Last night's episode of Gotham started with a scared young man in business attire hitting and hacking his way through some similarly sweaty competition on his way to greater glory. It was a blunt beginning for the second phase of the Fox drama, and like the rest of the episode, it hit as hard as it could hoping that brute force was enough to carry the viewer along the story.
And hey, most things in Gotham have been treated pretty well by brute force so far. Detective Jim Gordon, for example, seems to have accepted that punching his way through the city's corruption is his best option. After last week's one-man stand against the mob in police headquarters, Gordon is persona non grata with practically everyone in the department not his partner Harvey Bullock. He doesn't seem to mind, as he throws himself into the investigation of the young businessman found murdered by office supplies.
Like most of the Gordon/Bullock investigations, this case goes down with a few kicked in doors and some other well-placed threats. When legitimate clues as to who is forcing Wall Street-types to battle to the death are in short supply, the pair leans on a conveniently accessible black-market mob surgeon. The doc plays his part in coughing up info only to get arrested by Gordon for, essentially, being an all-around scumbag. If you think Jim's strong-arm legal threats don't seem all that different from his corrupt coworkers beating witnesses into confessions, you're thinking too much about how this show operates. Gordon's allowed to be blunt because he's truly good. End of discussion.
A similar fighting spirit is found in young Bruce Wayne. Forced by his butler Alfred to attend a ritzy private school rather than sit at home and connect photos with yarn, Bruce quickly finds his mannered affectation is a weak fit for schoolyard bullies. One particularly smarmy trust-funder named Tommy Elliot (the future Hush being Gotham's first truly age-appropriate villain tease) has a penchant for mocking Bruce's dead parents. So how should he respond? Certified non-psychologist Alfred thinks beating the kid's face into a bloody pulp is a healthy way for Bruce to cope. Again, not the most morally considered way to healing, but it's Gotham's latest example of foreshadowing via billboard.
The one fight running through the episode that has a little more shading comes from the series' organized-crime figures. Yes, Fish Mooney and Oswald Cobblepot's first post-truce reunion goes from pleasant to painful in about five seconds, but underneath the "no cards left unturned" staring contest, there are glimmers of depth. For Fish, her continued stringing of an orphan singer as a poisoned chalice in Boss Falcone's life opens a few interesting character doors. A Heath Ledger-esque "how I got my scars" story from Mooney goes to show that power is an absolute in this world. But a late-episode "Was that old woman supposed to be her dead mother?" moment pokes a few holes in Fish's credibility if not her ultimate motivation.
Similarly, Cobblepot may spend most of the hour torturing his way through the one character from Fish's organization we've just met (because why wouldn't he throw up that red flag ASAP?), but alongside his gleeful violence remains a shaky confidence. As Oswald struggles to please his crackpot mommy dearest while building his eventual empire, we continue to see a broken little boy through the cracks in his exterior.
But the hints of doubt are few and far between in a show and an episode driven by fisticuffs over finesse. Gordon's investigation leads him straight to our corporate killer – the masked master over a job interview that takes "survival of the fittest" more literal than one of those Purge movies.
At this point, wanting Gotham to offer up an honest mystery over a foregone conclusion obviously asks more than the show is capable of. Of course the investment-banker slimeball is the villain behind the mask – just like the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne is the "don't question the logic" catalyst for the new waves of crime hitting the city. If the series won't give us some real drama, at least it'll give us some real violence.
And hey, just as Bruce comes to enjoy dishing out a beating to a bully who was asking for it, Gotham enjoys using a paper-cutter's blade where a scalpel will get the job done. Gordon is saved from his own killer job interview thanks to his ability to dish out a beating and an about-face from his department detractors. There's a certain kind of enjoyment in watching this arc play itself out according to plan because we know the city will strike back hard against these characters before they can get the job done. But when that happens, don't hold your breath for some genuine stakes. Just let Gotham beat you over the head, and you might like it more.