This review contains spoilers.
2.1 Damned If You Do
Holy Zaardon’s gas bomb, Batman! Gotham’s season two premiere certainly made an impact this week, even if it’s not entirely clear which incarnation of Batman the show is trying to prequel-ise.
On the one hand, the grim discussion between Jim, Bruce and Alfred that sometimes the only ‘right way’ is also the ‘ugly way’ lends itself to a darker, Frank Miller-inspired, Nolan-esque portrayal of Batman’s origin tale.
The opening shot of the season – a bolt of lightning above Wayne Manor – certainly supports this idea, conjuring memories of seminal moody Miller comic book run, The Dark Knight Returns, where a violent and vengeful Batman re-embraced the cowl on a dark, stormy night.
Meanwhile, over at Arkham, we have broad comedy beats playing out instead – incarcerated villains are joking around, ordering each other to make sandwiches, and generally attempting to ape the panto-villains-working-together style of the 1960s Adam West Batman television series.
Besides a phone call from Barbara to Jim, the only real connective tissue between these disparate strands was Theo Galavan – the new philanthropic public-facing hero and privately villain-wrangling big bad of Gotham, played by Agent Carter alum James Frain.
One minute, Theo is outwardly praising the work of Commissioner Loeb (here forced into retirement by Jim, via some dodgy dealings with Penguin). The next, he’s essentially putting together a villainous super-group and encouraging them to embrace the charisma of their criminality and work together.
The odd thing is, this contrast actually works quite well. Batman is a brooding hero, but his villains are often colourful and garish. He’s dark, but they’re bright – it’s been part of comic book lore for decades. Although films tend to lean more towards one than the other, perhaps Gotham can successfully balance the scales of both options, if the writing is strong enough.
This week, it was. You get a sense with Damned If You Do that Gotham is now a show with something of a game plan behind it. Perhaps this is because Bruno Heller and co. knew that they had 22 episodes this time around, so there’s no need to rush through disposable villains or pander to the ‘every episode must end with a shootout’ cliché to try and keep viewers engaged. Heller – the showrunner – wrote this episode himself, and there’s certainly something of a mission statement about it.
Yes, we had the introduction of Theo and his sister Tabitha, AKA The Tigress, the bloodthirsty whip-wielding leather-clad villainess played by Jessica Lucas. But, they weren’t rushed in and out as freak-of-the-week fodder – they were set up for a long-form evildoing arc, something that Gotham lacked at points last year.
The performances were solid, too, particularly from Ben McKenzie, who was given more to do in these 45 minutes than he was in 22 episodes last year. Finally, he’s truly been pushed to drastic measures to try and save Gotham City. He’s not just making shady agreements anymore; he’s actually following through with Penguin’s demands. He’s getting his hands dirty in order to get Gotham clean.
The parallels to the pilot are clear, here – in the space of a year, Jim has gone from chasing the killer to being the killer himself. Now, the police are after him and he’s truly breaking the law as a means to try and enforce it better in future. A returning stylistic motif from the pilot – framing McKenzie’s face from below as he runs – hammered home the idea that Damned If You Do is a twisted version of last year’s season opener.
Despite concerns about the villains becoming too cheesy, this episode was enjoyable for the most part. It raised more questions than it answered, and it clearly shows that there’s been a shake-up behind the scenes. Consider my fingers crossed that next week can continue in a similar fashion.
Now, where’s the petition I need to sign for more Zaardon action?
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