Gotham Season 2 Review
***This review will contain spoilers for Gotham. You have been warned.***
There are a lot of TV shows based on comic books, but none are more polarizing than Gotham. This origin story has had a lot of Batman purists fuming with all of the liberties it takes with the source material, but its first season actually proved to be a pretty fun ride. Season 1 focused a lot on Gotham City’s crime bosses (Carmine Falcone, Sal Maroni, Fish Mooney) and managed to stay within the realm of possibility. There were a few outlandish super villains, but nothing that seemed too unbelievable. This season basically says screw that noise and goes batshit crazy (pun intended).
Let’s start with the good. One of the biggest improvements this season was that all of the episodes felt more connected. Last season usually followed the basic “villain of the week” formula, but this season chose to focus on two main villains. The first 11 episodes were all about Theo Galavan coming to Gotham and promising to help make it a better place. He becomes a shoo-in for mayor when Mayor James goes missing, but Detective Gordon isn’t sure he can be trusted. Spoiler alert: he can’t be trusted. It turns out Galavan is part of a cult family that wants to destroy the Wayne family’s legacy by murdering Bruce Wayne. James Frain is properly smarmy as Galavan and the idea of having a trustworthy and beloved mayor as the bad guy definitely made things interesting. These are the types of stories I’d like to see more of on Gotham.
Of course, every villain needs henchmen and Theo Galavan had plenty. The biggest fan favorite of the season was Jerome Valeska, who is assumed to be a young Joker. We were introduced to him last season, but this was the first time we really got to see him in action. Cameron Monaghan had the role down pat, evil laugh and all, until he was prematurely killed off. We see that his reign of terror inspires other Gotham residents to go mad with laughter, but poor Jerome isn’t mentioned much after that. This comes as a surprise considering all of the other deceased characters who make a return.
That’s right, the second half of the season introduces reanimation to the Gotham universe. Professor Hugo Strange secretly creates “monsters” in the basement of Arkham Asylum and a few familiar faces make their return. Theo Galavan comes back as Azrael, which hardcore Batman fans will no doubt have a big problem with. Jada Pinkett Smith also returns as Fish Mooney, which just about everyone has had a problem with. Personally, Mooney never bothered me too much in the first season. Jada Pinkett may overact and the character is a little silly, but I always thought it worked well. That being said, I’m not sure why they decided to bring her back. Fish Mooney isn’t in the comics and she already served her purpose in the show. There just isn’t really a need for her at this point. On top of that, she now has super powers? It all seems highly unnecessary.
The entire Hugo Strange storyline has become this show’s downfall. BD Wong is entertaining as Strange, but things get tricky when you start bringing dead characters back to life. It makes it seem like the whole first season was for nothing and now there are no stakes. It’s a problem that plagues so many superhero properties and it’s now become a staple on Gotham. It’s a shame because some of the show’s best characters were kicked to the curb for large periods of time. Robin Lord Taylor has been a standout as The Penguin since day one, but the latter half of this season had him sitting on the sidelines. It’s almost like the writers weren’t sure what to do with him, so he just comes in to exact revenge on people whenever it’s convenient. We do get to see Paul Reubens reprise his Batman Returns role as Penguin’s father, which made for a nice guest spot and let Taylor really show off his acting chops. It would’ve been nice to see him get in on the action some more, but at least they threw us a bone by letting him blow Galavan up with a rocket launcher.
We do get to spend a lot of time with Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma, better known as The Riddler. Nygma was nothing more than the quirky, riddle-obsessed coworker last season, but it didn’t take long for him to start blowing up trains and burying bodies in the woods. Smith is a master at playing both the timid Nygma and the manic Riddler. He becomes more of a caricature near the end of the season, but the show definitely picks up whenever he’s onscreen. The same can be said for our protagonist, Jim Gordon. Ben McKenzie continues to shine as the former detective/future commissioner and this season explored a whole new side to him. This city has turned him into a much darker character. He still wants to do the right thing, but he doesn’t care what it takes to do so.
All of the supporting players deliver solid performances as well. Playing Bruce Wayne is no simple task, especially when you don’t ever get to hide behind the mask of his alter ego. Say what you will about how Gotham treats the Batman mythology, but David Mazouz is exactly what you’d expect a young Bruce Wayne to be. His chemistry with Sean Pertwee (who gives a very underrated performance as Alfred Pennyworth) is undeniable. When it’s all said and done, this could end up being the best Bruce/Alfred relationship we’ve ever seen onscreen. Camren Bicondova also makes for a great Selina Kyle. She can be a little too rough-and-tumble at times, but it’s not hard to see how this girl could grow up to be Catwoman. Michael Chiklis is gruff as Captain Barnes, but his presence alone seems to elevate the show.
As much as I love the cast and as great as the first half of the season was, the last few episodes were entirely too goofy. I mentioned all of the unnecessary resurrections and Fish Mooney’s newly discovered powers, but the season finale introduced even more outrageous ideas. Nearly half of the episode shows Clayface doing a bad impersonation of Jim Gordon while his friends somehow remain completely oblivious. Meanwhile, Hugo Strange is injecting the real Gordon with “truth serum” to find out what he knows. We’re just one unshaven mustache and a can of shark repellent away from Adam West’s Batman. Let’s hope they reign it in next season, but with Fish Mooney and a Bruce Wayne-impersonating monster on the loose, it seems highly unlikely.