Selina Kyle Review: Gotham Finally Finds the Funny in Brutal Violence
Where the pilot episode was intent on introducing the audience to what felt like a thousand different DC Comics characters, the second episode, "Selina Kyle," took on a narrower scope, and fit a case-of-the-week plotline into the larger world of Gotham. It was more focused, more confident, and generally marked a significant improvement, showing us that the show has legs to sustain itself week to week.
At the risk of sounding crude, this episode was at its best in its moments of brutal violence. Not only was the violence itself well-done, but the show managed to find humor in its over-the-top viciousness. Selina Kyle, or Cat, has her defining (not to mention disturbing) moment when she literally gouges a man's eyes out. But the most memorable moment comes when child trafficker Patti tells him "It's just a scratch," promptly raises her gun, impatiently tells him to "hold on!" when it jams, and then executes him like a wounded animal. Cobblepot unsurprisingly gets a decent kill as well, when he shoves a broken beer bottle into a bratty young man's throat upon hearing the unwelcome nickname, "Penguin." His violence is generally the most shocking, but the character and the actor's ability to find levity in the proceedings is the show's saving grace. Between his sense of humor, his ludicrously grandiose language, and his jauntily grisly kills, he's becoming a stand-in for the Joker. He's performing the same function that Heath Ledger served in the relentlessly serious Dark Knight films, and Robin Lord Taylor has enough charisma for this villain to become a similar breakout character.
Gotham moves so quickly, and takes such joy in its genre trappings, that it's difficult to fault it for its clichés and often weak characterization. I argued in my review of the pilot that the characters don't need to be as complex as they are in an ostensibly character-driven show, because they are simply archetypal pawns in a larger story. This isn't a show about characters, it's a show about a diseased city, and it would be difficult for a show having so much fun to slow down enough for real character development. I can almost accept that, but I can't help but think of shows like The Walking Dead, which are unabashedly genre but are at their best when they slow down and focus on the characters. These characters could potentially fall into archetypes and still feel like real people, but so far Cobblepot is the only one who truly feels well-realized, and Robin Lord Taylor deserves just as much credit for that as the writers.
And even if I were to accept that this is a "fun" show without any ambitions to perform character studies, something needs to be done about Barbara. The actress may be miscast, but more importantly, the character simply doesn't fit. They're trying to have their cake and eat it too; it's a show that eschews character and relationship development in favor of blood, action, and world-building, but then it has a character whose only function is to be one-half of a relationship. Jim and Barbara seem utterly cartoonish when they talk to each other; they barely act like they've met before, let alone planned a life together. And the writers haven't even decided Barbara's function in relation to Gordon, let alone the show as a whole. In the pilot episode, she seemed to be yet another person who would disappoint Gordon by being part of some kind of corruption, yet another symptom of the city's disease. In this episode, it seems that she'll serve as his moral compass, the one who keeps him grounded when the city threatens his ideals. They need to either give her something substantive to do or kill her off, and it wouldn't reflect particularly well on them if they killed the only prominent adult female character on the show who isn't a villain.
The Dollmaker was introduced in this episode, although not onscreen. Many are now speculating that Gotham could take place in the same universe as other DC Comics shows, as Dollmaker also appears in Arrow. It's possible, but I hope not. Although the crossover itself would be fun, we've seen in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that creativity can be muzzled when a show is restricted by continuity with other moving pieces in a franchise.
Cat supposedly "knows who killed the Waynes." I want to say that this is probably not true, since the Waynes' murder seems to be the catalyst that will reverberate throughout the season. But then again, knowing the identity of the person who committed the physical act still leaves plenty of potential mysteries open: which crime boss is primarily responsible, how the murders play into the power struggle between the families, and whether the Waynes were as altruistic as they seem. (Judging from Falcone's ominous comment about the Falcones and Waynes being "twin pillars" and the denial of Bruce's grief therapy, I'm guessing no.)
This episode's candidate for Joker is: Bullock! (Another cop calls him a clown.) I would be on board with this choice, but by all accounts we still have many, many red herrings to go before a Joker is actually chosen.