A review of tonight's “Gotham” coming up just as soon as I'm a monkey riding a racehorse…
Second episodes are tough for any new show, let alone with this many moving and potentially mismatched parts, and one that had such a lush-looking pilot. But “Selina Kyle” felt very much of a piece with last week's episode, in both its strengths and weaknesses.
Jim and Harvey's partnership remains the big draw, even as Bruno Heller's script has to keep beating us over the head with the notion that everyone believes Jim has gone over to the dark side with his apparent murder of Oswald Cobblepot(*). (Those constant references were just as clumsy as Edward Nygma's introduction in the pilot.) It's fun watching McKenzie and Logue bounce off of each other, and seeing the ways in which Harvey can sometimes pull Jim over to his way of thinking (the phone book beating of the witness who knew where the kids might be), just as I imagine we'll see the polarity go the other way in future episodes.
(*) I wonder at what point “Gotham” starts being burdened with the same problem modern Batman comics have had with the Joker's transformation into a mass murderer with hundreds, if not thousands, of bodies in his wake, where all those murders begin to feel like Batman's fault, even as his policy against killing – even with a foe who can never be contained, changed or in other ways stopped from killing tons of innocent people – is meant to be admirable. Gordon had no way of knowing he was saving a man who would turn into a spree killer, but he's already dropped two civilians in two episodes – and both times, I wondered how Gordon would feel about that.
The show still feels at its best, though, the further it gets from the core Batman parts. David Mazouz is giving a good performance as young Bruce, but the notion that Dr. Wayne left Alfred very specific instructions for raising the boy – including not letting him see a therapist after he saw his parents gunned down in front of him – plays like a contrivance to justify a part of the origin story the comics generally skip past for a reason. I'm also wary of the references to the Dollmaker, given that the current version in the comics is emblematic of DC's recent push towards ever darker and more grisly storytelling for its own sake. (Then again, two other villains have used that name, but Geoff Johns seems to be nudging all the current DC shows into following current continuity wherever possible.)
Heller does well, though, in introducing Lili Taylor and Frank Whaley as the Dollmaker's creepy, pin-wielding henchpeople. Even with the size of Batman's rogues gallery, Heller's going to have to invent his own villains, if for no other reason than to give Jim Gordon at least a few bad guys he can put away permanently so he doesn't seem like a complete incompetent. Fish Mooney's another example of that, and her scene with Carmine Falcone – each of them aware that the other is lying, but playing their roles because neither is looking to go to war just yet – was crackling with tension and the buoyant energy of Jada Pinkett Smith's performance. The more I watch of her in this role, the more I can see traces of the Eartha Kitt Catwoman – in the best possible way.
As for this show's Catwoman? Even though the episode is named for her, Selina (or “Cat,” as she prefers to be called, just in case there's any confusion about who she's going to become) barely has anything to do for the first two-thirds of the episode. But now we know that Camren Bicondova can speak, even if her acting still feels very secondary to her physicality at this point. I suppose if she really isn't up to the task at hand, they can send Selina upstate for real – or simply out of town, to return far in the future – because the design of the show doesn't really require that Selina be present for and involved in all the things Jim Gordon does between the Waynes' murder and Batman's emergence.
But the city itself is rounding nicely into form, with the mayor responding to the abduction of so many homeless kids by trying to send the rest to a juvenile detention center – an “out of sight, out of mind” solution to a problem no politician wants to deal with – and for another week, at least, this feels like a functional TV show.
What did everybody else think?