Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 18, 2016)
A prequel series of sorts, the first year of Gotham offered a slow introduction to characters/situations that make up the “universe of Batman” – long before Bruce Wayne dons the cowl. As one might expect, Season Two continues this journey. This Season Two Blu-ray set offers all 22 episodes. The synopses come from the package’s liner notes.
Damned If You Do: “Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) is new king of Gotham City and Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) seeks his help when his moral compass wavers. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) explores his father’s secrets.”
I really enjoyed Season One of Gotham and looked forward to Season Two. Only one episode in, I’d say so far, so good, as “Damned” provides a solid reintroduction to characters and circumstances. It boasts a quirky sense of humor and launches Year Two in a satisfying manner.
Knock Knock: “After reinstatement, Gordon is given the high-profile case of tracking the deadly escaped inmates from Arkham Asylum while Bruce enlists the help of his father’s old friend to unlock secrets.”
While dark, I’m not sure Season One seemed as sadistic as Season Two feels so far. Not that I regard this as a negative, for a sense of menace and cruelty suits the Batman universe. With the development of major villains, “Knock” provides a terrific show.
The Last Laugh: “Gordon and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) track down a nemesis from the past, leading standoff between Jerome (Cameron Monaghan) and Gordon.”
One of Season One’s highlights came from the introduction of Jerome, the character who appeared destined to turn into the Joker. Based on events here, that no longer seems likely – which disappoints me, as Monaghan’s take on the character works so well. He offers a delightful mix of Nicholson and Ledger that I like an awful lot, so if “Laugh” represents his departure, color me unhappy.
Despite this unfortunate change of events, “Laugh” offers another solid show. Of course, Monaghan’s Jerome becomes a major reason for its success, but plenty of other elements make it compelling as well – and it offers a chilling final shot.
Strike Force: “Captain Barnes (Michael Chiklis) creates a police new task force with Gordon’s help, while Penguin gets caught up in a favor for Theo Galavan (James Frain).”
We’ve gotten two major new characters in Season Two: Barnes and Galavan. Both leave me a bit underwhelmed, and because they dominate “Force”, the episode seems weaker than usual. It still has its moments – especially related to Edward Nygma – but “Force” offers an inevitable dip after the thrills of “Laugh”.
Scarification: “Galavan and Penguin join forces with a dangerous family in Gotham. With the rivalry between the Waynes and the Galavans resurfacing, Gordon struggles to maintain order in the city.”
“Scarification” feels like an extension of “Force”, so it turns into an average episode. Maybe I just got spoiled by the first few shows – or maybe I still mourn the absence of Jerome – but S2 is in a minor lull. I’m sure it’ll pick up again soon – and even the “down episodes” are still pretty good.
By Fire: “As Penguin and Galavan continue to battle for control of Gotham’s underworld, Kristen Kringle (Chelsea Spack) and Edward Nygma's (Cory Michael Smith) relationship takes a new step. Bridget Pike (Michelle Veintimilla) rejoins her brothers.”
The focus on Bridget leaves a bit of a hole in “Fire”. She creates a moderately interesting character but not one who can carry a show. At least elements intensify with various battles among different factions – those are enough to make this a fairly positive program, and the coda related to Bridget teases potential drama in the future.
Mommy’s Little Monster: “While Butch (Drew Powell) leads Penguin to the warehouse where Penguin’s mother (Carol Kane) is being held, Penguin plots his revenge on Gotham’s new mayor, Theo Galavan.”
We get a good mix of developments in “Monster”. The episode kills off a tertiary but important character and amps up the drama within the various gangs and pushes toward greater action down the road. These factors allow it to become a lively winner.
Tonight’s the Night: “While Galavan tries to make a business deal with Bruce Wayne, he sends Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) after Gordon – with Bullock and Barnes hot on her trail. Nygma meets a familiar face.”
While I like Season Two, I do admit that the focus on Galavan can be a bit of a drag. “Night” looks like it might point toward his departure, which makes me happy. Add to that a potentially momentous meeting between Penguin and Nygma and the show works well.
A Bitter Pill to Swallow: “Gordon encounters one of Gotham’s most dangerous hitmen, Eduardo Flamingo (Raul Castillo), while Nygma and Penguin cross paths once again.”
Whereas Penguin played a major role in Season One, he’s been less prominent during S2. I hope that “Swallow” represents a change in that regard, as he needs to do more for the series to live up to its potential. Outside of the Penguin/Nygma bits, “Swallow” gives us a Western motif, as it mainly concentrates on a standoff that involves Gordon and Barnes. Throw in a cannibalistic hit man and the episode succeeds.
The Son of Gotham: “While Gordon challenges a suspect linked to Galavan, Bruce gets one step closer to discovering the name of his parents’ killer.”
Of course, comics fans know that Joe Chill killed Bruce’s parents. The 1989 Batman tossed a curveball in that regard, but 2005’s Batman Begins “reinstated” Chill as the murderer.
Logically, one would assume Chill would be the assailant in Gotham as well, but I don’t think the series is so beholden to canon that it “must” keep Chill in this role. That lack of certainty makes Bruce’s pursuit of the truth more compelling than it otherwise might be.
That side of things offers the most intrigue during “Son”, mainly because it demonstrates Bruce’s toughness and development. Parts of the show sag – the cult we meet leaves me cold – but the show includes enough meat to make it worthwhile, and it even starts to provide signs that Galavan might be more compelling than originally believed.
If Worse Than a Crime: “When Bruce Wayne is kidnapped, Gordon looks to some unlikely and dangerous allies for help. In this battle of the villains, not everyone will survive.”
Does “Crime” bring the Galavan saga to a close? It sure looks that way, but I’ve read enough comics to know that one can never say never.
Whatever the future brings, “Crime” delivers an action-packed show that climaxes the Galavan tale. With half a season left to go, I’m interested to see where matters head from here.
Mr. Freeze: “While Penguin takes a hit for Galavan’s murder, Gordon and Bullock investigate the body-snatching spree of Victor Fries (Nathan Darrow), a preeminent cryogenics engineer.”
Apparently in recognition that “Crime” finished a narrative, “Freeze’ spends much more time with its “previously on Gotham” update than usual. This makes “Freeze” seem almost like a season debut.
Of course, the episode introduces us to a new character well-known to Batman fans. “Freeze” acts as a decent revival of the role, though it breaks little new ground, which disappoints. I like the manner in which Gotham adds spin to the characters we know so well, but “Freeze” lacks a lot of originality. It becomes a decent show but it’s more interesting for the direction in which it points than for the action it includes.
A Dead Man Feels No Cold: “While Gordon, Bullock and Barnes search for Victor Fries, Penguin is introduced to Hugo Strange (BD Wong), and Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) tells Bruce crucial information about his parents’ murder.”
Here we get part two of the Mr. Freeze saga, and it doesn’t bring a ton of life to the tale. Mr. Freeze seems more compelling on paper than in reality – at least as depicted here. Though not a bad show, “Cold” doesn’t excel.
This Ball of Mud and Meanness: “Gordon follows up with Nygma on Kristen Kringle’s whereabouts, while Alfred and Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) help Bruce find his parents’ killer, Matches Malone (Michael Bowen).”
Though I don’t know how well the concept matches the original character, I admit I like Badass Alfred. Not only does he give the series an action kick, but he also allows us to view aspects of Bruce’s combat training. “Ball” moves along the Bruce plot well and becomes a satisfying show.
Mad Grey Dawn: “While Gordon and Bullock investigate a trail of clues left by Nygma in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, Penguin meets his father (Paul Reubens).”
Just as Supergirl went “clever-clever” in how it cast the lead character’s parents, the same holds true here, as Reubens played Penguin’s pop in 1992’s Batman Returns. That said, I was fine with the choice in Supergirl, and I’m even happier with Reubens’ presence here, as he adds charge to the episode.
Even if we ignore Reubens’ presence, “Dawn” brings new life to Season Two. I like Bruce’s new path, and the sight of a happy, innocent Penguin delights. Add to that Nygma’s path toward Riddler and this turns into the best episode we’ve seen in a while.
Prisoners: “Gordon faces new threats after being removed from protective custody, while Penguin grows closer to his father and learns more about his stepfamily.”
While not as dramatic as “Dawn”, “Prisoners” pushes events along well. It concentrates exclusively on the arcs experienced by Gordon and Penguin, and both produce involving events that lead us ahead.
Into the Woods: “In an attempt to clear his name, Gordon steals his case file and asks Nygma for help. Meanwhile, Penguin awakens from his ‘conditioning’ upon his father’s death.”
It’s been fun to see Penguin act so meek and mild, but not as much fun as “Penguin unleashed”. That makes it good to get him released from his spell and back to his old psychotic ways. Additional character developments turn this into another solid show. Hey, even oft-neglected Bullock gets his time in the sun!
Pinewood: “After leaving Arkham Asylum, Barbara attempts to make amends with Gordon. Bruce and Alfred track down another of Thomas Wayne’s former friends, but Hugo Strange gets in the way.”
As much as I like Gotham, I don’t care for the decision to make the Wayne murders the product of a conspiracy. I prefer the random nature from the original comic, as I think that’s more realistic and disturbing.
Still, I can live with the series’ choice to create so much intrigue around the crime, and “Pinewood” helps get into that area pretty well. I also enjoy the development of Barbara – one of the series’ most slippery characters, she brings charge to the show.
Azrael: “Gordon and Bruce question Professor Strange about Project Chimera, leading Strange to send the newly resurrected Galavan to confront Gordon.”
Given that we saw Galavan on ice early, his return fails to come as a surprise, but it prompts disappointment, as I felt happy to see his arc end. “Azrael” does motivate the role in a different way, though, so at least “New Galavan” isn’t the same slimy mogul. We even see how Galavan’s identity as Azrael impresses young Bruce in this vivid program.
Unleashed: “Azrael is on the loose in Gotham City, sparking Penguin’s need for revenge. Meanwhile, Bruce enlists the help of Selina Kylle to help track down Professor Strange.”
Maybe because James Frain looks/sounds so much like Modern Family’s Ty Burrell, I find it tough to swallow him as a villain. That casting issue aside, “Unleashed” offers more action and intrigue. I can’t claim to be wild about Azrael as a character, but the show still works.
A Legion of Horribles: “Hugo Strange welcomes a familiar face back to Gotham after he resurrects Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) at Indian Hill.”
I have the impression that fans never much cared for Fish, but I think she adds a good dynamic to “Legion”. Other aspects seem less exciting, as the episode seems to exist mainly to set up the finale. It’s a mix of pros and cons but I hope it’ll lead to a fun finish to the year.
Transference: “While Gordon, Bruce and Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk) remain at Indian Hill, the city of Gotham will be met will be met with a new threat as Hugo Strange’s inmates devise a plan to escape.”
Season Two winds up on a fairly positive note, though not in quite as thrilling a way as I might have hoped. Nonetheless, it brings the year’s narrative to a satisfying close and points us toward Season Three in an appropriate way.
Overall, I enjoyed S2 of Gotham, though I must admit it didn’t live up to the expectations it set at the year’s opening. The first few episodes were so good that it became almost impossible for the rest of the season to follow – and it didn’t.
Still, it’s a good collection of shows, and I find much more to like than to dislike. I enjoy all the DC Comics TV series but Gotham remains the cream of the crop, and I look forward to Season Three.