For an episode named “Selina Kyle”, Selina Kyle doesn’t exactly feature that much in the second episode of Gotham. Indeed, the future Catwoman, only really becomes relevant to the overarching plot within the last five minutes.
Instead of a story focused on the young street urchin known as “Cat”, we get a rather sketchy “crime of the week” episode involving a pair of well spoken kidnappers illegally trafficking children to a mysterious player referred to as “The Dollmaker.” A quick wikipedia search revealed that The Dollmaker is a moniker adopted by at least three villains within the DC universe, so DC fans will have fun deciphering which one the show is referring to.
The episode opens with Bruce Wayne in an act of self harming by burning himself on a candle. It’s a strong scene, and perhaps if this was not a network show, the scene would’ve played out slightly more graphic than it did. What’s great about this opening is that it’s a side to Bruce Wayne we’ve not seen before; the traumatised child, psychologically damaged in the immediate aftermath of his parents murder. Witnessing your parents murder is enough to push any kid over the edge. Until now, we’ve only really seen Wayne in his formative years or right as he is about to become Batman, but we rarely seen the true psychological damage that witnessing his parents murder would have on the young Wayne. Yes, we all know what he will become, but as Bale’s Bruce Wayne stated in Batman Begins “Guy who dresses like a bat, clearly has issues.” It adds a new psychological dimension to Wayne. For he is not the hero we all know, but rather a troubled and traumatised young boy in a state of shock. It should hopefully make Wayne’s journey a little more fascinating and should hopefully add another dimension onto Bruce Wayne’s character that we’ve rarely seen before.
But of course, young Bats is not the focus of this show and it isn’t before long we join the young Selina Kyle on the grungy smoke filled underbelly of Gotham and this week’s crime is put into motion. A pair of well spoken seeming do-gooders (a terrific Lili Taylor and Frank Whalley), dressed in dowdy grey get-up from the 1950s, are kidnapping the young and the destitute. During the course of their kidnapping, they inadvertently murder an old homeless man which of course bring Gordon and Bullock to the scene.
In an effective scene, Gordon engages with a local beat cop who questions the validity of rushing to the scene of a murdered bum when the nice upbeat store across the street that pays him protection money, has been ransacked and demands his attention. It’s an effective exchange and once brings into focus the moral and ethical quandary that Gordon finds himself in.
Speaking of which, this episode goes a long way to emphasise the moral and ethical minefield that is Gotham City, and the writers make sure that Gordon knows it. Everyone from the Gotham Police Captain to Richard Kind’s sleazy Mayor James, seems corrupt or more than willing to bend the laws just a little in order to do their job. Once again, we are reminded that the ends more than justify the means. And as Captain Essen tells Gordon, “If you don’t bend, you’re gonna get broke.” So much so in fact, that around midway through, it’s like “okay, enough already, we get it. It’s a dirty city.”
What would’ve made this episode a little more interesting would be if we actually witnessed Gordon start to bend just a little bit. Granted, it’s only episode two, so maybe I’m being a tad too harsh. What’s great however is that we do kind of witness bend just a tiny bit. When Gordon and Bullock are questioning the young homeless teen, regarding the kidnapping, Gordon confronts Bullock regarding his unique interviewing methods. In a similar scene in which Bullock uses a phonebook on a suspect, Gordon sits back and allows it to happen. It’s a great bookend and highlights a first instance of Gordon bending his morals, however the execution is a tad too bland that the real impact and implications of Gordon’s inaction to truly have the impact which it clearly intended.
For the most part, the crime of the week storyline was entertaining enough for a second episode, although I wish more was elaborated on Taylor’s and Whalley’s wonderfully troublesome twosome. Not once did they feel as truly sinister or scary enough as they could’ve been. A missed opportunity that could easily be rectified down the line as these are two villains that I’d be more than happy to see again. The constant references to mysterious “Dollmaker” will no doubt get die hard DC fans speculating, but honestly, it just felt like another story thread in a show that already has too many. The pilot was fun to begin with, but I hope going forward, the writers have the understanding that the show works best when it’s squarely focused on one or two through lines.
And I really really hope that the “crime of the week” story doesn’t involve Gordon and Bullock always having to go and talk to Fish Mooney. Only two episodes in and already this motif feels stilted and cliched. And what’s happened to Jada Pinkett Smith’s accent? Was it like that last week? Is it just me?
Speaking of Fish Mooney, she runs into a bit of trouble herself, when Carmine Falcone pays her a visit and gives her a little reminder of who the true boss of Gotham is. Doman is effective presence as Falcone. A man who doesn’t need to shout or lambast his way through a sit down, but rather illicits fear and authority through his mere presence. It’s clear where this storyline is going and it will be fun to witness Mooney take on Falcone down the line.
Even more fun this week is Oswald Cobblepot. Following on from last week, Oswald finds himself hobbling out of Gotham, all shabby and distraught from his encounter with Gordon. He’s picked up by a couple of douchey college kids and quickly dispatches one of them in gory fashion after he refers to him as a “Penguin.” God, I really hope the show doesn’t make this a trend. Yes, admittedly it was fun last week, but okay, we get it, he’s The Penguin. You don’t have to name drop every time he’s on screen. Oswald rents out a small trailer and plots his revenge and takeover of Gotham. A man of patience, biding his time, in no rush whatsoever. But of course, one can’t take over a city with no money. So what does any self respecting psychotic criminal do? Orchestrates a kidnap and ransom. In a darkly humorous scene, Oswald struggles to negotiate a ransom with the second douchey college kid’s mother. It’s a great scene and further showcases what a great talent Robin Lord Taylor is.
We also get an insight into Oswald’s backstory when Major Crimes pay a visit to Oswald’s dear old mother. A crazy Miss Haversham type, it adds another layer to Oswald’s character and was a wonderfully effective moment.
The cast is effective once once with Logue’s Harvey Bullock stealing the show. His chemistry with McKenzie’s Gordon really firing on all cylinders. Camren Bicondova as “Cat” is full of wit and attitude that it’s a shame she doesn’t play much of a more central role in the episode that is named after her. A sparky kid, with great attitude, and a hint of vulnerability buried beneath the surface, the last five minutes are a great intro for “Cat.” Luckily, her last minute revelation to Gordon about witnessing the Waynes’ murder will hopefully mean she will play a much larger role in the rest of the season.
Overall, it’s a standard crime of the week episode with a couple of interesting, albeit, underused criminals, but the show still holds promise.
Harvey Bullock is referred to as a “CLOWN” after stepping on a mobster’s shoes in the police department. Could the Clown Prince of Crime really be Harvey Bullock? Probably not. Bullock would be pushing sixty by the time Batman hits the scene, so this scenario seems gravelly unlikely.The mobster on the other hand… I doubt it. Once again, that guy would also be pushing sixty by the time Bats swings into action.