We are now four episodes into Gotham season two, “Rise of The Villains,” which solidly builds on the strongest elements of season one by doubling down on the outrageous gritty camp aesthetic and focusing on the gloriously over the top villainy of Bat-tween’s future rogues. The season started strong with a three episode arc that focused on the rising tide of villainy featuring Jerome, the Jokeresque Mother killer from season one, and acted as the inciting incident for what is promising to be a more solidly crafted season two.
A new player named Theo Galavan, played by James Frain, has come to Gotham with a vision for the city and its most unusual natural resource, villains. Galavan orchestrates an elaborate breakout from Arkham Asylum by hypnotizing a madman and sending him forth to be arrested with a ticking gas bomb in his stomach. Gordon, who was demoted to beat cop at the end of last season, apprehends the lunatic. Meanwhile, his ex-girlfriend Barbara, who has been committed to Arkham, falls in with the group of escaped criminals Galavan dubs The Maniax. Their reign of terror as Galavan’s pawns has some glorious highlights including: burning a group of cheerleaders to death, and murdering the newly promoted Commissioner Essen.
That’s right, Commissioner Essen. For those of you that haven’t been watching, a frustrated Gordon calls in his favor with Penguin to help him get reinstated and back into the mix. Penguin being The Penguin, accomplishes this by threatening Commissioner Loeb into retiring. Sadly, the new Commissioner is dead within a week, at the hand of Jerome the leader of the Maniax. Jerome meets his fate in the third episode, ‘The Last Laugh’, murdered by his mentor Galavan in a grand public relations move to establish himself as a hero, and in the process saving Bruce’s life.
It’s important to note that Jerome, played by Cameron Monaghan, was a glorious bit of misdirection, and although he will not become the Joker, his legacy will still be murder and madness. Monaghan’s portrayal of Jerome was brilliant and gave audiences a clever pastiche of the comic, Mark Hamill, and Cesar Romero. His uncanny performance divided many fans of the show, and I applaud the showrunners for taking larger risks with Gotham than just handing the audience excellent Joker cosplay. That being said, I’m still undecided if introducing stylistic antecedents to The Joker hurts the character by undercutting his uniqueness in the world of Gotham, or adds a layer of authenticity to their world building.
The latest episode, “The Task Force,” focuses on the new Captain Nathaniel Barnes and his relationship with Jim Gordon as they work to create their own elite unit of law enforcers to rival the Maniax. Barnes makes an impressive first appearance in the police station by breaking a chair and publicly dismissing a number of corrupt cops in front of the force. But Bullock doesn’t think Barnes’ direct approach will work for Gotham, and pulls Gordon aside to warn him of the twists, turns, and dead-ends of Gotham.
Galavan summons the Penguin for a meeting, and the Penguin realizes that this is the new player behind the Arkham breakout and the murder of Commissioner Essen. Then Galavan reveals his master plan, to become Mayor and facilitate a real estate grab. Is this in the grand DC tradition, or is it a feint? Only time will tell if there is more to this than an echo of Lex Luthor’s cinematic machinations.
The Penguin refuses to play the part of city destroyer and hired murderer, but Galavan has leverage in the form of poor Miss Cobblepot chained to a bed in an undisclosed location. Now, in order to assure her safety, Penguin must kill the candidates that oppose Galavan in his pursuit of the Mayor’s office, and stage a failed attack on Galavan.
Barnes calls Gordon to the Police Academy to enlist him in the creation of a Task Force of like minded and incorruptible soldiers to turn the tide of crime in Gotham. We are introduced to the four members of the task force: a scrappy lady pugilist, an athlete determined to take back the streets, the best shot in the academy,and a man with personal reasons to stand against crime. United as the Alpha Strike Force reporting directly to Gordon, they like Barnes represent a new commitment to change.
Galavan receives the Gotham Medal of Valour when an attempt is made on his life as he addresses the press. Without missing a beat, Galavan announces his run for Mayor. Meanwhile, The Penguin murders one of the competing candidates. She implores him to spare her because she is a mother, and Penguin reminds her and the audience that he too has a mother.
Bruce and Alfred make their first appearance late in this episode at Bruce’s school, where Alfred warns Selena to keep her distance after slapping her across the face. Seems Alfred hasn’t forgiven her for the death of his old friend/attempted murderer Reggie. We go from child abuse to Alfred leaving young Bruce with running clothes and instructions to run home. Bruce’s training has begun and he’s been isolated from his only friend, who is a cat burglar, but still his only friend.
Gordon and Bullock investigate the murder of the mayoral candidate, and the task force is set in motion to save the remaining candidate. Who needs all the assistance he can get, since Penguin has sent the relentless Zsasz to eliminate him. There is a satisfying game of cat and mouse as Zsasz picks off the candidate’s team, only to be denied the final kill by Gordon and the task force. Zsasz asserts himself as the standout badass of the show by escaping the stand off after fighting the task force to a stand still.
Bruce has lunch with Galavan, who insinuates himself as a mentor and introduces his beautiful ward Silver. It’s important to note that Galavan takes an unusual interest in the death of Bruce’s parents, decrying the lack of leads produced by the GCPD. Methinks this slimy corporate sociopath played a part in the orphaning of Bruce. Hopefully, Lucius Fox can fix the computer Alfred destroyed and we can get some answers in the upcoming episodes.
Throughout the episode a small subplot involving Edward giving into the voice in his head and landing a date with his office amor unfolded. We were treated to the adorable food preparation of the vulnerable Mr. Nigma as he awaited his date, who was surprised to realize that Chez Moi is his apartment and not a restaurant. After a brief slip up where he speaks of her missing ex as a dead man, things turn around and Ed enjoys a sure to be tragic kiss.
Gordon confronts Penguin about the Mayoral Murders and warns him about the task force, claiming he can no longer help him. But Penguin knows that Gordon is worried about their complicity being revealed, and assures Gordon that if he goes down they both go down.
The episode ends with a triumphant Galavan, the task force assigned to take down The Penguin, and Mrs. Cobblepot still missing.
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