“Wrath Of The Villains: Pinewood” is basically two completely different shows crammed into one. There’s the first half of the episode, which sees Gotham embrace its more campy elements and mix them with its lighthearted gumshoe elements, creating something that’s at least fascinating, a weird concoction that wouldn’t be out of place in Hugo Strange’s facility. Then there’s the second half of the episode, when all the storylines dovetail into one, and things get silly and contrived. Balancing and mingling various tones has always been a struggle for Gotham. This season necessitates that balance more than ever, as the show looks to create drama out of the investigation into the Wayne murders while also indulging in the campy fun of Indian Hill—the villains still have to wrath, you know. Like so much of this season, “Pinewood” can’t quite pull off the balancing act.

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As I said, the first half of this episode is at least fun, and that’s in large part due to the return of Barbara Keen. Erin Richards has always been one of the best performers on this show. Once she was freed from being Gordon’s complacent housewife (sorry Lee, someone had to step into the role), Barbara morphed into this wonderfully weird and sadistic character whose motivation could be understood as completely self-interested. Barbara was a force in this season’s best episodes, throwing off Gordon’s plans alongside Galavan and proving to be one of the best foes for the future Commissioner.

The early scenes in “Pinewood” work because they tease that version of Barbara once again. When she shows up at Jim’s door and tries to explain how she’s healed, how she tells the truth now and is disgusted with what she’s done in the past, we’re left wondering if she’s playing Gordon. That’s the kind of intrigue that Gotham could use more of. It’s the same formula that was used to make the face off between Gordon and Nygma interesting. It turns out that when the show allows its actors to really ham it up, to indulge in the more cartoonish elements of their characters, the self-seriousness dissipates and something more enjoyable takes its place.

Here, it’s Erin Richards once again getting to be “crazy” Barbara while also adding a bit of heart into the mix. Essentially, Jim is looking for The Lady, the criminal who sent Galavan’s men after him and Bruce Wayne. He believes that she was hired by someone to hire Matches Malone to kill Bruce’s parents. He tracks her to a club in Gotham, but when he can’t get in, Barbara shows up and takes control. It’s here that Richards does her best work. First, she gets cozy with The Lady, putting on a performance as her sociopathic alter-ego in order to gain The Lady’s trust. Then, when Gordon still tries to get in the club, she puts a knife to his throat and delivers him to hew new criminal friend. Again, we don’t really know if Barbara is playing Gordon or The Lady, making it that much more compelling to watch as it all unfolds.

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As it turns out, this Barbara is different, at least for now. She helps Jim get the name he’s looking for—“The Philosopher”—and then helps him escape. There’s even a little heart to Richards’ performance here, as she gives Barbara a depth of humanity that’s often absent from this show. When Gordon asks her why she’s helping him, she says it’s because of the memories she has. She remembers when Bruce came to Jim for help, and she knows what the case means to him. There are moments here that are still too on-the-nose, as when Barbara lays out how Jim thinks that by solving this case he can finally start over in Gotham. Ultimately though, having Barbara be this agent of chaos and cohesion works well. It’s an example of the balance that the show often fails to strike.

The rest of the episode doesn’t fare as well though, largely because the end game is so predictable. When Bruce and Alfred track down a woman named Karen Jennings in the woods, they find more clues to what Thomas Wayne was investigating when he died. It turns out that Pinewood was a bioengineering lab that Thomas opened where some less-than-ethical experiments were undertaken without him knowing. That resulted in Karen having some sort of lizard/dinosaur hand. Now, with her in tow, Bruce can hopefully finds some more keys as to the identity of who wanted his father dead.

As soon as Karen is revealed as genetically mutated though, it’s clear where the whole story is going. So, as Bruce begins to fill Jim in on what’s been happening with the case, and Jim reveals that he’s found out about someone named “The Philosopher,” it’s clear that Hugo Strange is the man they’re looking for. After all, nobody loves to genetically modify humans quite like him! Here’s the problem though: the mystery of the Wayne murders would seem to allow Gotham a little creative freedom, and yet they fumble the opportunity. Instead, the show merges the Wayne murder storyline with the rest, bringing in Mr. Freeze, Hugo Strange, and a reanimated Theo Galavan, whose screams of “Azrael” suggest he won’t be “Theo Galavan” for too long.

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While Gotham trimming its storylines down is good in theory because it often spreads itself too thin, this feels like a missed opportunity. It feels like the show repeating itself, running through the same ideas over and over again. There’s a good chance that there’s a lot more to the Wayne murders than the involvement of Hugo Strange, but that doesn’t change the fact that when Galavan stands tall at the end of “Pinewood” and it’s revealed that Strange has ties to Thomas Wayne, everything still feels hopelessly inconsequential and frustratingly familiar.

Stray observations

  • Never Mind The Bullocks: Bullock continues his weird nonsense observations this week with, “It’s like trying to teach a halibut to put on socks.”
  • More good Bullock: telling Jim that since he’s not a cop anymore he can carry more weapons, so he should take a look through the “whammy drawer.” Bullock is from another time and another TV show, and we don’t deserve him.
  • I’m always down with a violent montage scored to punk music.
  • Gotham has way too many characters. I mean, Lucius Fox is basically uncovering the Wayne murders and the guy can barely get any screen time.
  • Barbara’s straight-faced, “Hi Harvey. Jim will fill you in” as she’s leaving Gordon’s apartment was just perfect, with Richards nailing the delivery.

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