After earning so much goodwill in Season 2, Gotham has regressed again with its Season 3 opener. Following the monster breakout from Arkham in the previous finale, where all sorts of conveniently non-descript creatures escaped from the asylum, Evil Bruce Wayne (Hush?) is on the loose, and although we’re sure he’s evil, we’re not sure how evil…yet.
It’s a weird storyline to kind of spring on everyone in addition to everything else that’s going on. It gets to a point where pretty much everyone is reduced to a gimmick. Gordon is dealing with a terrible breakup with Lee (I appreciate the attempt at an unkempt Ben McKenzie, but it’s pretty much impossible), capped off by an almost dreamlike sequence where he sees her enthralled with her new beau. It’s still better than Season 1 Barbara drama, but not by much. We get it, Jim is being pushed even further to the edge of Gotham City’s seedy underbelly, but we saw so much of that from the very first episode that it’s lost its draw. Plus, that angle plays better off of Penguin anyway, compliments of the wonderful Robin Lord Taylor.
The kids’ narratives, as usual, are cringe worthy. We barely know anything compelling about Ivy, yet she gets a five minute scene that basically just serves to add depth to Selena’s character, playing off of undertones we’ve already seen with Bruce last season. Or, we would think that, if the network didn’t hype up and sell us an “older” Ivy, whose powers may or may not be a little too wild for this universe.
There are flashes of hope, though. Gotham showrunners have found their stride at this point in terms of balancing the right amount of camp and source material. Seeing Lucius Fox quit Wayne Enterprises and reluctantly join the GCPD? Great. That scene between Riddler and Penguin, where the latter is asking if the former has received his care packages before sharing a relevant and oddly touching anecdote? Stellar. It reminds me of the best parts of Season 2 and brings a smile to my face that the two of them are still in contact.
But one step forward, two steps back. My reaction to the brisk use of Batman‘s rogue gallery has been mostly pure confusion. Am I supposed to buy into Killer Croc now after basically no fanfare? Was that indeed Killer Croc that was robbing the pharmacy at the start of the season opener? The new take on Vicki Vale is fine, but I just hope we’re not going to get half an episode of Two Face after scattered Harvey Dent appearances. There’s so much rich material to draw from, it would be a shame to see a continued use of amalgamations and teasing for villains that never actually appear or make any impact on the story.
Because really, Bruno Heller and crew showed their hand with the last run, appropriately titled “Wrath of the Villains.” Those are the roles that they’re more interesting in, and those are the most developed cast members. It’s an odd show in that any given moment, I can look at what the writers or the cast are trying to do, and see that the two just don’t gel well. Doubling down on Fish Mooney is a pretty risky move given her polarizing appearances, for starters. Don’t get me wrong – I adore Jada Smith and her channeling of Eartha Kitt for the role (pairing her up with Catwoman is a good, subtle little thing.) Yet they consistently write that character into a corner, before literally writing her off completely for three quarters of a season.
Which brings me to my next point – where Gotham is going with Season 3 isn’t exactly promising. We could see a quick, pointed resolution to many of these and the ship could be righted in just several episodes. Or, we could get more drip-fed Court of Owls (which I’m really hoping they don’t screw this up after the fantastic comic series), or more Fish Mooney than Penguin this season.
What they really need to do is cut down the characters. Barbara has a crew, Mooney has a crew, Penguin has a crew – it’s too much. We’re supposed to care about everyone, but there’s no fathomable way we can fit them in our hearts when there’s so much corner-cutting. Just resolve the loose ends, focus on the Court of Owls, and be done with it. While the pre-Batman Bruce doesn’t offer up a lot of options for some of the more mature storylines involving direct conflict with the Wayne estate, there are ways to do it. The Court is one of the greatest Batman stories ever told, and if they can concentrate on the conflict within Bruce, they might actually sell me on Evil Bruce just to see more David Mazouz.
I think we’re all past the “it’s not actually Batman!” rhetoric. I just hope Gotham actually figures out what it wants to be. At least Michael Chiklis is back to play “Good Vic Mackey.”