I don’t know about you, but I think Arkham belongs on the list of Fictional Places I Wouldn’t Want to Visit. Kind of like this…
Just add a slot for Arkham: “Gotham” Fans: “No chance in you-know-where!”
Architecturally-speaking, I love Arkham’s look as it mixes a Gothic style with a cold, modern feel. It transmits a genuinely creepy, don’t-open-the-door type of vibe yet avoids turning into a stock horror movie set. I’m anxious to see what transpires here and I hope Arkham becomes a centerpiece in future episodes. I enjoyed my “stay” in this episode, and I hope to return. Only in my head – not literally!
Plot-wise, this episode took a different spin on the whole crime-of-the-week structure, this time with Jim investigating atrocities committed against inmates inside of Arkham. The twist was a bit of a surprise, which is a good thing because the fastest way to disappoint me when it comes to whodunits is when I can pretty much guess who actually did it. I had my suspicions about Jack Gruber, but he seemed so sane and genuine that I kind of let him slip as far as possible suspects go.
I mean, look at this guy…
Doesn’t he have that kindly grandpa kind of look to you? But I suppose it’s the perfect cover for whatever diabolical plan he’s hatching. It does leave me wondering (and worrying) what could come from this. (And what Batman villain Jack Gruber is or will become. Hmm…I think I need to do some more comic book homework now.)
Speaking of new faces, this episode also marked the first appearance of Dr. Leslie Thompkins, a physician typically assigned to the ladies’ ward at Arkham but who is willing to serve patients whenever and wherever she’s needed.
Up front, I like that about her character. It shows she has a heart and isn’t out to make a name for herself. I’ll confess that I don’t know much about her as far as the comics go, but if I remember correctly, I believe she’s one of the white hats, the good guys/gals who assists Batman later on. Played by Morena Baccarin, Dr. Thompkins’ introduction was strong and I hope she sticks around as a series regular. I loved the chemistry between her and Jim and it felt very genuine, more so than his interactions with Barbara. While at this point I’m not sure how I would feel about adding romance to their equation, I do sense Jim and Leslie are on the same page when it comes to their worldviews – that people are deserving of respect, kindness, and justice no matter who they are or where they’ve come from. Overall, it was a great setup for her and I sense only more good will come of it.
Our younger Gothamites, Selena Kyle and Ivy Pepper, make brief appearances, but I like the dynamic that’s being established. In the comics, I’m not sure how much interaction, if any, Catwoman has with Poison Ivy, but having these two young ladies team up here was a delight and I’d like to see where their interwoven story arc might go. While Bruce Wayne might not have been in this episode, Selena appears to be making good on her actions towards him in the previous episode “Lovecraft” as she tries her best to be nice. Here, she sees an ill Ivy to shelter rather than leave her on the street. That shows a degree of heart in Selena as she could have just left Ivy alone in the alley; instead, she has a moment of kindness by taking Ivy in. Granted, she breaks into Jim’s apartment but I suppose the ends justify the means, thus proving that Selena can be nice when she wants to be.
Speaking of the ladies of Gotham, I’m still not feelin’ Barbara’s storyline here. No offense against Erin Richards, but the character she plays really isn’t given much to do other than have emotional tantrums. Though I confess it was fun to watch Barbara get ticked off at little Ivy on the phone.
Though this reveals something deep-down I’ve disliked about Barbara all along – she’s just not that smart. She’s two crying fits away from becoming TSTL. (That means “Too Stupid To Live,” in case you were curious.) Such as in this case: seriously, Babs, you can’t tell that was a little girl on the other end of the line? Okay, maybe she might make a mistake like that if she was emotional and didn’t think it through. But that’s my chief issue with her – Barbara doesn’t think things through and, instead, relies more on emotion rather than logic. Overall, I feel her character is just a set piece without much to do and, in my opinion, she has had the weakest character development of all.
But moving on now from the weakest character development to the strongest. Poor Oswald Cobblepot just can’t seem to catch any breaks as of late. Especially in this episode, in which he has very little screen time but, as always, what little he’s given is a joy to watch. While I’m not sure that Maroni’s “lesson” to Oswald regarding keeping his ego in check will stick, I do think Oswald knows how far he can push when it comes to his own assertions of power. To be fair, Oswald did need a dose of humility but, to his credit, he’s not one for flagrantly acting like a big head all of the time. Though he has no doubts about what he hopes to achieve as even in the comics, Oswald displays a slice of over-inflated self-confidence at times, such as when he asserts about himself, “The Penguin was ever destined to be the true king of Gotham crime!” (That’s from “Secret Origins, Vol. 1” and it took me forever to find. Hey! I did my homework this time!)
Except, Oswald, why would you try to tax fishermen? What will the Penguin do without his fish?
(I will note that the subtle fish jokes are all rather cute and clever. I appreciate good in-jokes if they’re done right and not splattered in every episode. It would be tempting to write in cold, ice, and fish jokes for Oswald every time but, thankfully, the writers have the wisdom to show restraint.)
In the end, Maroni has to make sure he’s still one of Gotham’s top dogs. “You’re the monkey,” he tells Oswald. “I’m the zoo keeper.” Naturally, Oswald isn’t going to contradict him to his face, but that look he gives at the end when Maroni is looking the other way? Priceless.
As a whole, I think Maroni’s attempt to turn Oswald humble just made our dear Penguin angrier. Kind of like stomping on a hornet’s nest to get the hornets out.
But let’s get to what everyone might be asking – what they heck was that song the Arkham inmate was singing to open the episode? As it so happens, that “song” comes from The Tempest, one of William Shakespeare’s plays. More notably, this passage is referred to as Ariel’s song: not Ariel the singing mermaid but Ariel the spirit, a bound servant to the magician Propsero who saved Ariel from a witch’s encasement spell. In summation, The Tempest is about Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, who have been stranded on an island for years after Propsero’s brother deposed him and set him to sea. The play has intersecting narratives as Propsero works his magic to maroon his conniving brother and his crew, enslave the monster Caliban, and contend with his own actions. I won’t spoil the ending for you as it’s a great play and I’d encourage you to read it some time.
In any case, “Full Fathom Five” (as it’s commonly known) is the second stanza of Ariel’s song. In terms of placement, it occurs in the play’s first act and is sung to one of the shipwrecked crewman whose father has drowned. This second stanza, then, goes as follows:
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.
(To borrow from Harvey’s remark, “I can dig that.” Can you?)
To translate, this stanza refers to how the drowned man is no longer himself but transformed by the water. In a literal sense, it means the corpse will no longer resemble a recognizable human body (plus when you add salt water to the equation…yeah, not pretty). Yet Ariel’s words seem to imply the transformation is “something rich and strange,” not creepy, thus giving a more poetic edge to a tragic situation.
So what does all of this have to do with “Gotham”? In terms of this episode, the Arkham inmates put on The Tempest and that certainly describes the turbulent environment inside the asylum as well as the city itself. The seemingly unrestrained influx of evil has caused a storm of sorts that threatens to “drown” anyone who gets or stands in its way. Due to this prevailing influence of moral darkness, folks have been transformed from living, caring souls into power-hungry, greedy, violent people. Yet there is still value in even the most despicable person. Note the reference to coral and pearls in the song, substances from which fine jewelry can be made. For bones to be like coral and eyes to be like pearls, a person’s inner workings, metaphorically-speaking, have been hardened yet there is still something of worth there. I think this mindset is best embodied by new-comer Dr. Thompkins who believes patients are still people and, thus, deserving of help.
To continue with the metaphor, Gotham’s corrupt underbelly has transformed its people into “something rich and strange.” The word parallel here is worth mentioning, as “rich” brings to mind wealth or a degree of fullness, and “strange” is, of course, weirdness or a sense of the unknown or the unfamiliar. Thus, to be transformed into “something rich and strange” means to turn into something possessing a sense of deep-seated value that is also a bit unnerving or outside the typical mold. Put it together and you’ve got a fitting description of the denizens of Arkham: folks who have, through some means, been transformed, yet are still people and possess some degree of worth on the inside through they outwardly express a sense of the unknown, the unusual, and even the unrecognizable. On a large-scale application, many of the characters in Gotham fit the same bill: they are people with internal value yet express attributes that are outside some sort of norm or established set of rules, whether it’s a penchant for speaking in riddles, sneaking around alleyways, striving to overthrow an old system of power, or even just trying to do the right thing no matter the extreme cost.
Overall, I thought “Rogue’s Gallery” was a good (but not great) return for “Gotham” and it has, as always, left me eager to witness its next chapter.
Until later, fellow Gothamites!