Gotham’s first season was basically two shows. The first was a tense Mafia show with top-notch character actors doing a grounded drama about organized crime. The other was a loopy Tim Burton-esque comic-book show with twisted and Gothic beasts lacking only capes and tights to mark them as right out of an issue of Batman: The Long Halloween.
This year, though, the show has embraced its origins and is giving its colorful baddies room to play. Titled “Rise of the Villains,” Season 2 has jettisoned the warring crime families and the “monster of the week” procedural elements and is focusing on a more streamlined, serialized style. We spoke to executive producer John Stephens and Jim Gordon himself, Benjamin McKenzie, about what the future holds for the city.
He’s the first name to come to anyone’s lips when you mention Batman — but don’t call him The Joker. Jerome is the inspiration for the myth that will later create the character we know — or, as McKenzie says, Cameron Monaghan plays the “spirit of the Joker.”
Stephens says Monaghan’s performance ended up, in part, driving the evolution of Jerome. “He has such relish — the way that he devours that character — that we found ourselves studying more and more of him, watching what he was going to do,” he said, adding that the actor brought “a level of innocence and danger” that wasn’t in the early scripts.
They waste no time getting him in front of audiences: Jerome crosses paths with Barbara in the very first episode of the new season. He acts as a jailhouse go-between for her and another returning scene-devourer: Todd Stashwick as Richard Sionis (probable father of Batman foil Black Mask).
Watch a sneak peek of Jerome and Barbara’s first meeting:
Not much is known about Barbara from the comics — she’s more the mother of James Gordon Jr. than a character in her own right. Even still, it will be a little shocking to see how much she — as played with renewed vigor by Erin Richards — has grown away from the quiet, lovelorn girl she was in the first season. “The continuing evolution of Barbara’s character into this psychotic villainess role is incredible,” says Stephens with genuine glee in his voice. “The triangle that she sets up with her and Morena [Baccarin, who plays Leslie Tompkins] and Ben is awesome. The resolution of that storyline in Episode 8 this year is bananas! It’s going to blow the doors off of everything!”
The main force behind a surge in masked crazies, Galavan is a philanthropist and respected member of the community hiding a dark agenda. He and his sister will “define the entire season,” with their arc, according to Stephens. Though he is a relatively minor character in the comics, there is now speculation that he may be revealed to be one of Batman’s greatest foes, Ra’s al Ghul.
“James Frain brings a particular kind of humor to the role,” that signals a significant change from the Maronis and Falcones of old, says Stephens about the Orphan Black actor. McKenzie describes him this way: “Galavan hearkens to an old world sophistication, but behind that may be a bit more malevolence than meets the eye.”
Check out this preview clip of Galavan recruiting the Arkham inmates:
Theo’s sister is the more well-known of the siblings in the comic book world, having been first introduced in 1938. Played by Jessica Lucas (Melrose Place), she will act as a fiery counterpart to her brother’s calm exterior. She is also a sort of “proto-Catwoman,” exuding a sense of empowerment that Selina [Kyle] finds attractive, says Stephens. “You can see Selina start putting together the pieces of what will then make her into Catwoman.” A similar connection will also form between Theo and Bruce Wayne, he added — planting the seeds that contribute to the creation of Batman.
The knock on his character is that he’s a little too straight-arrow for his own good, which makes him come off as a bit dense at times. But in a world of anti-heroes — of teachers-turned-drug lords, of abusive ad executives — Gordon stands out as an “old-fashioned hero living in a fallen world,” says McKenzie.
“That’s what the show’s about,” and what co-creators Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon pitched to him before the show began, he says. “He’s trying to seek justice in an unjust world,” he adds. “The only problem is, he’s a lawman. And unlike Batman, who’s a vigilante, he has to follow the law.”
See how far Gordon will go to keep his promise to Bruce:
He’s forced to twist the law and to twist under its weight, and this season will push him to the breaking point. In the first episode, he goes to Penguin for help when he’s fired from the police force. “What toll does that take on a human being, on a soul?” McKenzie asks.
Stephens says this season will follow the old film noir adage, “When you look into the darkness, the darkness looks into you.” They want to know not just for Gordon, but for all the characters: “How far can they go into the world of darkness and still pull themselves out?” It’s a tough line to find for the lawman, but he says that when the character goes too far beyond “his moral rectitude, his belief in justice,” the thing that will always save him is that “his guilt will drive him to rediscover himself.” Though not before doing something he will definitely regret.
Captain Nathaniel Barnes
Gordon will find a new ally on the force, played by Michael Chiklis, himself no stranger to comic-book adaptations — though he’s even more well known for his tough-guy cops on The Shield and The Commish. Captain Barnes is another law-and-order guy, as much a straight arrow as Gordon himself — maybe more.
The role hadn’t been cast when the season began, so when Chiklis came in, “It was a gift. He brought on a huge amount of energy and presence to the role,” says Stephens. “It gave Gordon and Bullock someone to both help them out in their mission, but also eventually bang up against as their agendas and their values — as Gordon starts to go down this darker and darker road — push up against.
“And, of course, everybody who works on the show, we’re such huge Shield fans,” gushed Stephens, letting his inner fanboy out for a moment. “It was surreal to have him on.”
Serialization vs. Procedural
Comic books are one of the longest-running serialized art forms in existence, so it should be no surprise to see adaptations following that model. “To me, it feels like a fundamentally different show than last year,” says Stephens. Instead of a “cop show set in a comic-booky world,” this season, they took “two or three big steps further towards that elevated DC world,” and embraced the “serialized, saga nature of the storytelling,” he says.
Part of that comes from the audience’s desire for more continuity, and some of it came from the creative end. It was “what the actors wanted to act and what we wanted to write,” says Stephens. “Talking to Ben and Donal [Logue] and Robin [Lord Taylor] — they all really wanted to tell the ongoing storylines, which is much more suited to a fully serialized show.”
McKenzie agrees. “I’m really excited for [viewers] to see this re-engineereed show,” he says. “I’m very proud of the show we made last year. But this year, because we leaned into the serialization — gotten rid of the case-of-the-week stuff — I think it’s really damn good. Really good stuff.”
Plus, there are plenty more villains coming — including Mr. Freeze, Clayface, the Mad Hatter, Amygdala, Silver St. Cloud, Firefly, and a much more unhinged Riddler. What else do you want to see in Season 2?
The Season 2 premiere of Gotham airs Monday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. on Fox.