04 “Arkham” (Gotham season 1) [SPOILERS]


Is it possible for Gotham — a Batman-prequel following Jim Gordon and a childhood Bruce Wayne — to simultaneously appeal to fans and non-fans of Batman?

I may be the wrong person to answer that, but I think that it certainly can. So far it has walked the line between the knowing nods which would excite fanboys and annoy the uninitiated, and solid character building. I have pointed out in previous reviews that I am not the most knowledgeable when it comes to Batman-lore, but many of the Easter eggs I have gotten, and those which I haven’t have been signposted clearly enough that a quick Google brings me up to speed.

The reason for this little discourse is the title of this week’s episode of Gotham. “Arkham” will mean a lot to Batman fans. To those who are tuning in for a crime show, because CSI or Midsomer Murders or whatever (Are those the only crime shows you know? -Ed), will probably recognise the significance a little less.

Or maybe I’m being patronising. On with the show, then.

This week, a hitman is taking out politicians on either side of a mob dispute between Carmine Falcone and Salvatore Maroni over the plans and contracts to regenerate the old Arkham Asylum. Gordon investigates, slightly guided by Bruce Wayne’s desire to see the asylum rebuilt as his parents had wanted. Meanwhile, Cobblepot takes advantage of the crimelord warfare to work his way up the Maroni operation, and makes an offer to feed information to Gordon in payment for sparing his life.

I’ve enjoyed every episode of Gotham so far, but this is the first one that really fascinated me. This wasn’t about introducing characters, this was about introducing the city of Gotham. When we usually join it in a Batman story, it is a crumbling mess overridden with crime. So far on Gotham we have seen it certainly not a utopian paradise, but a long way from the place which ends up crying out for a masked vigilante in an awful lot of rubber.

This episode showed how things start to slide that way.

To be fair to him, Oswald Cobblepot has been warning of a coming war since the first episode, but up until now it felt like just a stale future point. Here, with the mob descending towards war and politicians being murdered in the street, it actually feels like the war is indeed coming.

Against that backdrop, Jim Gordon actually feels like a conflicted man. His fiance Barbara already thinks he killed a man — ironically, the same man who turns up on their doorstep at the start of the episode, calling himself “Peter Humbled” (Because “John Pseudonym” was taken? -Ed). I don’t really understand why Gordon doesn’t just tell her that Gotham PD is corrupt, and he had to fake killing Cobblepot in order to not be killed himself, but it’s probably something to do with protecting her.

Cobblepot himself continues to be the delight of the series. His offer to be Gordon’s informant seems fairly sincere, though presumably Cobblepot is hoping for his own line into the police. And his meteoric rise from dishwasher to manager of Maroni’s restaurant is thrilling to watch, saving a bag of money when Falcone thugs attack.

Of course, the fact that the whole attack was actually orchestrated by Cobblepot is no surprise, and there’s a delightful brutality as he kills them with poisoned canoli sat around a stolen bag of money.

Fish Mooney is also preparing for the mob war, recruiting a singer/seductress/enforcer in some bizarre mock X-Factor routine. And X-Factor may actually more interesting if contestants had to beat each other to a pulp and seduce…Louis Walsh? Maybe not… Quite what the successful candidate Liza will be doing remains to be seen, but I suspect singing will be the least of it.

But Arkham is the real centrepiece here. When we first see the abandoned asylum, it looks exactly as it should — huge, terrifying, its towers and architecture dominating the dark skyline. Precisely the worst place to treat the dangerously insane. But that seems to be what everyone wants; apparently the Waynes wanted to turn it into a state of the art, caring facility. The compromise agreed to by the Mayor at the end seems destined to turn it into the super-villain factory we all know and love.

More than telling a story, or filling in the gaps of one, Gotham is starting to build a mythos. We, the audience, are getting a feel for the place that this is, and how it goes from this to the Gotham of Batman. In that, this is an altogether more ambitious project than simply the early adventures of Jim Gordon. Whether or not it will succeed remains to be seen, but so far I am heartily impressed.

Closing thoughts:

  • So could Arkham have not been the disaster it had ended up, if the Waynes had lived?
  • Richard Kind is still brilliant as the Mayor. Slimy and believable.
  • Despite enjoying the scene setting, a new Batman villain introduction would be welcome next episode.

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