Airdate: September 29, 2014
Directed by: Danny Cannon
Showrunner: Bruno Heller
Episode Written by: Bruno Heller
Last week’s series premiere did it’s best to establish just how dark and corrupt Gotham is, and how difficult the job Jim Gordon [Ben McKenzie] has in front of him is going to be. Tonight, as the episode title suggests, we get to know a little bit more about one of the characters who will likely be playing a major role in the series: Selina Kyle [Camren Bicondova], the young Catwoman. Last week I expressed concern over Bicondova – she is pretty good at doing set poses in conspicuous locations (and isn’t conspicuous kind of the opposite of stealthy?), but she wasn’t given a single spoken line. So the real question is: can this actor, who will play a significant role moving forward, actually act? Click through after the break to find out.
<<Spoiler Alert: This review of Gotham Season 1, Episode 2 “Selina Kyle” contains spoilers – click through only after you’ve watched the show!>>
There are three arcs going on tonight (and kind of a fourth, with Fish Mooney [Jada Pinkett Smith] – but hers is related to and intertwined with the main arc, so I’ll address that there). I’ll talk about the two secondary ones first, then discuss the primary storyline below.
The first is focused on Bruce Wayne [David Mazouz]. Despite the episode title, we don’t begin with Selina. Instead we get a cold – or should I say a hot – opening at Wayne Manor. Bruce is holding his hand over a candle, moving it closer and closer, until he burns himself. Alfred [Sean Pertwee] enters, and when he sees what Bruce has done, shouts “You stupid little boy,” before grabbing him and holding him. Later in the episode, this comes back, as Alfred turns to Gordon [Ben McKenzie] for help (“He trusts you” he tells Jim). Apparently, Bruce has been self-harming – cutting and burning himself, actions that Bruce claims are a means to test himself. Right after Alfred’s request, we cut to Bruce, headphones on listening to Thrash metal, drawing scenes of horror and mutilation. Yes, he’s disturbed by his parents’ deaths, we get it already. If this show is supposed to be about Jim Gordon, as all of the pre-series hype claimed, then they’re doing a poor job of it. By interspersing scenes of young Bruce throughout the episode, it makes it clear that the over-arching plot is placing Gordon in the secondary space he’s always had, well in the shadow of the Bat. This does not bode well if they truly intend to turn this into a police procedural with a super-villain twist. If the main character is a tween, it’s not going to end up appealing to a wide late-evening audience, even if we know the kid is going to become Batman eventually (in about fifteen years, if the storyline stays true to canon). I, for one, do not want to follow the adventures of angsty Bruce Wayne – I’ve signed up to watch the development of a young Jim Gordon fighting against all odds in a city dying of its own corruption.
The other secondary story follows Oswald Cobblepot [Robin Lord Taylor], our favorite resident psychopath and future super-villain. He’s picked up by a couple of young jerks in their SUV, and things are going swimmingly until one tells him he walks like a penguin. Cobblepot smashes the beer bottle he’s drinking, and stabs the passenger in the neck. Later, he rents a trailer on a farmer’s property, and inside keeps the SUV’s driver, trying to get a modest ransom from the boy’s parents ($10,000). He speaks to the boy’s mother on the phone, but gets nowhere. He tells the boy that his mother didn’t believe him, and approaches with barely restrained menace writ large in his eyes, the boy cowering in the corner, bloodied and bound in duct tape.
In a tertiary storyline related to this one, detectives Montoya [Victoria Cartagena] and Allen [Andrew Steward-Jones], established last week as clean by Gotham PD standards, interview Gertrude Kapelput [Carol Kane], who has reported her son Oswald missing. She’s over-the-top campy, with a thick eastern European accent, and eccentric views on her beloved son (she figures some woman has taken him away from her). Montoya and Allen clearly believe Cobblepot is dead, likely a victim of his ties to organized crime, but you just know this is setting up for them to tie Gordon to the disappearance at a suitably convenient time.
The main storyline focuses on a series of abductions affecting the homeless child population of the city. A pair of adults approach a small group of children, which includes Selina Kyle. The adults – Patti [Lili Taylor] and Doug [Frank Whaley] – are offering food. As the kids come up to them, Patti pulls a long pin out of her hair, dips it in a liquid, and then proceeds to poke three of the homeless kids in the back of their necks. Two fall unconscious, but one, a pretty big guy, manages to run away, and in a struggle with Doug falls through the plate glass window of a nearby restaurant. Selina, seeing what’s going down, takes off, and Doug also shoots a homeless man who tries to come to the children’s aid.
Bullock [Donal Logue] and Gordon get assigned to the case, and we get to watch Gordon getting angry at a uniformed cop who found it more expedient to help out at the nearby restaurant with the broken window – the pay him $50 a month for added protection. This line was kind of just thrown out there, an attempt to show just how casual the PD takes the corruption. Gordon reacts predictably, attempting to start a fight with the beat officer, which Bullock, again predictably, breaks up.
Soon enough, they tie the kid in the window to the murder, and the kid tells them that there have been a series of homeless kids being abducted over the past six weeks. Bullock doesn’t care, and Captain Essen [Zabryna Guevara] backs him up, complaining to Bullock that she thought Gordon “was with the program.” Yet another reminder that the corruption runs from top to bottom. I can understand why this is being done early on in the series, but it feels a bit heavy-handed. She tells Gordon that nobody cares about homeless kids, so he should forget about investigating it further.
Gordon goes home and acts all angst-ridden with his fiancee, Barbara [Erin Richards], and she gets the why of it out of him. She suggests a leak to the press might get the ball rolling, and when he hesitates, she phones the Gotham Gazette and gives them the story.
The proverbial crap hits the fan the next day, with the headline drawing an immediate response from Mayor Aubrey James [Richard Kind], who promises immediate action. Essen is pissed, but Bullock quietly praises Gordon for taking this route, although Gordon initially denies involvement. When he does tell Bullock later that it was Barbara who made the call, he warns his young partner that he’s “a monkey riding a racehorse.” While they’re trying to figure out an angle to investigate the case, Edward Nygma [Cory Michael Smith] can be seen stalking outside Essen’s office. She calls him in, and he tells Gordon and co. that the young man who went through the window had a drug in his system, something called ATP that was used at Arkham Asylum to knock out trouble patients. They also pay a visit to Fish Mooney, Bullock opening with “Are you still mad at us?” Such a sycophant, but at least this relationship is clear – she’s definitely the boss. She doesn’t have much info, but she does know that there is someone “overseas” who is paying top dollar for children, both boys and girls.
On a side note, Mooney has another excellent scene, where she is visited by Carmine Falcone [John Doman]. Don Falcone wants to ensure that she is loyal – he tells her that dying men are surprisingly honest, and Cobblepot told him a few things about Fish before he “died.” She reassures him that he is a father to her, and that she would never betray him. He thanks her, and then casually mentions her lover. She denies having one, but he calls over a young server in Fish’s restaurant, telling him not to break Fish’s heart. He then has two of his thugs beat the ever-living crap out of the young man, all the while smiling at Fish from across the table. He leaves, and she blows up, yelling at everyone to leave. We see her later with her right-hand man, Butch Gilzean [Drew Powell]. She tells him, “On my sainted mother’s grave, someday soon, I am going to kill that old man with my bare hands and my teeth.” When she says it, we believe her – she is holding herself under very careful control – Falcone has a worthy opponent in her.
Throughout the city, kids are being rounded up by cops, often in cuffs and obviously against their will. As the mayor later tells Gordon in a meeting in Essen’s office, the “cute ones” will go to foster homes, but the rest are going to a juvenile detention center. During the round-up, Gordon and Bullock investigate the ATP lead. While there are three chemical companies with stocks of ATP, we only see them go to the right one, obviating some needless exposition a la the scene we got last week wherein Bullock and Gordon rounded up a series of street toughs in a weird musical montage that jarred somewhat with the rest of the episode.
Before they arrive, we see our friends Patti and Doug inside, speaking to the business owner Morry Quillan [Wayne Duvall]. He’s angry at all the heat, and demands a further $5000 to keep quiet. Patti warns him that the Dollmaker is very particular in his needs, and she uses her pin on Quillan’s guard. Before things can escalate further, Gordon and Bullock arrive. Patti and Doug try to ambush them while they’re talking to Quillan, but no one is hit in the ensuing gun fight. Patti and Doug run, leaving the kids behind. Quillan, thinking the cops have left to chase the other two, tells one his men to get rid of the evidence – there’s a well in the basement room the kids are being kept in, and he’s going to throw them down it. Gordon, however, arrives in the nick of time, shooting the goon before he can hurt the kids.
The next day, we some of the rounded up kids being put on buses to head off to the detention center. Selina Kyle is one of them – and to this point in the episode, about halfway through, she still hasn’t uttered a word. Needless to say, my concern at Bicondova’s acting ability ramped up with every scene we saw her acting mute. Finally, she opens her mouth, telling the guard at the bus that she shouldn’t be there, that she needs to see Jim Gordon. She is put on the bus in any case, and she starts telling a scared young boy beside her how to survive in detention, things like being wary of people that are too friendly, and to “go for the eyes” in a fight. Bicondova is fairly animated, but her lines are delivered with a real Drama 101 feel to them. She is young, and hopefully she’ll get better, but I really feel that this is what happens when casting goes for a certain look over actual acting ability.
As she’s talking to the boy, she sees the bus monitors enter – they’re Patti and Doug. She tries to run, but Patti pulls a gun and forces her back into her seat. Patti warns the kids that if anyone else tries to get up, they’ll “get a black mark, right here,” she says, indicating the middle of her forehead. This plays well in the way that it ramps up Patti’s sinister aspect, but it’s really unrealistic. Seriously – they’re loading a group of buses, there are plenty of authorities all around, and no one notices the crazy lady brandishing a gun at the children? It’s not like the windows are blacked out, and it’s broad daylight. Suspension of disbelief only carries one so far.
The already angry mayor is absolutely livid – losing a whole busload of kids makes him look pretty bad – so Gordon and Bullock bring in Quillan for a friendly “chat.” While Bullock phone books Quillan’s head (“phone book” can be a verb, right?), Gordon gets info out of him regarding the truck that Patti and Doug used. Quillan’s description of the logo on the couple’s van jars a memory in Gordon’s head, and he and Bullock head off.
Meanwhile, Patti and Doug unload the kids into a shipping container, but are short one child in their count. Patti goes back on the bus – Selina is hiding – but she’s unable to find her, as the young girl sneaks off and hides beneath the bus. She doesn’t give up, though, and soon corners her, holding her at gunpoint. Before she can pull the trigger, Gordon shows up yet again in the nick of time, taking Patti out, saving Selina.
Later at the department, Selina threatens to scream that a cop touched her inappropriately if he doesn’t get Gordon for her. The cop complies, and Gordon comes over. “Selina Kyle” he says, but she corrects him: “Cat.” She tells Gordon that she’s been watching him, and offers him a trade – get her out of the department house, and she’ll tell him what she saw when the Waynes were murdered.
Tonight’s episode was fairly uneven. I enjoyed the side story with the Penguin, who is definitely set up as one of the main characters for this season. I also enjoyed every scene with Fish Mooney, especially her interactions with Falcone, and her casual ownership of Bullock. McKenzie’s Jim Gordon is fairly solid, although he seems uncomfortable in his interactions with the two child actors he had scenes with – I’m not sure that he’s entirely decided on how to play against Mazouz’s Bruce Wayne as of yet. His interactions with Sean Pertwee’s Alfred are, however, a highlight of the show. Robin Lord Taylor again showed that he’s absolutely relishing his role as Oswald Cobblepot. While he chews the scenery, it is with a sense of gleeful control, which fits perfectly with the character he is creating here.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the high, and low, lights.
Jim Gordon – He’s stuck now, branded as a dirty cop by the other dirty cops, but still trying to do the right thing. He’s conflicted, and acting as a part-time therapist for Bruce Wayne appears to strain his abilities.
Captain Sarah Essen – We confirmed tonight that she’s on the take, as she pointedly asks “I thought he was with the program?”
Bruce Wayne – His arc reminds me of the song written by Batman in The Lego Movie: “Darkness! No Parents! Continued darkness! More darkness!” However, the song’s lyrics were meant as a satirical commentary, not as the focus entire. Hopefully, if they’re going to focus on Bruce, he doesn’t slip into monodimensionality.
Alfred Pennyworth – We learned that he is operating under a very specific set of instructions given to him by Bruce’s dad – and no therapists is one of the strictures (but why, then, rely on Jim Gordon as a de facto therapist?)
Fish Mooney – Her ability to retain her cool while raging inside was exemplified in her scene with Falcone. We did, however, get to see a human side to her, as she responded to her boy-toy’s beating.
Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin – Oswald showed a desire for normal human interaction, but a basic misunderstanding of how to go about it (stabbing a guy in the neck isn’t a good way to begin a friendship). He’s easily the most unpredictable character at the moment, but hopefully he doesn’t become predictably so.
Selina Kyle/Cat – For an episode named for this character, we got surprisingly little character exposition on her. The only things we learned new about her is that she prefers to be called Cat, and that she’s fairly inept at staying hidden.
The Dollmaker – Mentioned briefly by his assistant Patti, The Dollmaker is a DC villain that is currently in his third iteration in the comics. I suspect we’ll be meeting him in a future episode, and that he’ll be a combination of the second version (who kidnapped children, albeit in Metropolis), and the most recent third, who is an associate of the Joker. Does this mean that old smiley might be in the near to mid future as well?
Lili Taylor – Playing Patti, she reminded me of a coldly efficient Frau Farbissina (of Austin Powers fame), but without all the yelling. Taylor is an excellent actor, and did a fine job tonight.
Jada Pinkett Smith – She is simply a pleasure to watch in every scene she appears in. In some ways, she’s making this her show, and I expect to see her as a long-term thorn in Gordon’s side.
John Doman – His Carmine Falcone is a dominant personality with a clear sense of honor, which will make his relationship with Gordon fraught to say the least.
Camren Bicondova – At only fifteen, and with very little experience, Bicondova is relying largely on her feline looks to carry her. She’ll need coaching to work on believable delivery if she isn’t going to be something of an anchor going forward.
Montoya and Allen – There was nothing wrong with Montoya and Allen per se, except that they’re under-utilized. I get that the focus is already quite widely spread, but these two represent what Gordon is trying to be, and should be acting as his regular foils. They didn’t even have a single scene with Gordon tonight.
Donal Logue – This may be more a writing issue, but Bullock can’t seem to decide if he and Gordon are best buddies, or worst enemies. Most of the time, he slides from jovial to pedantic to haranguing with no apparent rhyme nor reason. This relationship needs to be consistent in one direction or the other in order for the show to be able to focus on the bigger picture.
Carol Kane – I’m a huge fan of Carol Kane, whether it be from her days on Taxi, her turn as Miracle Max’s long-suffering wife Valerie in The Princess Bride, or as the Ghost of Christmas Present in Scrooged, but here she just felt totally out of sync with the rest of the show. If this were Tim Burton’s Batman, her kitschy over-the-top random eastern European accent and ditsy behavior would have fit perfectly; but most of the time, showrunner Bruno Heller appears to be going more for the Christopher Nolan trademark darkness, and as such, she was totally jarring.
Steve’s Grade: B-
While Ben McKenzie’s Jim Gordon continues to fight the good fight, the uneven acting and questionable story choices meant a lack of focus in this second outing. Some strong scenes, especially those involving Fish Mooney and guest star Lili Taylor, couldn’t elevate the episode above merely good.