Season 1, episode 11: “Rogue’s Gallery”
Written by Sue Chang
Directed by Oz Scott
Gotham returns from winter hiatus, and appropriately enough for the first episode set in Arkham, the inmates are running the asylum.
When we last left Jim Gordon, he was demoted to guard duty at the newly re-opened Arkham Asylum, and the episode opens with him watching inmates perform a sad, ramshackle production of The Tempest on a fittingly stormy night. The asylum is soon stricken with horrific assaults on inmates using electroshock therapy, and Gordon, along with old ally Harvey Bullock and new ally Dr. Leslie Thompkins, must find the culprit before all hell breaks loose. Leslie is a welcome addition to the cast, and played with panache by Baccarin. It’s too early to see if their friendship will blossom into something more, but their partnership is already far more interesting than the empty void that is Gordon’s relationship with Barbara.
Morena Baccarin’s Leslie Thompkins is the one bright spot in Arkham Asylum. Arkham is the archetypal horrible, run-down, nightmarish asylum in popular culture, so I wasn’t exactly expecting something progressive in how this episode portrays mental illness. The decaying building looks appropriately enough like a relic from another century, or at least a location in a really creepy video game. All of the inmates are played for laughs or scares, whether it’s the brute known as “Frogman” or the “Hannibal Lecter plays Prospero” creepo Jack Gruber. Of course, these are criminals and murderers, but their illnesses are played so cartoonishly over the top that it’s disconcerting. (In retrospect, the fact that Nurse Dorothy showed any sympathy for her patients is a big clue that something isn’t right with her, but more on her later.) By the end of the episode, when the inmates are released from their cells to wreak havoc and chase down the staff, they’re indistinguishable from a zombie horde. It’s a suspenseful sequence, but completely dehumanizes the mentally ill.
“Rogue’s Gallery” also gives us a groan-worthy return to Barbara Keane’s romantic woes. Barbara’s character arc has so far taken her from sitting around her apartment all day doing nothing, to sitting around a swanky hotel room all day doing nothing. She remains a blank slate, a frustratingly empty character who has no interior life outside of clinging to whomever she’s romantically linked. (Doesn’t she have a job at an art gallery? What ever happened to that?) Renee Montoya finally realizes this after a half-season pining for Barbara, and she finally pulls the plug on their self-destructive romance. Barbara gains self-awareness and declares herself “toxic,” but it’s not enough to redeem this character. Distancing herself from Barbara will hopefully give Renee’s character room to grow, as she’s a fantastic character in the comics and has been under-served in Gotham so far.
In another B-plot, Selina Kyle discovers a sick Ivy Pepper sleeping in a box and breaks into Gordon’s seemingly abandoned apartment to give her shelter. This is some slight character development for Selina, who was put off by Ivy’s scary behavior when they met last episode. Possibly remembering Bruce Wayne saying she wasn’t a “nice person,” Selina is much more sympathetic to Ivy here. (I’d like to see Selina take a young Holly Robinson under her wing, but Holly’s probably too minor a DC Comics character to appear just yet.) Ivy’s characterization, and whatever larger plans the showrunners have for her, are still perplexing. Since Gordon was one of the cops caught up in the larger conspiracy that framed and killed her father, I wondered if Ivy in Gordon’s home would lead to plans of revenge–“My name is Ivy Pepper, you killed my father, prepare to die.” But as the show quickly reminded me, she’s still a kid, not a supervillain. Well, maybe she gets a little revenge. In the episode’s most bizarre scene (and this is an episode with Arkham Asylum’s version of The Tempest), Ivy picks up when Barbara calls, and as a prank impersonates an adult “friend” of Jim’s. Just when you think Barbara can’t get any worse, she tells a sick, homeless orphan to go to hell.
So if Gordon is trapped in an episode of American Horror Story: Asylum, and Selina and Ivy are both the anti-Annie, then the Penguin and Fish Mooney are trapped in a lesser Martin Scorsese flick (GoodFishes?) Oswald Cobblepot finally embraces the name “Penguin,” but lest the viewer think his rise from almost-whacked snitch to twitchy crime lord was too fast, he’s knocked out and thrown in jail for his hubris. Penguin being constantly punched, stabbed, or beaten with a chair leg is my favorite running joke in this series, and it leads to a fantastic scene with Harvey Bullock at the GCPD. (“What’s a bonsai tree?”) Robin Lord Taylor hasn’t has a bad scene as Penguin yet, and he plays the character with fantastic, sniveling cunning. Don Maroni thinks he’s taught Penguin a lesson by making him spend a night in the clink, but Penguin’s steely stare shows that this is an affront the Penguin won’t forget.
Jim Gordon’s first big mystery at Arkham is full of red herrings including, amusingly enough, Leslie Thompkins–but he thinks the case is solved when Nurse Dorothy is revealed to have been a former Arkham inmate pretending to be a nurse on staff. (She just happened to have a crisp white nurse’s uniform ready, I guess.) The fact that Arkham’s staff is horribly incompetent is hardly news, but things quickly get worse with Arkham’s first escaped inmate. Gotham City’s most colorful villains escaping Arkham is a well-worn tradition in DC Comics, but here it all begins with Jack Gruber, the electricity-abusing Dr. Lecter wannabe dubbed the “Electrocutioner.” Electrocutioner is a name used by a few different vigilantes in the comics, though none with Jack Gruber’s name and backstory. This gives Gotham freedom to develop his character in unexpected directions, and Gruber’s escape at the end of the episode is an interesting break from the show’s “Villain of the Week” formula. However the Electrocutioner arc ends, I hope it doesn’t mean the end of Jim Gordon’s career at Arkham just yet–it’s an interesting new status quo set in in one of DC’s most iconic locations.
“Rogue’s Gallery” is a another enjoyably batty (yes, I said “batty”) episode of Gotham. Its tonal shifts don’t always work (what on earth was that Barbara and Ivy scene), but it’s a creepy new direction for the season.