Robert Tiemstra ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Episode names in television can be a mixed bag. Some shows, such as Breaking Bad, employ their titles exclusively to the thematic motif behind each given chapter. Some, like Netflix’s House of Cards, ignore all pretense of serialization and give purely functional titles (How many of you can really remember what the arc of “Chapter 16” was?). And then there are instances like Gotham—where an episode title may seem cut and dry, but in the end makes very little sense.
Season one, episode two of Gotham is entitled “Selina Kyle,” and yet stubbornly refuses to have the titular adolescent cat-burglar (kitten-burglar?) or any other character for that matter, take center stage. If there is any problem with Gotham this early on, it is that it may be too sprawling for its own good. By the time this episode cuts to black over Gordon’s stunned face, the audience is left with a pile of subplots that have little or no thematic relation to each other at all. The A-plot serves one purpose and one purpose alone: get Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) and James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) into the same room together.
The plot itself comes across as something of a mixed bag. Creator and episode writer Bruno Heller wisely pushes the Wayne family murder aside for the bulk of the episode, leaving James Gordon and his merry band of cartoonishly corrupt cops to confront a different kind of case: child-abduction. The situation opens in a fairly contrived fashion, with two associates of “The Dollmaker” (a name that’ll ring many bells to comic book fans) showing up to ambush some clueless young adults in an alleyway with the world’s most effective sedative. The case barrels forward in typical CSI manner, alternating between interviews, shouting matches, and gunfights with admirable, if unremarkable, confidence.
As with the pilot, this episode succeeds when the emphasis is on atmosphere and tone, rather than something so mundane as a plot. McKenzie, after the events of the pilot, has a much meatier role to play this time around, which brings him a step or two closer to being a memorable interpretation of the character. Robin Lord Taylor continues to imbue his Penguin with a fittingly awkward sense of menace, making a handful of peripheral scenes impressively visceral. Bicondova fits the role of Cat to a tee (although her clunky name dropping is more cringe-worthy than even the Penguin’s).
The two performers that feel out of place in this hour are Jada Pinkett Smith and David Mazouz. Bruce Wayne makes a prominent appearance in this episode, but it feels rather forced compared to the rest of the urban noir setting. The choice to make him confront the injustices of Gotham with his resources rather than violence is an inspired one, but the character himself still feels largely pointless compared to the rest. Pinkett Smith is given very little to do besides chew the scenery, and while it is clear she is giving her all to the performance, there is nothing new in Heller’s script for her. And while Heller and the rest of the writing staff may still be insistent on making this a gritty drama, many of the actors, such as Jada Pinkett Smith, are making leaps and bounds into the world of high camp.
Many TV shows experience something of a slump going into their second episode, and Gotham is no exception. While still maintaining the incredible visual flair and much of the promising themes from the pilot, the unfocused and didactic “Selina Kyle,” like its own misfire of an ending, is not about to blow anyone out of the water.
Episode Grade: B-