The Batcave Is Back In Business In Gotham
When last we left Gotham City in the appropriately named Gotham, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) had discovered a cave under his house, Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) was finally the king of the Gotham underworld, and Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bullock (Donal Logue) were just trying not to get anyone to kill them.
And also, Gotham was struggling to figure out what it was: dark n’ gritty in the Christopher Nolan mode; campy in the Tim Burton mode; or something entirely different. And now the season two premiere is finally here…so with a summer to really think about it, do we have Gotham ascending, along with the “Rise of the Villains?” Short answer is yes, as the show has finally figured out its tone—and it’s delightfully absurd and dangerous in all the right ways.
Read on for our run down of the biggest moments on “Damned If You Do,…”
One Month Later
We pick right off a second after we left off, with Bruce and Alfred headed down into Thomas Wayne’s secret cave of wonders… but of course it couldn’t be that easy: Thomas put a keycode on the door, meaning we’ve probably got a good long while left with this mystery, right?
And then we cut to “one month later.” Gordon is still with Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin). Bullock is now running a bar. Penguin is happily and evilly running the mob. And Barbara (Erin Richards)? Well, she’s about to roll even further down her evil road.
She’s checked into Arkham, and is about to meet the guy who will (maybe) turn out to be the Joker.
Zaardon The Soul Reaper
Okay, remember when we were wondering what kind of show Gotham would be this season? After drinking a potion concocted by new villain Theo Galavan (James Frain), a man calling himself Zaardon The Soul Reaper attacks Gordon—now bumped down to beat cop—with a sword. Later, he calls him “Gor-don,” which is pretty funny, too.
Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, the imprisoned Zaardon starts belching up blue smoke in prison. Sword fights? Deathly belches? Basically, from the get-go it seems like Gotham has embraced the camp… and it works? I feel weird.
The Mirror Has Two Faces
Speaking of which, Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) starts imagining himself talking to, well, himself, in the mirror. Evil Nygma—heck, let’s call him The Riddler, why not—is every dark impulse Nygma let out last season, and his hissing delivery is creepy as heck. Nygma only gets one scene in the premiere, but his dive into the dark side is going to be exceedingly cool to see, particularly as Smith is bringing an alarming intensity to the role.
After shoving a fellow officer, Gordon is dismissed by evil Commissioner Loeb. And that starts to lead Gordon down a dark road…he wants to be a cop so badly, he’ll do anything. That includes cashing in a few chips with the new head of the mob.
That would be Penguin, by the way, who still wants to have Gordon as his best friend. Oh, and also Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) is hanging out as Oswald’s second, leading Penguin to quip, “Isn’t she darling? It’s like having a cat around the house.”
Because she’s gonna be Catwoman, see? It’s a prequel thing, you wouldn’t understand.
Anyway, Penguin is throwing his power around like it’s nothing, jousting with Gordon verbally before promising to get Loeb fired if Gordon will do a little deal for him. Gordon, of course…refuses. Huh.
The biggest question mark on the new season is the addition of the proto-Joker Jerome, played by Cameron Monaghan. We’ve seen him in a one-off episode, but here we get our real first taste of how he’ll play in the overall tapestry. He’s working for former criminal mastermind Richard Sionis (Todd Stashwick), and trying to get new Arkham inmate Barbara on his side.
And like the rest of the camp, it kind of works. He’s way over the top, but still channels The Joker without having the clout yet to pull off Batman’s arch-enemy’s insanely over the top schemes. Last season, Jerome’s antics seemed out of place. This year? Maybe, if anything, his addition is setting the tone.
The Ugly Way
After getting drunk with Bullock, Gordon walks to Bruce Wayne’s house to tell him he’ll no longer be able to fulfill the promise he made to him in the series premiere…to find out who killed his parents.
What he gets instead is a way more confident Wayne, who encourages him non-subtly to do what Penguin asks. “Surely sometimes the right way is the ugly way,” Wayne not so innocently asks.
Gordon then heads to collect The Penguin’s debt, clearly making his steps on his Fitbit that day… And ends up beating up the criminals to steal the money for Penguin. Gordon also ends up running from the gang, the cops, and a shot stolen from Trainspotting, before shooting the man he was sent to collect from—dead.
Yep, this is a very different Gordon than in season one, the guy who would do no wrong even when pushed. Because now he’s been pushed farther than ever…and he’s broken.
Barbara’s also been making deals of her own, getting her hands on a telephone by doing…something terrible. And she uses it to call Gordon, telling him that she didn’t kill her parents (she did), and didn’t attack Leslie (she did). When he hangs up on her, Babs helpfully calls Leslie, leaving her a message that, “I just wanted to say, I hope you die screaming, b–ch.”
So yeah, she’s not in a great place, either.
Which is really interesting, actually. If anything doomed the first season of Gotham, it was the sense of inevitability. Gordon was going to become the greatest Commissioner Gotham had ever known. Barbara was going to marry him and have his behbehs. Bruce was going to become Batman. Etc, etc.
And while some are embracing those destinies—Bruce, Edward and Oswald in particular—the rest are in such weird places that it’ll be a wonder if they ever get there alive, at all.
That’s a good thing, too. Late last season I argued that the best thing Gotham could do would be kill Barbara. Not because she’s a bad actress, or unnecessary…in fact, it’s because Erin Richards is so good, and the character is so necessary that her death would throw the whole show out of wack in the best way.
That’s what they’ve figured out how to do—at least this early in the season—without resorting to killing anyone major.
Anyway, I’m glad Barbara is still around, she’s loony-tunes.
Okay, seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed out loud at an episode of Gotham before this hour, but a barber shop quartet singing “Goodbye” to Loeb after he’s strong-armed into leaving his position by Penguin was a gut-buster.
It’s crazy, just like Zaardon The Soul Reaper and evil belches, but it totally works. This is, without a doubt, a more confident show this season, and Loeb’s whole goodbye scene(s) prove it. The pacing, direction and acting are all working at a higher level. It’s LOL-worthy, and you’re laughing with the show, not at it.
As a nice bonus, Essen (Zabryna Guevara) gets promoted to Commissioner…which is great, because she’s on Gordon’s side; but also terrifying, because something needs to happen to her before Gordon can reach his end-game.
Remember that evil, atomic belching? Turns out it’s a sedative that allows Theo (James Frain) and his sister, Tabitha (Jessica Lucas) to break six prisoners out of Arkham. “Today is the first day of a wonderful future for all of you,” Theo tells the former inmates.
Theo’s pitch? Get six inmates with different skills together, and use them as a villain team to take over Gotham. “Come with me Barbara,” Theo says. “Whatever you want in the world, it’s yours.”
Sionis declines, since the terrible thing Barbara had to do to get a telephone is have sex with him, it turns out. He says he’s leaving, and Barbara with him.
And then something surprising happens: Tabitha stabs Sionis to death.
Remember a little while ago when I was talking about killing someone in order to shake up the status quo? Yeah, Sionis is one of those guys. He’s a key figure in the Batman mythos, eventually becoming the villain named Black Mask. To be fair, he’s named Roman Sionis in the comics, so we could still see Richard’s brother or uncle’s cousin or whatever turn out to be the real Black Mask; but this is the first time the show has killed someone who shouldn’t die.
For a die-hard (no pun intended) Batman fan, this is a good thing. It’s not Penguin dying, or even Barbara; but it’s close. No one is safe now.
Okay, never mind: Thomas’ office turns out to be a small step in the mystery, as Bruce and Alfred blow up the door to his office in lieu of figuring out the password (which is “BRUCE,” by the way). In the office is a final note Thomas left for Bruce, which is sweet and sad.
“You can’t have both happiness and the truth,” the note says. “You have to choose. I beg of you, my son, choose happiness. Unless you feel a calling. A true calling.”
…Or a bat flies through your window of course.
As Bruce reads this wishy-washy note, and the music swells, Gordon looks at himself in the mirror… And despite the fact that the letter tries to have it both ways, it’s a pretty powerful moment. If anything, the “you should be happy but also maybe just follow your destiny?” nature of the note is a really nice underscoring for the entire episode — and hopefully the season.
Because that’s some real bad advice. Choose one thing or the other, but don’t leave a final note with no real answers, right Thomas? The thing is, Bruce’s Daddy is a human being. He doesn’t actually know how to live life; and if anything, he was terrible at it: he didn’t know any better than to walk down a dark alley at night with his family. But also, he tried to be a good guy.
Even if the mystery of Wayne’s study was nothing more than a note—and it probably isn’t, there was plenty more stuff in there—it truly shows how these characters have grown more flawed, and more human in season two. Here’s hoping the show keeps it up.