Gotham: "Damned If You Do" (Season 2, Episode 1)

Flabbergasted

The second season premiere of Gotham takes a long hard look at itself in the mirror and hits the nail on the head: 'Sometimes the right thing is the ugly thing." So they've given up and become a comic book. A nasty one at that. It's not exactly good, but I guess it's a little better than it was.

This show needed a new outlook. Season One was a muddled mess of too many unconnected plot lines trying (and failing) to congeal within the constraints of a police procedural. Watching it too often came uncomfortably close to the experience of having a seizure. Maybe a seizure with poor lighting. And the data certainly indicated a need for some tinkering; audience numbers dropped from 8.2 million for the pilot to 4.9 for the finale.

This comic book version of Gotham has comic book titles (Rise of the Villains? Really?) coupled with a modest injection of snap and verve. It's an odd comic book, though. Think of a case of mean-spirited ADD sprinkled with humor running the gamut from okay to sick. It also still suffers from the emptiness of trying to hold the fort down for a decade until Batman finally shows up. It does, however, go through the motions with more focused determination this year, at least for tonight.

The opening montage plays like a reset summary so we don't have to think about last year. It starts where we left off, with Bruce descending down a staircase to the secret passage behind a Wayne Manor fireplace. He finds a steel door with a keypad lock. Flash up the subtitle "One Month Later," and in short order we see:

  • Gordon has been busted to is walking a beat while still seeing Dr. Leslie Tomkins (sci-fi favorite Morena Baccarin);
  • Harvey Bullock is a bartender;
  • Penguin is Gotham's Godfather; and
  • Barbara Kean, Gordon's psycho ex-girlfriend, is prancing into Arkham.

With that, we're off. Some guy in a ridiculous yet nondescript black costume gets a vial of blue liquid to drink from someone off camera. Skip to Gordon directing traffic. The guy comes out shooting while announcing he is Zaardon the Soul Reaper. He's so pathetic that Gordon just beats him up in a mildly amusing sequence. "Is that spelled like it sounds?" he asks for the booking. "No, it has two As."

More of that kind of humor would help Gotham. It's always needed to lighten up.

The mood is quickly blown with another painful to watch Edward Nigma scene in the bathroom. He's talking to himself in the mirror. It's clear yet again that Gotham would be better of divorcing itself from many of these ties to Batman and just developing quirky villains of its own.

Corrupt weasel Commission Loeb uses the Zaardon incident to get Gordon thrown off the force for good. This will last for about half the episode. That's a crutch Gotham used too much last year, supposedly major developments that disappear as soon as they happen.

On the plus side, Gordon still gets to sleep with Morena Baccarin. That leads to a moment that pulled me out of whatever mood this show is trying to achieve. Specifically, Morena Baccarin plays a successful doctor who is hot for Gordon. She's so successful that she can leave this dank, poorly lit ***hole of a city to start anew somewhere that's actually heard of urban planning. To top it off, she actually wants to take Jim with her.

This show is done. No more episodes because no sane person refuses that offer.

Don't even bring that offer up, man. Game over.

A quick interlude at Arkham is both entertaining and irritating. Barbara gone bad is a revelation. It wasn't the actress last year, it was the material. She's popping and zinging and flashing some serious TV attitude while setting herself up as the queen bee of an insane asylum. What's irritating is the incessant attempts to hint that some wacky guy named Jerome is the nascent Joker. Again, quit it. No Batman, no Joker.

Time to play one more trick this show went to the well with too often last year. Jim goes to make a deal with the devil. In this case Penguin. He wants Penguin to make Loeb back down and put Jim back on the force. I guess Jim's not really such a noble guy after all, now is he? He's also an idiot since he could be hanging out on a beach in Hawaii with Morena Baccarin instead. Penguin agrees but wants a favor in return. Jim demurs.

Penguin is the best of these Batman tie ins by far. He's an actual character in his own right instead of some half ass comic book riff. You can tell he honestly considers Gordon a friend in his own twisted way. Lil' Selina is hanging out with Penguin's gang now, too. The actress playing her still has a lot of natural charisma that's mostly being wasted. Let's have more of these two and absolutely nothing of Edward Nigma and some half-ass baby Joker.

It's Lil' Wayne of all people who convinces Gordon to take Penguin's deal. Without knowing any of the details, he simply says "Sometimes the right thing is the ugly thing." That's all it takes  to ease Jim's conscience since his moral integrity has always been a bit of a facade. After he leaves, Bruce decides to build a bomb to blow down the secret door with the keypad. For some reason, Alfred doesn't tell him that there are technicians who can bypass keypads. Modern technology is like that.

Jim tries to collect money that Penguin is owed from a low level gangster. His plan is to walk in, beat everyone up and take the money. He fails to consider that they might chase him. This leads to the most bizarre moment of the night, several head on sequences of Jim running where the film is sped up and deliberately rendered choppy. I guess it's supposed to symbolize corruption, or a situation spinning out of control, or maybe that Gordon ate a bad burrito before he did this. It is comic booky, but not good comic booky. You laugh when the show is trying to be serious.

Anyway, Gordon winds up killing the gangster who was about to kill him. It's self defense, I guess. Gordon looks troubled for a few seconds. Then it's on to the ill gotten fruits of his deal with Penguin. Cause, you know, the whole moral facade thing.  

Penguin confronting Commissioner Loeb could have been a good sequence. He breaks into the Commissioner's house at night with master assassin Victor Zsasz along for the ride. The encounter has an oddly affecting start with Penguin politely inquiring about the possibility of some peanut butter for a snack while manipulating Loeb's fear and vanity all at once. Victor spoils the moment by revealing the severed head of one of Loeb's guards, then pretending to talk for it while moving the head's lips. That's awful by any standard. Exactly what audience are they writing this show for?

The upshot is that Loeb reinstates Gordon as a detective and resigns. Who didn't see that coming?

Flash back to Arkham as Zaardon is delivered. He launches into his whole Zaardon the Soul Reaper routine and how he's going to crush them all. The other inmates look bored. That has some comedic value. Then Zaardon keels over. After he dies, blue vapor comes out of his mouth. It knocks everyone out as some femme fatale in black leather breaks in and shoots the guards.

When Barbara, Jerome, and four other guys wake up, they're in the top floor of an office tower. Theo Galvan, businessman, philanthropist and scientist, introduces himself. In classic comic book form, he wants to start a legion of evil. These six are his first recruits. It's cheesy, but a legion of evil sounds better than anything Gotham did last year (notwithstanding that it'll probably become worse and worse of an idea as the season progresses). The cheesiness peaks when one the six doesn't want to go along. The aforementioned leather chick, Theo's sister Tabitha, snaps a whip around his neck, yanks him to the ground and slices him up in ten seconds flat.

It's cliché. It still has more sense of dramatic presence than most of Gotham's first season. For those of you not moved by the high drama of it, Jessica Lucas does look good in leather.

Go Legion of Evil. You're our only slim chance at a watchable show.

Bruce blows up the keypad door. Inside he finds a note from his father telling him the keypad password was "Bruce." I guess he didn't try all that hard to guess it. His father's note hints at all kinds of bad goings on at Wayne Enterprise without being specific about anything. The writers probably don't know anything yet.

Like I said, a little more focused than last year. A little more entertaining. That's gonna have to be one awesome Legion of Evil, however, to dig out of the hole this show has dug.                    

Tags: