In the Gotham series premiere, viewers were introduced to a world without Batman that nonetheless featured many of the other heroes and villains from the storied franchise. While the characters seem comfortable in their small-screen iterations, some of the actors are still working out the kinks. It’s early yet, but the frontrunner for “Best Scenery Chewer” so far is Jada Pinkett Smith in her turn as ambitious gangster Fish Mooney. Detective James Gordon is obviously the show’s lead and the city’s lone straight arrow, but Ben McKenzie hasn’t yet figured out the balance of noble hero and noir tough guy; instead he winds up just scowling a lot. In between, however, we have quite a bit of potential, specifically in the performances of youngsters David Mazouz and Camren Bicondova, and relative newcomer Robin Lord Taylor. Thankfully the show’s second episode gives each of them a share of the spotlight. Hit the jump for tonight’s Gotham recap.
In last week’s recap, I split the series up into four categories to watch, so let’s take a look at how “Selina Kyle” helped them to progress:
While the shadow of the Batman lurks behind every corner in every scene, it’s not his time to shine (or skulk) just yet. The premiere set up Gordon’s path pretty blatantly, so it will take some time for him to walk it. This episode paints him as a defender of the downtrodden and the voiceless as personified by misunderstood homeless kids. Gordon not only attempts to keep them safe from Doug (Frank Whaley) and Patti (Lili Taylor), but also his own easily riled partner Bullock (Donal Logue). At first, I thought Doug and Patti were in league with Professor Pyg, but it turns out that their boss is actually the Dollmaker. We didn’t get a look at this mastermind in “Selina Kyle” so perhaps he’s going to play one of the Big Bads (outside of the mob) in this season.
Gordon’s nowhere near taking down Falcone, Mooney, or the Dollmaker just yet, but he’s saved a bunch of kids, so that’s a good start. He also gets to establish a strange sort of fatherly relationship with the episode’s title character, which will surely get complicated in the years to come considering she’s the witness to the Waynes’ murder (and will eventually fully commit to her criminal ways). Oh, and as if looking out for Gotham’s juvenile population wasn’t enough responsibility, Gordon continues to keep tabs with young Master Bruce, who is proving too damaged for Alfred (Sean Pertwee) to manage. More on them in a moment.
It’s way too early for Bullock to be playing anything close to the good guy at this point, and Logue seems just fine with that. He’s happy to beat on kids, he likes to push Gordon around using the latter’s (feigned) execution of Oswald Cobblepot as leverage, and keeps ties with Mooney (despite her stringing him up to be bled out in the previous episode). However, he also seems to be earning a bit of respect towards Gordon, especially when the young detective (or rather, the young detective’s fiance) leaked the kidnapping story to the papers.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the actual detective work in this episode, Bullock doesn’t do a whole lot. Similar to the “Shiny Shoe Defense” in the premiere, Gordon’s instant-access Mind Palace, which apparently holds an encyclopedia of corporate logos, is the real hero here. On a related note, the pacing of their case-solving is still a bit wonky this early on, as they repeatedly show up immediately at scenes for the action beats rather than establishing any sort of tension. It’s a small gripe that I hope goes away soon.
Mazouz makes excellent work of his limited time to shine as the brooding Master Bruce in this episode. Testing his tolerance for pain by burning and cutting himself, creeping out of the shadows to startle his butler and guest, and following Gordon’s heroic exploits … these are obvious breadcrumbs for the man and myth he is to become. And yet, between the burning of his own flesh and the drawing of nightmarish creatures (and listening to metal music, of course), his altruistic side (ie Billionaire Bruce Wayne) also shows up when he offers to outfit the city’s homeless youth in new clothes. I look forward to seeing how Mazouz continues to develop his character over time.
Alfred, on the other hand, doesn’t know how to deal with Bruce, and it feels like Pertwee doesn’t quite know how to play Alfred. There’s no chemistry between boy and his guardian, and the latter is so mercurial as to suggest that he’s actually the one who’s been more psychologically damaged by the death of the Waynes. For the moment, Alfred only exists to contact Gordon and invite him into Wayne Manor for tea. Hopefully he becomes more of a confidant in episodes to come, but I’m not sold just yet.
Another character I wasn’t sold on in the first episode is Lord Taylor’s Penguin, aka Oswald Cobblepot. I warmed up to him a bit more in this second episode, mostly because we get to see him start from the ground up and build his empire on his own steam. (We also get to see the surprisingly bucolic landscape that is Gotham’s suburbs; who knew?) In Lord Taylor’s arc as the Penguin, making his way back to Gotham at a crawl, he manages to commit murder, kidnapping for ransom, and grand theft auto. Not a bad start! I like his performance a bit more now, even if I’m not sure I feel the “Penguin-ness” of it just yet.
Here’s as good a place as any to talk about violence. Gotham’s got a lot of it. A surprising amount. It’s cold, it’s stark, and it’s commonplace. Makes sense for a noir take on a city poised on the edge of a Hellmouth, thrown into chaos after one of the city’s “pillars” (the Waynes) crumbles. What the series is missing is a touch of levity. There’s some to be found if you know where to look, but it’s having trouble rising above the gloom. I worry that the show will begin to take itself too seriously, but over-the-top performances by Pinkett Smith, Lili and Robin Lord Taylor, and Richard Kind as Mayor Aubrey James help to remind audiences that, although this is a dark detective tale, it still spills out of the funny pages.
- I didn’t catch as many Batman references this week, so either I’m slipping or the writers are keeping them close to the vest. There were pharmaceutical companies that I thought would have tie-ins (ie Daggett Industries, Phoenix Pharmaceuticals, or heck even Wayne Industries itself), but nope. The only nods I caught were the dialogue over the closure/potential re-opening of Arkham Asylum, and a Joker reference in which a guy in the police station says, “Watch the shoes, Clown!”
- Hat tip to the great Carol Kane and her wacky Gertrude Kapelput. It’s just a shame that the writers didn’t decide to parallel the rise of a young Oswald Cobblepot to that of Bruce Wayne (not yet, anyway).
- I also like the continued presence of Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith); I just hope they don’t overdo it.
- We’ll talk more about the Dollmaker and his comic origins in the weeks to come, but I want to give the show a chance to act it out if that’s where they’re going.
- How are we feeling about Gotham so far? Be sure to let us know your thoughts (and anything I missed) in the comments!