Gotham: 306 “Follow The White Rabbit” Review
Reviewed by Charlie Pickard
“I put the time to good use. Made a thorough study of you. Quite the fascinating history, yet so tragic. A father lost, career gone by the wayside, failed relationships.”
“And here I didn’t think about you once.”
Gotham’s incredible streak showed no signs of stopping this week, delivering the joint best episode of the season so far (tied with New Day Rising). The correlation between this and the return of Jervis Tetch was no accident – Benedict Samuel was as magnetic as ever in his role, and the madcap machinations of the villain created an exciting, tense episode.
Tetch returns with a vendetta against Jim Gordon following the tragic death of Alice. He engages in a game of cat-and-mouse with him, threatening innocent people and forcing Jim to choose which ones will die and which will live. This inevitably leads to the ultimate choice, between Lee Thompkins and Valerie Vale. While the episode signposted this, I was genuinely shocked when Gordon told Tetch to shoot Lee. Whether this was a bluff or he actually meant it is unknown. Perhaps Gordon knew that Tetch would do the opposite of what he said, so purposefully saved Lee. This seems more likely, as I don’t think the writers will keep Lee and Gordon apart forever – surely their relationship is the ultimate endgame for Gotham?
The games Tetch played on Gordon were truly riveting. In parts they were more reminiscent of something the Riddler would concoct (such as the collection of TV screens and numerous riddles), while the eerie ringing phones reminded me of Victor Zsasz’s shenanigans in the Arkham City videogame. The ringing every time was unnerving, and signified that something horrible was about to happen. Never has a secondary villain been so effective in Gotham – the Ogre from the end of Season One probably comes the closest to Tetch.
After shooting Valerie, Tetch escapes yet again. It seems like the GCPD will never catch him. Nevertheless, such a fantastic villain deserves a good run, and it pleases me that Tetch will return in the next episode already. It was horrendous to see him cause the innocent newly-weds to jump to their deaths while Gordon saved the child from being run over. Likewise, I was stunned that Tetch actually shot Vale and Gordon didn’t manage to heroically save both women. The avoidance of a deus ex machina was commendable.
It is perhaps reductive that Valerie and Lee are both represented as little more than Jim Gordon’s love interests. Efforts have been made to represent them through their careers as well, but with such little time devoted to this they mainly serve to create a clichéd love triangle. The fact that Gordon and Mario Falcone had to work together (providing positive character progression) to save them painted the women as damsels-in-distress, although Lee did manage to break free of her restraints beforehand. They were together in a room for the first time and spoke primarily about Gordon; this episode would find it hard to pass the Bechdel test.
However, Gotham has a wealth of characters to balance and some will inevitably get less material than others. Women such as Fish Mooney have more screen time than men such as Butch Gilzean, for instance, so the writers generally aren’t sexist in their handling of characters.
It was refreshing that Jim and Lee don’t solve all of their problems by the end of the episode. In fact, Lee refuses to speak to Jim about what transpired, and he doesn’t reassure her that he knew Tetch would do the opposite of what he said. This show, which is always so loud, embraced silence to great effect. The pair clearly are on bad terms, and the melancholic ending didn’t pretend otherwise.
Jim Gordon being the main focus of his own show for once was enjoyable. Ben McKenzie portrayed Gordon as calm and effective, not allowing Tetch to wind him up. The latter appeared more insane than ever, and must be in an even worse state than the Penguin, whose subplot didn’t amount to much more than learning that his love for the Riddler love is unrequited.
The introduction of a Miss Kringle look-a-like who has an instant connection with the Riddler confirms that he likes women, and she will undoubtedly come between him and the Penguin. There is the still the possibility that the Riddler loves the Penguin as well, but for now it appears that the writers of Gotham don’t want to commit to a reciprocated homosexual relationship between two iconic villains. Despite this, it is commendable that they at least represented one of them as such to reflect the modern world, without making a patronising fuss about it. It will be fascinating to see how this relationship develops next week.
Barnes’ story moved along nicely, with him taking out his anger on the eponymous White Rabbit and using his newfound strength to crush a metal chair. He no longer requires his cane either, and the frequent displays of his altered face seemingly confirm that he is slowly becoming bad. The gentle evolution of his character arc is wondrous work, boiling away teasingly.
Scriptwriters Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt worked well together, spinning a lean, focused tale that advanced the story and developed characters without wasting much time on sub-plots. The story was riveting and fast-paced, full of action and dark in tone. The death count was high. Structurally, the episode was solid, with a rollercoaster first act that didn’t let up until the credit rolled. This highlights the benefits of doing multiple-episode arcs for villains, something which Gotham has always been proficient at, compared to shows such as Arrow that waste characters in quick villain-of-the-week stories.
The episode was directed gracefully by Nathan Hope. His ever-moving camera swooped across scenes, keeping the momentum turning throughout the episode. For example, the climactic scene with Tetch and the women seated at a table (mirroring Alice in Wonderland) was directed with a sense of panache, with Hope showing us everything in a fluid motion that made it impossible to not be hooked. Along with his cinematographer, he impressed technically, utilising a mix of frame-within-a-frame shots expertly to direct the viewer’s eye towards specific elements. The final shot of the episode, with the camera zooming out from Jim and Lee on the bench to symbolise how lonely they both are, was excellent.
The music was as good as ever. Tension was prevalent for the course of the episode, exemplified through the foreboding music when Mario stalked the halls of Lee’s home, as well as the heartbeat music that increased in tone until it was unbearable, in the scene where Gordon had to choose which woman to save. The score never fails to supplement a scene.
This was a terrific episode, which is becoming the norm for Gotham this season. As with the best TV, the writing, directing and acting all at their pinnacle combined to make something special. With so many different stories in play, I don’t know what to expect anymore, bar the next return of the enthralling Jervis Tetch.