Photo: Jeff Neumann/FOX (FOX)

After three seasons of stumbling through a number of storylines that either fumbled the promise of the plot or failed to engage with the show’s characters in a meaningful, impactful way, the first half of the fourth season of Gotham found its groove. Not every episode was compelling, but as a whole the first half of this season told a story that felt like the show finally delivering on its promise to be more than just another Batman origin story. Instead, the show used more than a few engaging character arcs—Bullock’s fall from grace, Gordon’s command of the GCPD, and the different ascents of women into power across Gotham, to name a few—to craft something with a more cohesive vision than before.

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I’ll admit to being hesitant heading into this week’s spring premiere. After all, the winter finale aired all the way back in the beginning of December, and that kind of lengthy break had me questioning whether the show making its return would be as good as I remembered. Perhaps the first 11 episodes worked only as a contained arc, and the show would struggle to keep that momentum going. Luckily, “A Dark Knight: Pieces Of A Broken Mirror” is a strong premiere, one that follows through on the storylines from last fall in interesting ways while also pushing the story, and the characters, in a new direction.

What’s different about Gotham this season is that it has a confidence about it that wasn’t there before. It feels like the writers and actors have all settled into the show’s tone and found what makes it work: a bit of comedy, some dark brutality, and more attention paid to how every storyline works with the others. That confidence is present in this week’s fantastic cold open. As the camera moves around the shady alleys and buildings of The Narrows, we’re reacquainted and introduced to a number of people. Gordon is looking for Bullock, and that leads him to a brothel with a colorful cast of characters. Poison Ivy is reborn again, this time as a vicious, no-nonsense woman ready to make her mark on Gotham. Alfred, living in the slums after being fired by Bruce, fights off a few thugs before Gordon runs into him, confused by his situation. Butch continues to come back to life, and last but not least, Thompkins is seen inspiring the people of the Narrows to come together and build an actual cooprative community, one not shaped by violence and theft.

It’s a smart, well-executed way to once again familiarize us with these stories after such a lengthy hiatus. We immediately understand where Alfred, Gordon, Thompkins, and Nygma stand, and we get a tease of what’s coming from Ivy and Bullock. Then, when a small man tries to kill Thompkins with a bomb attached to a toy plane, the plot is set into motion. Who wants Thompkins dead? How will Jim, who gets the case, react to not only the news of his ex being back in town, but seeing her for the first time as the leader of a notoriously criminal section of town?

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Setting up such intriguing questions is only half the battle, but it provides the premiere with a necessary anchor. By having Gordon’s potential interaction with Thompkins, and what the attempted assassination means for Gotham, as the main driver of the action, every other story is free to develop in a more organic way. There’s a lot going on in the premiere, but it’s not overstuffed. Rather, every character gets the time they need to tell a small, contained story that sets up the back half of this season. Take Bullock’s arc for instance. He goes from missing to a hero who saves Alfred and snags a murderer in the process, all before having a final confrontation with Gordon. It’s neat and tidy, and it all makes sense in terms of Bullock’s journey thus far. In the past Gotham has been quick to pivot away from the consequences of certain storylines in order to tell new stories, and that’s largely been detrimental to more meaningful serialized storytelling. While I lamented the loss of wisecracking Bullock in previous reviews, there’s no denying that the show is playing a longer game that deserves to be appreciated.

That longer game is intriguing because of how many characters are involved. For the first time in the show’s existence, Gotham feels like an actual city, with all the bumps and bruises that come with that. No longer is the seediness of the city just a talking point for Gordon when he’s frowning and lecturing the GCPD; it’s a tangible thing that the show uses to tell stories about these characters. “Pieces Of A Broken Mirror” is as good a spring premiere as can be expected, mostly because it follows up on the promise of the first half of season. Gordon remains a tragic hero; he’s cleaned up the GCPD, but lost Bullock and Thompkins in the process. The interactions he has with them are heartbreaking in their inevitability, with Bullock refusing to be Jim’s “priest” as he puts it, and Thompkins simply acknowledging that they are in different places now. Add in Nygma’s dual identities—The Riddler is the one who put out the hit on Thompkins—Bruce’s ever-present downward spiral, and the continued transformation of the criminal underground into something dynamic and dangerous, and suddenly Gotham looks like a show with a vision that it won’t have trouble sustaining.


Stray observations

  • Never Mind The Bullocks: “I love bartending. It involves two of my favorite things: drinking and ignoring people.” I’m so happy I can finally bring this feature back.
  • Gordon: “Somebody hired Griffin Krank to assassinate her.” Nygma: “Krank?” Gordon: “A toymaker but also an assassin.” Nygma: “That is so Gotham.”
  • For the record, I am down for a half season of Bullock just doing his Sam Malone thing.
  • I won’t lie, I got a little emotional when Gordon laid Bullock’s badge on the bar and said, simply, “I miss you.”
  • There’s a great comedic cue in Cherry’s where some serious music is playing while Gordon and Thompkins see each other for the first time in ages. The scene is shot in tight closeups. Then, when Gordon disdainfully asks why she’s working with Nygma, the music abruptly stops and the camera cuts to a wider shot that reveals Nygma. “I’m right here,” he says. Great use of music and shot composition.
  • You have to love how giddy Barb is while giving the location of “The Doc” to Gordon. She’s all about the drama.
  • Programming note: Gotham reviews will be going back to the Discussion Post format for the rest of the season, but I’ll have another full-length review set up for the finale.

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