At its halfway point, “Gotham” has proven itself an entertaining show, but several glaring flaws continue to make watching it frustrating. By hiding some of its weaknesses and focusing on the show’s strengths, the mid-season finale, “Lovecraft” brings an above-average end to a flawed beginning — but sweeping dirt under the rug can only do so much.
Monday at 8 p.m.
Opening with the attempted assassination of Selina Kyle (Carmen Bicondova, “Battlefield America”) at the home of Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz, “Touch”), “Lovecraft” gives butler Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee, “Elementary”) a standout moment. Facing three killers, Alfred just kicks ass. Pertwee’s rough-around-the-edges portrayal of the famous butler has been one of the strengths of the show so far; he’s a character with purpose, unlike several others in the show.
Selina and Bruce’s escape into the city allows the two to interact more. The pairing, introduced in the last episode, brings a new approach to the famous relationship between the future caped crusader and femme fatale. However, character development has been inconsistent. Bruce has been relatively well-explored, showing hints of the crazy determination that creates a superhero. On the other hand, Selina is the victim of writers who feel the need to drop not-so-subtle hints of her future, practically saying, “Look! She only drinks milk … like a cat.” It doesn’t help that she insists on being called Cat. This obvious explication weighs down other characters, too. The most egregious is Riddler-to-be, Edward Nygma — “He likes riddles, get it?”
The attempt by the police to find the children remains standard fair for “Gotham.” One of the series’ greatest shortcomings is its procedural element. Cases have been far too easily resolved not because of good police work, but just some luck or chance. Then there’s Harvey Bullock’s (Donal Logue, “Sons of Anarchy”) trump card, “I’ll go talk to Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith, “Hawthorne”),” which is used far too often as a go-to crutch. “Lovecraft” reduced these deficiencies by pairing up Harvey and Alfred, two of the more enjoyable characters. “You’re pretty handy for a valet,” says Bullock. “Butler mate. I’m the butler,” Alfred asserts. “Gotham,” show more of badass Alfred, please.
“Gotham” ’s strength is still its exploration of the city’s criminal underworld. The simmering unrest in Carmine Falcone’s (John Doman, “The Wire”) organization has emerged as the primary focus. At the center are the Penguin’s machinations (Robin Lord Taylor, “The Walking Dead”). The Penguin’s rise from low-level criminal to Falcome’s trusted eyes and ears has been laden with backstabbings (figurative and literal) and lies, which led to the series’ strongest episode so far in “Penguin’s Umbrella.” Taylor brings a certain demented joy to the future crime lord who delights in his deceptions.
The focus on “Gotham” ’s strengths makes for a better episode but draws attention to the flaws that have hobbled the show since day one. The relationship between protagonist Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie, “Southland”) and Barbara Kean (Erin Richards, “Breaking In”) is the most blatant example of screenwriters trying to force an ill-conceived pairing on an ambivalent audience. The show is trying to hinge the audience on the relationship, but Barbara is one of the worst written characters on television right now. The character is indecisive and barely exists outside of her relationship to Jim. Same goes for obligatory love triangle member Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena, “Salt”), a vice detective whose only role is telling Barbara, “You deserve someone better” and standing in Jim’s way out of spite.
The ending of the mid-season shows promise with the cementing of Arkham Asylum as a primary location in the second half, but if “Gotham” doesn’t fix its primary character and writing flaws, its potential will be wasted.