It’s been a few weeks since Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) has really had a chance to let her crazy out, deferring to Theo Galavan’s (James Frain) continued assurances that her time would come, and, as this week’s episode title says, “Tonight’s the Night”. The episode opens with a hallucinogenic, off-kilter dream sequence in which Barbara imagines her would-be wedding to Jim (Ben McKenzie) gone horribly wrong in a decidedly Gotham-esque way, with Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) as the mustachioed officiant, Galavan as the menacing organist, and Jim and Lee (Morena Baccarin) laughing mockingly at her when she realizes she’s no longer the one at the altar, but rather a guest sitting bound and gagged among cackling Arkham inmates.
This opening sequence sets the tone for the remainder of this zany episode. While Barbara’s story arc seemed to be clearly setting up for her death, which would have been an admittedly satisfying send-off for the character — going out with a blaze and leaving Jim burned in the aftermath — I’m actually glad she survived her dramatic fall from the cathedral. I’m convinced that there’s more to come from Barbara, and that we really don’t want to miss out on what she could become. The way she let her crazy out in this episode, with wide, frantic eyes, yet still projecting a kind of emotional authenticity and magnetism, shows that Richards has the potential to take the character to even more insane heights. It’s true that the post-commercial break reveal that some bushes broke her fall felt like a lazy plot device, and she was whisked away before any confrontation with Jim or Lee could come to fruition, but perhaps that leaves more room for a greater build-up to that eventual encounter.
“Tonight’s the Night” has a mostly unified story, thankfully, as a tendency towards overcrowded plots stuffed with exposition and large casts, precluding the time needed to build motivations realistically, has historically been one of Gotham’s downfalls. The focus on Barbara’s Se7en-esque manipulation of Jim and her twisted staging of the wedding the two never had connects, even if tangentially, to the other side stories, including Galavan’s plot, which calls for Jim’s death as a distraction for Bruce (David Mazouz) while he takes Wayne Enterprises right out from beneath his nose. There are some extraneous bits, particularly those with Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), which are admittedly discordant with the primary storyline, but are still fun and follow up on important developments in the other characters’ stories from last week, culminating in a potential team-up between a fugitive and clearly debilitated Penguin and the fledgling Riddler.
Nygma’s final picnic with Ms. Kringle, for example, demonstrates his complete merger with his dark side, pouring two glasses of wine, one for himself and one for her body stuffed in a trunk, and toasting to her eternal slumber with one of his characteristic riddles. This character also seems finally to be embracing the playful, perceptive, and even flippant kind of dark humor of Gotham City, pointing out a curiosity about which viewers would be wondering as well, that “for a secluded forest, this place sure has a lot of foot traffic”, as his burial of Ms. Kringle keeps getting interrupted by unexpected guests.
That flippant but astute awareness of the outlandishness of Gotham, most often and most successfully articulated in the apt yet sarcastic remarks of Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), is what can make Gotham so entertaining, but the balance between the farcical and the grave is a hard one to strike. Logue seems to have it figured out, but Richards’s Barbara is starting to find that equilibrium, too, particularly in her insightful comments about Jim’s self-destructive tendencies and her threatening antics with Lee.
Lee emerges yet again as the most stable and balanced character, understanding the dark parts of Jim and loving him anyway. She understands him perhaps better than he does himself, forewarning him of his tendency to “see an abyss and… run towards it” right before he does just that. Although Jim’s relationship with Lee is clearly better than his was with Barbara, Lee’s almost perfect ability to handle all the risk and neglect that come with a relationship with Jim may be coming to an end, as she justifiably seems to have had enough. In short, Lee really is too good for Jim, but she’s also just too good of a character to lose, fading into the background once she’s no longer with a lead character. She certainly has the potential to become an important figure in her own right, not just “Jim’s girlfriend”, so hopefully Gotham takes advantage of that opportunity.
The biggest development outside of the Barbara-centric storyline is actually quite significant, though it seems to pale in comparison to her menacing matrimonial charade. Incited by Gordon’s declaration of war against him last week, Galavan is forced to expedite his plans and, in a rather foolish move for someone who has been so calculated thus far, he essentially tries to bribe Bruce into handing over Wayne Enterprises. Somehow, Galavan has supposedly acquired information about the man who killed Bruce’s parents, which he offers in trade for Bruce’s controlling share in the company, yet the boy’s desire for revenge seems to blind him from the unlikely and suspicious notion that Galavan could possibly know that information unless he was somehow involved in the crime himself, or at least connected to it in some way.
Luckily, Alfred (Sean Pertwee) points out Galavan’s con to the boy, who was all but ready to give into it, breaking into tears in a convincingly moving admission of a desire for it to all be over, for the responsibility to no longer land on his shoulders. In the end, it is significant that Bruce resolves on his own not to shirk his responsibility to his father’s company, to live as his parents’ legacy himself, just moments prior to witnessing Galavan’s arrest for the pretty irrefutable kidnapping and torture of Mayor James (Richard Kind), recently rescued by GCPD officers, including some fresh-faced, nameless Red Shirts — I mean, Strike Force Members. In the end, Galavan destroys the envelope supposedly containing information about the Waynes’ murder in the course of his arrest, only adding suspicion.
In “Tonight’s the Night”, Gotham seems to be really hitting its stride with continued energy from last week, revealing that some of the strongest episodes of the “Rise of the Villains” season are the ones that, not surprisingly, focus on the villains and the growing darkness inside them. Now that it seems Nygma and Penguin have gotten the motivation needed to push them over the edge — both having lost loved ones, but each in different ways more suited to their individual brands of villainy — this week’s episode has given Barbara a more literal push (or fall, at least) over that edge, and it will be exciting to see how she changes as a result. Will she fully embrace that fall, or use it as an opportunity to reinvent or possibly even redeem herself, even if only on the surface?