Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

When the Maniax hit the GCPD, Gotham hits its stride

James Frain, Erin Richards
James Frain, Erin Richards
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Gotham is only two episodes into its second season, but it’s interesting to note that there’s already a parallel being set up between the show’s storylines and the status of the show itself. In so many ways Gotham the fictional city is mirroring Gotham the TV show, going through changes and growing pains while trying to find some sort of consistency, something good to latch on to. “Knock, Knock” sees this season’s ominous villain and all around rich dude Theo Galavan begin to put his plan in to place. That plan involves unleashing psychopaths on Gotham and creating chaos, driving the citizens to seek comfort and solace in the protection and security that Galavan and his psychopaths will then offer. “A cleansing,” he calls it, and it’s an appropriate term for what the show itself is currently undergoing. For the second straight week Gotham shows signs of shedding many of the issues that bogged down its first season, from tone-deaf comedic beats to paper-thin characters, and moving towards something more focused.

What’s especially promising this early in the season is that Gotham seems to be committed to creating a more streamlined narrative than last season, focusing on a longer arc that should drive the events of the season. Where the first season stumbled out of the block by peddling trite procedural and case-of-the-week elements, this second season is crafting not only something bigger, but something much more concise and compelling. There are still flaws within the execution–seriously, those overbearing music cues need to be stopped–but a cohesive Gotham is certainly better than the scattered mess that was its first season.

“Knock, Knock” fully introduces this season’s threat, and they now have a name. The Maniax, who introduce themselves to Gotham by throwing bodies off of the Gotham Gazette building, are a group of prisoners who are serving under Galavan but are also serving themselves. They’re cannibals and murderers, and some a bit of both. What works about these villains as opposed to just about any from last season is that they have a more serious presence. Sure, the show still dips into the absurd every now and then, and even goes for the kind of slapstick that feels very out of place, but for the most part these villains are fun, not goofy, and that’s a big difference.

That difference is embodied by the performances from Erin Richards and Cameron Monaghan as Barbara and Jerome, respectively. The two actors are given the freedom to completely ham it up, but in a more menacing fashion than Jada Pinkett Smith was allowed last year. And where Fish Mooney’s motivations were often convoluted and prone to constant shifts, Barbara and Jerome’s motivations remain crystal clear. Barbara wants to hurt Gordon, but more than that, she feels free. She feels that she’s become her true self. Couple that with how she was barely an afterthought for Jim throughout the first season and her motivations become clear. Then there’s Jerome, who doesn’t even need motivation. He’s not the Joker, at least in terms of being officially recognized as such, but he’s cut from the same cloth. He’s a man who thrives on chaos, who finds pleasure in tormenting anyone who’s complacent in their life. Monaghan’s performance and presence consistently captures that unhinged nature, especially during tonight’s The Dark Knight-inspired videotape sequence, which sees Jerome, shortly after the GCPD massacre, hysterically threatening the city and taking great joy in bringing dread and destruction to the people.

That kind of focused storyline, where the villains and their motivations are clear and compelling, not only serves to make the bad guys more entertaining than any foe in the first season, but also provides much needed motivation for Jim Gordon. He’s a character who spent the entirety of last season rudderless, moving from case to case and doing things because the city needed him. That’s a vague, goofy premise to build a 22-episode season around. Enter Barbara and the threat she represents to not only Jim, but also Lee. Now, “traumatized and evil ex-girlfriend comes after ex-boyfriend and his new love” isn’t exactly innovative, but it’s the kind of succinct storytelling that Gotham needs as it tries to escape its first season struggles.

What Gotham also does much better in “Knock, Knock” is balance its more lighthearted moments with those darker ones. While the Maniax’s raid on the GCPD is a gruesome bit of business, the consistently tested friendship between Alfred and Bruce allows for a little light to shine through. “Knock, Knock,” sees Bruce fire Alfred after he destroys his father’s computer, hire him back to train him to take on bad guys in some distant future, and then sees Alfred get Lucius Fox on board so that all three of them can go to work. There’s never any real drama to the storyline, as Alfred isn’t going anywhere for a long time, but the beats and setup contrast nicely with the more chaotic storylines that are shaping this season of Gotham. The show still has a long way to go before it can compare to more artful and deeply-felt superhero shows like Arrow and The Flash, but “Knock, Knock” is certainly evidence of progress.

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Stray observations

  • Never Mind The Bullocks: “Four lunatics and Barbara? Brother, you got no luck.” Welcome back to the GCPD, Bullock. We missed you.
  • “If you need any references, I’ll be happy to provide them.” Cold Bruce breaks my heart.
  • So long, Essen. We hardly knew you, but your death has inspired Bullock to come back, so I guess not all is hopeless.
  • Jerome after a tied-up Essen spits in his mouth: “That was strangely pleasant.”
  • Nygma turning into a bad guy is still a thing that’s slowly happening.
  • I really loved the Russian Roulette scene. Monaghan has such an on-screen presence as a villain, and his facial expressions are a big part of that.
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