Gosh! So this episode we have two darned villains who speak like Scout Leaders from a 1930s public information film and subdue victims with poison pens. Looks like Gotham is going to be happy to embrace the sillier side of the Batman myth, and you know what? It does it with some style.
After moaning that the pilot was bland – and expecting the show to combat that by mutating into a similar gritty-feeling show as Arrow – Gotham instead embraces the ’60s, and largely pulls it off. The show still has its problems, but at full marks at least for not taking the predictable route. US telefantasy could do with some quirkiness back in the mix.
So Patti and Doug, probably the creepiest child catchers since, well, the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, gosh-darn and hot-diggedy their way through an episode that also features: a character AWOL from a Tim Burton movie (the doting Mrs Cobblepot); mass child imprisonment sanctioned by the mayor; police brutality; and the Penguin growing ever nuttier. It’s a weird old mix, but a strangely watchable one.
Ben McKenzie’s personality-free performance as Gordon remains a setback, but one that was never going to improve in just two episodes. The fact that Gordon feels less to the fore this episode helps. Jada Pinkett Smith is just as irritating as previously; it’s like she’s channelling Kaa the Snake from Disney’s Jungle Book. And, sadly, Carmen Bicondova – now that she actually has a few lines as Selina Kyle – turns out to be pretty bog standard US TV female teenage rebel material – ie far too middle class and well-spoken to convince as a street kid.
It’s left to Oswald Cobblepot to steal the show again. Not bad for a character who’s basically the B-plot here. But his bloody road trip and his failed attempt at ransoming consistently deliver some of the most edgy and well-shot scenes of the episode.
When a near-postal Harvey stumbles across another cop’s feet in the precinct, the other guy warns him, “Watch the shoes, clown!” Blimey, is Harvey the latest suspect in “Who’s the Joker?”
So, a definite improvement, and a sign of the show moving the right – if unexpected – direction. Now it just has to address a few ongoing problems, which in the case of McKenzie will be tricky. Easier to fix will be the show’s annoying lack of subtlety. Selina likes to be called Cat. Groan. Barbara phones the newspaper to leak the story about the missing kids then tells Gordon, “It was the right thing to do.” Yeah, we get it. Gordon’s boss tells him, “This is Gotham, If you don’t bend you’ll get broke.” Okay, okay, you keep telling us! There’s no need to be quite so on the nose. About everything.
It’s great that Gotham is full of corruption because that’s full of story potential. But you begin to wonder how this corruption actually works when everyone in Gotham – Gordon and his fiancée excepted – apparently knows about the corruption, talks about the corruption matter-of-factly and loudly in public and seems to factor corruption into any possible business scenario. It gets to the point where you actually sympathise with cop taking backhanders to protect a restaurant when Gordon heaps moral outrage on him. The show needs to stop having Gordon simply moan about corruption all the time, and show him doing something cunning and intelligent to combat it. Because at the moment he often comes across as a prig.
Meanwhile, in the C-plot, proto-Batman is taking shape. While the show was touted as a vehicle for young Gordon, it’s difficult to deny that watching the Bruce stumble along the path towards his destiny is much more intriguing, even in very small doses.
A Bit Of A Do
Selina has an amazingly well-kempt barnet for a street kid. In fact, all the street kids seem remarkably smart looking and timid, judging by the scenes of them quietly queuing up to be taken to incarceration.
As If By Magic...
“Haven’t I told you to stop creeping up on people like that,” Alfred grumbles when Bruce silently and suddenly appears from nowhere in the middle of conversation he’s having with Gordon. The future commissioner had better get used to that, because it’s one of Batman’s favourite tricks.
There’s one lovely moment of quirky black humour in the episode that feels like the kind of skewed vibe the show should build on. It’s not so much the fact that Patti casually kills the henchman who’s just had his eyes scratched out after telling him, “You’ll be fine.” It’s the fact that her gun fails to shoot the first time, giving the guy enough time to go, “Huh?” and realise what he just heard.
The waiter at Fish’s club (also her sex toy) is called Lazlo, but the chances of him being Lazlo Valentin, aka, Professor Pyg are slim. Partly because he’s way too skinny, and partly because… well, watch the next episode.
Gotham airs on Monday nights on Channel 5 in the UK, and on Fox in the US.