After a first season full of ups and downs, Gotham has somewhat reinvented itself for its sophomore year. In some ways, it’s much more over-the-top and in other ways, quite a bit more toned down. The overall effect of this reinvention remains to be seen, but for right now, things seem to be doing pretty well. There’s a very clear bigger picture at the moment that was absent for the most part in season one.
Not only do we have the players assembling for power behind the scenes, but that’s married with the fallout of a classic Arkham breakout. Everything is more heightened in this season so far, everything is more over-the-top and outrageous. Gotham has clearly elected to embrace its comic book roots which is surprising considering the gritty tone that it attempted (and, for the most part, failed) to capture in the first year.
But there were as many selling points for season one as there were problems. Gotham has featured some excellent character work from the beginning, even if there are too many of them.
Bruce’s development has been the most interesting to me since the pilot, which was the last thing I was expecting. David Mazouz is honestly one of my favorite actors to ever play the part of Bruce Wayne, showcasing him during the one time of his development that has never truly been explored on film. We’ve seen so much of Bruce training to be Batman in Batman Begins, to explore Bruce as he decides to be Batman is just as fascinating. The relationship between Bruce and Alfred on this show is fantastic, which is why it’s such a great surprise when this episode almost opens with Bruce firing Alfred for destroying his father’s research.
Cameron Monaghan provides all the necessary cheese as the villainous Jerome, leading a band of escaped inmates. It’s clear by now that the character is the Joker, so there’s really no reason to keep him out of the costume or makeup. That might be my only real issue with this character: there’s no build-up or transformation. Ideally, the Joker should take as long to develop as Bruce.
Having said that, Monaghan’s take is a refreshing one, sadistic but separated from the grit of Heath Ledger or even what it looks like Leto will bring to the role. This incarnation is very close to the comic book Joker, a living cartoon one moment and a vicious monster the next. He can be both at once, too, as evidenced in the scene where he’s spraying a bus full of cheerleaders down with gasoline and asks them if they have a light.
The Maniax takeover of the police station was a great, suspenseful set piece and truly showed the danger and consequence that this season seems to be setting up. Jerome is in top sinister form and proves to be lethal as we’re quickly treated to the shocking death of a main cast member.
Surprisingly enough, Barbara’s turn to villainy actually makes her a less interesting character. The acting’s always been somewhat wishy-washy on her part, but she was at her best in the first season when she was the betrayed, ignored love interest with a past she couldn’t even get her partner to care about until it was too late. Their decision to take her to extremes is interesting, but also unnecessary. She was best when she was understated.
Overall, the episode seems to be a very focused attempt to change the course of the show to embrace the campy nature it sort of fell into by default during season one. If done correctly, this could prove to be a good thing, although it certainly will be far removed from the show people were expecting Gotham to be.