Gotham – Season 2 Episode 4
“Rise of the Villains – Strike Force”
Gotham season two’s fourth episode pits Theo Galavan against the Penguin. I’ve been waiting to see this play out. Galavan has been hitting the city pretty hard so far, with absolutely no care for who he might be stepping on and Penguin was going to have to feel it at some point. Turns out that Galavan is acting with a confidence that has yet to be proven as arrogance though, as in a clear battle of one-upmanship he sends a car for Penguin, who dutifully accepts the summons without even brining an entourage for show, let alone defence.
I had feared that Penguin would be a complete walkover as I saw the early scenes play out. Galavan had the upper hand almost throughout and Penguin was hardly the ‘King of Gotham’, as Tabitha points out. Fortunately, Penguin does eventually stand up to Galavan, refusing to be a hired goon assassin. In the end I did like how it all played out: I could see that Penguin is struggling to live up to his early successes and his inexperience as ‘king’ shows as he is outmanoeuvred by the older, perhaps-wiser, perhaps-just-richer, Galavan.
Also trying to take over Gotham this episode – albeit in a lawful, set-the-city-to-rights way – is Michael Chiklis’s Captain Nathaniel Barnes, here to take over from commissioner Essen. A military man, his arrival hits the GCPD just as hard as Galavan’s hits the underworld. In true military fashion Barnes stamps his authority on the force by sacking a string of detectives and uniformed officers for their corruption.
I couldn’t help but wonder why he picked those particular people when supposedly ‘everyone has their Cobblepot’, and, as Jim says, there’re plenty more like them still on the force. As you see more of Barnes though, I think you realise that he just wanted to make a point and the poor saps he picks are perhaps just those he was OK losing. He’s practical, he’s purposeful and here’s here to do a job.
Barnes might also answer a question I’ve been asking myself throughout the previous three episodes of this season: He might be the paladin figure that appears in the wake of Jim falling from grace. Really I’ve only been looking for a person to be walking the better path but Barnes takes it a step further by being a soldier-type too.
In just a few opening scenes, he’s so far been a good character with great plot potential. It should be interesting to see Gordon trying to follow his new captain whilst having to hide a connection to Penguin. I’m thinking it’ll also be interesting if Gordon later has to challenge Barnes on his methods, which may turn out not to be so pure if the captain continues being so cavalier with the lives of the young new recruits that will now be the GCPD’s eponymous ‘Strike Force’. At some point I think we’re going to see Gordon have to step up to answer Barnes’s “what have we got to lose?” with something like “the Strike Force’s lives”, and that challenge will be difficult if Gordon’s corruption has been uncovered.
The last person to step up and take charge this episode is Edward Nygma, his new and dominant other personality pushing him into action. This confident version of Nygma seems to be getting more powerful as time goes on – this episode displayed by a new edge to the persona’s voice: Did you hear the echo playing around his speech that is reminiscent of, if not directly the same as, the echo the Riddler’s voice has in the Arkham series of Batman video games? In fact I really liked that. It seemed to fit the dark, dingy surroundings of the back corridors of the GCPD in which you hear Nygma talking to himself.
Though Nygma is getting really quite interesting now, I don’t feel I can say the same for Kristen Kringle. I’m finding that she’s merrily joined the ranks of the disappointing female characters. I mean, yes, she’s been shown to like the bad boys and yes, Nygma did save her life but could a person really change their reactions so quickly? And surely when someone admits to hearing voices you wouldn’t find it a turn on?! Surely at that point you realise that you were right all along and run for it… Unless you’ve got voices of your own maybe…?
I’m still saying that in Fish’s absence the only decent female character in Gotham is Selina. Leigh may be when she gets a bit more screen time but until then I feel there’s more depth of character in one of Selina’s post-slap reactions than in anything any of the other women do. Not that I would say the actresses are at fault – I think they play what they get very well – I just don’t think they’re being given anything much to work with. Even the potential love-triangle between Bruce, Selina and the new, evil-plot-bait girl, Silver St Cloud (Natalie Alyn Lind), will probably play out less tired than anything the grown-ups can offer – no, just making people bi does not immediately make them interesting and cool.
Showy without substance is a big trap that I think Gotham season two needs to be careful to avoid. Comic book? Fine, great. Characters liking theatrics? Yes, fitting for the Batman lore we’ve come to know. However, a certain subtlety is surely still required? I like seeing Penguin pick up a very British street thug’s bowler hat, scarf and gloves. At the other end of the scale I found it completely ridiculous that the entire police presence and news core turnout at Galavan’s little speech didn’t even blink after the failed drive-by shooting. No-one chases the car, no-one raises any form of alarm. Absolutely hilarious: apparently in Gotham now you have to consider drive-by murder attempts in the same light as getting caught in a rain shower – damn, I forgot my Kevlar vest but I didn’t get too dead, so all’s well.
And surely someone’s got to see through Galavan? He’s so blatant! At least Gordon notices that Galavan is not dead when Bullock says there’s a pattern in the attempts to kill the mayoral candidates.
Worse than showiness that might soon go too far at this stage though I think was the music. The patriotic fanfare playing when Barnes goes to the academy was a bit much and the last scene with the Penguin was a bit Hitchcock lives! for my tastes. The music that played in the background of the Ogre episodes last season was much better – creepier, subtler. Even though Gotham has accepted its comic-book nature I’d still prefer the music to assist rather than dominate.
Better is the sense of humour. It wasn’t always right on the money this episode but it was still there. The best of the current black humour this season is probably still the bodies falling passed the newspaper editor’s window as he’s yelling at his staff. There’s still some of that in ‘Strike Force’: Butch’s “sorry to ruin your evening” and Zsasz’s “I’m here to volunteer” were my favourites. I hope it picks back up.
Despite my gripes I am still enjoying season two. Perhaps it’s just that I feel that as so many things have been fixed this season compared to last I want to demand even more. Still, the plot set up is promising. Whereas I’d rather Galavan had been given something a little less commonplace than ‘I must get rid of the poor housing to raise an expensive business district’, his toying with Bruce looks like it’s going to be fun. It seems that Galavan’s encouragement of Barbara to toy with her prey before destroying it utterly comes from a personal philosophy. I think it might seem a little cruel to do this to a teenage boy but Galavan is seeming more and more unhinged, and that’s just how Batman villains roll. Do you think perhaps Galavan is going to try and step into a father role for Bruce before bringing the last member of the Wayne family down?
In ‘Strike Force’ we got to see Galavan and the Penguin go head to head for control of the underworld and the Penguin really loses. I’d had feared early on that Penguin was just going to roll over and take it when he doesn’t reject a clear summons from a superior. However, he does eventually stand up to Galavan but is then simply outplayed – Penguin is new at being top dog, so this worked for me.
Also good was Michael Chiklis’s Captain Nathaniel Barnes. This ex-military man stamps his authority on the GCPD quickly and brutally, as you could imagine a military hard-case might. The character’s entrance was pretty fast but we’ve already seen his good points, in his stepping into the role of the paladin, fighting to remove all corruption, and his bad points, as he shows some disregard for the lives of the new ‘Strike Force’ recruits: “What do we have to lose?” Only their lives.
This is also Nygma’s episode – well, a little bit. He moves up from small- to medium- length scenes and his alter ego seems to be getting all the stronger with it. The persona’s growing power is emphasised this episode with an added echo to its voice that was reminiscent of -if not directly the same as- the echo the Riddler’s voice has in the Arkham series of Batman video games. This really worked for me; it matched the look and feel of the dark rooms Nygma hangs out in in the GCPD precinct.
It’s still a big problem that the female characters seem to have so little to offer by comparison though. For me the only decent female character still is Selina. In just a couple of scenes where she is slapped by Alfred and then later wistfully considers her connection to Bruce she has more going on than all the other women put together. And I stand by it: just having Barbara as bi and kissing Tabitha does not make either character ‘really cool’.
There’s some interesting plot developing in season two that I do want to see play out. Perhaps Galavan will try to become a father figure to Bruce before attempting to destroy the Wayne family name, just to make the pain even greater. Also, there’s now the possibility that Gordon will have to stand up to Barnes if the captain begins to mistreat the new GCPD recruits and that this will be difficult ground for Gordon to stand on if his corruption is uncovered.
If I’m to be able to enjoy any of this properly though, I’ll need Gotham to avoid the potential trap of becoming showy without substance. The black humour is much better when it retains a little subtlety: Butch’s “sorry to ruin your evening” and Zsasz’s “I’m here to volunteer” were the funnier moments for me this episode. Also needing subtlety is the music. The accompanying music to the Ogre’s scenes last season were much more powerful for me than that playing in Penguin’s final scene this episode, a scene which seemed to be trying to capture something from Hitchcock or The Godfather.