‘Gotham’ Weekly Review: All the Old Familiar Places…

By October 15, 2014

This week’s episode of “Gotham” had a bit of a different overall focus than the previous three, in that it largely drew attention to its deviations from established Batman mythology rather than what it was trying to represent from the comics or films that have come before it. While we’ve gotten perhaps our most satisfying look yet at Sal Maroni, and while Fish Mooney is fun to watch because of how much Jada Pinkett Smith seems to enjoy playing her, a decreased emphasis on previously established characters and an increased emphasis on a name and place that sounds familiar from Batman mythology makes for an odd viewing experience.

Grant Morrison and Dave McKean's Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth is a defining work in the history of the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth is a defining work in the history of the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

Imagine you pick up a Snickers bar, and that it’s your favorite of all the chocolate bars that you can get. It’s an old standby of yours, with a texture and taste that you could seemingly always rely on. Now, what if you opened that wrapper, and instead found that a Milky Way had taken the place of what you were both expecting, and what you’d grown comfortable with. Milky Ways aren’t bad, but when you want a Snickers, nothing else will do. This is basically how I felt when the name “Arkham” was first uttered in this episode. Arkham Asylum, as most comics fans and Bat-fans can tell you, is an important locale in the character’s mythos because it’s, basically, the standby institution in which most of his villains will reside. It also has a fascinating in-story history by itself that extends all the way back to the 19th century, added to greatly by renowned comics writers like Grant Morrison and Paul Dini, among many others. It serves a specific purpose in Batman stories, and can often be repurposed to tell even more resonant stories about his villains, or even about the Dark Knight himself.

Here, though, the latest episode of “Gotham” seems to instead be drawing inspiration from something else: a popular and excellent Batman video game. The inspiration from that, though, is being reconceived as something that doesn’t prove to be as interesting as either the game itself or the more “traditional” depictions of Arkham Asylum. While it’s kind of original that “Arkham City” is now a district within the Gotham City limits, something about it just doesn’t add up, since now it seems that all of the mystery and grandeur of the comics location (and the original Arkham Asylum video game) now can’t really be exploited. Arkham has been conceived as being located on the outskirts of the city (like in the comics), its own island adjacent to the city (as in the games), and as within a pre-existing district of the city (as in Batman Begins), this is the first time Arkham has been a district unto itself, and it just doesn’t seem like this will work as well as what we’ve seen before.

That being said, at least the plot was interesting: two major mob players using the murder of city officials to try and swing into a lucrative deal? Okay, I can get behind that. Ben McKenzie also seemed most natural in his role as Detective Gordon in this episode. Jada Pinkett Smith just seems to relish every second she’s on screen, Robin Lord Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot is rising through the ranks slowly but surely, and Bruce Wayne continues his determined outlook in learning more about what makes Gotham unique, and is trying to find out whether it can be saved. In the end, “Gotham” still struggles to find out what it wants to be: a unique story unto itself with limited connection to the Batman world? Or instead a new adaptation of the city’s pre-Batman years that can stand equally with those that have come before? Some people might ask, “Why can’t it be both?” You’re, right, but in the end, it’s the creators that still seem to have trouble choosing. 7.5/10

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.