Gotham – Season 2 Episode 1
“Rise of the Villains: Damned if you Do…”
Gotham season 2 opens with the beginning of an arc called “Rise of the Villains” -the opening entry being called “Damned if you Do…”- and such a lot of them we see. I was honestly on the lookout for Mr. Freeze, as he’s possibly the only one of Batman’s main adversaries we haven’t yet had introduced… Oh, wait Ra’s al Ghul but a really quick internet search will give you some chat about Ra’s and Gotham though, so let’s leave that there.
Even without Freeze there are more than enough villains to go round. Jerome Valeska, hotly tipped to be Joker, gets much screen time and Penguin follows on from his ‘Titanic’ moment – I’m king of the world… sorry, Gotham – to step up to be Gotham’s new criminal kingpin. It doesn’t look like he’s going to get much time to enjoy this status however, as also up steps Theo Galavan, upstanding businessman and pillar of the community but also as the secret, evil mastermind bent on evil schemes, with evil, leather-clad minions.
It always seemed that the writers and directors of Gotham season 1 were trying out many different ideas. I wasn’t ever really sure if they were trying to find a preferred theme and feel for Gotham or if different people just wanted to do different things. You had the noir episodes with the Ogre, with its old-style burning-film cuts; you had much more comic-book style of “The Balloon Man”; then more of a gangster style with “Red Hood” and so on. With season two you get a strong feel now that the comic book is staying centre stage, partnered by a grim humour. And so this is definitely Batman now…?
Not that the experimentation is over mind. I’m not quite sure why we were treated to Jim Gordon running with a strange shaky, hand cam pointed at his face. And was the Wayne manor shown in ‘make it look like a toy’ cam? If so, why?
Arguably this episode could also have been called “The Rise of Batman”, arguably also “The Rise of Gordon” – both are quite linked in the plot here. Kneel Before Blog has wondered before whether the plot is moving forward so quickly that Bruce will have to become Batman before he’s too many years into his teens and that may well turn out to be right. Bruce and Gordon both walk the same path here and by the end of the episode both have pretty much decided that it’s the right thing to do to sacrifice yourself for the ‘greater good’. Both are prepared to cross the line for it. Admittedly Bruce only in ideology, as we only see it in his speech to convince Gordon, but with Gordon it’s a clear move.
This was a shock for me. I was always pleased to see Gordon as the paladin character in season 1. I liked that Bruce was being lead down the path of compromise by Selina and that Gordon did everything he could to preserve the better way. But now Gordon’s almost a murderer, and only just after being the hero of the street in his opening scene. Perhaps it needed to happen, as having him teeter on the edge might have become tired, but such a quick fall so fast…?
Also, if both Gordon and Bruce are now compromised, who is our paladin? Do we not get one? Alfred perhaps, as he argued against Bruce’s hard line stance. Do we not need one too? If Gordon and Bruce are both Batman, then won’t Bruce find someone else is already wearing his cape when he grows up?
Still, if Gotham gets several seasons, there’s plenty of time for Gordon to learn a lesson and change paths again. And it’s not like I didn’t enjoy story lines as given; and the character arcs carry on from season 1 in a way that makes perfect sense. Bruce is struggling to find a way to deal with the harsh world he’s been thrown into and Gordon simply cannot fight on alone. In the world of Gotham, Bruce’s father calls it from the past: “You can’t have both happiness and the truth; you have to choose.”
Also carried on from season 1 is the sheer beauty of the city. There were some episodes late season 1 that called for a grim, ugly Gotham, matching the turn in the plot towards the season’s big finish. Really pleasing to see the pretty cityscapes back though, as the majesty of the city fits that comic-book style – big and impressive – and it does make you feel that Gotham is something worth fighting over. Even inside the city’s buildings is something to see: Look out for the scene of Loeb’s ‘retirement’ in the GCPD station – even the run down police force gets a palace to operate from.
With the stunning visuals, this episode also provides great comedy – sometimes brutal but always funny. The top comedy scene was Penguin and Zsasz talking with a terrified commissioner Loeb. Very brutal, but nicely played by all involved.
If I had to pick out something that has carried forward from the previous season that I wasn’t so sure about I’d say there are still just so many characters. Now, I think that Gotham has previously juggled them reasonably well. I’ll not deny that there are characters that have seemed to have been crowbarred in a bit and that every now and then you feel that Gotham must be a tiny, tiny city for the cast to keep tripping over each other. However, generally everyone gets a fair share of screen time and the plot doesn’t slow down through weight of numbers.
Here and there though, the problem does appear, for me in the number of scene changes. Most noticeably is the arrival of Zaardon in Arkham interspersed with Loeb’s farewell ceremony. I would rather have seen those two scenes play out separately than together, it being more difficult to get into either with the rapid switching between them.
Nonetheless, Gotham has returned in force with a darkly-funny, beautifully-shot episode with solid set up for the season’s coming plot. Both Penguin and Theo Galavan come over as strong villains, Penguin through capable action and Galavan with clear presence – and though there’s a fear in my head that Galavan might be evil because he needs to be, there’s a clever malevolence to the character that lets me trust the writing has more to offer. Taken together with Bruce and Gordon choosing to try Batman’s darker path we’ve been given an inviting, entertaining start.
Gotham season 2 opens up at full speed, keeping up the pace set by season 1. Though we didn’t see Mr. Freeze complete the list of Batman’s primary villains, the feel of the season is already set to allow for a more comic-book style that he needs. The Balloon Man probably came in a little too quickly to fit in with the more down-to-Earth storylines of early season 1 but the appearance of Zaardon here in season 2 doesn’t feel out of place with the Gotham that is now.
What this does mean though, is that Gotham is perhaps working in the opposite direction to that taken by the most recent film set. The films had Batman introducing theatricality to the city and the villains following suit. In Gotham the city is being overtaken by more and more strange forces that then in turn call for a figure like Batman to defeat them.
And Bruce is already well on his way to becoming Batman. Barely a teenager he’s already decided that you need to compromise your ideology to achieve the ‘greater good’, and so convinced is he that he’s managed to talk the previously Superman-contender Gordon into adopting this outlook.
Seeing Gordon ‘go dark’ so quickly into this season was a surprise for me. I very much liked seeing Bruce follow Selina down the path of compromise whilst Gordon kept to his ideals, even under pressure from Bullock and the city’s corruption. Nonetheless, if the theme of season 2 is that Gotham will be even further swamped with villains then I can easily see that Gordon just will not be able to keep up his high ideals in the face of the sheer volume of corruption and villainy.
“Rise of the Villains: Damned If You Do…” is a strong opening episode for Gotham’s second season. It’s still beautiful. It’s still funny. There’s still a lot going on … a lot. I might have a little trouble with how much sometimes – those rapid scene changes break my focus a little – but I’m certainly interested. Who is Theo Galavan? Can Penguin hold Gotham city when there’s a new leather-clad army waging evil through it? Is Barbara Kean going to become a supervillain? So, fair play then, let’s see season 2’s dark path and just how far down it both Bruce and Gordon are prepared to walk.