For an episode entitled “Selina Kyle,” we didn’t really get to see a whole lot of the girl that will become Gotham City’s notorious Catwoman.
Still, though, I think the second episode of Fox’s “Gotham” was, overall, a better episode of TV than the first. There were a lot of really solid moments in this one, whether it was watching Harvey Bullock beat an accessory to child kidnapping with a phone book, Selina describing to a fellow juvie-bound kid how to “go for their eyes,” Oswald Cobblepot trying his hand at the classic crime of ransom, or a young Bruce Wayne “testing himself,” there were quite a few moments here that felt like more genuine examples of a pre-Batman Gotham City than we got out of the pilot episode.
Still, though, the overall tone of “Gotham” seems very imbalanced, largely owing to this episode’s primary antagonists: agents of a villain calling himself the “Dollmaker” — whom New 52 comics fans will remember as the person who helped remove the Joker’s face in the closing moments of 2011’s Detective Comics #1. While in one corner of this show we’re seeing a young boy that endured severe mental trauma willfully causing himself pain with fire and sharp objects and drawing garish images while listening to hard rock, in another corner you have two people with an “aw shucks” attitude (and language to match) giving a cartoony layer to a heinous crime. Thankfully the episode is given a greater focus with Gordon and Bullock’s budding partnership, and the conflict alluded to in the pilot is already starting to pay off.
Ben McKenzie looks a bit more comfortable in his skin here than he did in the pilot, and Donal Logue’s brand of cynicism and “chaotic neutral” attitude is paying some fun character dividends and giving true life to Harvey Bullock. David Mazouz turns in another solid performance as Bruce Wayne, though some of his dialogue seemed a little unfitting in the moment where Gordon pays him a visit, at least for the age he is right now. Camren Bicondova has her first substantive dialogue in this episode, and at this point, it looks like Selina Kyle — or “Cat” as she frustratingly likes to be referred to — has been very solidly cast. Everything from her attitude, her disdain for authority, and her outwardly reserved and self-interested demeanor help paint a clear picture of the woman she will become.
The same can be said of Robin Lord Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot, though he’s a little too willing to get his hands dirty. Then again, the crime lord that I know probably had to start climbing the ladder somehow. The slight allusion to Cobblepot’s mother also seems taken from one of my favorite comics series from 2011, Gregg Hurwitz’s terrific character exploration Penguin: Pain and Prejudice. And again, Cory Michael Smith makes for a very solid Edward Nygma, even with another limited appearance.
Overall, though, these early episodes of “Gotham” are still hampered by two competing visions of what it wants to be. Thankfully, the allusions to the futures of the various characters were more muted, but the original characters (which don’t have the benefit of 75 years of history in other media) seem unfocused, with the sole exception of Jada Pinkett-Smith’s “Fish Mooney.” While “Gotham” is a beautiful show, showrunner Bruno Heller still needs to make a decision about the kind of show he wants to make: a cartoony crime show with overly garish characters laden with winks of fan service, or a serious and focused effort to tell the story of an evolving city and the formation of its future heavy-hitters, and its ultimate redeemers: Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and Bruce Wayne. 7.5/10
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