Gotham: Arkham

arkhamHere there be spoilers, read at your own risk.

One of my concerns about Gotham was that the cast seemed a bit big to really be workable.  They are handling this by rotating various characters out for different episodes.  This week, Selena gets a vacation while Gordon and company deal with what’s shaping up to be a major gang war.  Selena being out makes sense, that’s not really her area.

What we do get in “Arkham” is a lot of set up for what looks like it might be a really ugly situation.  Apparently, Arkham here refers not just to the infamous Asylum, but a whole area of the city that’s up for redevelopment.  Of course, major urban renewal means major money, and both the Falcone and Maroni gangs want their share.

As if the two major gangs squaring off wasn’t enough to make trouble, there are two wild cards in the mix.  Gordon of course is determined to not let the gangs go to war, spurred on even more by a bit of a guilt trip from young Bruce Wayne.  On the other hand, Oswald Cobblepot is back in town, and he’s taking his own steps.

This week’s killer didn’t really thrill me.  I have no idea who, if anyone, he’s supposed to be in Batman lore.  He has an irrational attachment to a spike-like killing device, which he uses whenever possible.  I’d be tempted to make a wisecrack about doesn’t he know there are guns, but he does use one eventually.  Maybe his obsession with his signature weapon foreshadows all the weird foes Batman will fight in the future?  There’s something in Gotham that twists people to favor a trademark style?

I’ve been enjoying the short appearances of Ed Nygma, the future Riddler.  He’s played well, and he’s very much in character, always believing himself to be the smartest man in the room.  While I enjoy all that, the scene he was in this week was badly done.  It didn’t flow as well as the others, and they make a lot of use of the word “paradox” which they don’t use correctly.

Bullock and Gordon end up working the case, which involves City Councilmen being abducted and killed.  They are still far enough apart that I don’t even think “grudging respect” is the right term, but their different methods are very complimentary.  The tension between their points of view is one of the better parts of the show.

Speaking of tension, Gordon and the lovely Barbara Kean are having problems.  Yes, Gordon is keeping things from her, and she from him.  She does finally tell him both that A) she’s bi and B) she used to be with Montoya.  Personally, I’m not sure I’m getting why he can’t tell her, “Hey, I had to fake a man’s death to prevent the AMAZINGLY crooked cops and gangsters from killing him, me, my partner, and maybe you.”  Irrational secret keeping seems to the hallmark of many of today’s shows, and this is one of them.

The end result of the gangs pressuring the mayor and each other is a compromise no one really likes.  Maroni is going to make money, but not as much as he’d hoped.  Falcone lost prestige.  Fish Mooney is off in the shadows scheming and hiring a new employee in a way that makes “The Apprentice” look like, well, the foolishness that it is.  Young Bruce is also unhappy about the compromise, which undid some of his parents’ last big project before their deaths.

One thing that did impress me this episode was Cobblepot.  Robin Taylor is playing the Penguin-to-be very well.  He’s ruthless, vicious, and deadly, as well as easy to underestimate, just like his comic book counterpart.  His plottings are very important to this week’s episode, and he pulls a few surprises I didn’t see coming.  He’s positioning himself to learn a lot about the mob, weakening both sides, and amassing money along the way, while making himself look good.  It’s a nice bit of both writing and acting.

That said, the episode focused mostly around the gangs, and that’s just not what I’m interested in.  I am hoping the show, which has been picked up for a full season, doesn’t devolve into “Gangs of Gotham.”  I thought the show started strong, but this wasn’t a great episode.

I’m still going to be watching, and at this point, hoping for improvement.  The show seems to be on a slight downward slope, and I’m really hoping that doesn’t continue.

Gotham: Selena Kyle

selenaThe second episode of Gotham, “Selina Kyle,” focused on street kids being kidnaped by people for the “Dollmaker,” a fairly recent addition to Batman’s rogues gallery in the comics. Apparently his career now reaches back before Batman’s own.

I found this to be an uneven episode, with some great scenes and some really odd choices. I’ll go with what I really liked first.

I think Gordon and Bullock had a fantastic rhythm this episode. They aren’t playing, they really are good cop/bad cop, and it’s being handled very well. There was a particularly brilliant interrogation scene, where Bullock refers to Gordon as “Saint Jim” that I thought was possibly the best scene of the episode.

There’s a scene with Selena being hunted on a school bus (it works in context), that evolves into a sort of deadly hide and seek. Given that Selena here is a kid facing an adult foe, I think it worked really, really well. Selena as Catwoman is a thief first and foremost, at least most of the time, and I think playing up her stealth was a good choice.

Edward Nygma, who goes on to become the Riddler in Batman’s time, is an interesting addition. He is apparently a forensic specialist with the police, which works very well with his fondness for solving puzzles, and later posing them as Riddler. He’s been in a short scene in each of the first two episodes, and I thought both were really nicely done of him. I think Cory Michael Smith is doing a great job playing the character.

I also am enjoying the scenes with Jim Gordon and Barbara Kean, played by Erin Richards. Barbara comes across as supporting Jim, and sharing his moral repugnance at the state of the police, but she’s her own woman. She acts decisively at one point in a way that has a big effect on the episode. We can see where her future daughter, Barbara the Batgirl, gets some of her determination to do the right thing.

Among the many other plots swirling around are the power struggle between Fish Mooney (possibly my favorite character on the show, certainly the most fun to watch on several levels) and Carmine Falcone, Detectives Montoya and Allen (important characters in the comics) looking into the “death” of Oswald Cobblepot, and Cobblepot himself on a murderous spree.

The Cobblepot story is one of the ones that isn’t really working for me. He seems to be working his way back to Gotham City from some great distance after his “death” and plunge into the river. How far away did the current carry him? He’s also a lot more ruthless and vicious than he’s usually portrayed. I guess he mellows with age. At the present, he seems to be camped out in a trailer he’s rented to consider his next move.

The depth of the corruption in Gotham comes up over and over. From a cop that leaves a murder scene to check in with a business that makes payments to him to Gordon and Bullock needing permission to investigate a crime in Fish’s territory, it’s a huge mess. Gordon and the Batman will have their work cut out for them later.

I had not realized until this episode that the captain Gordon and Bullock report to was Sarah Essen. In the comics, Essen is a woman Jim has an affair with, and later becomes his second wife. The character on the show so far doesn’t seem to be the same one at all. The comic book Essen is another good cop bordering on hero, the one on the show is part of the corruption. Yes, there’s lots of time for the character to change, but it seems odd to me.

There were mentions of the infamous Arkham Asylum a few times. Arkham is where Batman’s more colorful foes are sent for treatment. Or possibly more accurately, for rests between their escapes. At the time the show is set, it’s closed, but there is talk of reopening it, and the Waynes were supposedly involved in that.

I find it odd to say this about a show set in Gotham that deals with the Bat-mythos in depth, but there is one change I’d make were I in charge: I’d cut the scenes with Alfred and Bruce Wayne. I’ve heard many people say they are not happy with Sean Pertwee’s portrayal of the famous butler, although I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the actor or the script. Alfred inviting Gordon to come see young Bruce was an odd scene, especially when Alfred said for “tea time.” Because every big city cop in America knows when tea time is?

Bruce is being depicted as more or less mentally ill. Yes, there have been comments about Batman being crazy for a long time, but seeing an eight year old engaging in self-harm and possibly OCD issues is disturbing. Nothing against David Mazouz, I liked him on Touch, but his Bruce just isn’t doing much for me.

In fact, I think the scenes with Bruce and Alfred don’t really add anything to the show. The scenes, to me, feel shoehorned in. Do we need to see Bruce playing “How much can I burn myself” or Alfred being worried about his charge? Are they just trying to tie Bruce and Jim closer?

Overall, I’m enjoying the show. I love Bullock with Gordon, Fish is delightfully evil, and Barbara  Kean and Ed Nygma are good supporting characters. I think this show can work well as a cop drama set against a corrupt city. The Batman elements can be used for flavoring. But, while I’m surprised to find myself thinking it, this Gotham needs less Bruce Wayne and Alfred.

I also say that, for an episode named “Selena Kyle” the title character didn’t get a lot of screen time. I found that odd. But then, I find many choices on the show a bit baffling, as I mention above. I’m sticking with it, but hoping for improvement.