[This is a review of Gotham season 3, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last season, the entire Gotham marketing campaign hinged on the consistent introduction of classic Batman villains to creator Bruno Heller's vision of the DC Comics mainstay. The season 3 premiere certainly keyed this up nicely, allowing last season's "Rise of the Villains/Wrath of the Villains" arc to dovetail into the current "Mad City" storyline. This title, of course, works as both a tie-in with the upcoming addition of the villainous Mad Hatter to the FOX series and a promise that things will get far, far worse in Gotham before Bruce (David Mazouz) dons the cape and cowl. Judging by this second episode of the season (titled 'Burn the Witch'), it looks like that's already starting to come to fruition.
This week, we got to meet Ivy Pepper 2.0, as played by Maggie Geha, and by the looks of it, she could be shaping up to become a major player going forward this season. Moreover, we also see Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) beginning to overcome his underworld standing to become a more prominent figure in Gotham against the GCPD's failed attempts to wrangle the Indian Hill escapees. Undoubtedly, the show is setting up his bid for political office, just as the character's comic book counterpart has done in the past. In many ways, 'Burn the Witch' feels like a transitional episode for Gotham, washing away the lingering threads from last season's finale and embracing the potential of what's to come.
MY GREATEST CREATION
The search for Fish (Jada Pinkett Smith) continues this week, with Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Valerie (Jamie Chung) still locked in a pseudo-battle of wits to lock down that $1 million bounty. So far, it looks like the show is setting the journalist up to be this season's edition of Gordon's requisite love interest, following both Barbara (Erin Richards) and Lee (Morena Baccarin). Naturally, both of Gordon's former girlfriends pop up in this episode (with the latter in a particularly groan-inducing final moment "twist"), and despite the bizarre trajectory her character has taken, it still feels like Gordon has perhaps the best onscreen chemistry with Barbara. Speaking of, did it seem weird to anyone else that this plotline started off centered on Selina, but the future Catwoman didn't even appear in the episode?
Fish's quest to seek out Hugo Strange (BD Wong) -- who, by the way, didn't have nearly enough to do in this episode -- encapsulates the kind of shallow storytelling that has so frequently plagued Gotham. The characters often put so little thought into their own actions that viewers never truly get a sense that the creative team behind the show has a clear direction in mind. Perhaps this is simply symptomatic of a larger issue with so much of today's serialized storytelling, but Gotham in particular has a tendency to build up storylines without really any place to go, leading to an unavoidably anticlimactic conclusion that halfheartedly ties up loose ends or opts to postpone any real answers until some undetermined later date.
This episode's showdown between Penguin and Fish was a perfect example. Fish's "revelation" that she couldn't kill Penguin in last season's finale because of some sense of bizarre pride in how far her "umbrella boy" has gone might have been a nice effort to draw a parallel between her and Strange. However, it still feels hollow, and Penguin's decision to inexplicably spare her life in return felt egregiously out of character. After obsessing over Fish's death for months, there's no way he'd let her go free. Instead, this episode marks the second time the show has put a pin in Fish's story, just so it can keep the character in its back pocket. Judging by the divisive response to her, hopefully she'll heed Penguin's advice and not come back. Please? If nothing else, Penguin's rallying of the people of Gotham over these new monsters should finally give the character something to do, as he spent the latter half of last season listlessly grappling with apparent sanity and then trapped in a pointless subplot involving his long-lost father.
A MEETING WITH THE COURT
After getting viewers' hopes up for an explosive turn of events involving the still-unnamed organization running Wayne Enterprises (can the show just call them the Court of Owls already?), Gotham relegated Bruce's kidnapping to simply a pre-credits scene between the budding Batman and the group's apparent leader Kathryn (Leslie Hendrix). Admittedly, the fact that Bruce somewhat bluffed his way into the meeting to confirm the group's existence was a heroic act of self-sacrifice in the pursuit of justice, and Mazouz continues to carry the role with the steely-eyed resolve becoming of a future Dark Knight. Likewise, his mention that the Wayne name serves as "a symbol of light and hope" indicated the kind of thinking that will lead him to inspire fear in Gotham's criminals one day.
Gotham is at its best when it embraces its role as a Smallville-esque exploration of the road that led Bruce to the cape and cowl and, conversely, how the many members of his rogues gallery came to be. With any luck, season 3 won't become quite so mired in the inner workings of the GCPD and the interminable battle over Gordon's soul. After all, we're not watching to see Gordon eventually grow a mustache and earn the title of police commissioner, right? The stories focusing on Bruce developing his detective and deception skills were among the best moments in season 2, and we can only hope that his struggle with the Court of Owls will take center stage. Oh, along with emo Bruce (yes, that's what we're calling him until further notice). He showed up this week too. We'll see how that goes.
We all knew it was coming. Now Ivy Pepper has evolved from young Clare Foley into a full-grown woman who has no problem murdering hapless strangers in defense of the plant world. Given that we only get a few scenes with Geha's Ivy, it's difficult to gauge how well she embodies the character, but it should be interesting to hear the show's rationale for how a tween girl transformed into a woman in her late 20s overnight. Not only does it diverge quite drastically (even for Gotham) from the source material but it also raises some troubling implications considering how sexualized Poison Ivy typically is.
Even though Ivy is all evil and wearing a more pronounced shade of green than ever before (maybe she can give Nygma some fashion tips?), she doesn't appear to have developed her poisonous powers just yet. Sure, she's already fighting for the plant world, but we can only speculate how long Gotham will wait to unleash her own abilities. More importantly, now that Poison Ivy is finally starting to become a thing, the clock is ticking until Ivy's comic book love interest Harley Quinn makes her "official" debut.
Gotham continues next Monday with ‘Mad City: Lookin Into My Eyes’ @8pm on FOX.