Season 1 of Gotham was a bumpy ride, but in the words of the immortal poet Taylor Swift, Season 2’s got a Blank Space (babe), so let’s see if it can be both more consistent and enjoyable than its predecessor.
In a lot of ways, the title “Damned If You Do” was appropriate for several reasons. Right out of the gate, the episode firmly established the new status quo, addressed a few annoying character quirks, and laid the foundation for a potential season-long story arc.
On the other hand, the showrunners still insist on the bizarre combination of excessive violence (why, yes, that was a decapitated head) with campy characters and an eye-rolling inducing lack of subtlety when it comes to the future Batman and his Rogues Gallery.
Despite saving the day and putting a premature end to the gang wars, Gordon has been demoted to a patrol officer. It seemed a bit early to go back to the same Gordon is demoted again since it wasn’t all that long ago when he was given the Arkham Asylum shift.
Gordon still hasn’t managed to control his temper and jacks-up a fellow slacker officer, which puts him further on Commissioner Loeb’s crap list. It’s just the excuse Loeb needs to fire Gordon since he didn’t break down and quit like Bullock. Gordon vows payback, which doesn’t seem like the smartest move in a police station.
Gordon swings by Bullock’s bar and we find our favorite cantankerous former detective has gone sober and is moderately happy without the stress of being on the streets of Gotham. We know it won’t last, but it was nice to see Bullock enjoying life for the moment. This quiet moment between two friends who’ve seen the worst of Gotham was one of my favorites of the episode.
Bruce and Alfred meanwhile are busy exploring the cave below the mansion, but get stymied by a huge sealed door with a key code. After randomly punching in numbers, Bruce says the heck with it and smashes the key panel. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing for a pre-teen to do, but very out of character for the future superior detective.
It wouldn’t be the last time this episode the heroes’ actions deviate from our expectations. That’s definitely the kind of twist we should see more of as these moments will help Bruce, Gordon, and Selina realize better avenues to handle problems.
Alfred reluctantly helps Bruce construct a bomb to blast the vault door. Bruce finds a letter from his father, who in the episode’s biggest hokey moment, left a letter for Bruce as he was worried he wouldn’t be around much longer. If Papa Wayne was that aware of his future, why didn’t they just skip the movie?
Arkham Asylum has a new inmate — Barbara, who for some reason is in the same ward as the men, specifically Richard Sionis (from ep. 8) and ep. 16’s Jerome, who clearly seems positioned to be The Joker in the show’s universe. Barbara has fully embraced her inner crazy and calls Gordon up swearing Leslie was the one who murdered Barbara’s parents.
After he blows her off, Barbara calls Leslie and wishes her a slow and painful death. The threat of Gordon’s crazy ex-girlfriend threatening Gordon and Leslie’s happily ever after should prove for some solid moments provided the writers don’t rush through its potential in a few episodes.
Barbara, Sionis, Jerome, and three other inmates get sprung by Theo Galavan (James Frain) and his henchwoman Tabitha (Jessica Lucas). Theo wants to form a villain conglomerate to run roughshod on Gotham. Since our body count was a bit low, Sionis runs off at the mouth and doesn’t want to be part of the Legion of Doom, so Tabitha snares him in her whip and gleefully stabs away with her daggers.
Not ready to give up his dreams of cleaning up the city and learning the true culprit behind the Wayne murders, Gordon comes to The Penguin for a favor. The Penguin is enjoying his newfound power as the head crimelord, but is all too eager to help his friend Jim. The show has always excelled at the creep factor of Gordon reluctantly needing Penguin’s assistance and how much of a toll it takes on his morals.
Gordon finds Selina now part of Penguin’s inner circle, along with Zsasz and Butch. Penguin is more than happy to get Gordon’s job back and simply asks Gordon to collect a debt for him. Gordon knows this is a dark path, but Bruce calls him out for being too prideful and forsaking the greater good and decides to play collector.
As Gordon makes off with the money, Director Danny Cannon employs a jerky camera Crank-cam to capture his escape. It’s too gimmicky for Gotham, but the attempt to try new things was welcome. Gordon ends up gunning down the crime boss in a surprise. Hard to believe the hopelessly altruistic Gordon wouldn’t put himself in prison for murdering someone last season.
Fortunately, Gordon tells Leslie what he did so it won’t be a season long secret he’s keeping from her. Even better, we didn’t get a cheap breakup just to spend the first half of the season with Gordon trying to win her back.
Making good on his promise, Penguin convinces Loeb to bring Gordon back, but just in case he wouldn’t be persuasive enough, he brings Zsasz along. Penguin says he couldn’t find any dirt on Loeb, which seems a major contradiction from his shady actions from last season where it seemed like he was actively plotting to get Gordon killed.
The scene was tremendous with Penguin’s not-so-veiled threats, but the moment was wasted as Zsasz pulls out the head of one of Loeb’s guards. Subtlety goes such a long way and Gotham frequently sprints to overkill.
Essen is named the new commissioner and she promptly reinstates Gordon. Time to clean this city up for real, starting with the escapees from Arkham. And if you can start with that killer ex of yours, Jim, Leslie would really appreciate it.
Rating: 8 out of 10. This was a solid table setting first episode stocked with a lot of good possible directions in which the season can progress. Bruce seems to be stuck running in place now that “the hatch” has been opened, but Gordon’s story arc with the fallout from his deal with Penguin and a united villain effort is promising.