"The Gentle Art of Making Enemies" was a headlong dive into the best-worst Gotham City has to offer — largely thanks to Gotham's immortal clown, Jerome (Cameron Monaghan) — and the star-crossed crazylove between Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) and the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor). In the midst of all the explosions, riots, confessions of love, murder and delicious mayhem, it's easy to overlook the latest chapter in Bruce Wayne's (David Mazouz) Guide to Terrible Coping Mechanisms, even though Gotham tried really, really hard to make the moment stand out.
In just a few short seasons, Bruce's inability to cope with his parents' murders has evolved from "traumatized teen" to "yup, that's some Batman s***, right there," and I couldn't be prouder. From the sneaky mind-game playing to Jerome's inner fame whore that allowed Bruce to live through the episode in the first place, to the masochistic lockpick routine, and of course, the obligatory angsting about justice vs. vengeance and the birth of Bats' "no killin'" rule, things were pretty spot-on.
The concern here is that Gotham is going to take this shiny thing they created in Bruce and run it into the ground with its usual unstable writing paired with the glee the series exudes whenever it does something great. It may have taken three seasons to get there, but I do think that the series has developed a modicum of restraint when it comes to savoring its strengths. Bruce and Selina's (Camren Bicondova) big blowup over her mother was a welcome introduction to this new phase of their relationship. That wasn't little Bruce and little Selina we saw arguing about the nature of a lie. That was the Bat and the Cat in the first of many such disagreements. Now Selina is going to go away for a little bit, because absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that. She's going to return a slightly more jaded, grown up, and different person than she was the last time she talked to Bruce, and Bruce — as we see in his tango with Jerome — is well on the way to maladjusted adulthood himself.
I mean, guys, the kid got Jerome to jam staples in his arm just so he would have a lockpick on hand for the inevitable handcuffed-to-certain-doom scene. And he didn't flinch. Then he realized that in order to play the role of wussy rich kid, Brucie needed to flinch, so he did. This is some good, nuanced writing and some really great, nuanced acting from David Mazouz, who we should have realized was awesome when he managed to make the weird kid in Touch somehow not unbearable or annoying. (For the record, I recognized it. I loved it, and I didn't hate Touch either.)
The only hiccup I noticed — and this is more of an instance of personal Bat-canon colliding with this Bat-canon than an actual definable flaw — was in Alfred's (Sean Pertwee) encouragement of Bruce's mission. I'm a sucker for the long-suffering Alfred dutifully laundering capes and stitching bullet holes, supporting Master Bruce while also vocally disapproving of the whole vigilante gig. That this Alfred seems to see the inevitable future of young Bruce and aids him in crafting the personal code that will govern his every action as Batman isn't necessarily a misstep but it just doesn't sit right with me. Then again, Gotham's portrait of Bruce and Alfred is one of the more intimate representations of their relationship to see the light of day, and while comics Alfred and animated Alfred and Michael Caine Alfred all had their respective badass backgrounds, Gotham's Alfred is still the most physical presence out of them all. He's also a younger Alfred, so there's that.
I'm willing to ride it out though. I've accused Gotham over and over and over again of being too afraid of defying its source material to be truly great, but the handful of episodes we have under our utility belt since the show's return have each had some "truly great" moments within them. The series is laying a foundation — for what, who knows? The irony of all of this development is that the future of Gotham ultimately can't be seen on Gotham, simply by nature of what the series is. That doesn't mean we can't enjoy the hell out of it, though.
Gotham airs Mondays at 8/7c on Fox.