Gotham Season Two Premiere
“Rise of the Villains: Damned if you do…”
Before this episode can be reviewed, let’s clear the air a bit:
I hear a lot of hate toward Gotham, and that’s fine. Really. It is. I could say “go away.” After all, there are a lot of other comic book-based live action television shows out there, and what makes them popular is that deliver not just that they advertise, but they also deliver exactly what people want. You want to see the Flash in live action show? Watch the aptly named The Flash. If you know the mythology of the character, you are (I think – I haven’t watched) going to something pretty close to what you wanted. Marvel’s Daredevil is a good show about – dare I say it – Daredevil! Supergirl is a pretty faithful update of… Supergirl. These shows are literally taking the comic book characters that they are about and putting them on screen in ways that are generally faithful. But what about Gotham? It’s not a show about Batman. Though the show takes place in Gotham City and is called Gotham, simply saying it’s about Gotham City doesn’t tell us a lot about what kind of show it is. As we all learned in the first season, the show is a both a gloriously cliched hard-boiled cop show that follows the model of the police procedural, while at the same time it’s an over-stylized and ludicrous live-action comic book. Some might say that it switches from one to the other just to keep itself interesting, but there’s more to it than that.
So I won’t say “go away.” Stick around. Please.
So… about that first season of Gotham. By the time the “Balloonman” (one of the early episodes) came around a lot of people had tuned out. They were like “what the hell is this?” There’s certainly sincerity in asking that question. What they maybe really wanted was a tried-and-true Batman show; something with Batman as an actual character! Maybe it would a street-level crime show with Bats in his early years kicking ass and taking names. That wasn’t going to happen, but those folks who wanted only that will probably be happy with Daredevil, since the show is exactly that, a poor man’s Batman street-level crime show of a hero kicking ass and taking names (bonus- he even gets those stupid ears, uh, horns at then end of the season). Since that show gives fans exactly what they want, the rave reviews it’s gotten are not all that surprising. Yet despite it’s grit, is a show that is just about the hero as we know him and as a result maybe it’s not all that surprising. (Again, I’m not one to talk, as I only watched the pilot).
Yet, when I think about it, I don’t really want “exactly what I want.” I would rather have something that is daring, something that isn’t guaranteed to be what I want or expect it to be, or that’s guaranteed to work. Bottom line: I want something that, whether it succeeds or fails, takes chances. I also want something that has something to say about the comic book movie/TV genre, instead of something that’s just another comic book show.
So people tuned out when they realized that this show was going to be a dark gritty narrative about the Gotham City underworld while at the same time it include outlandish characters such as the Baloonman and the Mark of the Goat? Is that what happened? They couldn’t process the fact that the new Penguin is psychotic and very cool but his mother (played by Carol Kane) looks like the Penguin’s mother exactly as you’d expect her to look in Tim Burton’s version of Gotham.
The creators of Gotham are not only unafraid to remind us once in a while that this show is, essentially, a moving comic book; unfortunately comic books are taken so seriously these days that people don’t want to know that in the past, they were never afraid to jolt – even shake – their readers awake with moments, ideas, and story twists that were often just insane and asinine at the same time, but the people that make this new show Gotham don’t mind going there just like the comic books of old did before the medium became “important.”.
What they also don’t want to consider is the fact that maybe – just maybe – this show is a satire of just how far (too far in fact) we’ve come with the live action comic book medium right now. Please note: the best way to do satire, is to know your material and replicate it perfectly – and this show largely feels like a real real cop drama set in the familiar Gotham City that characters like Batman, the Penguin, and the Joker would indeed inhabit. But then, like any good satire, there are those few choice opportunities to take it too far, like someone screwing something together, and turning the screw a little too tight until the threads wear out. Like most shows on TV, they will allow plot threads to meander through many episodes, and sometimes they allow at least a few of these threads to pay off gloriously, and sometimes they don’t. Unlike those other shows, Gotham is satirizing how the viewer allows him or herself to get drawn into such stories, often waiting with baited breath for things to resolve only to realize that each season is just one continuous story. In some ways, it’s a bit unnerving that our entertainment is delivered to us in this way, and the people that make Gotham are more than happy to lure us through a labyrinth of often strange plots, mixing hardcore drama (remember that big choice Gordon had to make in the pilot?) to strange comedy (like how the Red Hood gang starts) to some actual insight (like how Falcone explains his role in grand scheme of things, also in the pilot) to just absurd strangeness (like the aforementioned Baloonman or a myriad of other off-the-wall episodes). This show can’t be pinned down. As I hinted above, maybe that’s what I was looking for, even if it fails.
While I love the show, I found the final episode of season one to be a bit strange, even for Gotham. I was thoroughly entertained, thought the performances were as good as ever, and was happy that even the production design was top-notch, and I was fully engrossed in what was happening. Yet, when the show was over I realized I didn’t like what anyone actually did; every decision a character made in that episode was just wrong. Even now, I can’t decide if it’s because of that that I do or don’t like that episode. So that leads us to the first episode of season 2. I will say this:
It’s great. I didn’t have the same issues I did with the finale. It took the characters to new places, raised the stakes, and was entertaining to boot: what a good season premier should be.
The season premiere picks up the threads form the last one, starting with Bruce Wayne’s discovery of what could be a “bat cave” under Wayne Manor that his father used. When he reaches the bottom of the staircase, there is a solid steel vault-like door keeping him from finding out what his father was up to. His attempts to guess the door combination ultimately fail, and by the end of the episode, he is working with Alfred on a homemade bomb to blast the door down. He does get through the door by the end of the episode.
Gordon, meantime, was booted down to a regular police officer at the end of the last episode, and here we see him confront the episode’s new “villain” Zaardon the Soul Reaper, an overweight man who has a cape, a sword and two guns. Yes, he’s completely over the top, even for a comic book villain. I’m glad that producers are reminding us that they still aren’t afraid to go this far into the comic book realm. In this case, people behind the scenes wanted the Soul Reaper to not only get caught, but to go straight to Arkham where all the loonies go, without passing go or collecting $200. When the arrest is made, Gordon did something minor that is just enough of an excuse to allow Commissioner Loeb the leeway to take his badge for good. Now a civilian, Gordon finds himself working for the Penguin (the new king of the underworld) to get rid of Loeb any way he can. This was a direction I (pleasantly) did not expect the show to go, and I wish this would have lasted a few more episodes.
Turns out the Soul Reaper has been given some kind of strange concoction by the show’s real villain before going out on the street, and now he exhales a poisonous gas (again, remember, this is a comic book show, and it shouldn’t always strive to be high art, which is the entire point). Not long after Barbara is incarcerated there, Zaarbons gas renders everyone unconscious and the guy that’s behind it is stepping up to prominence just as Penguin displace Loeb for Gordon, and… yes it’s kind of convoluted.
But therein lies the point: the line between right and wrong, good and bad, is obfuscated in Gotham. To me that makes a for a way more interesting (even if it’s not always successful) than a show where you slap a hero’s name with the familiar logo for the title, and spend the show’s entire run doing – exactly what you’d expect him or her to do. Cheers to Supergirl, cheers to Daredevil!
Getting back to this show: now that some of Arkham’s inmates are freed, they will no doubt cause trouble for the rest of the season.
So the episode did what Gotham does best: shakes up the morality of a straight-arrow character like Gordon, delivers awesome action scenes, and pulls the story in unexpected, even twisted directions. It was as good an episode as I could have expected: a must-watch.
However, it did leave me a bit – tepid and nervous. Yeah, the episode was fine, but what about the rest of the season? From the marketing “Rise of Villains” isn’t just part of the title of this episode, it’s the subtitle for the whole season) so it lends itself to my suspicion that the producers are doing away with one-off villains (unless they are accessory to the main story) and largely stand-alone episodes in favor of a single story about the freed inmates. Well, one thing I liked about the first season of Gotham is that often Gordon and Bullock would arrive at a murder scene and not know what kind of adversary they’d have to figure out that week. Oh well.
And that brings me to another point of worry: Harvey Bolluck. He might be my favorite character on the show, and I’m not sure if he will have a big role – or any role- this season. He had one small (but poignant) scene in this episode, and I honestly hope that it’s not the last we’ll see of him. After all, when Gordon told that Zaarbon criminal “I don’t want to kill you, too much paperwork” I kept thinking what a great line that is, but that’s something that Bullock would say, not Gordon.
My review 4.5/5