‘Gotham’ 3.01 Recap: “Penguins Eat Fish!”

It would really benefit ‘Gotham’ if the show-runners would dial back and embrace a less-is-more approach to the material, preferably with a shorter season of 12 or 13 episodes focused on a couple of really tight storylines. Unfortunately, the Season 3 premiere is even more overstuffed and exhausting than usual. This does not bode well.

The theme this year is ‘Mad City’, which suggests that things will only get messier. If that’s supposed to be a strength, it plays as a weakness instead.

The premiere opens with a flashback of sorts. In an idyllic suburban neighborhood so distant from the rot and decay of the city, Jim tracks down his girlfriend Lee, only to find that she’s living with a new man. Bummer. That appears to be all we’ll see of Morena Baccarin for a while. Jim is heartbroken.

Cut to six months later, back in Gotham. A hulking dude with dinosaur scales running down his spine breaks into a pharmacy. He must be one of Professor Strange’s monsters that escaped from Indian Hill at the end of last season. The robbery is interrupted by Jim, who’s now working as a bounty hunter since he left the police force. You can tell he’s supposed to be a badass now because he wears a leather jacket, as all TV badasses do. Jim tries to fight the monster. It doesn’t go well until he tricks it into backing into the street, where it gets hit by a truck. Good enough.

Capt. Barnes (Michael Chiklis) has mostly recovered from his injuries and is back in charge of the GCPD, which means that Harvey has been demoted back to detective. Mayor James (Richard Kind) has also been reinstated to office. As the two of them give a press conference to assure the public that the hunt for the remaining Indian Hill fugitives is well in hand, Penguin interrupts the scene to give a grandstanding speech announcing that the monsters are organized and led by none other than the presumed-dead Fish Mooney. Later, Penguin sets a $1 million bounty to bring Fish to him, dead or alive. This gets Jim’s attention.

Jim is also hounded by eager reporter Valerie Vale (Jamie Chung from ‘Once Upon a Time). Is her name meant to suggest that she’s related to Vicki Vale, perhaps an older sister? Jim finds her a nuisance at first, but later agrees to help her dig into the Indian Hill story.

It looks like Jada Pinkett Smith is going to be a regular on the show again this season. Her Fish Mooney has an especially goofy costume now, and is surrounded by a coterie of mutant henchmen with ill-defined super powers. Fish uses her own power of mind control a couple of times, but seems weakened when she does it. Jim interrupts her robbing a pharma laboratory and fights her henchmen, but can’t capture her.

Selina Kyle, who’s part of Fish’s gang, tips off Valerie Vale that Fish is searching for Prof. Strange’s former assistant, Miss Peabody. Valerie in turn tells Jim, who tracks down Peabody. This is all a ruse, of course. Fish was behind Selina’s tip to Valerie. She’s using Vale and Jim to help her find Peabody. Jim is already aware of this, though, and uses Peabody as bait to set an ambush.

It’s a pretty pathetic ambush, unfortunately – just Jim with a pistol. The super-powered henchmen break into the apartment and kidnap Peabody from right under him. He manages to capture one with bat wings, and Valerie snaps a photo of it.

The henchmen bring Peabody to Fish, who demands a cure for whatever is weakening her. She also wants an army of more mutants. Peabody explains that Fish’s body is degenerating every time she uses her powers, and the only person who could fix her is Prof. Strange himself. Finding her useless, Fish orders one henchman named Marv to kill her. Marv has the power to rapidly age anyone he touches. Peabody instantly withers and dies at his touch.

Selina’s friend Ivy causes a scene that annoys Fish, who has no patience for the girl and orders Marv to take care of her. This upsets Selina, who tries to save her friend. Ivy runs away, but Marv grabs her arm and touches her for a second before she falls into a sewer and is washed away. This is all an elaborate excuse for the Ivy character to be recast with an older, hotter actress who will appear in a following episode.

The Enterprising Master Wayne

Bruce Wayne and Alfred return from an extended trip out of town, during which they investigated the mysterious group that has infiltrated Wayne Enterprises. Bruce arranges a meeting with the Board of Directors, where he lays out his conspiracy theory and announces that he knows people in the room are in the cabal. He demands a face-to-face meeting with the leader of the group or he’ll release the information he’s collected to the press. This is an obvious, and not particularly well-planned, attempt to draw out the conspirators.

In their secret abode, the woman in the silly mask we saw a couple times at the end of last season orders a similarly masked assassin to deal with Mr. Wayne. Comic fans will recognize this group as the Court of Owls, the secret society that runs Gotham behind-the-scenes.

Bruce and Alfred return to Wayne Manor, where they have brilliantly left all the windows and doors open. As Alfred goes around closing them, he finds an intruder in the house, the masked assassin. They fight. The assassin wins and kidnaps Bruce.

Other Odds and Ends

  • Lucius Fox has left Wayne Enterprises and now works as a science consultant for the GCPD.
  • Barbara and Tabitha run a nightclub. Butch still pines for Tabitha and turns stupid whenever he’s around her. When some gangster thugs try to extort money out of them, Barbara and Tabitha gleefully kill them all.
  • Ed Nygma remains imprisoned in Arkham and has a new deadly-serious attitude. Penguin goes to visit him and wants to be his friend.
  • Bruce Wayne’s twin/clone seen at the end of last season wanders the alleys of Gotham. He has a chance encounter with Selina and Ivy. While spying on them, he sees them talk to the original Bruce. Later, he approaches Ivy (before the business of being thrown in the sewer), who mistakes him for Bruce. He demands that she tell him all about Bruce Wayne.

Episode Verdict

A comic book show, especially a superhero comic book show, really ought to be fun to watch. This just isn’t. It has far too much going on, and none of it is particularly compelling.

In the past, I’ve praised this show for putting Jim Gordon – normally depicted as a vanilla hero and an upstanding paragon of virtue – through some dark and morally complex twists and turns, but making him a jaded bounty hunter is really taking things too far. He’s not recognizable as Jim Gordon, future police commissioner, anymore.

Bruce Wayne’s storyline is especially frustrating. First off, he’s already pulled this stunt of confronting the company board before and it got him nowhere then either. What was he expecting to come of this? Having done it, how were he and Alfred not at all prepared for the Court of Owls to come for them? The both of them seem like idiots.

After the messy second season, I hoped that the creative powers behind ‘Gotham’ might re-evaluate and course-correct for the new season. That doesn’t appear to have happened at all. If anything, they’ve just doubled-down on everything that didn’t work last year. I’m not sure that I like this show anymore.

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