Gotham, Season 2, Episode 9, “A Bitter Pill to Swallow”
Written by Megan Mostyn-Brown
Directed by Louis Shaw Milito
Airs Mondays at 8pm (ET) on FOX
This week’s episode of Gotham stops the momentum of the season pretty much dead in its tracks, as Galavan’s incarceration puts him out of play for the time being. Instead, this installment offers a fairly inconsequential chapter that allows Gordon to be diverted by Barbara’s number one fan Tabitha, who has decided to place a hit on Gordon’s head.
The season of Gotham has shown brief flashes of Tabitha’s character, presenting her as a psychopath who might have feelings for Barbara –although it’s hard to tell how deep Tabitha’s feelings for her are, as she tends to flirt with just about anyone (Barbara, Butch, even Galavan). Tabitha’s feelings for Barbara have been so subtle and uninteresting that it’s hardly ever really worth mentioning. All that has been presented of Tabitha’s relationship with Barbara is that they enjoy each other’s company as they torture Mayor James, and there was one time that they had a pillow talk-y breakfast after an unseen workout –which could be left to the imagination of viewers– but the show hasn’t really done a good job at showing any true intimacy between the two characters. So when Tabitha goes to a secret assassins club to put a hit on Gordon for “hurting” Barbara, it doesn’t feel earned. Jessica Lucas does a fine enough job portraying Tabitha when she’s in full Tigress mode (sniping people from rooftops, sticking her spike heel through a throat, or even when she’s just creeping people out in conversation), but when it comes to showing that the character actually cares about someone, she just falls flat here.
Keeping this episode from being completely void of movement, there is some very sparse development in Bruce’s storyline and that of the Penguin’s team up with Nygma. While the theme of “loving someone can be a weakness” serves in both Tabitha’s plot and The Penguin/Nygma’s arc, this theme doesn’t get integrated into Gordon’s or Bruce’s story. Gordon is dealing with other issues and is about be overtaken by his dark side, a story thread that has been consistent this season, but the resolution doesn’t really work well, because Gordon’s meditation on crossing the line is an entirely superfluous and muddled beat. This wouldn’t be a problem if the story was more entertaining or had carried more weight.
In a season that has been pretty great so far, “A Bitter Pill to Swallow” chokes at the plate in a way that just does not rank up to the level best that Gotham has had to offer lately. There is some decent to good elements within the Penguin/Nygma story, but still, nothing that makes it worth the time spent within this hour. After the climactic ending of arresting Galavan last week, there were high hopes for the episodes leading to the mid-season finale. Unfortunately, this week’s pill went down more like an ineffective placebo; with the littlest of flavors that hardly makes it worth the intake.
The episode’s main saving grace is the brief subplot between Ed Nygma and The Penguin. Their dynamic continues from an earlier meeting from last season in “The Scarecrow”, which saw Nygma trying to befriend the averse Penguin. The scenes of Nygma aiding The Penguin back to health has the vibe of the film Misery, as Nygma appears like a creepy fan and Penguin as someone who is downtrodden and wants nothing to do with him. This arc does a good job at showing that Penguin is despondent, finding no pleasure in anything as he still grieves for his lost mother, and it is up to Nygma to help Penguin find that fire again. This also explains what Nygma wants from befriending Penguin; as a newly pronounced villain, he’s looking for a mentor to help him become a better killer. Cory Michael Smith and Robin Lord Taylor play together well as reluctant allies, with the end of their arc appearing to be very promising, as Nygma has successfully stoked Penguin back to himself, and it’s looking like theirs will be a friendship worth watching this season.
Bruce Wayne begins a mission this week to try and learn the name of his parents’ murderer, which Galavan acquired but then decided to burn in a fire when Bruce would not give up his family’s company. The only lead Bruce has to exploit is his relationship with Silver St. Cloud, someone everyone, including Alfred, knows Bruce should not trust. This plot seems unneeded and doesn’t offer that much in character development that hasn’t already been seen before. This again puts Bruce at odds with Alfred, and shows once more that Bruce does not yet have the necessary skills he needs to take on the missions he sets out for himself, as he can’t even convincingly deceive Alfred that he’s turning in for the night. Although this is a good reminder of Bruce’s non-Batman status, what one would hope to find in these moments as well is Bruce displaying his potential prowess; just showing his inability is no fun to watch. At least there is one remedy to the blandness of this arc, and that’s the return of Cat at Bruce’s window willing to prove to him that Silver is no good. This makes for some interesting development for the next installment, but again does little to improve this one.
Case File: Gordon’s Assassination Assaults
The main circumstance that Gordon and the GCPD deal with this week is the hit that Tabitha placed on Gordon. There are some good elements to this plot, particularly the secret assassins club with the headmistress taking orders, who is credited simply as “The Lady”. The Lady is portrayed by Michelle Gomez, a wicked looking character actress that has a very interesting air about her that makes her seem mysterious and is someone that viewers should see more of. Hopefully, in future installments will see a return of the secret assassins club, and possibly with more effectively threatening killers. All of the killers shown in this episode appear very throwaway, and that includes the featured assassin Eduardo Flamingo. The character comes from the comic books and was created by Grant Morrison, a writer who imagined a gritty yet campy world for Batman (very similar to what Gotham has been doing), but strangely this character doesn’t translate to television with much depth. Here he is a contract killer whose defining features are that he has a shock of pink flair in his hair and that he tortures and eats his victims. He’s really nothing more than a goon that is no match for Gordon.
Gordon, meanwhile, is reflecting on how close he came to stepping over the line last week, in which he believes he would’ve killed Barbara if Galavan’s crew hadn’t intervened. There’s no question that Barbara has turned to the dark side, but Gordon still believes she can be saved. This is the line that Gordon should be challenged by, whether it’s right to kill someone that you truly believe has a chance of rehabilitation. That is not the lesson that Gordon learns here unfortunately, because instead it becomes a line on whether or not you should kill someone. This lesson is so muddled because Gordon has no issue killing someone who is immediately threatening an innocent or shooting right at him, but in a moment where he has Flamingo pinned down and comes close to blowing his head off, he then chooses not to cross that line. This is a fine beat, but it is completely undermined when Flamingo kills Officer Parks. What’s the lesson here? Should Gordon have killed Flamingo? Will Gordon be haunted believing that he is responsible for Officer Park’s senseless murder? This doesn’t work because there will be no resonance of this death in following episodes, as Gordon is sure to be busy dealing with Galavan’s stab-happy cult family.
This episode comes from two time Gotham scripter Megan Mostyn-Brown, whose previous Gotham credits include “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” and “Everyone has a Cobblepot”. Mostyn-Brown is assigned a very padded episode to script, which resembles the redundancy that hampered much of season one’s second half. Although, there are definitely many Gotham moments that fit in the mold of the series, like the elevator fight sequence or the shootout in Galavan’s suite, these action set pieces are not up to snuff with what the audience has come to expect this season. There is some good dialogue that stands out and, as mentioned earlier, the Nygma and Penguin plot is done well, but overall the narrative is fairly weak and paltry. The direction in the episode is done fairly well by new to Gotham director Louis Shaw Milito. The visual tone does tend to appear more like something out of his previous work on procedural CSI than this show, but there is some fun creative flourishes that are at work here, such as the image of Nygma that Penguin sees before he loses consciousness, or the use of slow motion when Flamingo takes a bite out of Officer Parks. This episode is particularly on the more gruesome side of the show’s tone, as heads are blown off, blood gushes out of wounds, and throats are slashed without it being played down as dark humor.
Hopefully the blandness of this episode is proven to be just a hiccup, and not a reflection of the season’s trajectory of quality.
- There’s a blink-and-you-miss-it shot of a graffiti wall saying “HAHAHAHA”, so it looks like Gotham is teasing in some hints of Jerome’s influence that will inspire the Joker.
- “There is no line. There’s only the Law!” –Captain Barnes
- “You know what I like about your glasses? They look like bullseyes!” –Gordon to the coke bottle glasses wearing hitman.
- “Death squads have a softer touch than you” –Captain Barnes in reference to Gordon’s bandaging job.
- “If you force me to be your jailer, then that is what I’ll be.” –Alfred to Bruce.
- A young slender fit Bruce in his black turtleneck ensemble makes him almost look like Terry McGinnis era Batman from the animated series Batman Beyond.