Gotham S02E02 “Knock, Knock” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Channel 5, Mondays, 10pm
Writers: Ken Woodruff
Directors: Rob Bailey
Essential Plot Points:
- At 1 Evil Plaza, Theo Galavan has the mayor of Gotham with his head in a box. He convinces the man he’s about to put a live rat in the box and the mayor agrees to “run away”. Galavan opens the box, shows him there was no rat (and one presumes, no spoon) and threatens him again.
- Nearby a Gotham newspaper’s day is interrupted by people being hurled from the roof of its offices. The victims have letters on their chests that spell out: MANIAX. Jerome and the others are making a statement.
- The GCPD mobilise, placing Gordon in charge. He and Essen begin breaking the case down and discover the victims all worked at one of the Gotham shipyards. Essen and Gordon bond over the case and the GCPD’s newfound desire to actually do police stuff. Gordon, oddly, doesn’t mention all that extortion and murder he did last week.
- Back at 1 Evil Plaza, the Maniax are celebrating with an enormous plate of donuts. Galavan congratulates them and suggests stagecraft training for their next gig. Most of them “audition” but all of them are blown out of the water by Jerome’s cackling, maniacal theatrics.
- The Mayor, still in the box, is whipped into the room by Barbara and Tabitha Galavan who complain about being bored. Galavan assures them their time is coming and asks them to make sure the mayor isn’t dead. Tabitha whips him again, he whimpers.
- MEANWHILE! AT STATELY WAYNE MANOR! Bruce and Alfred are in the not-yet-a-Batcave. Bruce is overjoyed he’ll finally get some answers. Alfred is terrified and smashes the hard drive. He explains to Bruce that this room is clearly what got his father killed; pointing out the bulletproof vest with two rounds in it and the blood fridge. Thomas Wayne was into something very bad, and Alfred refuses to let his charge have any part of it. Bruce fires him.
- Things are going south at 1 Evil Plaza too. Galavan leaves the Maniax alone with boxes of weapons and returns to find Jerome and Greenwood fighting with a chainsaw and a katana. Both want to lead the Maniax and Galavan suggests they resolve the dispute with Russian roulette. Jerome wins when he plays three times on the run and Greenwood backs down.
- At the bar, which if it isn’t called HARVEY’S clearly should be, Gordon seeks counsel from his old partner. Harvey commiserates with the younger cop while his fiancé, Scotty, almost runs Gordon out on a rail. Before he goes, Harvey gives his old partner a lead; why did the Maniax kidnap shipyard workers?
- Gordon builds on the lead and discovers the Maniax stole a shipyard fuel tanker. They use it to hijack a bus full of cheerleaders and douse it in gasoline. The GCPD just get there in time and the Maniax flee, leaving Dobkins to light the fuel. He succeeds but Gordon takes him down and drives the bus to safety. He questions Dobkins who is promptly shot and killed by Tabitha Galavan from a nearby rooftop.
- At the station, Alfred is joined by Bruce. The two make up and Bruce asks to be trained again. Alfred returns, on the condition that Bruce do everything he says. Bruce gives Alfred a condition too; he has to fix the computer.
- Back at the GCPD, Leslie is conducting the autopsy on Dobkins. She calls him as being sniped at range and Gordon and Essen realise they’re back to square one. Gordon, with his usual eloquence, sort of sidles up to making sure Leslie’s okay. She, with her usual good humour, lets the world’s manliest man know she’s fine.
- Nygma manages to completely fail to ask Ms Kringle out. Tyler Durden Nygma is both unsurprised and openly mocking of him.
- Alfred meets Lucius and, in the most fun you’ll have with TV this week, manages to intimidate and confuse him into working with them by using a combination of cockney metaphors and threats of violence. Lucius agrees to work with Alfred, and also to fix the computer.
- Barbara calls Gordon at the GCPD. He tries to talk to her then looks up as he realises he can hear her without the phone. THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE BUILDING! THIS IS AN ACTUAL THING THAT HAPPENS!
- Gordon chases her outside as a group of uniformed cops come in and ask to see Essen. It’s the Maniax, who proceed to slaughter very nearly every police officer in the building.
- Outside, Barbara confronts Gordon who tries to reason with her. On her orders Aaron attacks Gordon and hands him one of the nastiest beatings you’ll see (or perhaps not given its Channel 5) on TV. She leaves him, mockingly suggesting he go check on his colleagues.
- Jerome taunts Essen who stands her ground with the young psychopath. Jerome also murders Greenwood which we can all universally agree is probably the only good thing he’ll ever do.
- Gordon makes it back to find Leslie, Nygma and Kringle very nearly the only officers left standing. They find a critically wounded Essen who dies whispering, “A new day,” her battle cry, to Gordon.
- Stunned, Gordon stands in the Commissioner’s empty office. He’s joined by Harvey, who’s back on the force. One of the other survivors alerts them to the video the Maniax left for the news. They watch Jerome crow and leave just as backup arrives, promising he and his friends will be back…
The brakes are off, the Maniax are driving and Gotham is a very different series this year. The trudge of, “Hey look, it’s a one-off case that features the father of a Batman villain! Again!” of a lot of last year has been replaced by a straight-up serial. Stylistically this is closer to 24 than every other superhero show on air right now and, as we’ll see, that’s not entirely a good thing.
But the good news first. The show really has doubled down on the “Adam West Batman with more blood” feel that was introduced last week and it’s paying off in two fun ways. The first is that the Maniax, Jerome in particular, set the screen on fire every time you see them. They’re dangerous and actively disturbing, wild cards that use the city for whatever they see fit and don’t want to be reasoned with. While Galavan obviously has an endgame in mind, their actions are powering the show quite happily right now. Especially as Cameron Monaghan as I Can’t Believe it’s Not The Joker (Yet) figure Jerome is turning in amazing work. You’ll see hints of Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson and even Mark Hamill’s definitive take on the role in Monaghan’s work. Jerome is measured, theatrical, over articulate and clearly brilliant. He’s a sociopathic cat with a city sized mouse and is easily the best villain the show has ever had.
The other side of the law gets some fun stuff this episode too. Sean Pertwee’s Alfred remains an absolute bleedin’ delight and the show’s doing some of its best work with him. Like Bruce, this Alfred isn’t done baking yet. He’s not the unflappable right hand man we’re used to but rather a goodhearted, frequently bloody knuckled man trying to look after the only family he has left. He’s frequently very bad at it too and that learning process ties him to Bruce in thematic ways that are subtle and often poignant.
Gordon gets a wonderfully gruff, emotionally constipated moment of affection with Leslie too that says more about the character than a thousand words could. Likewise Harv gets a couple of excellent moments including one that the show treads all over as we’ll see a little later. Essen too gets some amazing scenes and she’s set up as a stable, calm force at the heart of a police department that desperately wants to be like she is.
Then the show kills her.
In the same episode Tabitha Galavan has maybe 15 lines of dialogue, Leslie has maybe 10, Kringle gets two, Scotty gets eight and the only female character with any degree of agency is a violent psychopath.
That’s the problem with the aping of 24 and other action-driven serials: the inevitable fondness for incident over character. In fact, character, Essen specifically, is sacrificed for action this episode. In context it works but when you look at the tiny roles Scotty, Kringle and Leslie have it starts to leave a nasty aftertaste. The absolute worst excesses of comics have always been their dismal treatment of female characters and even now that’s often the rule not the exception. For Gotham to set up a strong, non-caucasian female Commissioner then immediately kill her tells us exactly where the priorities are; action not character, style not depth. It’s a short term solution that works well and a long term one that kills shows faster than those shows can kill their women. I hope it’s a detour and not where Gotham is heading.
- Alfred’s default to parade rest stance is a subtle note of characterisation in a show where almost nothing else is subtle. It’s not that the rest is bad either, it’s just little touches like that stand out.
- Please can we have an entire episode of Alfred threatening people using cockney vernacular? That was wonderful.
- “Aaron? Would you kindly?” Cameron Monaghan relishes every line he’s given and he’s got some crackers this episode. It’s almost impossible to not hear this in the same cadence as the Jack Nicholson Joker saying, ‘Gentlemen! Let’s broaden our minds! Lawrence?”
- “…Never mind.” James Frain, like Monaghan, so clearly gets the joke inherent in these characters. His Galavan is arch and dangerous and somehow just a little absurd too.
- “How many people can you eat before this schtick gets old?” “I COULD EAT ONE MORE.” And then there are exchanges like this, where you’re reminded that for all the show’s unblinking, frantic charm it’s still filled with monsters.
- “Hey Greenwood? What’s the secret to good comedy?” CLICK “Timing. And what’s courage?” CLICK “Grace under pressure. AND…Who’s the boss?” CLICK. “I’M the boss.” Again, Monaghan just controls the screen. At this stage we don’t know if Jerome really is the Joker. We do know that if he isn’t he’s got to be a big inspiration. The kid is terrifying.
- “I’ve sat back and watched old, corrupt lazy men buy their way into this job and waste it. Not me, Jim. Not me.” Oh Commissioner Essen, you were officially too good for this world.
- “Is that all you’re taking with you?” “It’s all I have I, sir.” Admit it, you heard the sad walking away music from the end of the old Hulk TV show at this point, just played by Chas’n’Dave. And if you didn’t, you do now.
- “Gimme an O! Gimme an N! Gimme another O! What does that spell? O NO!” Again the show walks the line between horror and absurdity. It’s a ludicrous moment but it’s one they push through the disbelief on and arrive at sweaty palmed horror.
- “Holding up?” “Holding up.” “Love you.” “Likewise.” The banter between these two is adorable, especially as it feels so genuine. Jim Gordon is amazingly bad at emotions. Him saying this here is huge and Leslie’s reaction is sweet and awesome.
- “Lairy little scallywag. Too smiley by ‘alf. Never trusted ‘im.” I want an entire episode of this scene. An entire episode of possibly mildly drunk Alfred intimidating Americans who aren’t entirely sure whether they should be frightened or not.
- “You let me down, Onslo, I will tuck you up, sunshine. Like a KIPPER.” I do not know what any of this means. I do know I never ever want to make Sean Pertwee angry. EVER.
- “If it turns out I can’t trust you, I swear on my mother’s grave that you, my old sausage, are a dead man.” See? He’s terrifying! In a jovial cockney way.
- “I could explain it but you should probably get back to work. Who knows what went wrong while you were gone?” I’m increasingly convinced that this season has been designed at least partially as an apology to Erin Richards for the ridiculous stuff she had to work with last year. This moment, and her blood-stained grin, is leagues ahead of everything she’s had to work with to date.
- Essen got short shrift. Not only was Zabryna Guevara great but swapping out one of the relatively few female characters for another white dude on a show chock full of them leaves a nasty aftertaste. Fridging is unfortunately still a thing and a show this high profile using a trope that lazy doesn’t help.
And the Random:
- Hey Jim? Uncle Frank’s been writing about you. “The noir hero is a knight in blood caked armor. He’s dirty and he does his best to deny the fact that he’s a hero the whole time.” Frank Miller. Also, SIT DOWN our kid, you look like Hell.
- In one episode we get: six people being thrown off a building: a chainsaw/katana fight; a man being whipped; a busload of cheerleaders being doused in gasoline and almost set alight; an entire precinct full of police officers being gunned down; the lead character getting the living hell beaten out of him; and the police commissioner murdered. In 44 minutes. I’m not saying Gotham’s bloodthirsty, especially as to its credit all this violence has weight to it. I am saying the show has been watching way too many early ’90s action movies and maybe needs to lay off the sugar.
- Was Thomas Wayne doing a lot more than researching? That bulletproof vest in the proto-Batcave has seen some use.
- This is both the shot of the episode and everything wrong with it. It’s a moment that’s moving and poignant. Harv was out, he’d got a new life, a new perspective. Then he comes back because you don’t leave your friends behind. It’s subtle and understated and entirely undercut by the line about Scotty either understanding or not. Male characters deciding what female characters will like is not something that ever plays well and on a show like this, even less so.
Review by Alasdair Stuart