[This is a review of Gotham season 2, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last year, Gotham proved to be one of the more divisive comic book series on television. Some viewers were drawn into the show's focus on a pre-Batman world in which iconic villains like the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), and Catwoman (Camren Bicondova) are just starting the reign of terror, but others were frustrated by the show's muddled tone and villain-of-the-week format. However, season 2's focus on the "rise of the villains," the addition of new cast members like Michael Chiklis and the promotion of season 1 recurring players might indicate a more focused tale going forward. Let's delve into the new season.
DESCENT INTO MYSTERY
The episode starts right where the season 1 finale left off, with Bruce (David Mazouz) and Alfred (Sean Pertwee) staring down into a secret entrance within Wayne Manor. The pair head straight down, only to be confronted by a door that can only be accessed with a key code. The storyline jumps "one month later," and after we catch up with Gordon and all that he has been up to (more on that in a moment), we learn that Bruce is still attempting to decipher the code to gain entrance to his father's secret, presumably through a process of elimination.
Ultimately, Bruce grows impatient and smashes the door's keypad. Soon afterwards, Alfred catches him walking through the mansion with materials to make a bomb to blow the door open himself. The butler's attempts to stop him prove futile, as the future Dark Knight proclaims that he is going to go ahead with his plan regardless. Alfred can either assist or not. Of course, Alfred lends a hand, and before long, the pair discover what looks to be an office and envelope with Bruce's name on it. In the letter, Thomas Wayne writes to his son that he "can't have both happiness and the truth" and advises him to "choose happiness unless you feel a calling, a true calling."
This storyline lays a lot of the groundwork for Bruce's road to Batman, most egregiously with both his father's letter and his statement to Gordon earlier that "sometimes the right way is the ugly way." Even though some fans may be turned off by the show's focus on young Bruce's formative years, Gotham is doing a solid job at establishing why he ultimately chooses to don the cape and cowl to defend his city. As the episode explicitly states, he cannot stand by in ignorance while his city suffers. He must get to the truth about the crime in Gotham and isn't afraid to sacrifice his personal happiness to do so. That is the essence of who Batman is, after all.
When we are re-introduced to Gordon (Ben McKenzie), we find that he has been unceremoniously demoted to traffic cop, thanks to the machinations of the corrupt Commissioner Loeb (Peter Scolari). While on duty, he comes across a crazed gunman -- who viewers have seen set loose by the mysterious Theo Galavan -- wandering the streets and firing his pistols while proclaiming himself "Zaardon the soul-ripper." Gordon quickly disarms (despite the fact that he's carrying swords) and apprehends him, but Loeb later fires Gordon when he shoves a colleague nonchalantly showing up for his shift later than expected.
Gordon's girlfriend, Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin), voices her happiness that he is no longer working with the GCPD, and Gordon's former partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) -- who is now tending bar and has remained sober since leaving the force -- shares this same thought, telling Gordon that he should be glad he's done with that life. Still, Gordon can't shake his desire to get his job back, even if it means bending the law. So he goes to visit newly proclaimed "king of Gotham" Penguin -- who has been busy cleaning up old debts and is now employing Selina Kyle -- and the crime boss makes a deal with Gordon: collect a debt from local hood Ogden Barker and he'll make sure Loeb is removed and Gordon reinstated. Gordon refuses but ultimately decides to do the deed anyway.
Tracking down Barker, Gordon asks that he present the money owed to Penguin, but he refuses to acknowledge that Penguin is now in charge. Gordon takes the money by force anyway and, upon being pursued by Barker and his men, ends up killing Barker. In keeping with their deal, Penguin -- accompanied by Victor Szasz (Anthony Carrigan) -- threatens him, and Loeb agrees to resign. Sarah Essen (Zabryna Guevara) is named his replacement, and Gordon, now with a heavy heart from the crime he committed, rejoins the force.
Gordon is clearly beginning to fall more and more in line with Batman's line of thinking, as demonstrated by his disgust with the GCPD and the corruption in Gotham during his conversation with Harvey. Also, it's interesting how quickly he is willing to keep secrets from Leslie, whether about Barbara's cryptic call mid-episode or the "bad thing" he's done to regain his position.
Having confessed to murdering her parents in last season's finale, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) finds herself locked away in Arkham Asylum, where she soon gains a number of male admirers. Among them is Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan), who saunters over to her -- whistling as he does, in true "Joker" style -- and establishes common ground based on the fact that they both killed their parents (or at least his mother, in Jerome's case). Jerome has come to tell Barbara that his friend, fellow inmate Richard Sionis (who Gordon took down midway through last season), has also taken a liking to her and can help her get access to things she needs.
Barbara rebuffs Jerome at first, proving that she can easily flirt with an inmate and get assistance on her own. Eventually, Barbara realizes that Richard can get her to a phone, and she is soon busy placing calls to Gordon and Leslie, terrorizing them from Arkham. When "Zaardon" arrives, the rest of the inmates ignore his nonsensical rantings, but moments later, he belches a blue smoke that knocks everyone out, and new character Tabitha Galavan (Jessica Lucas) whisks Jerome, Barbara, Richard and a few others to freedom.
As he did in his single season 1 appearance, Monaghan steals every scene he's in as Jerome. From his devil-may-care attitude to his thirst for destruction, the character just screams "Joker", though at this point he isn't confirmed to actually be the show's canonical version of The Clown Prince of Crime. Likely, the show is keeping this point a bit vague to hedge its bets until Jerome becomes even more of a fan-favorite, but thus far, the character -- who boasts some fun chemistry with Barbara this episode -- looks like he may be one of the season's biggest highlights.
MEET THE GALAVANS
Early on in the episode, we're introduced to the mysterious Theo Galavan (James Frain), as he unleashes the aforementioned "Zaardon the soul-ripper" on to the streets of Gotham after giving him some kind of potion that later manifests itself in gas form. It remains unclear what his intentions are, but it is apparent that he hopes to stir things up in Gotham's streets. As Zaardon himself says, "Master will unleash Hell ... dark days are coming."
By episode's end, Theo's sister Tabitha -- the Gotham equivalent of DC supervillain Tigress -- is revealed to be collecting Arkham inmates for her brother, who is announced as the new chairman of development at the Gotham Chamber of Commerce. In his speech at Loeb's resignation, Theo proclaims that there is "magic" in the city, thanks to "everyday heroes" and wishes newly appointed Commissioner Essen the best of luck.
Afterwards, he directly addresses the group of inmates he's collected, claiming to see "brilliance" and "power" in them. Jerome readily agrees, and Barbara proclaims that she is not up to par with her fellow criminals. Theo disagrees, as he notices a unique set of skills in her. Meanwhile, Richard denies any involvement with Theo's team and is swiftly killed by Tabitha, while Jerome giggles hysterically.
Word is that the arrival of Theo Galavan could signal the introduction of a "very famous DC villain", though at this point it's anyone's guess exactly how this storyline may play out. Likely, this team of outlaws will be an ongoing threat for the show and certainly fits within the "rise of the villains" marketing for the show, as does the brief scene early in the episode when we glimpse Edward Nygma arguing with his reflection, in full-on Gollum style. It shouldn't be long before he embraces his destiny to become Riddler. Could an invite to Theo's team of villains be far behind?
Gotham returns with 'Knock, Knock' next Monday @8pm on FOX.
Photos: Nicole Rivelli/FOX