Gotham season 3 episode 1 review: Better To Reign In Hell…

Gotham returns for its season 3 premiere, with no room to swing a cat(woman) thanks to all the plot strands...

This review contains spoilers 

3.1. Better To Reign In Hell…

Holy status quo shift, Batman! Gotham is back on our screens, and a lot seems to have changed over the summer break – Jim is now a boozehound bounty hunter, Barbara and Tabitha own a trendy nightspot, Fish Mooney has become the leader of the Indian Hill escapees (and for some reason set Penguin free), Leigh has found a new man, Selina has well and truly aligned with Fish, Penguin and Nygma are friends again, and Bullock has vacated the Police Commissioner hot-seat to let Barnes back in.

One of the few constants from where things left off at the end of season two is that Bruce and Alfred are still investigating Wayne Enterprises. So let’s start there. The Wayne murders and the shadiness and corruption surrounding Bruce’s father’s company is Gotham’s overarching story, and since nobody knows how long the series will run for, it has to progress in slow steps. This week, the step taken was Bruce confronting his company’s board and claiming to have intel about the mysterious organisation who are manipulating them (known to us at home as The Court Of Owls).

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This wasn’t a revolutionary scene, but it was a fun one. It’s always enjoyable when David Mazouz gets to showcase the smarts that will allow his character to grow up into The World’s Greatest Detective, even if he doesn’t have the physical prowess yet to deal with the consequences (see: his latest kidnapping at the end of the episode). I’m convinced that Bruce actually learnt nothing during his time in Switzerland and that his meeting with the board was actually a tactical bluff to draw out The Court Of Owls. And if that does turn out to be the case, the plan actually worked pretty well.

So yes, Bruce’s plot strand progressed in a rather satisfying way this week. It even found time to throw in some lightness, with Bruce and Alfred deciding that a big plate of pancakes is the best course of action after a tough bit of morning blackmail/corporate espionage. Yum.

For me, though, if I’m honest, the rest of the episode lacked oomph. There were too many plot strands vying for attention, meaning that nothing really got the time to make an impact. 

For example, Jim becoming a cash-minded bounty hunter with a broken heart and a beer problem should be a huge deal. He is the main character, after all, and this is a fairly big shift in his MO. But in the context of this episode it feels inconsequential: he’s still at the GCPD for all the important scenes, still chasing down leads and still getting told off by Barnes when things go wrong. If Jim really is undergoing big changes, it would be good for the plot of the episode to actually reflect that rather than sticking with old habits. 

Those changes I listed at the start of the review all start to seem a bit superficial when you dig into this episode. If so much is different now – and if Gotham is such a ‘Mad City’, as the subtitle of this season tells us – why is this episode still following the old beats of Jim chasing down a new weirdo, chatting to Bullock, doing a bit of shooting, messing up, getting told off and vowing to keep investigating? It’s all well and good to shake up the characters a bit, but a bigger and more interesting change would be to mix up how the structure of the show works. Three years in, you could argue that it’s time for some truly new ideas on the plotting level.

We were spoilt this time last year, with three Jerome-centric episodes that launched season two with a bang. By comparison, season three’s opener seems a bit more by-the-numbers, reintroducing all the characters and not doing much else, but that isn’t to stay this episode didn’t have merit: the BruceFred scenes were golden, Fish’s henchmen were fun, the Poison Ivy material should have interesting consequences and Jamie Chung made a real impression as Valerie Vale. 

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There are some strong ideas here, so hopefully Gotham season three will avoid stagnating by shaking off the show’s structural tropes and embracing some newness as it goes…

Read Rob’s review of the previous episode, Transference, here.