Gotham, Season 2, Episode 1, “Damned If You Do”
Written by Bruno Heller
Directed by Danny Cannon
Airs Mondays at 8pm (ET) on FOX
It’s the dawn of a new era in Gotham City and it is all about the villains. In most of the promotional material for Gotham season two, the subtitle has been, “Rise of the Villains”, which gives the sense that the villains will be the center of attention. The season two premiere does a great job at setting this up with a deeper look at some of the inmates that have entered Arkham Asylum. The entry point for the Arkham stage is via Barbara, who, in the season one finale, attacked Leslie and was arrested for it. Barbara’s time at Arkham serves to reintroduce us to some of the key players that will be put to use this season. It’s great that Gotham is using their already established villains here, like Richard Sionis and Jerome, as it helps to build the world with some familiar faces.
Although this season will focus more on the villains, by way of a team of Arkham Asylum convicts, the heroes on the show are also given their due. Gordon is again fighting an uphill battle with GCPD and it’s got him discouraged to the point where’s he’s reached a crossroads. This is a great way to start the season, with Gordon deciding whether he wants to continue to fight for Gotham City after hitting his lowest point. He’s desperate and frustrated, having been demoted to uniform duty where he has no true partner and has lost most of the goodwill that he’d earned from last season. Basically, Gordon is at a starting point where he is able to consider the prospect of giving up and walking away.
The choice is difficult and is performed very well by Ben McKenzie in the scenes where Gordon speaks to each of the important people in his life. Leslie knows Gordon has a fight in him and will not stop, although she would like him to. Gordon knows Leslie’s feelings, but he can’t shake his purpose. Bullock has walked away from the stress of “the Job” and has come out the other side a happier person, which proves to Gordon that he, too, could unburden himself if he allowed himself to. The Penguin tempts him with a way back into the GCPD, but it’s by doing something Gordon wouldn’t want to do. The final visit Gordon makes is the one that decides his trajectory and appropriately, it’s with the show’s other blooming hero. With Bruce, Gordon gets the advice he’s been looking for and that is basically that the ends can justify the means, but it requires sacrifices which have to be done for the greater good.
There are some parallels here to Gordon’s dilemma in the pilot, where he was much less willing to kill for the sake of his mission. Curiously enough, it is the same man that Gordon was tasked to kill in the pilot that is giving him the kill order now. Gordon’s progression has been severe and compromising, and it will be interesting to see his journey this season as he goes further down the path to try and change Gotham for the better, while the city may be changing Gordon for the worst.
Bruce Wayne stumbled upon a grand revelation last season when he discovered his father’s secret lair. This brings out the impatient and petulant side of Bruce, pushing him to resolve his plight of opening the door by using a dangerous method. The arc is short but very significant for both Bruce and Gordon, as Bruce’s frustrations leads him to advise Gordon that in some cases, the ends do justify the means. The lesson doesn’t necessary apply to Bruce’s situation, as he discovers that the entry code was easily solvable, if only had he taken a minute to think about it rationally. This may seem out of character for the Bruce Wayne that comic book fans know, but it is completely in line with the way Gotham has been telegraphing Bruce’s learning how to become that hero. David Mazouz gives a great performance as Bruce, especially in the scene where he reads his father’s letter. The moment of realization about the entry code is played with the resonance of a lesson learned. There are surely more mysteries to be uncovered in his father’s lair this season to look forward to.
Gotham has certainly taken some liberties with their version of Gordon’s future bride Barbara Kean, some that have been strange, yet interesting and others than have been strange, yet awkward. This season appears to be pushing Barbara towards more interesting places as she is now on the path of villainy. What’s clever about this turn is that Gordon feels responsible for Barbara’s psychological breakdown, and her joining the Arkham Asylum villain team puts that much more stress on him; to Gordon, Barbara is still a victim, but even more so a threat to him and his relationship with Leslie. Erin Richards is given a lot more to do in this premiere and she does a great job making Barbara appear confident and capable in her scenes with the other inmates, as well as damaged and menacing in her phone call with Gordon and Leslie. This take on Barbara is certainly one that is on the campier side of Gotham, but it’s a good fit as it plays into Richard’s strengths.
Although there is little time spent with Ed Nygma, we do get a sense of where the character is at this point in time and where the show will be taking him. Nygma has made a full split of self with one side of him pulling him towards his psychotic impulses and the other trying to maintain himself. This conflict between Nygma’s inner self is well displayed in the scene where he talks to his reflection and Cory Michael Smith gives a good performance displaying the levels of Nygma’s struggle.
The Penguin has taken very well to being the “King of Gotham” and has been running it with great twisted delight, as portrayed by Robin Lord Taylor. As to be expected, he has taken in Falcone’s former employees like Victor Zsasz and Butch, but also Selina Kyle. The Penguin has been keeping tabs on Gordon as well, it seems, as he knows all about Leslie and Gordon’s desire to rejoin the GCPD. It’s a tempestuous relationship that he has with Gordon and when the screw turns to the point where they are truly at odds with one another, it will be a very interesting day.
Case File: Zaardon the Soul Reaper
This week’s case involves the low grade villain Zaardon, the soul reaper, a possibly original Gotham creation as this character bears no familiarity to anyone in the source materials. Zaardon’s role is only a small one in the true villain’s plan to break out six Arkham inmates for possibly insidious purposes. The man behind the breakout is Theo Galavan (James Frain), an industrialist who has returned to Gotham City to cause trouble. The main purpose of Zaardon is to introduce the main villain and his plot, and he does just that in a very campy and lighthearted way. The method of escape is not reflective of Gotham’s best qualities however, especially when we meet the real villains who are much more cold-blooded and brutal.
Galavan is first seen in the veil of darkness as he sends out Zaardon to do as he will, but he is given a proper introduction in Loeb’s retirement presentation as a philanthropist, scientist, and businessman, which amusingly enough could eventually be said of Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne. James Frain is very good at playing mysterious yet likable characters with an edge of darkness, and he brings that to his role of Galavan. In the scene when he is being introduced, his expressions and nods at each of the titles he’s given by the presenter are entertaining. Frain is also very good in the scene where he’s pitching his evil plan to the convicts. What’s most interesting about Galavan as a bad guy is that there isn’t that much known about him, except that he wants to make a team of villains and have them terrorize Gotham City. This presents an obvious threat to what Gordon wants for Gotham and possibly a threat to Penguin’s empire as well. This has potential for some very interesting development that may cause Gordon and Penguin to team up against a common enemy.
Bruno Heller’s script for the second season premiere efficiently establishes the new status quo and resets the series for fresh eyes. The opening montage gives the audience an understanding of where these characters are now and how they feel about their current status, which is reinforced by Danny Cannon’s direction and use of the Lou Reed song, “Perfect Day”. The tone of Gotham continues to be camp shown through a dark and twisted lens. Moments like Zsasz doing a ventriloquist routine with Loeb’s dead bodyguard’s head serve to establish how disturbed the characters are, finding hilarity in something that is both corny and disturbing. The production overall continues to be top notch, with special effects that make something as silly as burp-knock-out-gas still work within Gotham’s dark themes. “Damned If You Do” sets the stage well for what viewers should expect from this season where villains will be rising; it appears it’s going to be a fun year.
- Erin Richards looks great in this episode, first as she walks into Arkham garbed like a Hollywood starlet, then in her black and white striped prison dress. Well done, costume department!
- “I’d serve a sandwich to Beelzebub.”–Bullock.
- In Penguin’s home invasion scene with Loeb, there is a bowler hat in frame. Could this be a reference to Burgess Meredith’s iteration of the Penguin and how his goons often wore bowler hats?
- “I told you, I’d break you! I will!”–Gordon to Loeb. This line sounds very similar to Bane’s notable remarks to Batman in The Dark Knight Rises.
- “Hear me, GOR-daan…!”–Zaardon to Gordon.
- “I hope you die screaming, Bitch!”–A very threatening Barbara to Leslie.
- There are six convicts that are broken out of Arkham. The number six could be considered a relevant number in villain teams, as DC’s Secret Six and Marvel’s the Sinister Six could attest.
- I guess now that Richard Sionis is dead, we’ll all have to wait awhile before we see Black Mask on Gotham again. Most likely with his son Roman behind the mask this time.