Despite all the side plots and divergences and the over-abundance of villains, the second season of Gotham has been preoccupied with a single theme: is Jim Gordon any better than the people he’s putting behind bars? It’s a familiar trope in a variety of mediums, and for good reason. There’s something compelling about considering how good and evil is a sliding scale, how all actions can fall in a morally grey area. For the most part, Gotham has failed to meaningfully engage with the very theme it seems so preoccupied with, too often giving Gordon a pass within the narrative. Sure, Gordon went to prison, but the stakes weren’t all that high. The show mostly glossed over the death of Galavan, meaning that Gordon’s murderous moment has never really been reckoned with. In fact, the show has gone out of its way to construct a frame job that merely distracts from the fact that Gordon actually killed someone in cold blood, and “Wrath Of The Villains: Into The Woods” continues Gotham’s recent streak of failing to really deal with Gordon’s shoddy morality while indulging in seemingly meaningless and plodding subplots.

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To be fair though, “Into The Woods” does get back to the same cat-and-mouse game between Nygma and Gordon that made “Mad Grey Dawn” one of the better episodes of the season. Really, the chase shouldn’t be as fun as it is considering that we know Gordon didn’t kill that officer, and we know that it was Nygma who framed him, and sure enough, the first portion of this episode is lackluster. Watching Jim run from the cops and trying to track down a tape that may lead him to the “eyewitness” who framed isn’t exactly interesting considering everything we know, but the narrative takes a turn when Gordon goes to Nygma for help analyzing the tape. With the two in such close quarters the sleuthing can really begin, and “Into The Woods” wrings some good tension from Gordon’s slow realization that his colleague is the man who framed him.

That slow realization leads to the episode’s best scene, where Nygma reluctantly cleans up the audio on the tape and both Gordon and him realize what is going on. The clean audio allows Jim to hear a cuckoo clock in the background, which then promptly goes off in Nygma’s apartment. Then, as Gordon pulls a gun, Nygma remotely shocks the chair that Gordon is sitting on. This fun back-and-forth is what drives so much of the action of “Into The Woods.” Despite knowing, generally speaking, what the outcome will be, it’s still enjoyable to see all the piece fall into place, perhaps because Gotham hardly ever commits to that kind of straightforward storytelling. So, when Gordon uses Selina Kyle to trick Nygma into digging up Kringle, allowing him to confront Nygma and get him to confess to the frame job, it’s satisfying in a way that Gotham often isn’t. Sometimes moving all your pieces from point A to point B is enough.

More than that though, the Nygma-Gordon cat-and-mouse game is the best exploration of the “monster in all of us” theme this season. Most of this season has fallen into the trap of telling rather than showing. Almost every episode attempts to create tension out of the fact that Gordon killed Galavan, but the potential reveal of that fact has never really seemed legitimately threatening. Here though, Gordon is truly confronted with what he’s done, at least for a moment. When Gordon self-righteously gets in Nygma’s face for framing him, Nygma fires back with what he knows about Gordon killing Galavan. For the first time, someone who actually knows what happened is confronting the detective about his actions, and that means something. It doesn’t seem like Gotham is going to do much with it, mind you—Nygma still ends up in prison, Gordon is back to investigating the Wayne murders—but it’s good to see the show finally engaging with its purported central theme.

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In that way, and in so many others, “Into The Woods” feels like a soft reset on this season. So much of the back half of this season, from the winter premiere onwards, has felt like the show killing time before the final stretch of episodes. “Into The Woods” starts to define the season’s end game, and that’s a good thing. The most recent episodes of Gotham have been rather shapeless, with Cobblepot reduced to surviving in a baffling and pointless subplot involving a lost (and now dead) father, while Bruce continues to try and dismantle his privilege in the streets of Gotham. Here, those rather listless subplots come to a close.

Still, as nice as it is to see those pointless subplots finished off, the execution is almost unbearably clumsy and contrived. Cobblepot is back to being his murderous self, but it doesn’t happen without him finding the poison-infused alcohol that Grace used to kill Cobblepot’s father. The fact that the alcohol was still being kept is such a blatant narrative contrivance that even Penguin seems baffled by Grace’s decision to hold on to the murderous memento: “couldn’t let good poison go to waste!” he shouts before killing Grace. On top of that, Gotham spoils its one inventive moment—Penguin changing his hair, signalling the shift in his mental state—by having Grace point it out followed by Penguin acknowledging the change. Even Alfred, for all his wisdom, is prone to speaking plainly about what’s happening within the narrative. He lays out Bruce’s dilemma in a moment of true, frustrating exposition: he must let Selina go if he’s to get back to finding the man who hired the man that killed his parents. Gotham can never just leave something unsaid, or let the subtext exist without forcing it to be the actual text. “Into The Woods” necessarily prepares for this season’s final stretch, but the clumsy storytelling persists.

Stray observations

  • Never Mind The Bullocks: “The people of Gotham can eat my socks.” A line so ridiculous I couldn’t help but laugh.
  • Typical rich brat, throwing money off the top of a building to cement his street cred while his pseudo-girlfriend starves and does all the work.
  • When the cop calls in his confrontation with Gordon, he says it happened at the intersection of “Sigfried and Gordon.” You couldn’t come up with another name!?!?
  • A good example of Gotham’s haphazard relationship with character motivation is its continuous suggestion that Professor Strange is releasing inmates, including Barbara, as “experiments.” That’s code for, “we need this to keep the plot moving, I guess.”
  • Penguin fed Grace’s children to her! Dude is not messing around!
  • “I’d clap, but I have your gun in my hand.”

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