Gotham S02E04 “Strike Force” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Channel 5, Mondays, 10pm
Writer: Danny Cannon
Directors: TJ Scott
Essential Plot Points:
- Penguin is holding court and it looks FABULOUS. Like a Duran Duran video exploded inside a Mad Max knock-off. He demands to know who was responsible for recent events and decrees that no one undergoes any major criminal activity without checking with him first. As the meeting disperses, Tabitha Galavan, probably grateful to be in more than one scene this week, tells him her brother would like to chat…
- At the GCPD Gordon is yelling at a corrupt cop. Must be any day of the week, ever. The argument is disrupted when Captain Nathaniel Barnes arrives, breaks a chair, screams at the cops and tells everyone that if they don’t feel ashamed now is their chance to quit.
- No one quits.
- Barnes reads out the names of the officers he knows are corrupt and Harv visibly looks for exits. Barnes reads out six names, none of them Harv, lines them up and fires them. When one cop resists, Barnes arrests him inside his own precinct.
- He then calls Gordon into his office and explains he’s also ex-military. He makes Gordon his second in command and tells him they’re going to clean up Gotham. Gordon is super pumped about this. Harv, we suspect, less so.
- With the mayor and deputy mayor both varying flavours of dead or in the wind, an election is needed. We see Theo Galavan watching a news cast that mentions the two other candidates – Janice Caulfield and Randall Hobbs – but says the election is really about him. He is of course delighted.
- He’s even more delighted when Tabitha, now in two whole scenes and counting, shows up with Penguin. They chat and Galavan unveils his plan for Gotham.
- Which looks a surprising amount like Delta City from RoboCop.
- Penguin, who’s seen those movies, points out that the new development involves bulldozing residential homes.
- Galavan agrees and asks him to be his executioner, murdering the other mayoral candidates so he can stand unopposed. Penguin refuses, showing rare and honestly touching civic pride in his horrific Dante’s inferno of a city.
- Tabitha points out that they have Penguin’s mother. Penguin agrees, reluctantly, to do it.
- Leigh answers the phone the next morning to Captain Barnes. He asks for Jim, tells Gordon to meet him at the Police Academy and reassures him that “everyone knows he’s banging the ME”. This is a thing that happens.
- At the Academy, Barnes tells Jim his plan; a new Strike Force of fresh recruits who haven’t been tarred by the city. Along with one of Gordon’s old training officers, they interview a group of elite recruits. Barnes names them Strike Force Alpha and places them under Gordon’s command. There is obviously nothing that can go wrong here.
- Galavan gives a press conference and is asked to run for mayor. He’s halfway through denying to when a driveby hurtles past and he saves everyone. Galavan almost literally says, “Oh, okay then…” and the campaign is on.
- Elsewhere, Penguin murders Caulfield at her campaign headquarters. It’s a nasty, off-kilter scene. But Butch being avuncular and threatening to her staff is kind of nice.
- MEANWHILE AT GOTHAM PREP! Alfred is waiting for Bruce. As is Selina. Until Alfred slaps her for killing his mate Reggie last season. He, disappointingly, does not tell her to sling her hook but the intent is clear.
- Splendidly, Alfred hands Bruce his PE kit and tells him to run home. After all, they are training again…
- Nygma agonises over asking Kringle out. Again. He then asks her out.
- Barnes gives the Strike Force a pep talk. Gordon is totally pumped. Harv could not be less pumped. The GCPD get word that Caulfield is dead and roll out to the crime scene. There, Gordon intimidates a witness and they finally get a description that’s clearly Penguin.
- Elsewhere, Galavan takes Bruce out to dinner and promises to help him investigate the murder of his parents. He also all but promises him his ward, Silver St Cloud. Yay, Gotham women.
- Penguin drops Zsaz off to murder Hobbs and, because he’s a great henchman, Butch asks his boss what’s up. Penguin comes clean about his mom and Butch reassures him. Bless.
- Zsaz has big fun in Hobbs’s house and dismantles his guards with his usual ease. He’s about to finish the job when…JUSTICE WAGON! Gordon, Harv and the Strike Force roll up and do surprisingly well. They see Zsaz off, save Hobbs and the only bad thing that happens is Josie gets shot because women can’t be competent in this show.
- Kringle and Nygma have dinner. Nygma lets slip he’s glad her former boyfriend is dead. This is news to Kringle and when Nygma yells “GET OUT!” she thinks he means her. He, in fact, means Tylder DurdNygma and, amazingly, he tells her this. Even more amazingly, she’s okay with it! Even more amazing still, it’s a Kringle/Nygma scene this season that’s actually good!
- Jim goes to see Penguin who calls him on his sanctimonious nonsense and points out Barnes would throw him off the force if he knew the truth.
- The Strike Force is celebrating and ribbing Josie about taking one in the vest because ha! Girls right? Harv points out how dead they all nearly were and Barnes gives them their first target: Penguin.
- Jim is not pumped.
- MEANWHILE! AT GOTHAM PREP! Bruce and Silver bond.
- MEANWHILE! IN THE SLUMS! Selina is haunted by her encounter with Alfred.
- MEANWHILE, AT EVIL TOWERS! Galavan plans his campaign.
- MEANWHILE, AT PENGUIN’S HEADQUARTERS, he rages as the search for his mother continues.
Okay, first off: there is nothing on Earth that is not improved by Michael Chiklis. His arrival as Captain Barnes kicks a hole in the speaker, pulls the plug and busts the show for corruption while yelling about being a warrior. He’s GREAT, like some colossal justice bulldog and that goes from fun, to charming, to kind of terrifying, to actually terrifying.
Barnes is a very tough, very competent cop who is horrifically naïve and I think we’re going to see Gotham break him if it hasn’t already. There’s a crucial moment in here where Gordon quietly raises concerns about sending rookie cops into the line of fire and Barnes basically goes, “Enh! Most of ’em will come home!” The look on Gordon’s face is the same as the one on ours; the sneaking suspicion that this immensely good-natured, well-meaning guy is also a terrifying naïve Dudley Do Right who is going to get a lot of people killed.
That whole plot is big fun, although as you’ll see below the Strike Force suffer awfully from the needs of TV drama. A good chunk of this week’s other major plot is fun too, with Galavan attacking the city on multiple fronts. One of those, his mayoral campaign, is surreal in its rapidity. Seriously, he sets up the most obvious press opportunity in human history and… it… works. It’s an immensely weird scene, the whole thing shot like Tim Burton got his hands on an unused Adam West script and violenced it up. It’s fun, certainly, but it is patently ludicrous.
The other half of Galavan’s plot, well, that’s just skeevy. We see him cosy up to Bruce and in doing so essentially pimp out Silver St Cloud, Galavan’s ward. It’s played breezily but Galavan is, at best, weaponising a child here. At worst he’s shoving her into Bruce as a means of wrapping the Wayne heir around his little finger. It’s certainly an evil move for an evil man but if it’s done wrong – as, let’s face it, it might very well be – it’ll be a disaster. Galavan right now is teetering on the edge of pantomime villainy and if anything knocks him over the edge it’ll be this.
Elsewhere we get some nice business with Alfred teaching Bruce how to get fit and a deeply nasty moment where he slaps Selina in the face and tells her to take a hike. Selina remains horribly underused this season but her reactions to that moment, not to mention Alfred’s own, sell it as the one piece of violence that feels like it has real weight this episode. I’m interested to see where that will go and if nothing else that’s a promising do over for one of season one’s most difficult plotlines.
But while the core of this episode is fun, the cracks are showing everywhere else. Penguin being blackmailed into being Galavan’s hit man feels rushed and unearned, with Carol Kane reduced to an on-camera cameo. Worse still, the show continues to have absolutely no idea what to do with its female characters. Josie is deliberately set up as the weak link of the Strike Force, the only female mayoral candidate is the one we see die and the regulars are reduced to bit parts or single lines. It genuinely feels like the writers’ room has no idea what to do with the female characters and, in the case of Tabitha in particular, seem genuinely annoyed at having to write her. Compared to the occasional flashes of nuance and complex stuff you get in the Gordon/Barnes relationship it stands out a mile. And, I get the nasty feeling, it’s only going to get worse.
Gotham is still the fastest-paced, often nastiest, hour you’ll see on TV. That’s carried it through the first month of season two with none of the glacial pacing and unwieldy character arcs of last year which is a really good thing. I just hope that new-found focus hasn’t come at the cost of anything for the female characters to do. And, right now, that’s exactly what it’s starting to look like.
- The direction and art design. Just stunning throughout the episode. This, shot of the week, is one of a dozen gems.
- Harv not bothering to stand to attention is a lovely, meaningful character beat.
- The Strike Force being ethnically diverse, and no big deal being made of it is brilliant.
- Zsaz’s growled, “UNEXPECTED!” in the fight with the Strik Force is great. As is his clear annoyance at having to deal with these kids.
- Hightower was corrupt?! You son of a-I WATCHED ALL THOSE POLICE ACADEMY MOVIES! EVEN THE ONES YOU WEREN’T IN!
- “You’re a troublemaker, a fighter. That an accurate description?”
“Good.” Barnes is a touch macho.
- “Welcome to my unit you sadass army hump. Tough is what we eat for breakfast.”
“Jarhead huh? Who woulda guessed?” Did we mention Barnes is kinda macho?
- “Gotham doesn’t have straight lines.” Harv has been here before and it never ever ends well.
- “You need an assassin! This is Gotham you can find them in the phonebook, under A.” Some good Oswald stuff this episode, this being his finest moment.
- “You’re a warrior, Jim. So am I.” Hey Barnes! Mention war again! It’s been about ten minutes!
- “I remember this guy, he argued a lot.”
“I like to think I was raising questions.” There’s a subtle sense of relief to Gordon’s interactions with the Academy staff, like mutual relief he’s not there anymore.
- “Gotham gun range. One of my mother’s three jobs was cleaning it. When she died the owner let me go there after hours and practice till I worked out my anger. I still go there.”
- “Why are you doing this?”
“Darlin’? I got no freaking idea.” Oh, Butch you’re so sweet. Everything he does in this scene from the slightly too tight arms round the witness’s shoulders to moving them out of his boss’s way is a delight.
- “So you do yourself a favour, treacle and JOG ON!” ’AVE IT Alfred Pennyworth! None more cockney innit!
- “…So they move well.” Harv’s grudging admiration of the Strike Force is adorable.
- “Get ready to get real busy. We’re going to be sending you a whole lotta dead bad guys.” Seriously? SERIOUSLY? Let’s break this down: you are woken by your boyfriend’s new boss who good-naturedly yells at you, then politely informs you that your job is about to get way busier because he’s going to clean up the GCPD by essentially turning a blind eye to the shooting of suspects. HOW IS THAT NOT TERRIFYING?
- One single female officer qualifying for the Strike Force is rubbish. Especially as she doesn’t even qualify for a second name, an interview or any personality other than “Good at badly staged TV boxing”.
- We desperately hope Barnes’s gung ho, “Send the kids in to a meat grinder! OORAH!” approach is going to bite him on the ass very soon. Judging by Jim’s facial expression at that moment, he’s certainly expecting it to.
- Tabitha Galavan, Queen of the Four Lines or Fewer Per Episode.
- In fact, every single female character gets a crappy deal this week. Again. Silver is pimped out by her Uncle, Leslie gets to be good-naturedly yelled at by Captain MachoPants, Kringle gets to do nothing because Kringle is a plot hook rather than a character, Tabitha gets to be grumpy and bisexual and Barbara gets to hand a male character a drink, explain she’s bored and leave.
- Oh and Josie gets shot. And, apparently, has no last name. Because Gotham.
- Penguin’s mom being entirely off-camera. Did they only have Carol Kane for half an hour or something?
- Also there are two mayoral candidates; one man, one woman. Guess which one gets horribly killed. Yeah.
- Galavan’s, “Me, run for ma… GET DOWN!” *MACHINE GUN FIRE* “WELL OKAY THEN I WILL!” approach is possibly the single stupidest thing this show has done. And remember, this is the show that thought Tabitha Galavan having a whip fetish for a whole entire scene was a good idea. That bar is LOW.
- The single female team member being the one Zsaz gets the ego boosting hit in on is sexist nonsense and even this show should damn well know better.
- Fight nerd moment: Josie’s heroine moment in the boxing ring at the Academy shows that even in this ridiculously good age of TV there are still limits. Firstly, the choreography is a mess, chock full of movement to disguise the fact that neither actor is as well-trained as their characters. Secondly, there’s the fact that any trainee boxer anywhere ON EARTH throwing punches that hard is going to get warned, warned and then thrown the Hell out, let alone two trainee police officers.
- And finally? HEAD. GUARDS. Concussion trauma is a thing that happens A LOT. It’s the dirty little open secret of every contact sport on the planet and this sort of nonsense just perpetuates the belief that you can take full force shots to the noggin with no lasting effects. It’s not irresponsible, quite, but it is a really bad call. Do better, Gotham. Especially given what a great job the show did a couple of weeks ago when Aaron turned Gordon into bloody pulp.
- Speaking of that, where the hell is Aaron?
- HEY! TEAM ALPHA! *HEADGUARDS*! I get it, I really do. You’ve got lots of actors on screen, you don’t want their faces covered. But it’s a bum note the episode just doesn’t recover from. Gordon and Harv lead a group of kids into an insanely dangerous gunfight with no headgear and face off against the best hitman in Gotham. It’s a miracle they’re not all dead.
And The Random:
- I choose to believe Penguin’s mom is going to survive this ordeal, move to the other side of the city and became Kimmy Schmidt’s landlady.
- Galavan’s “Oh YOU!” moment at the TV when he’s getting positive press is adorable. Which makes his pimping of his teenage niece even skeevier.
- The music over Nygma’s cooking montage is “Just A Gigolo” by Louis Armstrong. I suspect it was his choice and not Tyler Durdnygma’s given that it’s a) kind of dorky and b) chipper.
- Natalie Alyn Lind who plays Silver here has appeared previously in One Tree Hill, The Goldbergs and Flashpoint amongst others.
- Butch is back this week! Yay! Drew Powell’s amiable, over-articulate teddy bear of a thug is always a pleasure to see. Powell’s always great, and he’s turned in memorable performances in two episodes of the excellent Leverage, one episode of the also excellent The Librarians and was a recurrent player on The Mentalist.
- Fellow kick-ass Big Guy Character Actor, Michael Chiklis makes his debut this week as Captain Barnes. It’s a nice piece of casting as Chiklis is best known for his role in The Shield. An excellent and staggeringly nasty cop show it starred Chiklis as Vic Mackie, the sort of cop Barnes would fire and who would return later that night to burn the precinct to the ground.
Review by Alasdair Stuart