The last episode of Fox’s “Gotham” took viewers inside the hallowed halls of Arkham Asylum — one of the most iconic locales in the Batman mythos — but even Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) couldn’t keep the inmates from running amok, resulting in the escape of the sadistic Jack Gruber (Christopher Heyerdahl) and his henchman Aaron Helzinger (aka DC Comics villain Amygdala, played by Kevin McCormick).
Jack and Aaron’s breakout may be very bad news for Gotham, but according to McKenzie, it “presents Jim with an opportunity, because he’s able to pitch himself as the only man who can catch them, because he knows them.” In an effort to earn back his badge and his place at the GCPD, Jim will do whatever it takes, and McKenzie told Variety that the Jan. 19 episode, “What The Little Bird Told Him,” is “one of the best we’ve done” as a result. It will also bring Jim back into contact with Dr. Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin), who has a major role to play in upcoming episodes. The hour was written by Ben Edlund and directed by Eagle Egilsson.
For McKenzie, the introduction of Jack (who may go by another name that’s familiar to hardcore comic book fans) and the other Arkham inmates takes the show to a new level: “It’s big and fun and just very entertaining. To have this bizarre villain let loose on the streets of Gotham with his henchman is a fun little conceit and it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Arkham is eventually going to do to Gotham. All of these villains will eventually be committed there and get even worse while in close proximity to each other.”
And “Gotham” — which was just renewed for a second season — has plenty more rogues from Bat-canon to introduce in the coming weeks, including a precursor to the Scarecrow. “[Episodes] 14 and 15 are a tandem of Dr. Crane and his son. I haven’t seen them put together yet but it’s quite disturbing, actually, to encounter these villains before they become themselves,” McKenzie previewed. “[We] see that a lot of their eventual psychosis is rooted in trauma that’s perpetuated on them by their parents. It’s rough. I hope it allows the viewer to become sympathetic to these villains, to actually see them for the fragile human beings that they are. If we can do that, that’ll be a neat trick, and allow us to go in all sorts of different directions in future seasons.”
One character who has already successfully achieved that balance of villainy and pathos is Robin Lord Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot (aka Penguin), and the actor remains humbled by the “positive and supportive” reactions his performance as the “underdog psychopath” has received. “I set out from the beginning to make the character human, and I think in making him human he had to be sympathetic in a way. To see that people have responded to that… it’s rare that I ever feel like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, but this is one of those rare times,” he told Variety at Fox’s Television Critics Association presentation on Saturday.
“What The Little Bird Told Him” is a game-changing episode for both Jim and Penguin, who has been playing a dangerous game of late: working for the head of one crime family, Don Maroni (David Zayas) while secretly spying on him for rival Don Falcone (John Doman).
“This is one of the first times where you see the pull between the two; he has to really scramble to maintain his integrity to one and also his integrity to his ultimate boss, Don Falcone, and at the same time maintain his own personal integrity, because he’s really in it just for himself. It’s all about self-preservation for him,” Taylor explained. “So from my character’s perspective, that’s the most exciting thing about the upcoming episode — seeing him torn between the two and also scrambling and trying to make it work. It adds to that humanness; if he was constantly successful and had everything plotted out, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting or as fun to play.”
While Taylor admitted that Penguin’s ultimate goal is to unseat Don Falcone and run Gotham City in his stead, “I think he knows enough to know that he’s not ready yet, he’s not there yet. So then I would say his main obstacle would still probably be Fish Mooney [Jada Pinkett Smith], because she’s absolutely ruthless, and she knows more about him than anybody else does besides his mom. She taught him everything he knows about the underbelly of Gotham city, and she will use all of that information against him. She will stop at nothing, so I think she’s definitely still his number one [enemy].”
“Gotham” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox.