Last week Fox debuted Gotham, a gritty noir-ish procedural set in the years before Bruce Wayne became the vigilante known as Batman, back when Carmine Falcone still ran the city’s mobs and when both Harvey Bullock and James Gordon were still young. The series premiere was a very entertaining and exciting experience, better than I’d expected it to be and it certainly made me want to come back for more, if only because I wanted to see more of certain characters and because the setup came off as fairly well-executed for a show like this.
This week’s episode, titled “Selina Kyle” was meant to focus on the future Catwoman. In the premiere, we saw that she was a witness to the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, thus creating an ephemeral bond between her and Bruce and at the end we saw that she came to Wayne Manor for… something. I was kind of excited for this week’s episode because I wanted to see how executive producer and series writer Bruno Heller would deal with the future master thief. And I’m disappointed on that front. The episode is more caught up with the ensemble cast than focusing on Selina, but at least it presents some really fun and quirky villains while also developing the overall story of the show.
One of the fun things about last week’s series premiere was the moral ambiguity of a lot of the characters and that fit in quite perfectly with how Gotham is supposed to be at this point in time. Corruption is rife, but as Carmine Falcone says at the end to James Gordon, there is still a structure to everything, an ordered process of law and order that provides checks and balances while men like him carry o wha they want to do as they want to do it. This theme was the key running theme of the new episode, where we see two villains going around the city, kidnapping homeless teenagers and the Mayor’s reaction to all of it.
I’ll admit that I was kind of ticked off by Ben McKenzie’s James Gordon this week. He is one of the straight-as-an-arrow types and given the kind of character he is going to become down the road, I expect the actor playing him to be able to reflect some of that, to channel that, specifically through his emotions. Gordon is an honest cop amongst an entire GCPD staffed with half-crooked and full-crooked cops. But McKenzie’s performance doesn’t really depict that. He is far too stony-faced most of the time, as if he is on the cusp of letting out something, but just keeps it all locked away. For someone meant to be a lead protagonist of a show like Gotham, I expected far more.
But then, all of that is easily countered by the other cops around Gordon, including the Mayor. Everybody else knows how things are run in the city and they are all “with the programme” as dictated by Don Falcone. Whether it is a beat cop called to a crime scene, or Harvey Bullock or Captain Essen or Mayor James, they are all much more wonderful characters than Gordon himself, and that’s kid of a shame where he’s concerned.
Some things irked me, such as everyone pointing out to Gordon that he is a terrible liar or that they thought “he was with the programme now” and all, but there’s still some great material here for the character to bounce off of and develop into the man he is meant to be. And when faced with people like Harvey and Essen and the Mayor, I think the potential can be easily exploited in the right direction.
The episode largely deals with a duo of child-kidnappers who are working on behalf of the Dollmaker. Previously, we’ve seen a live-action version of this villain in CW’s Arrow, but in Fox’s Gotham, the villain is only mentioned by name and never makes an appearance. Which is all well and good since it creates a certain mystery as far as the show’s cast of villains is concerned. Doubly important since we already have so many villains as part of the recurring cast that introducing more like this would just weight it all down. Working on behalf of the Dollmaker, his hired help in the form of Patti and Doug are some really brilliant characters that hearken back to the fun camp of Adam West’s Batman. Played by Lili Taylor and Frank Whaley respectively, the characters certainly top out in the no-nonsense creep factor as well, which I thought did a great job of imparting this week’s story with a certain tension and serious heft.
Once again, Selina “Cat” Kyle is mixed up in events and if this is the kind of serious focus on the character that Bruno Heller had in mind when it was all announced, then I’m disappointed since Camren Bicondova’s character was largely a shoe-in here. She is kind of at the periphery of events once again, though she has a more substantial story presence than she did last week. If there’s anything positive here, it is Camren performs her part incredibly and you really get a good sense of the feisty and devious person she later turns out to be.
By the end of the episode, you are left with the feeling that while not much happened, the story did progress further because of the little moments that were in it. Examples of this would include Penguin kidnapping a college frat boy while hitchhiking out of Gotham, Barbara Kean (future Barbara Gordon and James’ wife) taking a strong hand in the kidnapping case and helping James and Harvey out, Mayor James in every scene he is in, Carmine Falcone putting down Fish Mooney, and Fish Mooney’s own reflections on her future.
And in the midst of all that, the meta-story itself gets more complicated when we learn how important the Waynes were to Gotham and their relationship with the Falcones, and also that Don Falcone and Fish aren’t the only ganglords in the city, that there’s “number 2” Maroni. Bit by bit, the world created by Bruno Heller and executive producer/director Danny Cannon is developing into something more and I have to say that it is proving to be quite fun indeed.
Last week’s premiere might have been a fluke of good luck, and this week’s second episode shows a lot of promise as well, especially once you factor in the cliffhanger involving James Gordon and Selina. So yes, once again, I’m definitely coming back next week.
Oh and another thing, I like how Sean Pertwee’s Alfred Pennyworth is portrayed as a strong man who isn’t afraid to talk smack to Bruce. More often that not Alfred is someone who prefers to be subtly snarkish towards Bruce, but then that’s when Bruce is a a grown-up already, an adult. We don’t get to see much of either Alfred or Bruce this week, aside from some interesting development for the two in the scenes which show Bruce trying to overcome his fear of painful things and Alfred berating him for the same, but I loved every moment of it. The show is doing well to keep these two on the sidelines, but not too much.
More Gotham: Ep 1.