Gotham has returned to our TVs at last, bringing with it the usual messy trail of WTF and AWESOME because this series can't decide if it wants to be a serious show on serious Earth or some kind of uncomfortable Batman '66 mashup.
Continuing Gotham's endearing trend of being both really good and really not that good, the Season 3 premiere "Better to Reign in Hell..." introduced us to a city reduced to lawlessness and good old Wild West justice in the six months following the great Indian Hill escape.
Jamie Chung's Valerie Vale (aunt to the future Batman fangirl/Bruce Wayne love interest Vicki) proved to be a fun Easter egg and BAMF lady-reporter in her own right. Here's hoping she doesn't end up banging Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) by the end of the season, even though I think we can all agree that she's totally going to end up banging Bat-Jim by the end of the season.
It was also nice to see Jada Pinkett-Smith reeling her Fish Mooney in this season. The toned-down costume probably helped, though one still has to wonder what the tailors in Gotham are thinking about the city's current fashion trends. So. Many. Capes. Did Edna Mode teach these people nothing?
Fish leading the Indian Hill escapees was no great reveal, but Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) tagging along for who-the-hell-knows-why felt like a subtle character moment for the future Catwoman. Selina talks a big game and certainly has a handle on how not to die horribly on Gotham's mean streets, but after two seasons, what has she proven to do time and time again? The girl gravitates to whomever is the current HBIC. Fish, Tabby, Barbara Cray-Cray Pants Keane — these women will shape who Selina becomes as she grows into her destiny. And while every single time she throws herself at them we have to shake our heads and ask the TV gods why they're doing this to us, knowing what we do about Selina's future makes her adventures with Gotham's worst women valuable in the long run. Fish Mooney makes the occasionally anti-heroic Catwoman look like a saint in comparison.
Fish's own destiny — though not as clearly defined as Selina's — is also called into question with the revelation that her awesome mind-control powers come with a deadly price. The brilliant Doctor Strange apparently screwed up when he turbo-charged her DNA and now each use of the-only-thing-that-lets-Fish-get-anything-done brings her closer to her maker. Her current terror-spree through Gotham is driven by an elusive cure, but she promises that when she finds Hugo Strange, not only will he fix her up, but he'll also build her an army of other mind-melters.
Okay, boo. You do you.
I can't love this storyline because I can't love anything related to Fish, but at least this is way more interesting than her previous aimless bouts of psycho. I do, however, love Bruce going all come-to-Jesus on the Wayne Enterprises board members. More of that. Less of the clone.
Is Gotham really dragging out a Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) doppelganger storyline already? Yes, yes it is. I don't know what we did to deserve this. I'm sorry. I'm here for you if you need to, like, talk it out or find the good in humanity again. Fake Bruce seems harmless enough for now, but given Real Bruce's current status as Boy Hostage, I'm thinking Gotham's shadow government is going to find a use for the flighty fraud. Gotham already gave us a taste of the mistaken identity drama with Fake Bruce running into Ivy and Selina on a rooftop. Can't wait for more! (Not.)
We need to talk about Bat-Jim. Brokenhearted by the blah blah drama that ended his hot mess relationship with Leslie Thompkins and disillusioned by the fact that after two seasons Gotham City is a worse cesspool now than it was when the mob was running things, Jim decided to become a vigilante bounty hunter, dragging the costumed crazies back to Arkham for a nifty fee and working conveniently outside the parameters of what the GCPD is allowed to openly embrace.
Gotham, Gotham, Gotham... If you wanted to do a show about Batman, why not just be a show about Batman? Is it because the unwashed nerd masses would get too wrapped up in demanding that their favorite continuity be declared the ONE TRUE CONTINUITY? That every little detail misstep would be condemned from every corner of the internet? I get that. I get not wanting to deal with that. My problem with Bat-Jim isn't that it doesn't have a place in the Batman mythology that the series draws from. My problem is that it's a ridiculous storyline that serves as a weekly reminder Jim Gordon is the only moral person in the city and this mess is his terrible burden to bear and he must do so alone, a solitary soldier against the rabid hoards that threaten the, like, .02 people in Gotham who aren't budding crime lords. This Jim Gordon is a threat, the one man who can stand up to the freak show, the one man who can give the city hope.
Folks, that's Batman.
Gordon's current night job is what worries me more than Fake Bruce or the constant threat of Fish Mooney getting more lines because it unburies the root of what Gotham has struggled with since the beginning: It's a show about Batman, without Batman, that desperately wants to be a show about Batman.
So the series tried to give us Baby Batman in Season 1, and it kind of sucked. Then it gave us not-quite-Batman-but-obviously-training-to-be-Batman Bruce, which was better (much better, in fact!) only to ditch it at the end of last season because Gotham doesn't believe in letting us have nice things. The latest attempt to invoke Batman without actually giving us Batman is Bat-Jim, complete with love interest Not-Vicki-Vale and the lost family à la Lee and their miscarried baby, to drive his deep, dark vengeance.
If Gotham could simply stop forcing Batman's presence into the series and embrace the fact that this is a time before the Dark Knight, that their sandbox is deep and full of awesome toys, that the audience doesn't need an "almost" Batman or a "pre-Batman" Batman to stay interested in the series, half of the problems with uneven storytelling would be solved. This series is in a nice, seasoned third season and we still have to worry that for every great storytelling decision it makes, Gotham will follow it with something completely terrible. I can't take that kind of stress. At this point in a series' lifespan, we should be comfy-cozy, not perpetually expecting the worst.
But then again, how very Gotham of Gotham to keep its audience unnerved like that.
Notes from the Not-Batcave
- Nygma and Penguin being murder besties will never stop being perfect. "Remember, Penguins EAT Fish." I love them.
- "Pancakes?" "Pancakes."
- Can we talk about how Alfred is supposed to be this total badass soldier-butler and yet this is what, the fourth time Brucie has been kidnapped under his watch?
- Ivy got zapped with the fountain of aging guy and then tossed into what is probably toxic Gotham sludge. Who wants to bet that the next time we see her she's going to be the magically aged-up sexpot Ivy we all know and love/tolerate?
- Barbara and Tabby opening a club together is great, but I'm already over Butch's lame-o attempts to woo her back.
- What are your theories about Fake Bruce? Your hopes and dreams for the rest of the season?