***This is for any newbies who might be reading my “Gotham” reviews for the very first time.
First, I extend to you a warm welcome! 🙂
Second, my reviews are not what I would call traditional reviews – I don’t give a synopsis and I don’t comment on every single scene. Instead, when I watch an episode, I take notes (yes, I actually take notes) and jot down the biggest plot arcs, most interesting or insightful scenes, and best character moments. Thus, I only cover what I feel I can make the most commentary on, so that might not include everything that happened in a given episode. Sometimes I like to be goofy (I love gifs but try not to weigh my reviews down with them) and sometimes things wax a little philosophical. But I love penning these reviews and I have fun sharing my thoughts, so I hope you have as much fun perusing them.
So with that out of the way – on to the review!***
“Damned if You Do”
The episode begins (after a flashback to last season) by giving us a quick glimpse into what some of our beloved Gothamites have been up to: Bruce Wayne tries to uncover more about his father’s secret bat/man cave; Jim is working as a traffic cop; Harvey Bullock is a now a bartender; Penguin stretches his wings (pun intended), trying out his new-found powers; and Barbara is headed off to Arkham – in style of course.
So where does it all lead?
The main focus of this episode is seeing Jim Gordon’s new “dark side,” as it were – how far he’s willing to go in order to get his rightful job back and, thus, start dealing out justice once again. His hands are a bit tied as a traffic cop and he knows that’s not where he can make the biggest difference. After an altercation with a fellow cop, Commissioner Loeb, who has a serious beef with Jim anyway, fires him and sends him packing. Or so Loeb thinks. Not being one to take things lying down, Jim decides to go to someone who’s good at getting things done and pulling strings.
Watching this younger version of Penguin is always a treat because it’s fascinating to see how he became his famously smarmy self, and his interactions with Jim here allow this to shine. Oswald (okay – Penguin) is ready and willing to lend a hand, but it comes with a price. In this case, he’s more than happy to help Jim get his old job back because he genuinely likes Jim and admires his integrity – something Penguin lacks. But Jim isn’t off the proverbial hook: in exchange, Penguin wants him to rustle up some unpaid debts from a former business associate of Falcone’s.
Initially, Jim struggles with what to do as working for or with Penguin in any capacity isn’t something he would normally feel comfortable doing. But desperate times call for desperate measures. In promos for this new season, it was teased that we would witness a darker side to Jim – not that he would go full-on evil but he would feel forced to cross some lines that, back in season one, he would have skirted. For me, seeing a character struggle with whether to do the right thing or to get his hands metaphorically dirty to make things right in the end is a fascinating dilemma and generates great tension both within the character and without. Even Harvey assures Jim that he’s a moralist, someone who wouldn’t stoop so low as to collect a debt for a crime boss just to get his job back. But to Jim the “reward” (the ability to start fighting crime again) is worth more than the risk. One big feather in Ben McKenzie’s cap here – he does not make this choice look easy nor does he act flippant about it.
But before Jim makes his decision, he goes to Bruce Wayne to apologize for failing to catch his parents’ murderer. But Bruce isn’t having it. Gone is the backwards boy of season one and in comes a braver lad, which takes what I loved about his character and makes me love him even more. Bruce tells Jim that “sometimes the right way is the ugly way,” meaning sometimes in order to make good happen, something bad has to occur first. This doesn’t excuse immoral behavior but it does paint a mini-portrait of redemption: in order to serve as Gotham’s savior (or at least one of many saviors), Jim will have to swallow his pride and roll up his sleeves to do what’s necessary. Thus, redemption is not without cost and the cost is usually high. Jim does collect the debt and Penguin makes good on his end of the bargain, which cements Jim in a position to help stave off the tide of evil that is sure to breach Gotham’s shores.
Speaking of which, this season is being touted as the rise of the villains, and one villain who continues to skyrocket to the top is, of course, Penguin. Personally, I think his character seems more fine tuned this season. Not that Robin Lord Taylor’s acting was sloppy or incoherent last season. But this time around it’s fun to see him in the driver’s seat rather than on the sidelines as an underling. Instead of pretending to cower, Penguin displays blatant power and it’s scary to see how Taylor morphs into this character. Penguin’s ability to keep a person the likes of Victor Zsasz in check and strike fear into the hearts of underlings is truly impressive.
Another actor worth praising is Cameron Monaghan, who plays Jerome. While Jerome isn’t technically touted as the Joker (at least for now), it is a bit hard to envision him as anyone else. Quite frankly, I would be upset if they tried to pass him off as just a crazy nobody because his character is totally how I would envision a young Joker. We first met the ginger gent in the back half of season one (in “The Blind Fortune Teller”) when we learn that he killed his own mother for being a, in his words, “nagging drunk whore.” Now we see that this crime has landed him in Arkham Asylum where the worst of the craziest criminals are kept.
Even though we didn’t get to see much of Jerome here, I have a feeling he’s going to be stealing the limelight soon, and I predict he will become the next dark horse much like Taylor’s Penguin and Smith’s Nygma were in season one.. Monaghan is just freaky fun and cool to watch! He’s clearly having a blast playing this character and it shows. Jerome is as loose a cannon as they come, and even though he’s poised to become a major thorn in Gotham’s side, I’m on the edge of my seat to see what his character will do next.
Actually, I’m no stranger to Monaghan.
Turns out he played a role in the early 2000s Fox sitcom “Malcolm In the Middle.” In it, he portrayed Chad, a student in Dewy’s gifted class who was known for donning oven mitts and wearing a sign on his chest warning persons on approach of various things not to do, from feeding him to alerting them that he could turn bitey. (I therefore move that Jerome now don oven mitts and wear a sign on his chest – hey, it’s just a suggestion!)
This episode also introduced us to brother and sister power duo Theo and Tabitha Galavan, played by James Frain and Jessica Lucas. Since we didn’t get to see much of their characters here, I can’t gauge how much I suspect I’ll like them. Theo seems deviously cool but he’ll have to do something incredible to set himself above the typical evil businessman trope. Likewise, Tabitha seems like the typical bad chick and, likewise, will have to do something to set herself apart and not fall into that trope.
I am interested to see their dynamic and how it plays out. Though I think their characters’ name pairing is interesting: Theo is derived from the Greek and means “god” or “divine,” and Tabitha is from an Aramaic word that means “gazelle.” It’s clear that Theo has a serious ego problem and sees himself as godlike in terms of wanting to control Gotham, and Tabitha has grace and speed though, unlike her name’s meaning, she’s nicknamed the Tigress, the hunter rather than the hunted. So as far as these folks go, I’m taking the wait-and-see approach before I pronounce my like or hate for them.
Theo clearly has sinister plans in store as he breaks out six (eventually whittling it down to five) inmates from Arkham. He tells the inmates that he sees “brilliance, charisma, and power” in them. Admirable traits under normal circumstances and in normal people, but we’re talking crazies here. As in not just one fry shy of a Happy Meal crazy but more like a whole side of fries, a small shake, and a toy shy of a Happy Meal crazy. Clearly in Theo’s mind, brilliance, charisma, and power are merely tools to be manipulated for his own purposes, so I’m curious to see what he plans to do with it.
I didn’t care for Barbara in season one and I don’t like her now. Granted, maybe she might be given more to do this season (other than pout) but I still think her character tries too hard to prove she’s bad and dangerous. Actually, when Barbara tries to be all gruff, rough, and tough it comes across more as comical to me rather than menacing.
Actually, it reminded me of the “Seinfeld” episode (“The Summer of George”) where a co-worker leaves threatening messages on Elaine’s answering machine: Elaine…I am going to find you. If not in your office then in the xerox room or the little conference room near to the kitchen… if not in your apartment then in the laundry room or the ATM in the building across the street or the WATCH SHOP!
Let’s move on.
Lastly, Bruce breaks into his father’s underground study using brain power, a great deal of sweat, and a whole bunch of explosives! (Seriously, I think the Bruce-Alfred dynamic is going to be awesome this year.) We don’t get to see much of what looks like a dusty, cobweb-festooned room littered with computer parts, but Bruce does find a note his father left with the assumption that if Bruce ever read it, then his father was no longer alive.
‘”You can’t have both happiness and the truth,'” Bruce reads. “‘You have to choose.'” That’s certainly true as happiness usually involves a disconnect from bad circumstances (unlike joy, which isn’t the same as happiness); but sometimes the truth about a situation or person may not be pleasant to learn or know, thus eroding our happiness. In the end, Bruce’ father begs him to “‘choose happiness, unless you feel a calling. A true calling.'” No better words could be spoken to set up what Bruce will later become. Granted, he can choose happiness because that will protect him from the harsh realities of the world, but Bruce is not content to just sit back and chill. He’s on his way to becoming a man of action, a man with a plan, and that plan is to right Gotham’s wrongs and prevent evildoers from gaining a foothold. Thus, Bruce will choose the truth because he feels called to do something greater than just hiding away in a mansion. And, after all, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
So how did this first episode stack up? On a star scale of five to one, with five stars being super awesome and one star being boring, I’d give this episode four stars. Very good for the most part, good in other parts, but not what I would call stellar or the episode to end all episodes. But I think it sets the stage fairly well and it’s a good start.
In music, there is this thing known as the sophomore slump which refers to an artist’s second album when it doesn’t live up to the expectations or quality that their debut work had. This is all relative of course, but in some ways I think it’s true for any art form, from albums to books, from television to movies.
Until next time, fellow Gothamites! 🙂