Gotham – Season 3 Episode 1
“Mad City: Better to Reign in Hell…”
Gotham begins a third season that picks up on some of the threads teased by the end of last season with an army of mutant monsters roaming the street and Gordon taking it upon himself to capture them…for a modest fee.
I’m covering for Aaron this week but he’ll be back next week to bring his more optimistic perspective on Gotham than I tend to bring. I make no secret of the fact that I don’t have much time for this show. At times it can be really good but those times are rare and the rest of the time it flirts between mediocrity borderline unwatchability. That’s just my take on it but as always I’ll give it a fair shake.
As season openers go this is a little on the bland side. It’s mostly setup which is fine for the opening of a season but very little of it feels compelling or meaningful. In some ways it feels like an episode that could be slotted in pretty much anywhere.
The title “Mad City” tells us that we’re in for a new arc to carry the season and I suppose it technically is. Instead of Hugo Strange’s experiments being in his lab they’re on the streets and causing trouble for the people of Gotham City. Some people are in slightly different places such as Barbara and Tabitha running a club together but the whole thing failed to project a sense of urgency at any point.
Gordon’s story is the most interesting in here but it isn’t a high bar to clear. The opening scene sees him track down Lee who seems to have found happiness with a new man. This prompts Gordon to retreat into himself as well as divide his time between hunting down Strange’s experiments and sit in a dive bar drinking while not interacting with people.
Am I surprised that Gotham went with one of the most clichéd ways of dealing with problems? Not at all but I do find it a bit frustrating. The thing is, Gordon has consistently been an interesting character when used properly. He is at his best when having his morality tested and having him actually compromise his values on multiple occasions last season made for some interesting watching.
When the show began Gordon was incorruptible and as time went on he was corrupted by Gotham City. That’s the power it has as a location. It’s the sort of place that takes good people and makes them become something else. Gordon even talks about things working in a certain way in Gotham City which shows that he has resigned himself to what he sees to be a fact and has completely given up on changing the whole thing for the better. In a better show his corruption and redemption would be a defined arc but instead it feels like he’s simply killing time before inevitably going back to work at the GCPD.
The introduction of Valerie Vale (Jamie Chung) feeds into Gordon’s story. She is what Gordon was in season 1 but a lot more naive. Her desire is to find the truth and do the right thing with a spunky refusal to accept that Gotham City has its own rules that can’t be torn down. All she wants to do is prove that justice can win but Gordon seems to prove that she will eventually be torn down just as everyone else is.
I suspect that her function is to inspire Gordon to reawaken old habits and start doing good for the sake of doing good again. Most of their conversations are along those lines and Valerie doesn’t take no for an answer. As characters go I found her to be really irritating. Jamie Chung does a fine job in the role and has decent chemistry with Ben McKenzie for their inevitable romance but beyond that I find her self righteousness pretty tiresome. So far she is completely lacking in depth and the name is clearly an attempt to have Vicki Vale without having Vicki Vale. She may grow and develop beyond what we have seen in this episode so timewill tell on that one.
Gordon as a bounty hunter is mildly interesting because it shows a shift in Gordon’s motivation. He used to tirelessly work to make the city a better place and now he hunts down mutants -or metahumans?- whenever he needs the money. In short he has gone from being selfless to selfish and it’s an interesting angle that could be explored in fascinating ways. Unfortunately sitting at a bar drinking while dismissing people that try to talk to him doesn’t qualify as using this to its full potential.
The whole bounty hunter role does officially confirm something that has been obvious for a while now. GCPD are completely incompetent outside of a couple of people. Gordon was one of the competent people there and Bullock is another but he doesn’t care enough without Gordon to push him so all we have is Barnes and he seems to be dying. The implication is that Gordon was the one who brought in every mutant caught so far so the police force are now basically decorations.
Being a bounty hunter also allows the show to have something that it has been lacking. So far Gotham City hasn’t had a worthwhile vigilante working to clean up the streets but now it does. Instead of being motivated by grief or a desire to do good like Batman will be he is motivated by money and probably an unconscious desire to do good. Gotham essentially has a Batman-like figure in Gordon at this point with only a handful of superficial differences and I’m not sure how I feel about that. There’s even a potential romance with a reporter who has the surname Vale. I wonder what prevents the writers from just turning this into a Batman show, it might solve some of the problems.
Bullock’s role in the episode was a small one but there are hints as to where his character might go this season. He points out that he enjoyed being in charge for a brief time last season so with Barnes potentially on his way out that could mean that Bullock steps in. I’m going to call it and suggest that Bullock will take Barnes’ place and convince Gordon to return or at least work with him unofficially. Gotham can’t upset the status quo for too long so I see this happening fairly quickly.
I didn’t mind the scenes with Barbara and Tabitha as they seem to work well together. Erin Richards does such a good job at playing the maniacal Barbara and fully commits in this episode. What they’re doing isn’t especially interesting but it clearly establishes another power base in Gotham City albeit a very small one. There isn’t a lot of room for this to develop either other than supplementing whatever Penguin is up to.
There isn’t much to say about Penguin other than him being up to his old tricks. He is clearly still the King of Gotham and wants to kill Fish Mooney so not much has changed there. There’s even a pep talk from Nygma that encourages him to keep going when he reminds Penguin that Penguins eat fish.
Bruce Wayne is entirely focused on finding out about the Court of Owls but he doesn’t know about them properly yet. He is after a shadowy group of rich people who seem to control everything in Gotham City. They were Hugo Strange’s boss and secretly control Wayne Enterprises. Of course they’re responsible for killing Bruce’s parents as well so there’s a lot of blame to be placed at their doorstep.
Very little progress is made in this episode as you might expect but it doesn’t seem like it’ll go anywhere interesting anyway. Bruce will chase cold leads for a while and end up getting himself and Alfred almost killed on a few occasions before -presumably- finding out who they are. Shadowy organisations with full control over every bad thing that happens are rarely interesting and so far there’s nothing compelling about the Court of Owls beyond a comic book reference.
Fish Mooney is still hanging around unfortunately and it seems that her genetic engineering isn’t sticking well. Every time she uses her ability her body rejects the mutation a little more and it will inevitably lead to her death. The only person that can fix it is Hugo Strange. It’s not an interesting setup because Fish isn’t an interesting character. What motivation does ths show have for keeping her around? She wants an army but to what end? I suspect she’ll get her wish and that will cause her downfall.
There is some fun to be had here though. Gordon’s confrontation with a proto Killer Croc and an early form of Man-Bat worked well for the most part and the Bruce Wayne clone amuses me even though there is no clear idea of what possible use he will be. The overall aesthetic of the comically long hair and slightly different voice that David Mazouz puts on to differentiate him from the prim and proper Bruce Wayne is somewhat entertaining.
A frustrating season opening with very little of note happening. Gordon as a bounty hunter is mildly interesting especially when framed against Valerie Vale who represents what he used to be but his approach to emotional distress is horribly clichéd. Penguin so far isn’t doing anything interesting but at least Barbara and Tabitha provide some entertainment even though they don’t have much to do. The proto Killer Croc and Man-Bat were pretty fun and I was entertained by the Bruce clone though probably for the wrong reasons. All in all it’s a fairly typical episode of Gotham that didn’t have the urgency that a season opener probably should.