Synopsis of 2×12: Gordon and Cobblepot attempt to push their narrative about the death of Theo Galavan but Barnes and Dent have questions. Cobblepot is sent to Arkham Asylum and faces off with Dr. Hugo Strange. Victor Fries desperately tries to find a way to freeze his wife until he can find a cure for the disease that’s killing her.
“Mr. Freeze,” the winter premier of the second half of this season of Gotham opens with a two minute recap of the last season followed by a four minute recap of the last episode in the form of a hearing on Gordon’s competency in ethics following Theo Galavan’s death. More than explaining the last eleven episodes, it mostly serves to illuminate how brutally, ridiculously complex the crosses and double-crosses the second season of Gotham has been filled with up to this point but the rest of the episode attempts to strip things back down, focusing on the dynamics that work, setting up new ones and introducing the newest characters for the show to chew through.
The new status quo for the series seems like it could be focusing on the questions of Gordon’s ethics and honesty and it does so by pushing Barnes and Dent closer together. It’s an intriguing prospect. Barnes was a compelling character at the beginning of the season mostly for his stoic refusal to bend to the corruption of the city and seeing him actively look for the truth with someone whose barely hanging on to his sanity could be an intriguing dynamic.
The episode tries to build up other new relationships here as well. Butch fields a request from the fallen Tabitha Galavan for a seat of power in Gotham’s mostly fragmented criminal underworld. It’s a return to the gothic, kinky feel the show tangled with through much of the sexual psychodrama of the last episodes and, boy, I forgot how ridiculous this always feels. The villains’ subplots have always felt tonally dissonant on this show, but it’s particularly noticeable when the rest of the episode tries to focus on the nitty-gritty of police corruption, with both Gordon and Nygma’s past transgressions coming under the microscope.
Not everything is as grounded as Jim’s plot though. The villain subplot is a followup from the cliffhanger of the fall finale, with Victor Fries killing in the street and experimenting on frozen cadavers to find a way to save his ailing wife Nora. Its a familiar story, particularly for this character but it’s done well here, balancing the show’s often over-the-top gothic tone with genuine heart and solid performances.
I genuinely really like the Mr. Freeze stuff here. It’s undoubtedly hard to top “Heart of Ice,” the quintessential Mr. Freeze story and one of the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series but the show really found a way to combine its own aesthetics with the tragedy intrinsic to Freeze’s origin story. The scenes in Fries’ basement, where we see the bodies he’s experimenting on to find a way to save Nora recall, more than anything else, the scene in “Batman: The Man who Laughs,” when Jim Gordan finds the warehouse where Joker first tested his laughing gas, with the floor littered in corpses with half formed smiles and eyes that gleam with horrors that cannot be unseen. Solid performances and grimy details capture some of that same grizzly energy and it genuinely drives home the danger and pathos that are Mr. Freeze’s modus operandi.
Tonally less successful are the moments in Arkham Asylum. The show’s always had a hard time balancing its’ Hot Topic goth aesthetics with the insanity of the asylum and it just doesn’t work here. The moment where Cobblepot arrives in the asylum, desperate to secure his place of authority and power feels like One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest by way of the self-parodying era of Tim Burton. The scenes with B.D. Wong’s much hyped portrayal of Dr. Hugo Strange fare better but not by much. He has a handle on the idea of the doctor as a man with a less than upstanding handle on the hippocratic oath but he’s just another character with a shady motive on a show already chock full of them.
“Mr. Freeze” isn’t a perfect episode, but it’s better than it has any right to be, especially coming after the mostly dreadful first half of the season. It’s anchored by solid performances from Wong and Nathan Darrow as Mr. Freeze and its focus on police corruption and the lingering consequences of Gordon and Cobblepot’s actions sets up the potential for a compelling macro-story for the rest of the season. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not the show embraces that potential or not but for the first time, Gotham actually feels like a promising show.