A new season of comic book-based television has begun, and one of the first shows to return to the airwaves is Fox‘s “Gotham.” A modest ratings hit for Fox, the show never quite lived up to fan expectations, and remained in the shadows cast by “Arrow,” “The Flash” and “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, not to mention “The Walking Dead” and Netflix’s “Daredevil.” However, after just two episodes, after just two episodes, Season 2, billed as “Rise of the Villains,” has built some seriously positive buzz, even from some corners of the Internet that were a little less than thrilled with the first season.
In a mere two installments, “Gotham” has raised the stakes in Bruce Wayne’s city in a big way. Fans have seen more mayhem, madness and seismic changes in the season’s opening chapters than in the entire first half of last season, leaving viewers with a series that has considerably upped its game. And while there have already been a number of improvements over last season, we’ve pinpointed what we believe are the five biggest changes that have made “Gotham” the TV show Batfans have been begging for.
A Focus on the Icons
Last season, “Gotham” was a bit of a potpourri of ideas. While fans were treated to the origins of a young Bruce Wayne, James Gordon and the myriad future iconic villains of Gotham City, all this was juxtaposed with long story arcs involving non-comic book characters like Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and the ill-fated nightclub singer Liza. In addition to those, long form arcs involving minor comic book characters like Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni we given the spotlight, often to the detriment of the characters people were tuning in to see.
This season, the series seems to be built with a sharper focus on bringing fans the origins of Gotham City’s most important citizens and criminals to create a more cohesive and focused narrative without the clutter. Instead of breaking things down into a series of jigsaw puzzle vignettes, slowly and methodically fitting one piece into another as the big picture takes shape, the season has treated fans to bold and brash storylines starring the current incarnation of characters who will — or may — become the larger than life icons we know and love.
“CSI: Gotham” No More
One of the biggest growing pains the first season of “Gotham” went through was the series’ shaky sense of identity. Was it a tribute to the myths of the Batman universe, or was it a blow by blow police procedural with some Bat-flair pinned to its lapel? At times it felt more of the latter, the villain-of-the-week aspect of the series seemingly tacked on out of an obligation to pay heed to the characters’ genre tropes. Thus far the new season of “Gotham” has dropped its traditional case/freak-of-the-week approach to storytelling, opting instead to focus on intense action and character exploration.
As the psychopathic killer Jerome Valeska, Cameron Monaghan channels the scene chewing showmanship of Cesar Romero, the thuggish swagger of Jack Nicholson and the coiled ruthlessness of Heath Ledger, amalgamating it all into his own unique vision of Gotham’s greatest villain. But is Jerome truly the Joker, or is he merely a feint, a sleight of hand to draw fan attention away from the real Crown Prince of Crime? Jerome’s character arc has brought a sense of unpredictability and a shocking level of sudden violence to the series, resulting in some of the most intriguing storytelling we’ve seen since the series debuted. And, with “Gotham” creator Bruno Heller promising a payoff to Jerome’s story this season, along with a definitive Joker origin, fans don’t have to worry that they’re wasting time following a dead-end storyline.
Rise of the Villains
The new consortium of villainy that freed the Arkham inmates has raised the stakes as much as Jerome has. Are they the Court of Owls? Are they the League of Shadows/Assassins? Or are they something completely different? Whatever the case, this group and its megalomaniacal leader Theo Galavan (brilliantly played by character actor extraordinaire James Frain) have made fans realize that as bad as things were in Gotham City following the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, as bad as things were when Fish Mooney, Sal Maroni and Carmine Falcone were tearing Gotham apart, things have gotten much more worse.
Add to this new, evil crew the continued, frightening evolution of Oswald Cobblepot and Edward Nygma, Jerome’s ascendance and Barbara Kean’s transformation, and you have a series that has become a quality meditation on the darker denizens of Gotham City. With the promised arrival of Mr. Freeze, Clayface and more, things could go from horrible to unimaginable for Gordon and the G.C.P.D. sooner rather than later.
Jim and Barbara, a Star-Crossed Romance
No relationship on “Gotham” speaks to the newfound narrative heights the series has reached more than the complex and twisted relationship between James Gordon and Barbara Kean. Once engaged to be married, the pair now represent the polarity of Gotham City. In Season 1, Kean had two romantic relationships fall apart; she was kidnapped and tortured by one of Gotham’s maniacs; and she gave into the darkness ingrained in the city, murdering her own parents. From this dark chrysalis has emerged one of the most deeply twisted characters on the show — and not for lack of competition. Erin Richards has fully embraced this new, warped take on Barbara, making her dramatically more interesting in Season 2.
Meanwhile, Gordon remains stalwart, despite it all. He has journeyed through the darkness just as thick as Barbara, but he has emerged ready to be the champion Gotham City needs — albeit one who owes the occasional debt to Gotham’s rising crime lord Oswald Cobblepot. This yin and yang relationship between the once upon a time lovers has become the centerpiece of the season, a focal point that will surely only grow more adversarial as “Gotham” continues its descent into madness — and better and better television.
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