Gotham’s Season Two Premiere Falls Short of Expectations
The first season of Fox's Gotham was quite divisive among fans, with many embracing the show's gritty take on the city that would later give birth to the Batman, and others hating it for its failure to utilize the source material and its lack of a clear identity. Critics were also divided, but most chose to give the first season of the show generally favorable ratings, not least due to the performances and production values. But in this author's opinion, season 1 of Gotham was a bit too bumpy of a ride, with too many low points and not enough highs. Sadly, it seems that season 2 of the show may continue down that very same path.
The first episode of season two, entitled "Rise of the Villains: Damned If You Do..." failed to give audiences any real reason to be excited about Gotham. Picking up where last season left off, the episode detailed Bruce and Alfred's attempts to open a sealed door at the bottom of a secret passageway in Wayne Manor, as well as Jim Gordon's struggle to regain his stature after a demotion from Commissioner Loeb. Over the course of the episode, Gordon is fired and makes a proverbial "deal with the devil" in order to become a cop again, and Bruce and Alfred ultimately make a bomb in order to blow the door at the bottom of the passageway from its hinges. While this episode had the potential to be worth watching, it simply wasn't.
First of all, some of the ideas used in the episode were just plain bad. At the beginning of the episode, Gordon brings in a criminal who had consumed a vial full of chemicals given to him by the new "Big Bad," Theo Galavan. When the criminal arrives at Arkham, the chemicals that he drank are somehow magically expelled from his body in the form of a blue gas. While this might be something that most fans would expect out of a more cartoonish comic book TV show, it's not the type of thing that you'd expect in Gotham. There was a concentrated effort to keep the show semi-grounded last season, yet a silly idea like this gets thrown into the mix right off the bat in the season premiere.
Furthermore, the pacing of the season already seems terribly off-kilter. Barbara Kean arrives at Arkham and then manages to find freedom before the end of the same episode? Way to kill the suspense. Similarly, Jim loses his job and then gets it back within a half hour time span, deflating any tension before it had a chance to build. These were golden opportunities to draw the audience in and get them emotionally invested in the show, but the writers sped through these plot points as though they were afterthoughts. In a better show, these two events could have been some of the biggest things to happen to the characters throughout the entire upcoming season, but on Gotham, they're barely a footnote.
And what exactly was with the whole "if you're reading this, I'm probably dead" note at the end of the episode? It's been clear almost from the start that Gotham is shaking things up from the comics by painting the Wayne murders as a premeditated assassination instead of senseless act of violence, and that's fine - alternate universes with interesting change-ups should be something comic fans are used to by now. The problem isn't the fact that Thomas Wayne left a note for his son, but that the content of the note itself was completely unrealistic. An individual can't have both happiness and truth, and so Bruce should choose happiness only unless he has a "true calling"? It seems doubtful that any parent contemplating his or her death would write such things to their 12-year-old child. This was just a bit too over-the-top.
Finally, "Rise of the Villains: Damned If You Do..." refused to play any of Gotham's best cards. Harvey Bullock and Edward Nygma are undoubtedly two of the most entertaining characters on the show, yet neither of them received much screen time. And when they did make an appearance, it was in arguably their least exciting scenes yet; this cracked Riddler is somehow less exciting to watch than he was when he was sane! Clearly, not every episode can rely on these two (or the other more interesting characters to watch, such as the Penguin or Alfred), and from a story perspective, it's understandable why Bullock is out of the picture for now. Yet at the beginning of the season, the show really needed to put its best foot forward and show the audience what it can bring to the table. Sadly, it failed to do that.
Though this episode of Gotham had a lot to complain about, there were still some redeemable qualities. For one, it's awesome that Alfred knows how to make bombs - it's evident that this iteration of Batman's famous butler takes inspiration from Geoff John's Earth One version of the character. It was also interesting to watch the young Bruce Wayne's respond to Jim's dilemma - the notion that sometimes one has to do ugly things to serve the greater good was a very Batman-esque answer. This may have been a somewhat unrealistic response coming from a 12-year-old, but it was still fun to see Bruce begin to develop the code to which he'll adhere when he's older.
Likewise, this episode did succeed in giving a pretty cool intimidation scene featuring the Penguin and Victor Zsaz with Commissioner Loeb. However, aside from this scene and a fun but brief fight sequence between Gordon and a few thugs, there really wouldn't have been much of a reason to tune in this week.
Gotham has potential, but it won't fulfill that potential until the show finally decides exactly what it wants to be. Batman is such a huge, iconic character, and it's terrible to see a show that's so connected to his mythos fall short of absolutely spectacular. There's still a chance that Gotham can recover and become great, though. Hopefully the first episode of the season was just a bit rocky, and better things are on the horizon. Fingers crossed!
Episode 2 of Gotham season 2, entitled "Rise of the Villains: Knock, Knock" will premiere next week at 8pm ET on Fox.