After a first season that was often uneven but generally a pleasant surprise, Fox’s Batman prequel series ‘Gotham’ returned this week for another go. With the subtitle ‘Rise of the Villains’, the new season appears to want to ramp up the Batman mythology in a big way and fast. Will that ultimately pay off for the show, or prove a distraction from what was originally pitched as the story of the city itself?
The season premiere, called ‘Damned If You Do…’, picks up right where the first season finale ended. Young Bruce Wayne and his butler Alfred discovered a secret hidden staircase leading below the mansion. As they traverse down the stairs, they find that it leads to… a locked door. Huh. That’s disappointing. Bruce enters a number of possible combinations to the code-lock but none work.
Cut to one month later. Jim Gordon is still with his girlfriend Lee (Morena Baccarin), but has been busted down to traffic duty as retribution from Commissioner Loeb. His partner Harvey has left the police force entirely and now works as a bartender. He seems much happier in his new career, and is even sober. Jim, meanwhile, has taken to drinking.
With Don Maroni dead and Don Falcone retired to Florida, The Penguin is officially the new Crime King of Gotham. He still has Butch at his side, and (with Fish Mooney presumed dead) young Selina Kyle has joined his coterie as well. Even Victor Zsasz is enthusiastically working for him. However, Penguin has some trouble collecting on debts that were owed to Falcone by subordinates who have no respect for the new Don.
As we last saw Jim’s ex Barbara, she’d gone psycho and attacked Lee, who bashed her head repeatedly into the floor until she went limp. We weren’t sure if Barbara would live or die. Well, she lived. Convicted of murdering her parents, she starts the episode getting locked away in Arkham Asylum, which is apparently a co-ed facility. Among the other inmates she meets are several faces that viewers will recognize, including nutcase Jerome (who may or may not turn out to be The Joker) and evil stockbroker Richard Sionis. Why the latter would be sentenced to a mental facility rather than regular prison is not addressed, other than that it’s convenient for the plot to have him there. Barbara, who’s completely off her rocker now, quickly proves herself a schemer and manipulator well suited to prison life. If fan speculation is correct, it sure looks like the show’s writers are positioning her on a path to become villainess Harley Quinn, which would be an interesting twist on Batman canon.
Ed Nygma still has his job with Gotham P.D. and maintains appearances of being his awkwardly nerdy old self, but when in private has schizophrenic visions of an arrogant, douchebag version of himself talking to him through mirrors.
We also have a new villain in town, a mysterious figure named Theo Galavan (James Frain), who initially pulls the strings of a costumed weirdo calling himself Zaardon the Soul Reaper to make a nuisance of himself in order to get locked up in Arkham.
When Jim gets into a minor conflict with another cop, Loeb uses that as an excuse to finally fire him. With no other avenues to go to, Jim visits Penguin, figuring that Penguin owes him a favor for saving his life. Penguin doesn’t see it that way, of course. He offers to help Jim get his job back, but only if Jim will prove his loyalty by collecting a debt from a gangster named Ogden Barker.
Jim then stops at Wayne Manor to inform Bruce that he’s been fired and apologize for not being able to keep his promise about finding his parents’ killer. He explains that the only way to get his job back would be to morally compromise himself in a way he’s not comfortable with. Bruce flat-out tells him to nut-up and figure out where the greater good is.
After some soul searching, Jim decides that Bruce is right. He confronts Barker and demands Penguin’s money. When Barker refuses, Jim roughs up his henchmen and takes the money. This results in a chase through a restaurant kitchen and the return of the goofy GoPro camera effect not seen since the pilot episode. (Danny Cannon directed both episodes.) The sequence culminates with Jim killing Barker. Will Jim’s reward really justify this price he had to pay?
Living up to their end of the bargain, Penguin and Zsasz break into Commissioner Loeb’s house at night and threaten him. The next day, Loeb calls a press conference to announce his retirement. Speaking at the affair is none other than Theo Galavan, who turns out to be a major political power player in the city. Jim has been reinstated to the police force, and his boss Capt. Essen will be promoted to Commissioner. Jim believes that he made the right decision and the ends justify the means.
At Arkham, Zaardon is locked up and promptly keels over, expelling a noxious gas from his mouth. His imprisonment was all a ploy by Galavan and his sister Tabitha to break out six inmates, including Barbara, Jerome and Sionis. He brings them to his penthouse and explains that he has plans to use their unique talents on a special project. (What he describes sounds an awfully lot like the Suicide Squad.) Sionis declines and tries to buy his way out, so Tabitha murders him in front of the others, who all agree to sign on with Galavan’s plan.
Bruce eventually grows frustrated with the locked door and announces to Alfred that he plans to blow it up with a homemade fertilizer bomb. Alfred tries to talk him out of it and reminds him for about the 80th time that he’s just a child and doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does. But Bruce remains determined, so Alfred agrees to help. They blow the door and enter the secret room to find…
Is it a prototype Batcave? No, it’s just an office, with a desk and a computer and an ‘If you’re reading this, I must be dead’ note left sitting on the keyboard addressed to Bruce. The first line congratulates the boy for figuring out that the passcode to the room was B-R-U-C-E. D’oh!
The note then encourages Bruce to find his true calling and warns, “You can’t have both happiness and the truth.” Thanks, Dad.
I think this was a very strong season premiere and I look forward to watching the rest of the season. I just hope this one has fewer obvious filler episodes and storylines.