TV Recap: Gotham: Rise of the Villains, ‘A Bitter Pill’


A Bitter Pill Plot:

As Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Barnes (Michael Chiklis) raid Galavan’s (James Frain) apartment for evidence, a barrage of trained killers attempt to assassinate Gordon.  Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) takes care of an ailing Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), and Alfred (Sean Pertwee) tries to stop Bruce (David Mazouz) from pursuing Galavan’s secret about his parent’s killer.

Just another day in Gotham: Police under fire, lunatic assassins, kidnappings, and cannibal killers.  I don’t know how else I can put this, but the show just keeps getting better and better.  Not only did we get the most intense action we’ve seen all season, but there was plenty of character development to go around as well.  We’ll get to Ed and Oswald in a minute, but we have to start with the anchor of the show himself, Jim Gordon.  This episode was great all the way through, but it was the ending to Gordon’s arc that pushed it to “best episode of the season” territory.

Photo Credit: Nicole Rivelli/ FOX
Photo Credit: Nicole Rivelli/ FOX

They’ve clearly made a point this season of letting us into Gordon’s darker personality where he’s more Batman than police officer, always at odds at crossing the line, which was mentioned in spades this week.  It’s not like this is out of the blue.  Going back to last season, Gordon was always prone to emotion and anger, and he’s certainly been pushed more to the brink by personal conflicts from Penguin and Barbara (Erin Richards).  It’s appropriate that Lee (Morena Baccarin) is the one to give him warning signs, as both a girlfriend and doctor, but it’s Barnes who Gordon connects with this week.

The episode throws you for a loop because it starts off tense as hell between the two, and has you thinking these guys will be at serious odds by the end, but that’s not at all what transpires.  We get a huge reveal about Barnes with a great speech, and we see how it rubs off on Gordon.  All in all, Gordon goes through a fairly traditional arc, but well executed.  I was satisfied.  It’s not until the end though where the episode transcends itself with an absolutely brilliant ending, and Ben McKenzie’s acting says it all.  This is what I’m talking about.  It mirrors the best of Batman, and the moral debate we all have on whether Batman should break his rule and kill the Joker.  At what cost is Batman’s honor?  I’m convinced the writers had this in mind.  If you gave up on this show because you think it’s an insult to the Batman mythos, than you need to do some re-evaluating.  It celebrates it.  This storyline also makes great use of an ancillary character, which all good writing does.  Fantastic.

While Gordon was easily the strongest part to the episode, we also had Penguin and Ed as BFF’s, a term I’m sure no other reviewer has used, right?  Ever since their quick meeting last season, we’ve been waiting for this, and it delivered ten fold.  While Gordon may have been the MVP, it was Cory Michael Smith who gave the best performance.  This was the first time I could really feel the Riddler, and I loved every minute of it.  Leave it to Ed to shake emo Penguin out of his funk.  Come on, Oswald!  Get it together, for crying out loud!  To be fair though, all the dialogue about Penguin growing up and his mother was compelling as hell.  While it fizzled out slightly at the end, these two are a superb pairing.

Photo Credit: Nicole Rivelli/ FOX
Photo Credit: Nicole Rivelli/ FOX

The only other storyline of note was another Bruce/Alfred romp.  This provided much needed levity, as Alfred played guardian of Wayne Manor, preventing Bruce from escaping at every turn.  Much like the Ed/Penguin story, this ended with a thud, although did provide a nice tease for next week.

The characters shined, but this was definitely one of the more action packed episodes of the series.  We get some truly gut-wrenching brawls, including a great elevator fight.  I can’t believe this show gets away with TV-14, but I certainly appreciate how far it’s willing to go, although I’m sure that last scene in the GCPD will raise some eyebrows.

This episode had it all, including great work from Raul Castillo as a crazy new villain, who I’m sure we’ll see again.  It all goes back to Gordon though, which really gave it that extra elevation.  My only big complaint was where’s Harvey?!  This had to of been the first episode with no Donal Logue.  WTF!?

Rating: 9 out of 10 (OMG)

Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.