Robert Tiemstra ‘16/ Emertainment Monthly TV Staff Writer
“Some men are just not meant to be cops.”
Welcome, to Gotham Season 2! Our sets are lavish, and our cinematography has lost none of its comic book noir sheen! The question remains, however: Which tonal approach from the first season (of which there are at least five or six distinct ones) will season two abide by? From the get-go, it seems pretty obvious: Gotham is now more comfortable with its camp tendencies than ever before. Between scenes where Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) talks to himself in a mirror, and an attack by an armored vigilante who calls himself ‘Zaardon the Soul Reaper’ (“Is that spelled like it sounds?” quips Jim Gordon after his arrest), it is clear the writers of Gotham are giving their sillier tendencies a home in this new season. But since they used to try and get the audience to take characters like The Balloonman seriously, this is definitely a step in the right direction. A confident step in big clown shoes, but a step nonetheless.
The main crux of “Damned if You Do” is a moral choice that Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) struggles with after being relieved of duty by Commissioner Loeb (Peter Scolari). Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) offers to get Gordon back onto the police force in exchange for a favor – and like all Faustian bargains, Gordon agonizes over just how fair this deal is. The nice thing about this plotline is it plays heavily to Gotham’s strengths. The dynamic between Gordon and the Penguin was one of the best creations of this series, because it took the established characters and put them in a situation that we’ve never seen before. McKenzie and Taylor are some of the most comfortable actors in this show, despite coming from completely different ends of the ham spectrum, and Penguin’s continued “friendship” with Gordon is just as twisted as it was in season one. As far as double-acts go, you could do a lot worse than this pair.
The best thing about Gordon’s continued role as series protagonist is that it takes inspiration from Batman: Year One, and runs with it. Gordon’s strong morality in Gotham City remains a round peg in a square hole, but since he is freed from the supporting character duties Batman forced upon him, we’re actually allowed to see how hard it is to maintain your moral compass in this city without an alter-ego to protect yourself or the ones you love. Even in the better Batman stories, Gordon is to Batman what St. Peter is to Jesus Christ – A rock on which he can build his story. And if that biblical simile isn’t broad or clunky enough for you, here’s another one: Gordon is to Batman’s story what Pa Kent is to Superman – a normal good person to counterbalance the operatic craziness of the main hero’s life. And the best parts of Gotham have always been showing what it would be like for such a character to face superhero-sized problems without the relief of a superhero to bail them out of it.
In their continued quest to find some way to make her a more interesting character, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) is put into prison for her sudden psychotic break at the end of season one. And while no one will argue that turning from a traumatized victim to a slasher villain on the turn of a dime doesn’t earn you at least a few years behind bars, one must wonder why Arkham Asylum is so open-minded about its gender divisions. Barbara freely hangs out with our Joker wannabe Jerome (Cameron Monaghan) and various bulky thugs, but we never see any other women. At least until they are broken out of jail by Tigress (Jessica Lucas), who’s brother Theo has an interesting offer for this tiny little rogue’s gallery. Our reviewer at first mistook Theo Galavan (James Frain) for our old friend The Ogre from season one, which is an obvious mistake given that he is dead, but it brings up a valid point: So many antagonists in this series wind up being well-dressed psychotic white dudes with slicked black hair. Perhaps that’s a commentary on real power structures, for the diversity seems to increase the farther down the pecking order you get here, or perhaps it’s just another case of Hollywood casting.
Now, the single most frustrating storyline in all of Gotham may vary from week to week, but the corner of the story occupied by Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) always is a contender in that field. In this episode, picking up from the discovery at the end of last season, we find Bruce and Alfred (Sean Pertwee) discovering an iron vault underneath Wayne Manor. This section of the story feels strangely at odds with the rest of the episode, but does provide a few honestly touching moments between the clunky “you’re still a child” dialogue (such as when Alfred confronts Bruce about making a bomb to blow the door open).
Fortunately, the cave underneath Wayne Manor does not contain a full Batsuit and Utilities. Instead there is a will from Thomas Wayne telling Bruce to be a man, and that “you can’t have happiness and the truth.” He is begging his son to pursue happiness. As touching as this scene is, one has to wonder: isn’t the very reason Bruce was driven to becoming a vigilante the fact that he never received emotional closure from his parents, and that remained an open wound throughout? Wayne isn’t becoming Batman any time soon, so hopefully this line of investigation will lead him closer to the other characters in the show, breaking these two well-acted characters out of the bubble they exist in for most of the series (and all of this episode).
The easy comparison for this episode would be the beginning of the first season, and “Damned if You Do” benefits from knowing its own show a little better than the Pilot did 22 episodes ago. Now that all the straight faced mobsters have been replaced by lunatics and megalomaniacs, we have more of a sense of what show this is supposed to be. This isn’t DC Comics Presents The Wire, this is a superhero show minus a superhero – what happens when hilariously campy villains go up against a normal dude in a police uniform. Time will tell if the second season is going to remain within the same tone as this episode, but if it does we have one incredible season to look forward to. Provided the writers remember which end of a pen the good ideas come out of.
“Oh it’s such a perfect day…”
Episode Grade: B