So, you watched Gotham last season. Or not. Either way, you’re trying to decide if you want to venture into the chaotic, sometimes narratively-muddled world of Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon, and the whole host of villains that are trying to destroy this doomed-for-now city at any given time in season 2.
Well, we were lucky enough to catch the first two episodes of the second season during a recent visit to the Gotham set, and we’re here to help guide you through the process. Should you watch the new season of Gotham? Here’s what we think…
It’s no secret that we weren’t always the biggest fans of Gotham in season 1, but we only criticize because we think the show can do better — and the good news is it is better in season 2. At least in the first two episodes. If you hated the show in season 1, then you’re still going to hate the show in season 2. It’s not a new show, by any stretch of the imagination. Bruce Wayne is still not Batman, nor will he conceivably ever be until the show has run its course. There are still tons of zany villains running around town — even more, perhaps. And the show is just as strange and campy (in that, for some people, charming comic book way) as ever.
That being said, the Gotham of season 2 is so far much more streamlined than much of season 1. The departures of Maroni, Falcone, and Fish have done a lot to free up narrative space. Part of the problem with Gotham season 1 was that the show was trying to do far too much. It wanted to be a mobster drama and a comic book drama (and probably a few other kinds of drama), but, in trying to do so, failed sometimes on all counts.
In the absence of most of the mobster characters from season 1, we are left with Penguin’s machinations, aka the best part of the mobster story in the first season and one that has a tangible connection to the rest of the plot through Penguin’s “friendship” with Jim. Without venturing too far into spoiler territory, this reluctant relationship (at least on Jim’s part) is shored up in the season premiere in the most compelling aspect of the episode.
This narrative streamlining is also seen in the use of the villains. Yes, there are lots of villains running around Gotham in these first two episode, but the villain arcs are serialized. Unlike the balloon-murderer-of-the-week episodes of season 1, we are staying with the same group of villainous characters. And, though we are still being asked to buy Barbara’s sudden turn to madness and villainy, her character is of much better use in these first few episodes than she ever was in season 1. Not to mention that some of the funniest (albeit darkly funny) parts come in the interactions between the various villains. Finally, James Frain as new bad guy on the block Theo Galavan presents a thoroughly unsettling Big Bad very much on the slow burn in these first two episodes, but promising to grow into a formidable element.
And what of the Bruce Wayne storyline? Well, it is still mostly segregated from the rest of the plot in what, for some viewers, is problematic. For some viewers, the Bruce Wayne storyline is another distraction from what this show could be and should also be streamlined — i.e. severely limited and possibly done away with altogether.
Personally, I have always enjoyed the Bruce Wayne stuff and it continued to be one of my favorite elements in the opening episodes of the second season. The relationship between Bruce and Alfred is one that has been portrayed so many times in so many mediums over the years, but David Mazouz and Sean Pertwee are adding something new, delightful, and nuanced here. The addition of Lucius Fox gives this storyline a few more character dynamics to play with, and represents a link to Bruce’s father that may be instrumental in uncovering the mysteries of the not-Batcave.
Yes, Bruce’s drama may be a distraction from the police procedural elements of this comic book drama, but there are (more than) enough police procedurals on TV and the question “How does this teenager become Batman?” is a question that keeps me coming back to this show. But, you know: subjectivity!
Something Gotham did maintain from its first season that I believe even the most curmudgeonly viewers enjoyed? The unabashed panache that made this show diverting to watch even in the most confused episodes. The musical cues are still some of the best on TV, and the production values remain high. This show is beautiful to watch, and that’s not nothing on network TV.
All in all, this isn’t a new show, but it is a more focused one. If you hated season 1, you’re not going to like season 2. But, if like myself, you were mostly entertained by and only occasionally annoyed by season 1, then I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the changes the writers room has made in Gotham‘s sophomore season.