[This is a review of the Gotham season 3 premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
In retrospect, Gotham season 2 served largely as a stepping stone from the relatively grounded mob wars of the show’s freshman year into something far more akin to the anything-goes source material of DC Comics. That transition appeared to be complete in May’s season finale, as Hugo Strange’s (B.D. Wong) collection of Indian Hill inmates made their way into Gotham’s city streets, led by a resurrected (and now super-powered) Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith). Now setting the stage for this season's focus on a "Mad City," Gotham seems intent on blowing out its interpretation of the classic Batman mythos like never before.
After a brief glimpse at the immediate follow-up to Gordon’s (Ben McKenzie) quest to find Lee (Morena Baccarin), 'Better to Reign in Hell..' -- written by John Stephens and directed by Danny Cannon -- jumps six months into the future and resumes Gotham’s central focus on the three characters that have come to define the series thus far. As Gordon works as a bounty hunter to help the GCPD bring in the remaining Indian Hill escapees, Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and Bruce are on the warpath to eliminate Fish and expose the enigmatic organization lurking behind Wayne Enterprises, respectively. So far, there's no sign of the series' revamped Poison Ivy or the return of a certain potential Clown Prince of Crime, but there's still plenty of Easter eggs for eagle-eyed Batman fans to spot in this season's first hour, including what looks to be the debuts of some as-yet-unintroduced baddies.
GORDON THE BOUNTY HUNTER
By the looks of it, Lee hasn't been pining for Gordon nearly as hard as he was for her, though it does seem out of character for her to have moved on quite so soon. Smart money is on the fact that Gordon somehow misread the situation, and Lee's eventual return to Gotham will complicate Gordon's love life once again. In any case, the chance to see Gordon embrace his darker impulses looks so far like it could mark a welcome change of pace for the character, who was torn between what's right and what's necessary throughout season 2.
Now that he's working as a bounty hunter -- and associating himself with less duty-bound characters like new addition Valerie Vale (Jamie Chung) -- there's more opportunity for the show to use Gordon as the proto-Batman they've teased him as in the past. Moreover, his quest to bring in Fish and claim Penguin's $1 million reward (more on him shortly) is putting those two "friends" back on a collision course towards another reluctant team-up.
Across the board, season 3 seems to be all about shifting alliances so far, with even Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk) now working with the GCPD and not Wayne Enterprises. How our heroes will mount a decent effort to tackle the increased threat remains to be seen, but this episode alone reaffirmed Gordon's declaration that the city is "not running out of monsters anytime soon." In just this hour, characters that appear to be the show's versions of Killer Croc and Man-Bat already have made appearances, underscoring the fact that literally nothing is off-limits going forward. After all, there's still a Mad Hatter waiting in the wings.
JUST REMEMBER PENGUINS EAT FISH
As if it was ever in doubt who the VIP of Gotham is, Robin Lord Taylor proved once again that he knows how to harness the insanity and off-kilter appeal of his character like no other cast member. Penguin's entrance into the GCPD, during which he specifically calls out the cops for not capturing Fish after months, was a classic example of what makes him so much fun to watch. It also effectively revives the rivalry between the two that carried much of season 1, with an incarcerated Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) serving as an audience surrogate by pointing out the obvious: that penguins eat fish.
Given Penguin's role in Batman mythos, it's only a matter of time -- probably sooner than later -- until Penguin finishes off Fish once and for all, and the move should really come as soon as possible. Not only is Fish one of the show's most divisive characters but her storyline feels superfluous. With all the other supporting characters at large and waiting to be introduced, Gotham's insistence on resurrecting a figure no one wanted back to begin with seems ill-advised. At least it's becoming clearer than ever that the creative team behind the show has realized that Barbara is far more fun as a psychopathic killer than a mopey girlfriend. With all the talk about Harley Quinn lately, it's looking more likely than ever before that Barbara will embody that role.
Speaking of classic Batman villains (which has increasingly become Gotham's main focus), this week's premiere brought the first hint to its Poison Ivy origin story. Although it's unclear how young Clare Foley will re-emerge as Maggie Geha in the coming weeks, at this point Gotham has made it pretty clear that it plays by its own rules and that fans are better off rolling with it than complaining about how many liberties (and, boy, are there many) the show takes with the source material.
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
Bruce and Alfred (Sean Pertwee) return from Switzerland early on in this episode, having fled Gotham after the events of last season. Considering how close Azrael (James Frain) and the Court of Owls got to killing the future Dark Knight, we can't blame them from needing a break from all the chaos. However, there's no rest for the heroic as Bruce wastes no time in gathering the Wayne Enterprises board together to declare his intention of exposing the still-unnamed organization running his company.
Last season, Gotham toyed with the idea of Bruce rooting out the corruption within his family's company but became bogged down instead by his quest to solve his parents' murder. Now that this subplot is (mostly) laid to rest, season 3 looks like it will finally see Bruce taking even greater steps towards becoming the Caped Crusader intent on restoring justice. Of course, now that he appears to be taken captive by the Court of Owls, Bruce's storyline may be looking to tread water until later in the season. Let's hope we don't wind up with a rehash of the latter half of season 2.
There's also the matter of Bruce's mysterious doppelgänger, who was among the Indian Hill escapees and who -- much like the actual Bruce -- seems to have taken a liking to Selina (Camren Bicondova). For months, fans have speculated on how the character might tie to the comics, but this premiere offers little hint beyond the fact that he doesn't appear to be inherently evil thus far. Then again, neither did many other of Gotham's now-regular villainous figures. So we'll see what the future holds for emo Bruce.
Gotham continues next Monday with 'Mad City: Burn the Witch' @8pm on FOX.