From the outset, you can see a lot has changed about Gotham between season 1 and 2. Last year, the overarching story line was the mob war between Falcone and Maroni; it was well done and engaging, but fought against the DNA of the show, which was begging for the serialized stories about costumed maniacs. And at last, we’re getting it.
Theo Galavan — businessman, scientist, philanthropist — is a newcomer to town, yet he and his sister have already put down deep roots. He is both a friend to the mayor and to the city’s burgeoning population of crazies. Theo and Tabitha liberate a few Arkham patients — among them Richard Sionis (Todd Stashwick), Jerome (Cameron Monaghan), and Barbara — for some sort of super-villain team-up.
Meanwhile, Gordon gets fired and goes to Penguin for help. In exchange for acting as his hired muscle, Cobblepot sends Commissioner Loeb to an early retirement. Captain Essen becomes commissioner and reinstates Gordon as a detective. Bruce finds the cave blocked by a security door and does what any 12-year old with a lot of money would do: He blows it up.
The re-jiggered show has trimmed fat in all the right places. The season is titled “Rise of the Villains” and — true to its word — it jumps right in with the residents of Arkham. Jerome — like Penguin — is being given room to endear himself to the audience, and he’s doing a fantastic job right out of the gate. Barbara — at last — has been given a sensible story, clear motivations, and license to be something other than a doormat.
The Galavans are a classic brains and brawn team-up and look to be fabulous season-long threats. Will they be at odds with a newly ascendant Penguin? Cobblepot is marvelously egomaniacal as the head of organized crime and, when they meet, a special kind of sparks will surely fly.
Riddler’s mirror trick feels a bit too much like Fight Club, but it’s a great device for a guy like him and a good way to give his villainy a visual distinctness in what will soon become a very crowded pool. And the more we see of Anthony Carrigan’s creepy Zsasz, the better; he and Penguin make a terrifying pair.
It’s also great to see Gordon enter a moral abyss that he may not be able to come back from. Even though he was maneuvered into it, Jim Gordon still killed a man for a crime boss. Platitudes about ends justifying means aside, that’s not a gray area, that’s pitch black. But he’s not an anti-hero. As Ben McKenzie reminded us, he’s an “old-fashioned hero living in a fallen world,” and it will be interesting to see him struggle to redeem himself over the course of the season.
Bruce Wayne, one of the richest people in Gotham, can’t buy a dozen sticks of dynamite, but instead goes to the Internet to learn how to build a fertilizer bomb? Does he grow up to be Batman or the Unabomber? Also, if you own a secret underground man cave and you don’t make your keycode your only child’s name, you’re a bad father. If you find your parent’s secret cave, always try your name first.
Zaardon the Soul Reaper feels like a joke made at the expense of '90s-era comics — where every comic book title had “blood,” “blade,” “death,” or “kill” in their masthead and every anti-hero had two (or more) guns and a katana. Much of the blame for that dark time in comics history is due to the seminal Batman series The Dark Knight Returns, which was a grim and violent deconstruction of the hero as vigilante myth. Sadly, the only thing the comics industry took away from that series was that “violence sells,” and the next ten years of superheroes were so gory, they put the old EC horror comics to shame.
Hopefully, Gotham continues its demented use of covers. Fox was using a slowed-down version of Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” for its summer promos. This week’s use of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music were perfect counterpoints to the grim and banal montage of Gotham life and Loeb’s retirement ceremony, respectively. Like children’s choirs in horror films, it’s a common trope, but it always works.
Remember that shot of Gordon running through a kitchen in episode 1 of the first season? That same shot — with the camera attached to McKenzie’s body as he runs — appears again this episode. Bookends to the character’s idealism? Signifiers of a time before he tarnished his honor by working with Cobblepot?
Bullock Line of the Night
The great thing about Bullock as a cop is that he was always basically just a crotchety old bartender in a uniform anyway. Actually seeing him behind a bar is the least shocking change of the episode; in fact, it’s pretty much perfect. And he’s still the same old Bullock. When describing himself in comparison to the upstanding and honorable Gordon, he says, “Me? I’d serve a sandwich to Beelzebub. But that’s just me.”
Gotham airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox.