“Wrath Of The Villains: A Dead Man Feels No Cold” is really just an extension of last week’s winter premiere, as if Gotham filmed a two-hour premiere and then chopped it into two equal halves. What that means is that this episode would almost work better if it were paired with last week’s because it manages to flesh out a few more plot details that were suspiciously absent in the premiere. “A Dead Man Feels No Cold” takes the time to check in on Bruce Wayne and his search for his parents’ killer while also completing its version of the Mr. Freeze origin story.

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Where last week’s premiere mostly stuck to the typical Gotham script, this week’s episode boasts one significant difference: it’s kind of campy and funny. For a show that seems to demand over-the-top performances from most of its actors, Gotham often has a bad case of taking itself way too seriously. The show has found a lovable campiness in some of its storylines—I’m still waiting on the odd couple spinoff with Nygma and Penguin—but has put most of its effort into creating faux-serious, faux-gritty drama with Jim Gordon. The problem is that Gotham never really commits to Gordon as some sort of tortured anti-hero, meaning that any sense of gritty drama ultimately evaporates.

The campy version of this show is often the better version of this show, and “A Dead Man Feels No Cold” shows that. Admittedly, much of the humor comes from Bullock’s increased presence, but that’s not all. His mocking, dry, winking tone extends to much of the rest of the cast, and that gives parts of this episode an energy that Gotham hardly ever has. That energy is present early when Gordon and Bullock head to ACE Chemicals after someone spotted Victor Fries breaking into the building. They find an officer frozen mid-gunshot, the bullet stuck in the air. “Damn,” says Bullock, a mix of shock and admiration. It’s a small moment but it sets the tone; light, campy, fun. Bullock has always operated within a different kind of show—much like Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney did—and “A Dead Man Feels No Cold” is the closest Gotham has come, across the board, to being that show.

For instance, moments later, Bullock and Gordon tell Barnes that Fries wants his wife freed, to which he responds, “I’ll free my boot up his frozen ass” before slamming his desk and then taking a deep breath to compose himself. It’s a ridiculous line, but it’s the physicality of Michael Chiklis, coupled with the hilarious reactions from Bullock and Gordon, that push it towards camp. When Barnes says they’ll just move Nora Fries to Arkham in order to draw Victor to a more secure, safe location, he’s confident in his plan and asks the detectives to confirm how great it is. “I guess” replies Bullock, because he knows that nothing in Gotham goes as planned. It’s just meta enough to be funny without being overly clever, and a Gotham with levity is always welcome.

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Of course, “A Dead Man Feels No Cold” can’t focus only on Bullock and Gordon doing fun buddy-cop stuff—don’t ask me why—and when the episode shifts its focus is when it loses any previous goodwill. Look, I get that a subplot about a boy looking for the man who killed his parents is, on paper, pretty dark, but what is it about the Bruce Wayne story that turns Gotham into a show so ham-fisted and self-serious? There’s a scene during tonight’s episode where Dr. Thompkins visits Bruce in the hopes of getting him to open up about the trauma of his kidnapping, and maybe that whole murdered parents thing. The conversation that follows is cringeworthy, with Bruce saying lines like, “I believe people can be two things at once,” and dropping “Hey! I’m going to be Batman!” hints left, right, and center. The amount of hand-holding Gotham allows is quite staggering.

Thompkins seems to get the short end of the stick throughout the episode, as she’s continually put into scenes that take subtext and force it into text as quickly and bluntly as possible. It’s been clear ever since the premiere that Victor Fries’ journey has similarities to Gordon’s. Where Fries killed people in order to save his wife, Gordon killed Galavan to keep Gotham, and Bruce Wayne, safe. Both men believe in their own morality, in their own visions of the world they live in, and both see their actions as necessary, and maybe even justified. It’s perfectly acceptable subtext, but Gotham can’t leave well enough alone. Instead, the show has to put Thompkins and Nora Fries in the same room, allowing Nora to pontificate about how she ignored the more sinister tendencies of her husband because she was blinded by love. Gotham has a tendency to spell absolutely everything out, and it’s ruining an otherwise lively start to the back half of this season.

That lively start is largely due to the performances. Donal Logue is in fine form, as mentioned above, and the stuff going down at Indian Hill is delightfully campy, with B.D. Wong hitting all the right notes as Hugo Strange and Robin Lord Taylor continuing to bring a magnetic presence to his portrayal of Penguin. It’s a shame that the rest of the show can’t seem to get on board.

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Stray observations

  • Never Mind The Bullocks: “We could freeze to death waiting, which would be ironic.” Bullock was a goddamn star this week.
  • Strange sees Penguin shouting about lying for Gordon. Hopefully that comes into play soon, and not in a ridiculous way.
  • Selina Kyle is a character on this show. She shows up through windows and listens to Bruce. This is her job.
  • Just give me a week of Alfred single-handedly hunting down Matches Malone and killing him. I don’t even care if Malone killed the Waynes, I just want to see Alfred stalk and murder someone.
  • “Be the goose.”
  • For a brief second, I actually thought Gotham was going to kill Victor Fries and just move away from Mr. Freeze as a villain. I wouldn’t have put it past this show.

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