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REVIEW: Gotham 2X09 “Rise of the Villains: Bitter Pill to Swallow”

Pshh… and you though last week’s Gotham seemed like a filler episode.

“Bitter Pill to Swallow,” was like a filler-episode on steroids because nothing happened. It was a fine episode in and of itself, but almost entirely irrelevant to the overarching plot of the show save for a few small nods here and there. “Bitter Pill to Swallow,” followed what’s becoming the Gotham standard of two central plots per episode, with one focusing on Gordon and the GCPD and the other focusing on the new team-up between Penguin and Nygma.

Spoilers ahead!

The main focus of this episode was on, surprise, Jim Gordon and all of the people who wish to kill him. We start off with Tabitha Galavan making her way into a bar and, more importantly, making her way into the secret casino of assassins located beneath the bar. She approaches the clear HBIC of the establishment and requests her… special services… to take care of a problem that has been plaguing her and her brother as of late: Jim Gordon.

Speak of the almost-devil! While the arguably deadlier of the Galavan siblings is hiring an assassin to take him out, Jim is paying dear Barbara a visit in the hospital… something that Lee is not happy to hear about when he tells her later in the station. Serving as possibly the only person on Gotham with common sense and decent perception skills (not a great sign considering most others are actual detectives) Lee throws a truth-bomb at Jim and points out that, “Most people fight their dark side. Lately, you find ways to give into it.”

It’s yet another nod to the fact that Gordon has been on a bit of a downward spiral as of late, doing things that are just as questionable and deadly as the criminals and villains he’s meant to be stopping.

Anyways… after kind of admitting to Lee that he knows he’s gone a bit dark lately (an admittance that’s basically just used to get her off his back more than anything) Jim makes his way to the Galavan penthouse to see if he can find any evidence that might corroborate the claim of the former-former-technically-current(?)-definitely-tortured Mayor that Galavan took over for. He’s followed into the swankiest of all elevators by a total weirdo that screams, “SUSPICIOUS PERSON.” Gordon doesn’t pay him too much attention, mostly just ignoring him and disregarding him as a bit of a creep… until said creep whips out a piano wire and starts strangling him.

It’s a somewhat exciting scuffle, dampened only by the fact that at no point was I actually worried for Jim. Not even ten minutes into the episode? Please. As if anyone is ever in any real danger so early on. Gordon savagely beats up the assassin like we all knew he would and unceremoniously drags his body into the Galavan apartment when the elevator doors reopen. The Captain has a pretty sweet WTF expression on his face when Jim literally brings a body to the evidence-gathering party, and promptly vocalizes said expression by asking Jim what just happened. Gordon gives his standard gruff, minimally worded, answer before lunging to answer the assassin’s phone when it starts ringing.

“Yes, this is Detective Jim Gordon, the individual that was just meant to be strangled to death, may I ask who’s calling?”

Just joking. Gordon didn’t say any of that. Are you kidding, that one sentence alone probably has more words then all of Jim’s lines put together!

In actuality Gordon didn’t say anything, instead he just breathed really heavily into the receiver, which apparently was enough to clue the head of the Assassin Temp Agency into what just went down. Her facial expression was the physical equivalent of whispering, “Awkward…” and, not one to stand for failed-jobs, she promptly encourages all of the reprobates gambling away in her underground lair/casino/assassin agency/bar to take their own shot at Gordon.

GLADLY!

After dangling Assassin #1 out of a window in an attempt to get information out of him, and a brief lecture from the Captain about how that is not okay Jim, the rando cop of the week points out that there might be a bit of a problem… in the form of a group of assassins flocking the Galavan building with murder in their eyes. Assassin #1 gives off the classic, “Ooooooh you’re screwed,” villain laugh before revealing something that is pretty obvious but still needs to be said for Gordon’s benefit, “My employer has a strict protocol: If the first guy doesn’t succeed, keep sending men ‘til the job is done.”

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Because Gordon and the Captain are possibly the worst cops to have ever copped, they decide that turning off the lights and waiting for the assassins to roll into Galavan’s apartment is the best course of action. Really? REALLY? Unsurprisingly, the plan blows up in their faces when the trained assassins manage to sneak into the apartment undetected and ambush Gordon, the Captain, the rando cop, and the obligatory, “I’m just the forensics guy,” (who gets offed immediately). It’s an incredibly quick fight, with the Captain and Gordon taking on an assassin each and knocking them out almost immediately.

I’d actually be a bit embarrassed if I were one of those assassins the showdown was so quick… and a bit anticlimactic save for the brief moment where Assassin #1 holds rando cop (who actually has a name: Parks) hostage and gives his villain speech before Jim just shoots him in the eye like it’s nothing. The attack understandably freaks the Captain out a bit and he tries to get Gordon and Parks to leave but… you know… Gordon. Jim says that they should stay in the apartment because it’s the best place to figure out what the hell is going on and while (completely unsuccessfully) arguing his point, one of the assassins that had been knocked out moves to stab Gordon from behind. The Cap pushes Jim out of the way, taking a knife to the leg- and unfortunately to an artery as well- in the process.

How convenient. Now they have to stay in Galavan’s apartment because if they move the Captain will bleed out.

After failed assassination attempt #2, the HBIC of the Assassin Temp Agency makes a desperate call to Eduardo Flamingo: a cannibal whose membership to said agency was previously revoked because I guess cannibalism is where assassins draw the line? Whatever, he’s totally down for killing Gordon and makes his way over to the Galavan building in the perfect amount of time for Jim and the Captain to share a brief heart-to-heart.

Gordon reflects back on what Lee said earlier, and confesses that there was a moment where he seriously did consider killing Barbara. He admits that he’s upset for almost crossing the line which prompts the Captain to share a rather grim anecdote about a time he put a gun in a man’s mouth and pulled the trigger while on tour. He finishes the downer of a story with some pseudo-wisdom that only a broody Captain of the GCPD could give: “There is no line. There’s just the law. That’s what separates us from the animals. There is no line.”

The cannibal assassin makes his debut by murdering the cops outside of the building and creepily telling Jim that he’ll have him for dessert. Jim is pretty down with that plan and decides to meet the cannibal outside to save him the trouble of walking up to the penthouse and mucking up his digestion. After the lamest attempt ever at convincing Jim not to go, the Captain basically gives him his blessing and Gordon runs outside to face Flamingo.

A surprise attack from behind begins what might actually be the slowest hand-to-hand fight that’s ever been shown on television. Gordon and Eduardo promptly turn into geriatrics and punch so slowly that I was genuinely astonished by the amount of blood that was drawn in the process. Seriously, if the heavy music wasn’t playing so quickly in the background, I might have thought I’d put my TV on slow-mo. Eventually Gordon gets the upper hand with a few nice uppercuts and grabs a gun before shoving it in Flamingo’s mouth in a clear coda to the Captain’s story from before.

But this is TV and, despite his actions of late, Gordon is technically the hero of Gotham, so he learns from the Captain’s somber tale and opts not to pull the trigger himself, instead placing Flamingo under arrest and keeping what morals he has left in check…

Which seems to be something he later regrets considering Flamingo takes a literal bite out of Parks, killing her in the heart of the GCPD and forcing Lee to break the news to Gordon. Add Park’s death to the list of, “Things that will push Gordon off the deep end and make him go on his version of a justified killing spree.”

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While Gordon was struggling with his internal darkness, Nygma was fully embracing his and doing absolutely everything he could think of to get Penguin to join in. He attributes their encounter in the woods to fate and finally vocally admits that he’s started murdering people. The confession is clearly a freeing one for Nygma, whose maniacal laughter seems to perturb even Penguin of all people.

The new killer admits that he’s brought Penguin to his home, “In part because I was hoping you could guide me on this new path,” and is more than a little disappointed by Oswald’s complete rejection of the proposition. Still reeling from his mother’s death and the fall of his empire, Penguin says he plans on leaving Gotham the moment he’s healed and has no intention of guiding Nygma down a path that will only lead to, “pain and destruction.”

Poor Nygma. All he wants is a little guidance and instead he gets a grieving retiree who won’t even accept Ed’s gift of the bound and gagged Galavan-henchman who played a role in the Cobblepot matriarch’s death.

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Eventually, Nygma goes for the lowest of low blows and points out that Penguin is better off without his mother. This is the first thing that really gets a rise out of the other man, who screams that his mother was a saint and threatens to kill Nygma. Ed of course has a way with words and explains himself, stating that, “For some men, love is a source of strength, but for you and I it will always be a crippling weakness.” He explains to Penguin that his mother was the only thing that could be held over him and, now that she’s no longer in the picture, he is a free man who can do anything without fear.

The speech seems to resonate with Penguin because the next thing we see is he and Nygma singing merrily over breakfast as if they’re schoolboy chums. Penguin asks his new friend what happened to the Galavan henchman, and Nygma gleefully leads him to the closet where they zero in on the bound man and get ready to play.

There was also another sub-plot involving Bruce trying to escape the Wayne Manor, and Alfred’s watchful eyes, to meet Silver at her hotel and try and get information out of her but… it was wholly unimportant. Alfred catches Bruce every time and stops him from leaving, Bruce is an angsty teen about it, and Selina rolls up at the end claiming she has proof that Silver is bad news.

The episode closes with Tabitha getting reamed out by Theo in prison for hiring hitmen to kill Gordon and almost ruining his plan. He tells her that the Brothers will arrive soon and then Gotham will be theirs and Bruce will be dead. Said Brothers do roll up to the docks, where they group-kill a poor police officer on patrol before walking off into the night in their ominous robes.

Again, “Bitter Pill to Swallow,” seemed incredibly filler-esque to me in the sense that what little actually pertained to the main plot only took up a few scant minutes of the episode. It seemed to be yet another episode meant to focus in on the looming darkness in Gordon and imply that it’s only a matter of time before said darkness becomes his new normal. The issue with this being the focus of the episode is that… we already know. Gotham has all but beat us over the head with the, “Jim’s going dark,” plotlines and foreshadowing and at this point it’s getting a bit redundant, especially since he keeps reaching the cusp of darkness before pulling back.

Gotham can only cry wolf so many times before the story loses its impact and it’s getting dangerously close to that point. There needs to be more progression of the show’s plot in order to actually keep the audience interested and susceptible to whatever big event is on the horizon of Gotham’s skyline.

Episode Grade: C+

Episode Highs:

  • Lee serving as the comedic relief and sensibility, cutting down Jim’s brooding and his BS without batting an eye.

Episode Lows:

  • Not enough plot-progression and WAY too much allusion to Dark!Jim
  • Where the hell was Bullock?!
  • Bruce with slicked hair wearing turtlenecks is kinda creepy, right? Is that just me? I thought he was a 60’s villain for a second there.

Extra Thoughts:

  • How much do you want to bet that Jim’s going to go full-dark at the close of the fall finale?

What did you think about “Bitter Pill to Swallow”? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!

About the author

Silje Falck-Pedersen