Gotham S02E01 “Damned If You Do…” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Channel 5, Mondays, 9pm
Writer: Bruno Heller
Director: Danny Cannon
Essential Plot Points
- Previously on Gotham: The Waynes killed! Commissioner Loeb! Baby Joker! Barbara goes mad! Penguin goes to the top! SECRET CAVE BENEATH STATELY WAYNE MANOR!
- And we’re off!
- At Wayne Manor, Alfred and Bruce discover a set of stairs leading down to a key-locked door. They try the keypad but can’t open it.
- Bullock is tending bar. In doing so, he carefully wipes the bar down, lifts a drunk off it, wipes under and keeps going. Welcome back, Harv. We’ve missed you.
- Penguin is welcoming someone new to the fold… just long enough for Zsaz to execute them.
- Barbara walks into Arkham to begin her stay and all eyes are on her.
- Jim gets dressed for work in his new position working traffic.
- Elsewhere, a man in improvised armour is fed a curious liquid by someone we can’t see.
- The man arrives at Jim’s traffic stop, proclaims himself ZAARDON THE SOUL REAPER! And proceeds to cause very incompetent havoc. Jim takes him down and arrests him. In doing so he shoves his replacement, late on shift.
- At the station Jim books Zaardon and chats briefly with Edward Nygma. He doesn’t pick up on how nervous the scientist is before being called to Captain Essen’s office. Edward’s other personality berates him from the mirror and he leaves, trying to block it out.
- Commissioner Loeb has received a complaint of assault from Jim’s relief, the man he shoved earlier. Essen argues for her officer but Loeb insists he be dismissed. Jim accepts, thanks Essen for the chance to work with her, shakes Loeb’s hand and vows to bring him down.
- Later that night, Leslie and Jim talk. She’s relieved Jim is off the Force but he can’t let it go. He admits there’s something he can do, which would be outside the law, to get his job back. She tries to reason with him but sees he’s obsessed.
- In Arkham, Sionis has taken a fancy to Barbara and sends Jerome over to talk to her. The young psychopath explains she needs a friend and a bored, annoyed, Barbara gets the biggest man in the room on her side in under a minute.
- At Penguin’s offices, Jim arrives to ask for a favour. Penguin welcomes him and sends his coterie, aside from Selina, away. He explains exactly what Jim wants without the former cop having to say a thing. He’ll get Jim reinstated, and all he has to do is collect a debt for Penguin. Jim refuses and leaves.
- He goes and gets drunk at Bullock, who’s been sober for a month. His former partner points out what a good man he is and that he’s happy off the force. Jim embraces him and goes to see Bruce, who he apologises to for not being able to fulfil his promise. Bruce, clearly a little angry and distracted by the secret door, coldly forgives him and also points out that sometimes the right way is the ugly way. Then rushes to the secret door as soon as Jim’s left.
- Back at Arkham, Barbara asks Sionis for a phone.
- Jim goes to collect Penguin’s debt. It goes horribly, badly. In short order he’s threatened, assaults three men, robs the man he came to collect from, flees the scene, narrowly avoids being arrested by former employees and shoots (albeit in self defence) the man he just stole from.
- This bothers him. A LOT.
- MEANWHILE! BACK AT STATELY WAYNE MANOR! Bruce is building a fertiliser bomb. Extremely badly. Alfred tries to reason with him but finally gives in and helps. As well as putting the kettle on.
- Gordon hands the money to Penguin, disgusted at the realisation he was set up. Penguin denies it, almost sincerely, and Jim returns home. Where Barbara calls him, and then Leslie. Leslie suggests they leave the city and that nothing is keeping them there. Jim admits he did something bad and they can’t leave.
- Commissioner Loeb wakes up to find Penguin and Zsaz in his house. Penguin, in the episode’s best scene, has both sides of the conversation with the commissioner. He ultimately concludes the only way Loeb will give him what he wants is to kill him and forces Loeb to accept the alternative: retirement.
- The next day, Essen is sworn in as new Commissioner and Jim is reinstated. At the ceremony, Theo Galavan, a major new civic figure in Gotham gives a speech. But unknown to everyone, he’s the one who gave ZAARDON THE SOUL REAPER! The potion.
- And speaking of ZAARDON THE SOUL REAPER! He’s admitted to Arkham, picks a fight, passes out, belches knock-out gas and dies. It turns out Galavan, a gifted scientist, set him up as an elaborate stun grenade for Barbara, Jerome, Sionis and co. They’re knocked out and a mercenary team storms the Asylum and rescues them.
- At the ceremony, Essen assures Jim they’ll do good work together. And, seconds later, he learns that Barbara has escaped.
- The inmates come round in Galavan’s penthouse. There he introduces himself and his sister – who led the rescue – and tells them he has a plan. They will be a team of masterminds who will bring chaos to Gotham. Sionis refuses to participate, offers to buy his way out and is killed. The others are all in.
- MEANWHILE! BACK AT STATELY WAYNE MANOR BOMB SCHOOL!
- The fertiliser bomb is done. Alfred and Bruce hide, detonate it and the door is blown off its hinges. They step through into a cave filled with dusty computers. Bruce finds a letter from his father that implores him to choose happiness unless he has a calling. As he reads it, we see Gordon suiting up to go back to work…
Gotham had a big problem last season: it had no idea what it wanted to be. The wild, feverish camp-with-added-blood approach worked sometimes. A hard-bitten police procedural worked others. Nothing worked, or was on screen, for very long. Most egregiously, it horribly fumbled the ball with Barbara Kean, Jim Gordon’s doomed fiancé.
This, howwver, is the best episode of Gotham to date. The reason is simple: it’s still feverish and changes gear a lot. But now it’s having fun with it.
The Bruce plot is a perfect example. Its classic adolescent whining, and some glorious sass too, mixed with real poignancy and mystery. Bruce is a child in a situation adults would find horrific and the tragedy of it is Alfred is utterly unequipped to help. Even better is the fact Alfred is trying to do the right thing in raising the boy and realises he should be doing the ugly thing, and helping him find out the truth. It’s subtle, clever, weird and involves a fertiliser bomb and the world’s most obvious code, all at once.
The Jim plot is much the same. We sprint through him being fired, turning criminal and being restated in a single episode. It all makes narrative sense too, with the notable exception of the world’s least successful smash and grab. As mentioned below, that’s a low point for the character and the show really needs to come back to it in later episodes. Jim Gordon, the paragon of virtue in the GCPD is also now an armed robber. That distinction should be uncomfortable and for a long time.
There’s some other fun stuff going on here, especially a great Penguin and Zsaz scene but the real highlight is Barbara. Who knew that would ever happen? From the moment she walks into Arkham like she’s dressed for a premier, she owns every scene. Brilliant, bored and angry she’s immensely fun and signifies the show’s first stable tone. She, Sionis, Jerome and the rest are the villains from a classic Adam West episode. The only difference is in the present day they’re both broad, exuberant characters and terrifying villains. They also clearly can’t wait to cause some havoc and their maniacal energy powers the whole episode.
Something big has come to Gotham, and there’s going to be a hot time in the old town before it’s done. In other words, Gotham’s back and this time, Gotham is embracing its… issues, just like Barbara. And, just like Barbara, it’s ready to cause some trouble.
- “Zaardon, that spelt how it sounds?” “Two As.” This episode is really funny, always on purpose too. I love this little exchange.
- “May I ask why? Police work in Gotham is such a thankless job?” “Good pension.” This one too. The perfect summation of Jim’s gravelly manliness and Penguin’s cheerful sociopathy
- “I’m sober. I have a woman who does not dislike me. I live in a house…” Aim high, Harv!
- “Surely sometimes the right way is also the ugly way.” Such a lovely turn of phrase and the axis the entire episode revolves around. Do a bad thing to get something good later and hopefully it’ll take the red off your ledger.
- “You don’t know the first thing about bomb making do ya?” “I READ A BOOK, ALFRED! IT SEEMS SIMPLE ENOUGH!” This entire exchange is glorious but this the best line.
- “And I’ll put the kettle on.” Best Butler EVER.
- “Sexual jealousy always poisons the well.” We don’t get much from Galavan this episode but this line promises much in the future. He’s clever and has tried this before. Interesting to see how this latest… erm… Suicide–ish Squad plays out.
- “You can’t have both happiness and the truth.” That should be the city motto.
- The episode looks GORGEOUS! Cannon makes every frame sing and the slightly wobbly feel Gotham had last year is replaced with something that looks like an explosion in an art deco factory. Hurray!
- Barbara’s evil makeover is immense fun. Yes it’s over-the-top but it ties into the “Adam West Batman but soaked with blood” vibe the show is playing with. Plus, after a year of having to suffer frequently terrible writing of her character, Erin Richards seems to be relishing cutting loose.
- The episode is frequently very funny in the exact, jet-black, off-centre way that it seemed to aim for but rarely hit last year.
- Ben Mackenzie. He’s the anchor of the show, he’s playing a man who’s trying to be good and frequently being anything but and he’s nailing it. Just an amazing central turn.
- Jim Gordon just killed a man. A LOT. Probably on surveillance footage. Whilst running from his property with money he stole for Gotham’s new mob boss. It’s EPISODE ONE of season two. Jim is obviously going to fall a long way before he gets back up. But honestly I’m not entirely sure how much lower they can go. Here’s hoping there’s consequences to his actions this week. If nothing else Penguin has dirt on him now.
- I choose to believe that the always-excellent Todd Stashwick as Richard Sionis was killed off so he can go be in 12 Monkeys season two lots.
- Alfred getting all cockney every time he gets agitated is adorable. I especially liked the, “GET IN!” when the bomb worked.
- Danny Cannon’s a hell of a director with a hell of a pedigree. As well as making every shot in this episode look brilliant he wrote and directed the superb Young Americans in in 1993. Two years later he directed the first Judge Dredd movie which probably makes him persona non grata to some people. That’s their loss because since then Cannon’s directed and produced for the CSI franchise, co-created Dark Blue, worked on Nikita and Alcatraz and currently serves as an executive producer on Gotham.
- Bruno Heller co-created and wrote a vast chunk of the HBO series Rome, which gave us the bloodiest version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ever in Vorenus and Pullo. He’s also the creator of The Mentalist as well as Gotham.
- James Frain is one of the best, and prolific, villain actors of his generation. Throw a rock and it’ll hit a TV show he’s been in including the likes of Spartacus, 24, Lie To Me, Flashpoint, True Blood, The Cape and most recently a memorable turn as Leet Brannis in early episodes of Agent Carter.
- Jessica Lucas has a series of excellent performances in movies to her name, with Cloverfield being the particular standout. She was also great in the Evil Dead remake and has done good work on TV too in the likes of CSI, The L Word, Melrose Place and most recently Gracepoint.
- David Fierro, who has a memorable cameo here as ZAARDON THE SOUL REAPER! is one of those character actors who turns up everywhere. You’ve seen him in The Blacklist, Birdman, Blue Bloods and Side Effects amongst others.
Review by Alasdair Stuart