“There’s a machine gun built into the wooden hand of this nutcracker here,” says Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie). He’s hunting “a toymaker who is also an assassin,” a job description even Ed Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) can only describe as “so Gotham.”
Meanwhile, little Poison Ivy has emerged from her gloopy chrysalis, her body remorphed into another new form. Now she’s played by Peyton List, late of the CW’s Frequency. Ivy seeks vengeance, just generally, against the whole world. “I’ve been reborn, and I will never be underestimated or ignored ever again,” she tells Selina (Camren Bicondova). “Let’s make Gotham our bitch.”
I underestimated Gotham, and ignored it for a long time. Then my pal Ryan forced me to catch up with the show, and now I’ve been reborn. I have an extremely casual awareness of the show’s four-season history, though an embarrassingly encyclopedic awareness of Gotham City’s eight-decade comic book history. But this fourth season of Gotham feels special, in the context of the show’s evolution and in the context of our decade’s explosion of Batman-related fiction. Thursday’s spring premiere, “Pieces of a Broken Mirror,” was a invigorating burst of silly-frantic energy: Giant machine-gunning nutcracker, assassination attempt via exploding toy plane, TV advertisement for “The Sirens Club” promising that ladies drink for free (but men don’t).
I’ve come to appreciate how Gotham isn’t afraid to pretend that the titular town is big as a nightmare universe but small as a city block. So the fact that Alfred (Sean Pertwee) and Jim just sort of run into each other right outside the building that the toy plane explodes? And then Ivy also walks out onto that same street, at the same time? And then everyone seems to show up to the Sirens Club at the same time — including young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), currently in his club-kid phase, a certified Dan Humphrey trying so hard to be Chuck Bass? Inelegant, but that’s the kinetic jolt Gotham is going for these days. In the span of one episode, Alfred arrives in the Narrows, is attacked by locals, becomes a local hero, is wrongfully accused of murder, and manages to find the real murderer. This is, maybe, the episode’s C-plot. And look, there is some kind of elegance required to build a bullet-spraying nutcracker.
It helps too that Gotham has kept zeroing in further on its particular style. In the Narrows, Morena Baccarin’s Leslie Thompkins lectures Gotham’s least fortunate about the horrors they’re facing. “I have been treating your kids for things like TB, hepatitis, pneumonia,” she explains. “Diseases that don’t belong in a modern city!” There’s always been something resolutely un-modern about Gotham’s Gotham. A climactic scene with Alfred and Bullock (Donal Logue) was set in a tavern that is either the actual Old Town Bar in Manhattan or a stunning recreation.
The Old Town’s a gloriously maintained relic of century-old glamour, but the Gotham version sits alongside other stranger, groovier retro visions. Some of the characters are currently outposted at Cherry’s, a full-on fight club that looks primed for a punk rock festival or the world’s most art-directed heroin epidemic. The reopened Sirens Club is classier and gives off disco vibes, except imagine the disco era was also Themyscira.
I guess that the back half of this season will focalize partially around Ivy’s machinations. She has a throwback-fantasy monster power, able to recycle living humans into corpse-sized gardens. Meanwhile, this midseason premiere didn’t even find time for recently anointed boss of crime Sofia Falcone or recently re-un-re-imprisoned Oswald Cobblepot. Penguin was last seen hanging out with Jerome, who is so obviously the Joker that he obviously can’t be the Joker. (If the big twist of Gotham is that some other character is Joker, I propose Jerome stand revealed as Bat-Mite.)
We’ll see if the third Ivy makes a bigger impression than the first two versions of the character. For me, the most telling part of the episode came early. She walked into a random apartment, went to the bedroom — and found a whole closet full of glamorous going-out attire. That’s so Gotham: Even random citizens have the wardrobe of a studio costume department, and you just know all those clothes will look great splashed with blood.