (it’s about Gordon’s Cobblepot secret, remember?) is cut off mid conversation and makes the whole scene feel incomplete. When Barbara eventually brings up the conversation later in the episode, she decides to question Gordon about a homicide case—which she should probably know nothing about anyway—in the middle of the police station. When she says she can’t live with the lies, which aren’t really lies but Jim just doing his job, she storms off angry and dejected.

These people are engaged? They’re supposed to like each other, right? Their entire relationship so far has come off feeling incredibly forced, and it’s just all the more apparent in tonight’s episode by the dull emotional response of their breakup.

NEXT: A City Beyond Saving

When not dodging his fiancee’s glowering stares, Gordon manages to trace the killer’s next target to Mayor James himself. Putting a call in for backup to Bullock and rushing over to the mayor’s residence, Gordon beats the assassin by only a few minutes. After throwing a few punches in a well-shot fight scene, Gladwell ends up bullet-riddled, bleeding out on the mayor’s study.

Before he dies, Gladwell tells Bullock and Gordon that men like Falcone and Maroni hire professional killers because “they always get the job done.” It’s a threat that feels rather empty considering Gladwell’s eventual fate, but it’s a threat that ends up completely true. Scared by the attempt on his life, the mayor decides to split undeveloped land among both crime bosses, effectively quelling a would-be gang war but at the cost of valuable land falling into corrupt hands.

Predictably, a young Bruce Wayne isn’t too happy about it, but Gordon sees it as a necessary evil if only to protect innocents who would be caught in the cross fire. Wayne continues his brooding ways, questioning if Gotham is beyond saving. Gordon believes the answer doesn’t really matter because even if Gotham is beyond saving, they’ve got to at least try.

“Arkham” centers around such a central icon to Batman’s mythos that it keeps fans engaged and the surrounding mobster crime drama grabs the rest. The episode matches its pace with the intensity of what’s happening on the screen, which makes for a harrowing 45 minutes, and the story just feels more streamlined as well. What “Arkham” proves is that Gotham can be watched as just a fun crime drama, and with that mind-set, the series could find small success. But if the show can somehow dig deeper with its characters and plots with some consistency, Gotham won’t just be watched, it will be remembered.

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