Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Gotham Season 2, Episode 1, "Damned If You Do"

Hey, look, Gotham's back! Gotham had a first season that was enjoyable, if incredibly uneven, and so much of enjoying it had to do with ignoring it as any precursor to an established Batman mythos, something the final episodes of last season completely cemented by throwing off the reins of any established canon. So, I came back to it with last night's premiere unsure of where I stood with this, a re-imagining of the origins of many of my favorite comic book characters. And I've decided Gotham is like that friend you have, the one who's fun at parties, but makes lots of bad decisions, and all you can do is shake your head and enjoy it when they win, or don't screw up entirely. They're good intentioned, and sometimes pull of a Hail Mary pass, but wow, what you have to do to get there.

I will say, flat out, that Gotham made some improvements this first episode. The main one, the one that leapt out at me, was that it handled its mammoth cast better than at any point last year. While there were still three plotlines (more if you count some brief touches), each and every one connected to a main plot, with Jim Gordon being kicked off the GCPD and having to find a way to get back on the force. While Bruce had his own thing going on, trying to break into his father's proto-Batcave, and Barbara Kean and the loonies in Arkham were being the loonies in Arkham, Gordon encountered each of them and we saw how they effected his decision. And Penguin's plot simply tied in to Gordon's, without there being anything going on aside from that. Riddler was a little more off to the side, but we'll get to that in a bit. Still, there were no plotlines that seemed to be sitting out in right field, not tying in to anything going on in the main plot of the series, which is a focus sorely lacking last year.

Even though the plot was consistent, there were some holes that you could drive a truck through. Gordon needing to go to Penguin to oust Commissioner Loeb seemed a questionable decision for a number of reasons, the largest being that Gordon has dirt on Loeb. There was a whole episode last season that ended with Gordon knowing Loeb's daughter killed her mother and Loeb covered it up. While Gordon might be too noble to use it, to completely ignore it seemed an odd choice. I can ignore lapses in logic that are intrinsic to a show, but simple ignoring events that are key to the show's past seems odd (frankly, that entire episode seems to be ignored, as no one has since mentioned that Gordon is head of the policeman's union).

I'm also wondering where the series is going to go with Gordon having killed a man while doing a favor for Penguin. I have to really work to wrap my brain around a Gordon who would do that, as it is completely anathema to the Jim Gordon I've read for three decades (although not to the one in Geoff Johns's Batman: Earth One, which I think the producers have been drawing some inspiration from). I'm hoping that this is an action that haunts Gordon, and not in the "Penguin is holding it over his head," way. I know Gordon has no problems taking a life when threatened in the line of duty, and I'm fine with that. But Ben McKenzie's excellent moment when he tells Leslie Thompkins, "I did a bad thing," should be something that comes back around later on.

The performances on Gotham continue to move between the sublime and the grotesque in the best possible ways. I give all the actors on the show credit for taking what they're given and committing wholeheartedly to it. There are smaller performances, like Donal Logue's Bullock, where he's much more at peace than we saw him all last year. Robin Lord Taylor continues to impress as the Penguin, and I really enjoy David Mazouz's Bruce Wayne. The Arkham crew were a delighful group of scene stealers; now that she's insane and villainous, I am enjoying Erin Richards's Barbara Kean 1000 times more, and while I don't think Cameron Monaghan's Jerome is going to be the Joker in the end, he's a pleasant maniac to watch. And my usual kudos go out to Anthony Carrigan, whose Victor Zsasz is my favorite character on this show, with his wicked performance that can switch from manic glee to violent terror in moments.

I have some issue with the direction of Edward Nygma, though none of that has to do with Cory Michael Smith's performance. The schizophrenic, talking to a slick version of himself in the mirror thing is out of character for Riddler. And I know I said you have to embrace a different mind set when looking at this show, since these aren't any version of these characters we've seen before, but we will be seeing more of district attorney Harvey Dent this season, and having two characters with the same kind of dark side and rage issues seems redundant, although Evil Ed meets Big Bad Harv might be fun (and before anyone corrects me, I know the Big Bad Harv thing is DCAU only, not straight DC canon, but it works so well here, I had to use it).

And this wouldn't be Gotham if we didn't introduce at least a couple new characters, in this case the mysterious Galvan siblings. We didn't get much from Tabitha yet, although Jessica Lucas imbues her embryonic Tigress with enough cold calculating power and violence that you know she is no one to be messed with. Her brother, the seeming new criminal mastermind of the season, Theo, is played by James Frain, an actor who I am an unabashed fan of. Frain is one of those "that guy" actors, someone who appears in everything, and is often the villainous Brit. Whether it's as vampire Franklin Mott on True Blood, corporate baddie Ferdinand on Orphan Black (the best sci-fi show on television now. You should be watching it), wicked prince Eric Renard on Grimm (the best supernatural superhero show on TV now, and one with no comic book antecedent), the supervillain Chess on The Cape (remember The Cape? Six seasons and a movie never happened there, sorry Abed), or a slew of other characters, Frain brings a palpable sense of menace to his antagonists that I admire. I'm looking forward to seeing what Frain and his Legion of Madmen do.

Other episode highlights included Bruce and Alfred building a bomb and high-fiving when it works, Barbara's little phone call to Leslie, and the production design on Penguin's minions and the club Gordon goes to collect Penguin's money. Whatever else you have to say about this show, it is designed gorgeously,

So, where are we with Gotham now? Is the show perfect? By no stretch. Is it a fun carnival ride of madness and poor decision making by characters who should know better? Absolutely. And really, that's all I'm asking for at this point.

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