[This is a review of Gotham season 2, episode 18. There will be SPOILERS.]
Gotham featured some tremendous leaps forward in the storylines for fan-favorite villains (or are they anti-heroes at this point?) Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) in last week's episode. So it seems fitting that both characters sit out this subsequent installment of season 2's "Wrath of the Villains", allowing Hugo Strange (B.D. Wong) to continue his evolution into the ultimate big bad just in time for the season finale.
Let's delve into this week's new episode, "Pinewood".
After nearly an entire season of buildup, Bruce (David Mazouz) finally gains access to his father's computer, bringing him one step closer to the truth behind his parents' death. It's a pity that this development doesn't really yield much in the way of major twists, considering that we've already been behind the curtain with Hugo Strange and his experiments. The show clearly established last season that whatever was in that computer would blow fans' minds, and in that respect, it failed to deliver.
Still, the revelation of Karen Jennings (Julia Taylor Ross) as one of Strange's first subjects -- and the subsequent friendship between her and Bruce -- went a long way toward humanizing the atrocities that Thomas Wayne was so desperately trying to put an end to. Even though Karen's story shares some similarities with the origin behind Spider-Man villain The Lizard (both are motivated by fixing a damaged arm and turned into beasts, at least in part), her subplot ultimately fuels Bruce's disgust at the injustice going on at Arkham, giving viewers another glimpse at the Batman he'll become.
The moment near the end of the episode in which Alfred (Sean Pertwee) counsels Bruce that taking on the criminals of Gotham will give way to such casualties rang particularly true. The Batman mythos has been consistently marked by tragedy, from the death of the Waynes to that of Jason Todd in the comics. Gotham appears to be honing in on Bruce's psychosis this season in a way that is encouraging for where the show might go in season 3, and Mazouz has become noticeably more confident in the role in recent episodes. While Karen's death -- the show too often brings in sympathetic side characters only to kill them off in short order -- and the reveal that Strange is The Philosopher who ordered the Waynes' death weren't surprising, the focus of Bruce's evolution is exciting to behold.
BACK TO BASICS
Since Gotham started, few series regulars have divided fans like Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), and that reaction makes sense since the character appears to shift directions at a moment's notice, going from Gordon's (Ben McKenzie) neglected, dutiful fiancée to a psychopath akin to the comics' Harley Quinn. So one can't blame Gordon for not taking her apology and offer to help with the Wayne case at face value. Bullock's (Donal Logue) shocked expression at seeing her leaving his friend's apartment said it all.
That being said, this more morally ambiguous Barbara has so far been a pleasant surprise. Upcoming episodes will likely continue to toy with the truth behind her rehabilitation, especially now that she has returned into the fold with Tabitha (Jessica Lucas). Nevertheless, the show could very well be heading to an attempt at redemption for Barbara. Traditionally, she and Gordon marry and give birth to the eventual Batgirl, but if Gotham hopes to get to that place, it has a long road ahead. Sidenote: Gordon's beating-information-out-of-street-toughs montage -- set to the Sex Pistols' "My Way" -- was a slick way to remind viewers just how thrilling it is to see the character on the warpath.
While both Bruce and Gordon's investigation ultimately led to Hugo Strange, the man himself didn't receive a ton of screen time this episode, largely since his storyline is still moving to the forefront. Still, Wong's run as the character has been a lot of fun so far, and Strange's experiment could be just the shot in the arm the show needs to embrace more supernatural baddies like Clayface -- who was expected to appear this season -- and Killer Croc. Karen Jennings' clawed arm did look reptilian, after all. Consider Mr. Freeze (Nathan Darrow) the bridge between grounded villains and the more beastly members of Batman's rogues gallery.
Of course, the real revelation in Strange's storyline is the re-emergence of Patient 44 a.k.a. Theo Galavan (James Frain). It's been hinted for a while that the character would make his return, and now that he's officially back, Gotham could be in for a full-on zombie apocalypse in the weeks ahead. Galavan is set to serve as the show's version of Azrael, but don't be surprised to see Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Jerome (Cameron Monaghan) return just in time for the season finale, especially if the consistent appearance of Joker-esque graffiti has any real significance.
What did you think of "Pinewood"? Share your thoughts on the episode in the comments section.
Gotham returns with "Azrael" next Monday at 8pm on FOX.