Throughout its first season, Gotham was plagued with an identity crisis. The show struggled with maintaining a consistent tone and a plethora of characters. Many episodes followed the “villain of the week” format of cop procedurals albeit in a pulpy world tied to the DC Comics mythology. There were too many instances where I felt like the show was pandering to fans of Batman instead of focusing on telling a season long story arc. Eventually, I thought the cons outweighed the pros of the series as it drove towards the season one finale.
With Fall TV season upon us, Gotham has returned for an all new season. With this season being subtitled “Rise of the Villains”, I was worried that the show would continue the unnecessary trend of introducing future villains just because they can. Based on what I have seen from this premiere episode, Gotham looks like it has found its footing. The focus is more defined and the tone is consistent throughout. Despite a few lingering issues that have bothered the show since its inception, it appears we are off on the right foot.
Right from the beginning, the fallout from the season one finale has consequences. Season two picks up roughly one month later. Penguin has risen to the top of the criminal underworld, Bruce Wayne discovered a secret bunker hidden by his father, Bullock has left the GCPD and found sobriety, and Gordon (Ben McKenzie) has been demoted to traffic duty. Knowing this show, it doesn’t take long for the new status quo to implode.
While I wouldn’t call this episode “darker” than what we saw in season one, it’s definitely more streamlined. Gordon’s dilemma in this episode creates some much-needed depth for his character. His morally questionable relationship with Penguin is tested here in a way I was hoping to see last season. Penguin offers Gordon an opportunity to regain his job if he gets someone to pay up a debt. Robin Lord Taylor still remains the standout actor of this series. His portrayal of Penguin doesn’t adhere to any previous media interpretations of the character. Nevertheless, he maintains the best elements from various sources while still making the character all his own. This is the version I’ve been waiting to see in live action; a sharp mob boss with a mean streak.
Towards the end of last season, Barbara Kean, Gordon’s ex-girlfriend, was driven insane and committed to Arkham Asylum. She was poorly written for the majority of the first season and her romantic subplot with detective Renee Montoya went nowhere. Now that she’s locked up in Arkham, Erin Richards his finally been given the chance to take her character in an interesting direction. With the absence of Fish Mooney, Barbara could become the standout female character that this show really needs.
Arkham itself plays a big role in this episode. It’s fully operational and filled with some characters we’ve already met before. Notably, this includes Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) who seems awfully like a young clown prince of crime. Monaghan looks like he’s having the time of his life, but I wouldn’t bet on his character one day becoming the Joker. Arkham is the stage for the climactic action scene of this episode; several inmates are broken out by series newcomer Theo Galavan (James Frain). Galavan warns that “Gotham will tremble before them” as they cause mayhem throughout the city. Based on what we’ve seen from Galavan in this episode, it appears that Gotham has found a potential character and storyline to sustain a full season.
For what this episode did right, there’s still some troubling elements that have carried over. Aside from Penguin, returning future villains aren’t given much to do. Edward Nygma’s depiction of insanity is the tired old cliché of him speaking into a mirror to a more confident version of himself. Selina Kyle has gone from teen pickpocket to suddenly working for Penguin. Speaking of which, this leads to the worst line of the entire series when Penguins says that having Selina “is like having a cat around the house.” It’s a non-subtle nod to the comics that’s delivered with the force of a sledgehammer. We’re watching a prequel to Batman and these kinds of lines don’t help in reminding us that we won’t be seeing Batman anytime soon.
Speaking of Batman, Bruce Wayne spends this episode trying to open the locked door to his father’s bunker. I’m not entirely for this plotline, but the payoff at the end strikes an emotional note as a longtime Batman fan. I wasn’t a fan of Bruce’s storylines during season one, which caused my aversion to having him on the show in general. If they continue to do something interesting with him, then I am all for him being a presence.
I don’t think this episode will win over those who have never watched Gotham. With that said, the quality of this episode might win back those who wrote the show off. The characters all serve a purpose and their interactions with each other present exciting opportunities later down the line. Despite my issues, this premiere has won me back and actually has me excited as long as the Galavan/inmates plotline remains a significant one.
Episode Rating: 8/10