When Gotham returned with its second season, coming off a debut season defined by fits and starts, it came back with a real sense of purpose. The inclusion of Theo Galavan, a true menace looking to completely destabilize Gotham, looked promising because he was so far removed from the small time, case-of-the-week villains that populated the first season. Galavan represented the perfect foil for Gordon as well. If Gotham was looking to delve into more morally conflicted areas with its hero, Galavan could certainly help. He’s the politician who talks about saving Gotham but ultimately wants to see the city burn. He’s a villain that could push Gordon to the edge, to get him to question his stance on the idea that there’s a clear divide between those that uphold the law and those that break it.

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Gotham‘s fall finale, “Rise Of The Villains: Worse Than A Crime,” wants to be the BIG episode that sees Jim Gordon finally cross that line. It wants to feel important; the whole structure of the episode gives away the motive, which is to build to a shocking climax that, ideally, pays off a half-season’s worth of character development, of Jim slowly slipping away from the morals that once defined him and becoming something else. That’s a potentially compelling character arc, but Gotham fails to follow through with it for a number of reasons.

The most glaring issue is the fact that despite this episode being about Gordon finally crossing the line when he comes up against Galavan, “Worse Than A Crime” is built around an anti-climactic and rather contrived plot that involves the kidnapping of Bruce Wayne. Every other subplot in the episode revolves around this one action, but the central plot can’t possibly carry all that extra baggage. Even if we move past the tension-sapping idea that any time Bruce Wayne is in danger on Gotham we know he’ll be just fine, there are problems throughout the storyline that are exposed when it’s forced to be the focus for the full hour.

Firstly, the kidnapping is undertaken by Galavan but is done because of his family connection with the Order of St. Dumas. We’ve been told for weeks about Galavan’s blood feud with the Waynes, but there’s never been any real dive into that backstory. Some guys in hoods just showed up one day and Galavan ordered Bruce Wayne to be killed. If the Order of St. Dumas is going to be the main threat of your fall finale, and central to a centuries old blood feud that’s apparently influencing current tension, then you might want to spend a bit of time digging into what the Order of St. Dumas is, what they do, and why their appearance means bad things for Bruce. Secondly, by focusing near exclusively on Bruce, including a number of repetitive scenes where Silver tries to convince him she’s not such a bad person, Gotham robs the showdown between Gordon and Galavan of any dramatic build or tension.

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When Gordon finally storms the Galavan household with his band of Penguin’s cronies (and Bullock), and a standoff ensues with the Order of St. Dumas, there’s no stakes left in the story because Galavan and Gordon have hardly been the focus of the episode, and because Gotham is just hitting the exact same beats it has been for weeks on end. How many episodes of late have put Gordon into morally questionable situations and tested his reaction? How many have hammered on the idea that Gordon might cross the line while also having him, you know, actually cross the line? The answer is that close to every episode in this first half of the season has “tested” Gordon in some way, so by this point it all feels rote and predictable. When, about halfway through tonight’s fall finale, Gordon realizes his only option for taking down Galavan is to team up with Penguin, I felt some serious déjà vu. Haven’t we seen this before? Of course we have. Gordon has teamed up with Penguin a number of times, each instance allowing Gotham to once again ask if Gordon has crossed the line. Penguin teaming up with Gordon is always fun to see, but “Worse Than A Crime” sets it up as a big emotional decision by framing it through the eyes of Thompkins. It doesn’t work though, as Thompkins’ perspective on Jim’s actions don’t add anything new to a dynamic Gotham has already contemplated many times in the past.

Diminishing returns is just the name of the game with Gotham at this point. The show has trouble crafting scenes of consequence because such scenes are constantly being undercut by shoddy character development and repetitive storytelling. When Gordon finally shoots and kills Galavan, after watching Penguin beat the hell out of him, the slo-mo and rising string score conveys monumental emotion; so how come I left feeling empty? It’s because Gordon “crossing the line” isn’t something new to this show, new to this character, or new to the genre. Gotham tries to up the ante at the end of the episode with another scene of Indian Hill and what seems to be the introduction of Mr. Freeze—though never count out a Gotham swerve—but they only serve to underscore just how emotionally and dramatically vacant the rest of the fall finale is.

Stray observations

  • Never Mind The Bullocks: Bullock was unfortunately absent for most of this episode. His exasperation at climbing so many stairs was funny, I guess?
  • So is Tabitha the new villain for the back half of the season? Or will Freeze get significant time?
  • “I want to see him kiss you before he dies.” Yeah, Galavan, that’s weird.
  • Gordon waking up to Penguin and Nygma doing a piano duet is exactly what I want this show to be.
  • Flirting for Silver and Bruce involves talking about dolphins and sonar. Kids these days!

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