John Doman, Jada Pinkett Smith

Maybe I’m projecting Gotham’s season one extension onto this episode–or maybe I’m putting too much stock into the number “12” that designates this episode–but “What The Little Bird Told Him” sure feels like a penultimate episode of television. It engages with almost all of the storylines that have been a part of this season so far (notably absent is Gotham’s most rewarding storyline to date, the continuing growth of Bruce Wayne and his badass butler Alfred) while moving its central pieces, specifically the mob bosses, into place for a finale. In any other season, this episode would set the stage for the thirteenth and final episode of the season. Gotham, originally scheduled for 16 episodes, still has 10 more to go though, and it’s unclear how the show is going to be able to sustain the (very) slight momentum this episode built.

The episode is focused on two storylines, and they each involve one of the central players making a bold move. For Jim Gordon, that involves bluffing his way onto the Electrocutioner case, who’s still on the loose after escaping Arkham Asylum in the previous episode, and getting Bullock involved in the investigation. Gordon and Bullock have twenty-four hours to bring in the Electrocutioner or else they both will end up on security detail at Arkham. Most of the moments that focus on the Electrocutioner fall prey to the same trappings that Gotham can’t seem to avoid week to week. Specifically, there’s a tonal imbalance that’s disorienting. Considering that we’re twelve episodes into the season, we should feel a sense of comfort and cohesion when we sit down to watch Gotham. It doesn’t have to be predictable, but it should be tonally, aesthetically, and narratively tight and familiar. The show floats back and forth recklessly though; one minute it’s a cartoonish look at pre-Batman Gotham, and the next it’s aiming to be a hardboiled story of a city plagued by corruption and outsized personalities. This week, we’re re-introduced to the Electrocutioner via an opening crane shot. The camera moves from the subway line overhead down to the sidewalk, following a newspaper that reports a patient being on the loose. Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” plays as the Electrocutioner walks into the frame. It’s a staggering shot, one that injects the scene, and more importantly the character, with a sense of menace. How quickly such a tone is fumbled though, as the Electrocutioner spends the rest of the episode reciting cheesy, predictable “villain” dialogue.

For the briefest moment, the continued story of the Electrocutioner brings some life to the show. With its case-of-the-week structure taking a backseat, parts of “What The Little Bird Told Him” boast a feeling of continuity and reverberating consequences. It’s a change of pace that suits the show, allowing ideas to breathe, to be spread out rather than jammed into a single episode. That slight promise is never really fulfilled though, as Gordon does away with the Electrocutioner before the episode is barely halfway through its runtime. And how does Gordon thwart his plan? By throwing water on the mechanism he has strapped to his chest. That’s it. That’s the payoff. Would it be to hamfisted to say that I was expecting (or craving) something more electric? If there’s a single highlight to the storyline, it’s that the twenty-four-hour deadline that Gordon and Bullock are on allows the two to fall into the quick-talking, fast-acting cop duo so many of us have hoped they would become.

As underwhelming as that storyline is, “What The Little Bird Told Him” mostly succeeds in shifting the dynamic of the mob plot. The narrative is still unnecessarily convoluted, but it’s delightful watching Mooney’s plans come to fruition, only to have them come crashing down moments later. Just as Mooney thinks she’s tricked Falcone into stepping down, her plan to use Liza as bait finally paying off, Cobblepot waddles into the struggle and tells Falcone everything. This leaves Mooney with no leverage and gives Falcone a sense of purpose once again.

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Much of the joy that comes from watching this plot unfold is that the narrative, by nature of its root in desperation and lies, allows John Doman, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Robin Lord Taylor to revel in the more insidious traits of their characters. The interplay between Doman and Smith in particular is wonderful; it’s weighty, hammy, and nuanced all at once, not only giving us an explosive confrontation, but also hinting at a the long history between the two. Considering that Fish Mooney isn’t even canon, it’s remarkable that Smith has managed to flesh out her character so substantially. When Falcone kills Liza and takes Mooney hostage, there’s the weight of their personal history behind the confrontation We come to understand how well they know each other, and how betrayed Falcone feels. It’s the type of nuanced, suggestive storytelling that we hardly ever see on Gotham.

Stray observations:

  • Barbara was in this episode. She went to stay with her rich parents. That is all; as you were.
  • Not sure if it’s just this episode that set me off, but I’m growing tired of Ben McKenzie’s constant gruff, mumbly voice. He always sounds irritated, which might be understandable considering the show that’s going on around him.
  • A few nice visual touches in this episode. The opening shot was lovely, and the tracking camera mimics a later scene, the beautifully-lit and very brief flashback to Falcone as a child.
  • Edward Nygma is representative of the wild swings in tone this show takes. Where does his character fit in? How are we supposed to respond to him?
  • Never Mind the Bullocks (or, a new feature wherein I choose the best Harvey Bullock line of the episode): Lots of gold to choose from this week, but “I curse you all the time! You never give me candy,” receives the honor.

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