(THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE GOTHAM EPISODE "PINEWOOD")
Previously, on Gotham ... Nygma finally gets caught for murder and Penguin is back to his "feed you your own kids for a laugh" ways. Juicy, cliffhanger stuff!
Now on Gotham ... Nygma and Penguin are nowhere to be seen all episode! And, you know -- that's actually for the best. With Nygma temporarily off the board and Penguin hiding just out of sight, we get to feel the tension of their imminent return while dealing with a more cohesive story in the meantime.
"Pinewood" is the best episode of Gotham we've seen in quite a while. It's a twisty-turny tale that reconnects Bruce and Jim as they discover the secret past and terrifying future of one Dr. Hugo Strange. It's got all the blood-soaked camp you've come to expect, plus some much-needed character building and forward momentum for our heroes, which often takes a backseat to the more interesting villains. So let's count the beats, shall we?
- Starting where we left off, Barbara is at Jim's front door, and she wants to help. Is she cured? She says she's totally sane, but, I mean ... this is Gotham -- is anyone mentally well? Anyway, Jim doesn't want Barbara's help on account of the whole torturing Lee thing. Fair. Speaking of torture, Gordon proceeds to beat the guano out of every thief, murderer, and charlatan while he hunts down a lead involving The Lady. You might remember her from a while back as the woman who wrangled many of the hired guns of Gotham City. Apparently, she helped hire Matches Malone to kill the Waynes. Unfortunately, The Lady is in a ladies-only club. Enter Barbara Kean who, after playing a little game of double or triple cross, ultimately helps Jim find out that the person who hired Matches went by the nickname, "The Philosopher".
- Meanwhile, Bruce with the aide of Lucius Fox and Alfred is hot on a similar trail, one leading him to the eponymous (and now defunct) Pinewood Farms, a secret facility Thomas Wayne was investigating. In particular, they are seeking a woman named Karen Jennings who Thomas took a special interest in. Turns out Pinewood Farms played host to a number of bizarre experiments, one of which replaced Jennings' deformed hand with a velociraptor claw. It was also funded by an outwitted Thomas Wayne. She doesn't know names, but she does know the faces of the doctors responsible for the experimenting. There's some filler here -- Jennings gets arrested, Gordon helps Bruce help her escape, but then Victor Fries shows up for the first time in his Mr. Freeze suit only to murder Jennings. Thankfully, Lucius digs up a picture revealing the face of The Philosopher -- Dr. Hugo Strange. Duh.
- Strange himself spends the episode hooking Victor up with those fancy new frozen duds and, more astonishingly, bringing Theo Galavan back from the dead. Galavan now, for some reason, is screaming something about Azrael. Hooray! Now Jim Gordon has technically only mudered one guy in cold blood.
And that's the episode. It's really solid, but the devil's in the details. Let's talk 'em over, shall we?
- Jim focusing on the Wayne murder is a mercy. Seriously, every week spent on his "innocence" is wasted, not just because he isn't actually innocent, but because that story pushed us away from the more interesting plots.
- Barbara Kean is pretty fun. She's got a sense of humor, she's quick on her feet, she's able to manipluate The Lady. She's a wild card and, seeing her back with Tabitha Galavan by episode's end reminds us we have no ideas whose side she's playing on other than her own.
- BD Wong's Hugo Strange continues to bring a balance to the grim side of Gotham. For all the angst around him, Strange is mostly satisfied to wind all his little toys up and see what happens. He's never worried, he's never grumpy, he's just efficiently manipulative and content being so.
- Karen Jennings could have been the proverbial monster of the week, but instead she's brilliantly cast as a temporary and heart-breaking connection between Bruce and his dead father. When she dies and Bruce discovers that a trusted confidant of Thomas was responsible, it's a great opportunity for David Mazouz to rage out in defiance of his cruel world. His portrayal of young Bruce is still easily one of the best aspects of Gotham.
- Victor Fries returns but in such a limited role he felt wasted. He's finally in the Mr. Freeze costume and, after a few minutes, he's gone. They're playing Victor as a bit of a hot head which is actually really interesting considering how cold and calculated the character is usually portrayed. He deserves more screen time.
- Barbara Gordon, like every woman on this show, is still defined in terms of a man. Yes, she's fun this episode, but the only reason she's doing anything she's doing so far seems to be in the service of Gordon and his story. The women of Gotham deserve more agency than that.
- There are some weird beats involving Karen Jennings being arrested which felt like contrived set-up for her death later. She was an interesting character and her death felt rushed and cheap.
- When Jim is hunting down The Lady, there's actually a musical montage of him beating up assassins to the Sex Pistols cover of "My Way". Oh, Gotham...
- In order to prevent Jennings from going to jail, Jim hatches a scheme that involves just leaving a bunch of money out in a duffle bag for the cops transporting Karen to Blackgate. And it works! Because the GCPD really is that corrupt. Oh, Gotham...
- Can we talk about this whole "thing for a hand" tendency Gotham has? First Butch had a hammer hand. Now Karen's got a veloci-hand. That's a weird trend! Next, I want someone to have a person for a hand. And I'm not talking about the Ventriloquist. I mean an actual other person instead of a hand, like a creepy, Total Recall situation. And you know what? Gotham is the kind of show who would do that. Oh, Gotham...
So that's that. Gotham had a good week. Next time they'll be trying to add an Azrael story into the mix. Maybe next week won't be so good. Only one way to find out! And, remember, I'll be live-tweeting the latest episodes live, EST every week!