Alas. Everything on Gotham is tentative, whether its the motivations of its antagonists or its greatness. Season 5 premiered with an intruging setup and proceeded to unleash the chaos of the No Man’s Land story arc that Gotham intends to adapt with its final season. Episode 2 however, brings the show right back to its fundamental problems as it tries to throw too many weird things to the wall and see what sticks.
Just a look at the different narrative threads in place and the bizarre nature of most each of them makes this point clear. GCPD cops are out to rescue a bunch of kids being exploited by a gang that plans on building a tunnel to the mainlands and subsequently profit from conducting business (in a very conveniently laid out exposition). Gordon, Harvey and probably two other cops arrive lazily holding shotguns and pointing them at the gang members and that’s all it takes for the goons to surrender their guns when clearly, they outnumbered the cops by 2 to 1. A fight soon ensues though and the buddy-cop duo finds themselves in a haunted motel that kicks off the next strange storytelling arc.
We’re introduced to “Mother”, a recent DC Comics character who plays off the haunted house theme by acting creepy, her basement a collection of fingers, teeth and other valuables of people she’s come across. The entire section plays out like a horror movie that takes you out of the show into what feels like a different TV series entirely. The showdown finally ends when they escape the motel and have two gangs vying for who gets to lay their hands on them in a setup which I found particularly interesting cinematography-wise (I mean, there were some great cool-looking and composed frames in there). It all again strangely ends when Barbara enters the scene with a gun mounted atop a vehicle and lays waste to everyone. This in an era where ammunition is sparse. Why the waste, Barb?
If you thought that was it, there are two more equally twisted plotlines running in parallel. To keep ’em short, one of them involves Ed Nygma trying to contain his sleepwalking tendencies, but failing to, and eventually deciding to trace his steps and find out what he’s been up to. He ends up abducted the member of a street gang and kills the others in his dazed state and put the blame on Penguin, intending to start a gang-war. Bruce spends most his time trying to cure Selina and goes to (Poison) Ivy who at this stage, I really can’t recall is played by the same actor or a different one. Ivy helps by giving him a seed that will cure Selina but could unlock her dark elements. True to her word, it does both.
This is a by-the-numbers episode of Gotham that could’ve been set at just about any season. It only plays off slightly from the No Man’s Land arc and doesn’t really use that setup to unleash bigger things. Perhaps I’m so used to seeing a dark, crazy and insane Gotham that it doesn’t matter that the city’s been cut-off by the rest of the world (it kind of always was). Yet, for a 12 episode arc, it’s taking quite a long time for things to reach their zenith. For instance, we know the struggle Ed is having with his alter-ego the Riddler is going to lead him to a place where he accepts is alter-persona. But not only is that something we’ve seen play out countless times before, it just doesn’t make sense holding back on it too long when you only have 10 episodes to go. And introducing Sykes kind of scared me, thinking THAT’s their iteration of Bane. Thankfully those guys were only a precursor / setup to Bane’s storyline that should factor in the show in later episodes.
The strange mixture of the supernatural with the groundedness is perhaps what throws the episode off. Of course that doesn’t mean it has its moments, but those come with their caveats too. I’ve come to love the production values on the show and this episode doesn’t disappoint. If anything, they’re only going all out giving it a big budget and it shows in practically every frame. That said, the cinematography, while great, came with the unnecessary bloom filter deployed at so many places. Nowhere was this more evident than in the final scenes; in their effort to depict a utopia, the production team seems to have just blown the bloom all out to show a part of Gotham City that resembles Paradies or La La Land. And as admirable as Jim Gordon’s stance is, his suit is literally without a mark of scratch despite all he goes through. Stuff like that just takes you out the episode.
In the end, Gotham has been an enjoyable show, more akin to commercial cinema than anything artsy. It still has a lot of potential and it’ll hopefully unleash some of that in the remaining 10 episodes. This one though, just wasn’t it and it was all the more disappointing to see it follow-up a great premiere episode. All the while, it’s still a watchable hour, albeit a passable one.