After seven weeks, it’s difficult to say whether Gotham’s serialized storytelling has made a significant difference in quality. It’s cleaned up episode construction, but the writers aren’t taking full advantage of the cleaner real estate. It’s given the show a slow burn quality, but Gotham thrives best with rapid bursts of flame. The show is stuck in limbo, the dichotomy between what it could be and what it is growing larger with each passing week. In many ways, “My Little Monster” is the perfect illustration of the show’s current state: brimming with potential but failed by the little things.
Nearly a quarter into last night’s episode, I was ready to write it off. Beyond perturbed, I believed the season’s seventh episode was following a similar path to that of “Strike Force,” the dismal fourth entry that remains the year’s low point. Then the second half rolls in, and “My Little Monster” turns into the closest thing Gotham has ever had to an action-packed thrill ride. It’s not quite that, because the show still can’t get its action to the level of contemporaries like Arrow or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but it’s entertaining. A payoff episode in the new serialization format, “My Little Monster” does a decent job of delivering something more substantial than weeks previous, while also keeping intrigue for the hours to come. Still, the writing is so poor that I never found a rhythm in the episode, feeling unnerved throughout. There are moments of unintentional cheese and cringe-worthy dialogue in all these comic book shows, but nothing comes close to this Fox drama. Every scene contains a line in need of editing. There’s one, in particular, between Bruce, Selina and Silver St. Cloud (the scheming love-interest for Bruce introduced a few weeks ago) that reads like something from Degrassi, or a well-funded after school special. Some of that is alleviated by a few enjoyable firefights and a well-crafted final set piece, but with the vast improvements Gotham has made in terms of episode construction, it is frustrating to watch the show continue to disappoint because it can’t string along an hour of proper dialogue.
Indeed, the writing’s failings were aided in part by the episode’s focus on action. Never a strong suit of Gotham, the series’ 29th hour delivers its best effort to date on that front. I’ll admit that is not a revolutionary statement, because of how poorly executed the action sequences have been in the past, but director Kenneth Fink does an admirable job of making simple shootouts engaging. The show is also, to my delight, continuing its shift into purposeful camp, accentuated last night by a moment in which Gordon and Bullock use massive machine guns to stave off Zsasz’s crew of assassins. It’s stupid, but unabashedly so.
As has become the pattern, my favorite aspect of “My Little Monster” is the continuation of Edward Nygma’s descent into villainy. For all they’ve failed me on, the writers have done a nice job with Ed’s transformation this season. It is often the best-written storyline of a given episode, because the dual personality plot is fun to watch, and therefore fun to write. Dealing with last week’s unfortunate accidental killing of Kristen Kringle, Ed is plunged into a riddle of his own doing. Last season was abhorrent in its lack of subtlety regarding the GCPD employee becoming the eventual Riddler, similar to Selina’s constant reminding that she likes to be called “Cat.” Despite this, I was charmed by the decision to have the character’s first devilish bout of wits be with himself. It also leads to a few genuine thrills, such as the scene in which Lee nearly discovers what Ed is up to. Now that he has crossed the threshold that separates good and evil, he has become the most interesting villain the show has to offer.
This is both promising, because of how strong the Ed storyline has been this season, but also a sign of the season’s failings. The entire sophomore campaign has been centered on Theo Galavan and his wicked intentions. At first, Theo’s calm demeanor and general aloofness (played with a sly cool by James Frain) added to the character’s mystery. Now, however, he appears anything but mysterious, having become something far blander. You’d expect the new serialization to give the show ample opportunity to build a character appropriately. Yet, very minor strides have been made in the characterization of Theo (the same goes for Bullock and Lee, who are the same they were a year ago). When so much of your story hinges on the actions of one man, it would be wise to do right by him. Instead, Theo, brimming with potential, is ultimately half-baked, much like Gotham itself.
Eric Walters is the Assistant Tech Editor for Paste and a regular contributor to the TV section. For more of his thoughts on comic book television, listen to his podcast.