[Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, I’m doubling up my reviews this week.]
My review of episode nine was rather long, quite harsh, and honestly tough for me to write. So did these last two episodes of 2015 fare any better?
For starters, there weren’t too many surprises in episode ten, “The Son of Gotham”: Galavan got off the hook (of course), Galavan captured Jim Gordon and beat the tar out of him (of course), and Bruce realized that Silver St. Cloud is a complete tool (wait for it…of course!). Essentially, this episode was so predicable that it’s probably a good thing I’m combining my reviews as I really don’t have much to say about it. Essentially, “The Son of Gotham” continued with the lackluster plot development that seems to be a hallmark of season two thus far. Everything that happened was as expected, which didn’t make it very shocking, exciting, or even fun to watch.
Admittedly, one of the intentionally funny moments (because the whole Order of St. Dumas plot thread is hilarious and not in a good way) was what little interaction Ed Nygma and Penguin had. (Who knew penguins liked spicy mustard, but what exactly did Oswald try to flush down the toilet? Forget it. I don’t want to know.) But the highlight for me was Bruce and Selena tag-teaming against Silver St. Cloud. Silver is one of these love-to-hate characters for me, so seeing Bruce con her was entertaining and added a twist I honestly didn’t see coming. I appreciate the fact that Bruce is taking more of a hands-on approach when it comes to investigating his parents’ murders rather than waiting for Jim Gordon to do it. It shows Bruce has initiative as well as an investigative mind. Though Bruce has had precious little screen time this season (odd considering he is the future Batman), I’ve enjoyed watching his evolution. David Mazouz has done a stellar job balancing his character’s emerging maturity while still acting his age; so while Bruce makes adult decisions most of the time and keeps a level head, he doesn’t act like a grown up trapped in a young person’s body.
Aside from those moments, “The Son of Gotham” was another humdrum episode in what’s been a string of humdrum episodes for me. But can episode eleven, “Worse Than a Crime,” which serves as the fall finale, bring “Gotham” out of its slump?
Well, it at least had a few more memorable and funny moments (some unintentional, I think). So I’ll say that much in its favor, which is better than nothing. In short, while this mid-season finale wasn’t terrible, it still hit too many flat notes for my liking.
Obviously the main plot in this episode is to save Bruce Wayne from the hands of Theo Galavan, who has kidnapped him and wants to murder him under the guise of a quasi-religious sacrifice for the “atonement” of sins. Thus, the story’s action is split between witnessing Bruce prepare himself to die (with Silver by his side) and Jim Gordon and Penguin gathering the troops to go after Galavan. In time, the show’s most familiar faces arrive as Jim, Penguin, Harvey, Alfred, Selena, and Penguin’s minions unite to take down Galavan and save Bruce. Overall, I really liked this aspect of the plot and it was certainly some of the more memorable (albeit brief) moments of the show.
You know, as in…
‘Cause baby, now we got bad blood
You know it used to be mad love
So take a look what you’ve done
‘Cause baby, now we’ve got bad blood.
All it was missing was a Taylor Swift cameo! In any case, it was very entertaining and cool to see some of the show’s iconic heroes and villains team up at last. I only wished the episode would have focused more on them as these scenes contained good, organic character interplay and snappy dialogue, even allowing for a few comedic moments.
Another highlight for me was the quick moral question of the night raised by, interestingly enough, Penguin. When Jim is faced with the choice to either let Galavan go through the legal system once more or put him down, Penguin tells Jim to consider the greater good. Rather than seek revenge against Galavan for all of the times he tried to hurt Jim, directly or indirectly, Penguin advises Jim to “think of Gotham.” This is a curious departure for Penguin, who has a working moral compass to be sure but it’s often askew. Most of his decisions are made with only his own self-interests in mind, not the good of others. While I don’t entirely believe Penguin 100% genuinely wanted what’s best for the city, I don’t think his remarks are entirely an act. Penguin knows Galavan plays dirty and doesn’t want this slimeball trying to run his hometown into the ground. Not to mention there was the risk that his mother’s killer might go free.
So in the end, Penguin borrows a few pages from Fish Mooney’s book and takes several swings at Galavan with a baseball bat while afterwards Jim shoots him. Hence, it’s curtains for Galavan.
And amen! I don’t know about you but I wasn’t impressed with Galavan serving as the chief baddie for the first half of the season (more on that a little later though).
Sadly, these awesome moments were far too brief as most of the episode was filled with Bruce-Silver exchanges, which felt like padding and really dragged for me though it wasn’t entirely without merit. It’s great to see Bruce assuming the early vestiges of the role of a sacrificial hero, retaining a sense of hope that he’ll be reunited with his parents in death should it come to that, and trying to save Silver by playing along with her act in front of Galavan. But Silver St. Cloud is, as previously stated, a tool. She’s boring, whiny, one-dimensional, and lets people use her without trying to fight back too much. Basically the only thing I like about her is her fashion sense.
Though she seems to always be dressed in either silver or cool-toned colors, especially blue. You know, ’cause her name is Silver and part of her surname is Cloud, and clouds are in the sky, which is blue? Get it? Get it?
I know, I know. Okay, moving on now.
My biggest issue with these moments between Bruce and Silver though is that it’s almost like they are supposed to be acting older than what they really are. It’s hard to take these scenes seriously as a). these characters are young teens, so it’s a bit cringe-worthy to hear them talk about how they love/don’t love each other and b). they’re followed up by one of the most ridiculous moments on “Gotham” to date. I am, of course, referring to the ceremony where the “Assassin’s Creed” Cosplay Club – sorry – Order of St. Dumas call for “death to the son of Gotham.” Granted, this moment possesses subtle Messianic parallels where Bruce is willing to die even though he’s done nothing wrong, but it provides precious little discussion fodder.
I have a slightly high tolerance for camp and kookiness but this was just way too much, even for me. I know this whole ceremony was supposed to be dark and serious, but it’s so over the top that I wonder if you’re supposed to not take it seriously. I actually kept waiting for these monk dudes to start chanting…
Seriously, this was more like some kind of weird frat house hazing ritual than…well…whatever it was really supposed to be.
And don’t get me started on the monk who tried to fly and tackle Jim. What was he wearing under his robes? A pair of Air Jordans?
That was the craziness icing on the ridiculousness cake, so I was glad that Jim and Co. wasted these guys.
And that was essentially it, other than a quick tease of Mr. Freeze (who apparently stole Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka glasses from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). I assume that Freeze will be one of the baddies slated to appear and wreck havoc in the season’s back half along with Dr. Strange, who evidently wants the (un)lucky job of experimenting on Galavan’s dead, umbrella-pierced body. (I admit – that was a nice touch of Penguin’s!)
Overall, while the mid-season finale wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t great as it had far too many slow moments and really pushed the envelope in the absurdity department. As stated before, regardless whether the adaption is dark and somber or colorful and comical, Batman always retains a camp factor. But there is a difference between adding doses of comedy or cleverness (such as Penguin’s reaction to Lee’s pregnancy or his purple and black-striped, I-swear-was-stolen-from-Adam-Lambert, feather-collared coat) and having scenes of ludicrous action that have no bearing on the plot or anything else. Thus, I had a hard time fully engaging this episode as it worked the best when it focused on Jim and Penguin’s motley crew, and it worked the least when it slowed down for the sake of trying to drum up drama for a moment that made no sense and won’t be remembered, I’m sure.
You can probably tell that my frustrations with “Gotham” are mounting because I firmly believe the show can (as it has done so before) tell solid stories, have coherent plots that fit with the setting and overall tone, and present fun and intriguing characters. Season one blew me away and I had far more good things to say about it than I do for this season thus far. Last season, I loved almost every episode and only found small elements to nitpick about here and there (chiefly in relation to Fish Mooney hogging the spotlight or Barbara’s inane side plot).
But this season…
My sentiments have been rather cool and it’s with great reluctance that I say that. I had high hopes for “Gotham” in its second season but, so far, it hasn’t lived up to the hype inside my head. Granted, I’m glad they opted to have a different formula as opposed to the crime-of-the-week narrative style that was present in season one. However, unlike last season, this season lacks a clear focus and solid motivation for its characters. Once again, it depresses me to scale back my compliments but I have to be honest: I can’t admit that I love or even like something when I fail to make a strong connection with it, even if I once loved or liked it.
So with all of that out of the way, exactly what needs to change – at least for me – in the back half of season two? In the spirit of constructive criticism, I can think of two things…
Establishment of Long-Term Goals for Characters
Granted, this should have already been in place from the get-go but it’s never too late to try to amend a directionless story. I have made this observation frequently in my season two reviews – “Gotham” this season simply has no long-term goals or objectives in place for its characters. In truth, a story, regardless of medium, needs to have both a long-term goal and short-term goals for its characters. Without one or the other, a story either possesses no direction or keeps its eye on the big picture and neglects the small steps along the way.
By way of example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the long-term goal is that Harry seeks to protect said Stone from a thief working behind Hogwart’s walls. However, his various short-term goals, which develop his character as well as move along the primary plot, have Harry facing new challenges at school, making friends, contending with enemies, playing quidditch, and so on. If the novel didn’t offer any small-term goals, Harry’s character development would suffer; but if the novel had no long-term goal, then what we would be treated to is a series of vignettes with no definitive outcome. In both cases the story would suffer, hence why long- and short-term goals are necessary.
In season one of “Gotham,” most of the principle cast (meaning Gordon, Penguin, and even Bruce) were given long-term and short-term goals. The long-term goals served as the motivator for their actions yet the short-term, episode-by-episode goals were what developed them as characters and moved them closer to the long-term goal. For Jim, this was trying to solve the Waynes’ murders. For Penguin, this was climbing to the top of Gotham’s criminal underworld. And for Bruce, this was contending with corruption in his father’s company.
Season two, however, is functioning more on a thematic concept (i.e. the “rise of the villains”) and doesn’t have any long-term goals in mind for most of its characters. Jim Gordon flirts with danger but isn’t given anything overreaching to do. Penguin’s plot was, for a time, reduced to a revenge story, which is understandable in context but ultimately only gave him a short-sighted aim. Bruce is the only one with a slightly long-term goal – resolution of parents’ deaths – but even this has, thus far, been relegated to the narrative back burner. Above anything else, this lack of long-term focus has caused me to suffer a sense of disconnect with season two. Hopefully, the back half will give the characters something to work towards as opposed to just doing random stuff on an episode-by-episode basis.
More Compelling (and Long-Term) Villains
With the second season being touted as the “rise of the villains,” we have seen our fair share of Gotham’s underbelly but, sadly, not too many neer-do-wells have stuck around. This has also caused a sense of disengagement with me as the story formula so far has been to introduce a baddie, give the baddie something to do in a single or two-episode arc, then either kill off the baddie or send him or her packing. Thus, just when you figure things might start getting interesting, the interesting element is removed.
The two most memorable yet short-lived villains thus far, for me, have been Bridget (aka Firefly) and Jerome (aka Joker Prototype 1.0). Bridget is still alive but Jerome was killed off far too soon, especially for all of the hype his character was getting. When Jerome was murdered by Theo Galavan, I hoped someone even worse would be coming soon to take his place. Instead, all we got was a string of second-rate baddies who have been lucky to survive a single episode. While the Batman canon contains a plethora of villains to explore, there can be too much of a good thing. In “Gotham”‘s case, there have been too many cooks in the kitchen this season, so to speak, and none of them have stuck around. Rather than take a character and develop him or her, the person is promptly introduced and then promptly written out of the picture. So unless the season two finale promises to offer up some sort of showdown where all of the baddies return to rain havoc upon the city, I feel like we have constantly had a carrot dangled in front of our noses but never had the chance to actually enjoy it.
In the second season’s back half, I’d like to see fewer villains introduced on a weekly basis and have the show focus on a few baddies, both the old (such as Penguin and Ed Nygma) and the new (like Bridget and even Mr. Freeze). This would make the stories tighter in scope and richer in character development. Also, the villains we meet need to be compelling – credible enough to be threats but distinctive and memorable. This was my biggest issue with Theo Galavan, who served as the big baddie for the second season’s first half. Unlike the season one mob bosses who vied for control in the name of business, money, and power, Galavan just wanted his piece of Gotham (meaning all of it) because of a slight against his family a long, long time ago in a galaxy (not) far away. But Galavan lacked Falcone’s cool and collected business sense and didn’t have Maroni’s hot-headedness that allowed for some moments of comic relief. Hence while those two gents were memorable, Galavan was not.
In short, Galavan was a dud and had nothing about him to make him distinctive. (And having a gang of dudes dressed as monks follow you around doesn’t count. That’s just lame. And weird.) Rather than strike me as a genuinely dangerous underworld mogul, Galavan was more like a winy little rich kid who expected the world to bow to his every whim. (And, I’d never thought I’d say this, but thank you, Tabitha, for pointing that out.) It’s unattractive, uninteresting, and it turned him into a stock character. Even Fish Mooney was memorable thanks to her off-beat, smooth-talking charisma; brutal, backhanded tactics; and elegantly tacky fashion sense. But Theo Galavan even paled in comparison to her.
What the back half of season two needs to do is ditch the Galavans (all of them) for good and move on to bigger, better things. (And by that I don’t mean try to rope in more of Barbara. I’ve seen enough of her to last me the entire season.) There are other villains in the Batman canon that I imagine viewers would be more intrigued to see (such as, oh, I don’t know, the Joker, maybe?). If we could be introduced to a very distinctive villain – one that could be tied into a long-term goal for some of the main characters – that might lift “Gotham” out of its slump for me.
Overall, I harbor ambivalent sentiments about season two and am actually mulling over whether to continue watching. (I probably will seeing as I paid over $40 for the iTunes HD pre-order season pass – and I agree, that was steep.) With Galavan out of the way, maybe there will be room for a character I enjoy more. But in all honesty, the only characters who keep me coming back are Penguin and Nygma. Were it not for them (and the promise that Papa Penguin is slated to appear later on), I would be willing to throw in the towel, and it pains me to say that because I loved, loved, loved season one. But season two, for me, has fallen into the sophomore slump.
So, in a nutshell, can “Gotham” recover? Yes, I believe it can as it’s proven that it can offer up interesting, insightful, cliff-hanging stories and compelling characters as well as pose good questions about morality and how our choices can have far-reaching consequences, for good or ill. But it’s running out of time to redeem itself as there are only eleven episodes left. But I hope to hang in there and see where it all goes.