Putting it simple in the most confusing way possible, I thought this was a great episode that wasn’t very good.
Now, before we get started, I’d just like to point out that whenever there is a "poll" about a Gotham episode, I always give it top score. I do this for two reasons: (A), to balance the simpletons bashing the show for no good reason, and (B), because I love this show so much that even the weaker outings far beat out anything else I’m watching.
But, this is a real review, for my real friends in the Gotham fandom, so I can’t use that cop-out.
Why was it great? It was great because everything in the episode worked. The pacing was practically flawless. There was little to no redundant data. The acting ranged from competent to stellar. It told a focused story.
It wasn’t very good because to me, the story that it told wasn’t all that engaging, and how they told it wasn’t either.
If we're going to go about a brief recap;
This story was about Oswald taking the fall for the murder of Theo Galavan, James Gordon lying about his complicity in said act - including lying to his pregnant girlfriend, Leslie - and the rise of Victor Fries AKA Mr. Freeze as a legitimate super-villain. Now, we can debate all we want about the definition of the term "super-villain", but if you're willing to accept Iron Man as a superhero you should have no trouble accepting Freeze as a super-villain. At the end of his introduction arc he is already completely formed, and thus, Gotham finally has its first super-villain.
After Oswald confesses to the murder and pleads insanity, he is shipped off to Arkham under the care of Hugo Strange, another iconic villain of the Batman universe, who promptly goes about torturing him in order to make him more agreeable. Nygma has a minor role mostly meant to reinforce his loathing of Harvey Bullock, no doubt something that will be revisited, Tabitha shacks up with Butch to "rule the underworld together" or what have you, Selina has a five-second cameo overhearing their "meeting" - no doubt in order to link her and Tabitha together in the audience's mind - and Bruce and Alfred are nowhere to be seen.
I have tried to disregard any purely personal preference. Of course, since they are my favorite characters I was a little sad that neither Bruce nor really Selina was even featured in the episode, but I understood and respected the decision. There was only room for so many characters before it would get cluttered. This is improved storytelling. I only hope that future Batcat-centric episodes too will benefit from this improvement.
So what was wrong?
Gotham has an “it” factor. My favorite episodes of the show - “Penguin’s Umbrella”, “Under The Knife”, “The Son Of Gotham” among others - had that in common that they were tightly narrated stories, wrapped in a deceptively simple package but layered like an onion. They left you with a choice - to peel the onion, or to use it for a sourcream dip.
It’s a question of depth versus shallow complexity. Shallowly complex shows are all the rage with all the idiot reviewers. As an example you have Daredevil - which isn’t a bad show, mind you - which owns that in abundance. It screams it at you - “I’m deep, I’m dark, I’m mature, I’m serious!” - it throws it in your face. These shows are to television what Krzysztof Kieslowski was to Postmodernism. When you scratch the surface, there is little more to be found, as it exhausts itself in overt exposition. Gotham always offers you the option to watch it like a popcorn show, and therein lies its magic.
I’ll make a confession - I’ve never much enjoyed Mr. Freeze in any medium. I’ve always felt that the attempts to “humanize” the character by appealing to our sense of matrimonial love fell flat, and its latest iteration is no exception. The actor is certainly no slouch but he doesn’t make the role shine either. This is in stark contrast to the phenomenal work done by B.D. Wong as Hugo Strange. And yet, not even this brilliant performer is able to successfully fight the script, which keeps ticking off one character illustration after another like a clockwork in full and needlessly obvious view of the audience.
Interestingly, Jim Gordon’s portrayal in this episode was possibly the strongest of the show. It’s clear that he has turned a page, yet the show doesn’t stuff it down your throat. This isn’t a person who lies because he’s afraid to get caught, not really. This is a person who lies because he’s convinced it’s the right thing to do. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Still, “Mr. Freeze” scores higher on the Daredevil meter than the Gotham one, and I think that’s a shame. This is my favorite show on television, which is why I must be honest enough to tell you that for me, it was a failure.