“Sometimes the right way is also the ugly way.”
Gotham and its citizens are in a state of transition, which leaves room for weakness and vulnerability, even among the strongest and most morally secure characters we know and love. And with the series’ new tagline for season 2, “Rise of the Villains,” it seems pretty clear that this vulnerability is about to become a huge asset for anyone with a nefarious enough plan. The quote above goes hand-in-hand with how quickly the virtuous characters on Gotham can fall into darkness to get justice, but once that line is crossed how easy is it to keep falling down the rabbit hole? That’s the question I’m hoping the series will attempt to answer as the season progresses. Unfortunately right now I’m slowly coming to a similar (though not as confident) conclusion as my colleague Jeff Jensen’s assessment of Gotham season 2 thus far: It’s all a bit redundant.
The season 2 premiere wastes no time in picking back up exactly where the season 1 finale left off, with Bruce and Alfred discovering a secret staircase to Thomas Wayne’s big secret. But of course, all Bruce finds is a giant door with a password lock. Bruce tries all kinds of combinations and walks back in frustration after Alfred plays Captain Obvious by telling him that there are a million different combos they could try. While that’s very true, what child in his right mind wouldn’t try his own name when attempting to crack a parents’ password? Isn’t that almost always the right answer, aside from actually using the word “password”?
Flash-forward to one month later and Detective James Gordon has now been relegated to traffic duty. It’s a thankless, degrading job for someone who is so determined to clean up the city, but as a diehard cop, Gordon would never be able to live with not being in the law enforcement, no matter how thankless the job. Silver lining: Gordon is still with Leslie and things seem to be chugging along strong in that front despite Gordon’s obvious frustration with his current career situation. Unlike Gordon, Bullock has no real fire to continue fighting his way back onto the force. Instead he has quit and become a bartender as the scene cuts to someone who has gotten their greatest wish in life: Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot. The man who so loudly and confidently shouted he was the “King of Gotham” in the season 1 finale was accurate; he really is the king of crime, with Butch and Victor firmly by his side as number 2 lackeys. Penguin clearly could not be happier with his new position, and he’s certainly going to milk it for all it’s worth.
We also see Barbara settling into her new home among her fellow criminally insane inmates at Arkham Asylum including Jerome and Richard Sionis, a story line so far from her role in the DC universe that I have to wonder if the writers are trying to turn Gordon’s old flame into a Harley Quinn-type villain just to pull one over on Batman comics fans (aside from the whole loving Joker thing). Unfortunately for Barbara her arc in season 1 was to service the plot progression and nothing has really changed so far in season 2. But crazy is an interesting color on her, so I’m intrigued at the present.
Just three minutes or so in, we already get a glimpse of our Big Bad for the season: James Frain’s Theo Galavan. Now the billionaire’s name is not plastered all over the comics, but it’s likely safe to assume that his plans for Gotham will appear similar to some other villain of his stature from the source material. For now we see Galavan begin his sinister program. He gives a lowly, rather ridiculous villain, Zaardon the Soul Reaper, a vial of blue liquid to drink and go off to conquer some souls, or whatever he wants to do. It’s all rather ridiculous, but that’s the point. Zaardon encounters Gordon at a traffic stop to wreak havoc on unsuspecting victims, but Gordon rather easily disarms the man without any excess violence. If you’re thinking this quick of an arrest is obviously suspect, you are absolutely correct. But of course, no one wants to suspect the makings of an evil master plan over the likelihood of just some crazy guy with a lot of random weapons, so Zaardon is taken into custody and awaits a shift to Arkham.
Unfortunately Gordon’s quick thinking and lack of needless violence doesn’t get him a commendation as Essen believes he deserves. No, he pushed a fellow officer when the guy showed up late for work and Commissioner Loeb seizes this opportunity to give Gordon the punishment he’s been waiting to give for months. Essen stands against Loeb (in a moment that made my blood boil as Loeb silences her with the utmost disrespect, “That’s enough young lady”), but it’s too late. Gordon is fired. Loeb is clearly having trouble hiding his glee and relief here, but that doesn’t last long as Gordon gets in Loeb’s face and threatens him. “I told you I’d break you. I will.” Oh my Ben McKenzie, is that a little Ryan Atwood I see? You can take the man out of Chino and stick him in Gotham, but you can’t take the Chino out of the man.
NEXT: Edward Nygma continues his descent into madness[pagebreak]
Before giving up his badge and gun, Gordon makes a little bathroom trip and runs into Edward, who is pretty terrible at hiding his growing inner madness. As soon as Gordon leaves for Essen’s office, Edward’s reflection taunts him, saying that everyone will think he’s going nuts (when the shoe fits), and then tells him they need some romance. Edward’s rage is becoming more and more noticeable, especially as his reflection relays Edward’s hidden fantasies about Kristen Kringle. Edward walks away in a panic as his reflection laughs back. Out of all the villainous arcs we witness in the season 2 premiere, I find Edward’s slow burn into the Riddler more and more intriguing by the minute.
Gordon talks with Lee about leaving G.C.P.D “with a bang” and realizes that his only move back in is not all that legal. The time has finally come for Gordon to visit Penguin and walk the morally gray line back to the path of justice. Lee can’t understand why Gordon wants to “keep beating [his] head against the wall,” but in Gordon’s mind it’s simple. He’s a cop. End of story. So down that dark path he goes to visit the Penguin, who already seems to know what’s going on in Gordon’s mind before he has the chance to say it. Penguin is ready to give Gordon what he wants: his old job back and the removal of Loeb. But this is Gotham and this is a crime boss, so clearly Gordon has to return the favor before the original favor can even be paid: Penguin asks Gordon to go collect money from club owner Ogden Barker, who refuses to pay Penguin the debt he owed to Falcone. Gordon immediately says no and stands up to leave, but not without telling Selina Kyle — who is now astonishingly Penguin’s lackey (or his cat as he calls her) — to be good. Penguin tells Gordon not to make his decision already, but in Gordon’s mind it’s too late. He can’t sacrifice his own moral compass for the chance to save the city as a cop. Visiting Bullock at the bar seems to both strengthen and weaken this resolve as he sees that some people just can’t make it through the tough fight ahead for justice.
But oh how quickly this moral compass disappears when Gordon goes to visit Bruce and Alfred, who have been working all this time to open Thomas’ secret door to the potential bat cave. Gordon apologizes to Bruce for not being able to keep his promise of finding the man who murdered Thomas and Martha. Bruce immediately accepts, but then turns to ask why Gordon is willing to sacrifice the chance to save the city for his own personal dignity and reputation. Alfred tries to silence Bruce, but he keeps pushing the subject. At this point it seems as though Gordon didn’t just come for an apology, he seemingly wanted Bruce to sway him toward that path.
And that’s all it takes as Gordon makes his way to Ogden Barker’s office demanding Penguin’s money. He takes insult after insult as Barker calls him “Penguin’s bitch” and deems him a crooked cop, but when Barker threatens him, Gordon finally retaliates by taking away his weapon and stealing the cash. He runs off with the money and is chased into an empty parking lot, where Barker appears and Gordon has to shoot him dead to save himself. He arrives at Penguin’s office with the money and realizes that the new crime lord knew what would happen with Barker. Penguin says he’ll clean up the mess and help Gordon avoid any investigation (which probably means he now owes Penguin another favor), and that he’ll take care of Gordon’s Loeb problem.
If there’s one positive thing we can say right now about Penguin, it’s that he is following through on his favors for Gordon. He and Victor break into Loeb’s house, behead his guard and threaten him into retiring. Essen is named commissioner and Gordon is reinstated as the two vow to work together and finally tackle the big problem of cleaning up the city. Of course all this celebration has a dark shadow cast upon it as it’s pretty clear that both Gordon and Lee are disappointed in what Gordon had to do to get his job back. But we’ll see if that tension heightens as the season progresses.
Meanwhile Gordon’s former lover is still getting acclimated to her surroundings and fellow inmates. She first encounters Jerome, a.k.a. pre-Joker, who tells her that she needs a friend in this hellhole if she wants to survive. After making her choice, Jerome tells her that his friend, Richard, is a much more convenient associate to have on her side as he can get things for her. Barbara visits with Richard to get a phone and he uses the old pig-headed standby of soliciting some romance for the privileges he can provide. Barbara’s first call is of course to Gordon; she tries to convince him that Lee was the one who attacked her and that she never revealed that she killed her own parents. Gordon tells her not to call again, so she calls Lee and tells her “I hope you die screaming, bitch.” Well isn’t that a pleasant voicemail to leave. Finally Zaardon the Soul Reaper makes his way to Arkham with Jerome, Barbara, Richard, and many others watching him monologue like the lunatic he clearly is, until suddenly a blue gas appears out of his mouth to which all the inmates fall unconscious. Like clockwork, Tabitha Galavan bursts through the Arkham doors and rescues Barbara, Jerome, Richard, Aaron, and Robert to take as prisoners back to Theo.
Theo tells them that they have a wonderful future ahead of them with lots of power if they work together as a villainous unit. When Theo seems to flirt with Barbara, Richard gets possessive and tells Theo his plan isn’t going to work because he doesn’t take orders. He offers Theo money in exchange for his freedom, but Theo instead tells him to leave. Richard tries to take Barbara with him, but Tabitha brutally kills him instead. Welp, fear is a good motivator apparently.
While all this action is taking place, Bruce is — where else? — still at his mansion, and he builds a bomb with Alfred to open Thomas’ secret door into Thomas’ secret room. The plan succeeds and Bruce enters a dusty old bomb shelter-looking room to find old computers and a note addressed to Bruce. Thomas writes that being a father has made him try and be a better man and this made him start asking “the hard questions about the family business.” (It’s clear that Thomas’ growing paranoia was accurate as he was indeed later killed.) But he tells Bruce at the end of the note that one cannot have happiness and the truth. He has to choose. “I beg of you my son, please choose happiness, unless you feel a calling. A true calling.” Batman begins?