Gotham was not necessarily the breakout hit that Fox had been hoping for when it launched around this time last year, but it drew enough of an audience to be graced with a second season regardless. The first season suffered a bit from an identity crisis: it wanted to be a cop drama set against the dark world of Batman, but without Batman or any of his familiar villains. Sure they appeared to varying degrees, with Penguin being the most central to the plot, but there seemed to be a strong push to keep the comic book influence out of a show which got most of its brand recognition from said comic. It was an odd choice, to say the least, and it resulted in viewers dropping the show. After all, without the comic book trappings Gotham is just another police procedural in a sea of police procedurals.
The season two premiere has decided to make a tone shift towards what you would better expect from a comic book series. That does not mean we are suddenly going to Arrow or Flash levels of adorably cheesy superhero action sequences, but it does mean that the Batman rogue’s gallery is going to be better represented. There is still Penguin, of course, with Victor Zsasz as his lead enforcer, and Selina Kyle (Catwoman) apparently joining his merry gang of bandits. Edward Nigma (the Riddler) is slowly descending into madness after the events of last season, and I imagine we can expect to see his persona shifting to something even darker this season. There are also two new villains added so far, Theo and Tabitha Galavan, who do not have any comic connections that we know of yet (DC claims Tabitha is based on Tigress, but that is pretty flimsy even by Gotham standards).
But what about the Joker? After all, what is a Batman book without a Joker? Let us ignore for the moment that the Joker is not really supposed to have an origin story (this is why he tells different stories in The Dark Knight) and instead focus on Jerome Valeska. Even if it turns out Jerome is not going to be the Joker proper he is certainly filling the basic role of the character here. Actor Cameron Monaghan certainly has some big shoes to fill with the role, but based solely on his performance in this episode I think it is safe to say that he has captured the Joker rather well. He seems to be using the Jack Nicholson version of the character as his template, but you can certainly see some Heath Ledger and Mark Hamill in there, too. He pretty much steals every scene he is in — which wasn’t necessarily true for his appearance in season one — and I, for one, am super excited to see what he does with the role this season. Whether or not he will ever actually truly be the Joker in Gotham is up in the air, but at this point he doesn’t need to be.
Since we are already talking about crazy let’s go ahead and discuss Barbara Kean, Jim Gordon’s on-and-off love interest from season one, and now certified psycho-murderer. Her characterization was… inconsistent in season one, which the writers seem to want us to believe was always part of the plan, but I honestly think they just didn’t know what to do with her for half the season. Now, though, she is locked in Arkham (for most of the episode, anyway) alongside our budding Joker prototype. Even though it is not explicitly stated at this point, there seems to be a strong sense that she is something of a stand-in for Harley Quinn, Joker’s sometimes-girlfriend. I think there is a lot of mileage to be had from that angle, and I honestly look forward to seeing where they are going with her story — something I decidedly could not say last season.
Which brings us to Jim Gordon, our protagonist and one of the few good cops in Gotham. His story seems to be floundering a bit as he has decided to enter more gray area and continue to in-debt himself to the penguin. In the first season this worked out okay, but it is hard not to feel that a line has been crossed with his character here. As part of his debt he is forced into some pretty harsh actions, and ones it is hard to square with the Jim Gordon we know. Obviously he can’t be a pure beacon of virtue and remain an interesting character, but at the same time the line in this case is one that seems a bit too far outside of what Jim would be willing to do. It is also clear that his actions in this episode will have far reaching impacts, so we will have to see how it plays out before fully passing judgement.
And, lastly, we have Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth. Last season ended on a cliffhanger with the two of them discovering a secret room used by Bruce’s father before his death. There are some clever bits to this, and I most especially enjoyed seeing Bruce flounder with trying to guess the passcode to the door before deciding to blow it up instead. This works on two levels since it helps setup some of the training Bruce will be getting as he grows older (working with explosives, specifically), and also the humor in the future “world’s greatest detective” failing to open a simple passcode lock, especially once it is revealed that it was a really easy code. Those two things by themselves were more entertaining than almost anything else involving the character in season one, so that is a plus. On the downside he is still a hard character to relate to, and not incredibly interesting in most cases. You kind of have to include him since he is the reason we care about Gotham in the first place (or his future self is, anyway), but the writers are clearly struggling to find things to do with him.
The season opener for Gotham had a lot riding on it, but it seems to have hit its mark rather well. The Jim Gordon story felt like a bit of a mis-step to me and Barbara’s characterization continues to be a bit mystifying, but beyond that I have few complaints. The focus on Batman’s villains this season (the season’s subtitle is “Rise of the Villains”) is a bold move for the series, but judging by this first episode one that might pay off. Early reports suggest that the viewership for episode one suffered a bit of a drop-off from last season (with many viewers tuning into Blindspot instead, by the looks of it), but positive word of mouth may help it out as the season progresses. It certainly deserves a second look by anyone who gave up on it last season.
Gotham Season 2, Episode 1 – “Damned If You Do…” is available on Amazon Instant Watch.