I’m not even sure I recognize the Gotham of the last two weeks. If you had told me about halfway through last season that Barbara and Nygma would be the focus of two of the second season’s best episodes, I would have said you were loopier than Carol Kane’s performance as Mrs. Cobblepot. Such is the case with this season of Gotham though, as the wild swings in quality make for a frustrating, but sometimes intriguing experience in watching this show try to figure out what it is. It’s crazy to be saying that about a show when it’s nearing the halfway mark of its second season, but there’s really no other way to describe the week-to-week identity crisis. Gotham seems to be constantly tinkering with its formula, and while such a process ultimately sacrifices long-term narrative focus, it does make for the occasional episode of television that’s actually fun, in relative Gotham terms, of course.
Fun is exactly what “Rise Of The Villains: Tonight’s The Night” is. It kicks off with a trippy dream sequence, sustains momentum with a compelling cat-and-mouse chase, and ends with a bloodied Penguin asking a wandering Nygma for help. Typically that kind of jam-packed episode causes Gotham to buckle under the weight of so much information and plot, but there’s a focus to “Tonight’s The Night” that means the episode’s more disparate elements—I’m looking at you, Nygma—don’t distract from the main storyline. And really, Gotham is better off when it has one overarching storyline in an episode, because it has proven time and again that it can’t juggle numerous characters at once.
What “Tonight’s The Night” does well, and differently, is bring in a number of characters while also making sure that they’re all (mostly) working to build the same storyline. This week it involves the return of Barbara and her master plan to kill Jim Gordon, which also happens to be part of Galavan’s larger master plan to distract Gordon and the GCPD while he extorts Bruce Wayne into selling him a majority share in Wayne Enterprises. Each storyline dovetails into one another; even the seemingly inconsequential C-plot of Nygma burying Kringle ends with him finding Penguin in the woods, himself on the run from just about everyone involved in the chaos back in Gotham.
Other than the fact that Gotham feels it’s necessary to shoehorn in a contrived love triangle story throughout the episode, “Tonight’s The Night” begins with a sense of unease and never really lets up. Much of that is due to Erin Richards, who’s clearly enjoying playing Barbara’s darker side this year; and who can blame her considering that Barbara was barely set decoration throughout season one. Richards is one of the few performers on the show outside of Donal Logue who seems to understand how to strike the balance between fun and menacing without falling into that deadly trap of being too cartoonish and goofy. It helps that her character’s motivation is clear and relatable. While Galavan is pulling her strings, she’s susceptible to his coercion because of Gordon. Consider how Gordon treated her throughout the first season. Even if she had problems of her own, they were certainly exacerbated by his neglect and dedication to his job. Now that behavior has caught up with him, manifested in the form of a jilted ex-girlfriend with a mental illness and an army of baddies at her disposal.
That kind of “serious” character motivation is what Gotham is often lacking, or rather tries to cram into every episode with little success because it never feels organic. Here, it does, as Barbara’s continued manipulation of Gordon not only gives us a welcome insight into her psyche, but also shines a light on Gordon’s more malicious actions. Gotham has been trying for some time to present Gordon as a conflicted man, as one who has trouble not giving into his dark side while also upholding the law in a largely lawless, unforgiving city. The trouble is that the show has always told us that he has a darker side rather than actually showing it. While Gordon doesn’t do anything horrific in “Tonight’s The Night,” the episode does take a more nuanced approach to the whole “morally conflicted” cop narrative. Here, it’s Gordon’s propensity to gravitate towards violence that signals he may be somewhat self-destructive and neglectful. Lee tells him as much before he sets out with Barbara, and Barbara lays it out plainly for him once he’s trapped in the church where the two were once supposed to get married.
“Tonight’s The Night” boasts a thematic thread that muses on loyalty and self-destruction, a welcome bit of cohesive storytelling from a show that often trades in narrative chaos. While Gordon can’t find a balance between staying loyal to himself and the people he holds closest to him while also doing what he needs to do to clean up Gotham, Bruce struggles with understanding his father’s legacy and what role he’s to play in holding on to or changing it. He goes back and forth on whether to sell his controlling stake in Wayne Enterprises to Galavan in exchange for the name (and necessary evidence) of the person who killed his parents. It’s a struggle that feels achingly real, as Bruce wants to clean up Gotham and solve his parents’ murder, but, as he reveals to Alfred in a moment of vulnerability, he also just wants this whole ordeal to be over.
“Tonight’s The Night” is an episode that deals with various stages of crumbling loyalty and ambition. It sees Gordon, Barbara, and Bruce all contemplate and reckon with past choices and seemingly inevitable, sad futures. “Tonight’s The Night” is nuanced doom and gloom that also never stops being fun, and really, that’s what Gotham should be.
- Never Mind The Bullocks: “No one’s ever accused me of getting sucked into mind games.”
- Why would any cop join the Strike Force at this point? It’s a job guaranteed to get you killed.
- Bullock, finding Mayor James tied up with a lock box on his head: “What is wrong with these people!?!”
- “For a secluded forest, this place sure has a lot of foot traffic.”
- Nygma’s license plate: RIDL LVR.
- Galavan wants Bruce to imagine what he could do if he was a “cash billionaire with freedom.” Oh, I think we know.