The season premiere of Gotham succeeds by focusing on the city
Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.
- Never Mind The Bullocks: “Yeah yeah, the demons, we’ll catch them.” Harvey Bullock isn’t even fazed by the strange happenings in Gotham anymore. Similarly: “He’s dead, not that that matters much in this town anymore.”
- In case you haven’t heard the big news about Gotham, here it is: Bruce Wayne is Batman. Okay, maybe I’m poking fun at the show a bit, but that simple fact is really the hook for the fourth season. Last season’s finale ended with the young Bruce Wayne donning an all-black getup, complete with ski mask, and taking down some common thugs in an alley. It was a scene of wish fulfillment for everybody; viewers got a tease of Bruce finally getting to be a more active, vigilante character, and Bruce himself got to stop a crime reminiscent of the one that lead to his parents’ death.
- Season Four picks up where the finale left off, with Bruce yet again taking down a group of would-be criminals. This time though, something’s changed, and it’s not just that Ra’s al Ghul is watching the future Dark Knight from the shadows. No, this time the criminals say they have a license for committing crimes. Bruce still beats them up, but he does take the so-called license with him. Sure enough, it looks like the nameless thugs have been approved for a few criminal actions, and the umbrella stamp near the bottom corner suggests that Penguin has something to do with all of this.
- While much of the season premiere can be classified as “fine,” doing enough to set up some new stories even if there’s nothing too compelling right off the bat, I do appreciate the show’s attempt at making Gotham feel like a different city in the wake of all the disasters that have befallen it. Where many of the characters on Gotham struggle to show any sense of progress, there’s the sense in this premiere that the city is changing, and that bodes well for whatever story this season is ready to tell.
- In essence, the idea of legal criminal actions, as approved by Penguin, is more than just a way to underline the villain’s new control over the city’s shadiest characters now that he’s dispatched with all of his enemies. It’s also a way to provide insight into what the citizens of Gotham are thinking. Since Penguin has dealt with his enemies and instituted the licenses, crime has dropped to all-time lows in the three months it’s been since the Tetch virus outbreak. Now the Mayor and Commissioner are eager to keep those numbers low, making Penguin’s program a necessary evil. Who knows how well Gotham can use such a storytelling device throughout the season, but it would seem to be fruitful in the immediate future. It creates an interesting dynamic between Penguin, Gordon, Bruce, and all the bureaucrats that make up the rest of Gotham.
- I’m also all in on a more consistent presence from Victor Zsasz. Anthony Carrigan’s performance is a good fit on Gotham, straddling that line between being slightly goofy but also menacing.
- Less interesting, at least for now, is the emergence of Jonathan Crane as the season’s villain, and not solely for the fact that I’m already sick of hearing the phrase “fear juice.” My main reservation is that Gotham has a habit of beating a dead horse with its villains, running through the same narrative beats over and over again. While the shift from Jonathan Crane to Scarecrow is new, the presence of the (ugh) “fear juice” isn’t. I’m worried that Gotham will quickly fall into a familiar pattern with Scarecrow.
- So, Ivy is still nothing but arm candy in the season premiere. Any time Gotham wants to change that, I’d be down.
- Tabitha isn’t too happy that Penguin is cracking down on “illegal” crime, thinking that it’s unfair to her and her new enterprise with Selina Kyle. She can’t believe she actually has to get approval from Penguin. As Zsasz replies, “Well, you murdered his mom. And tried to kill him. Call it even?”
- Speaking of Selina Kyle, it’s been awhile since I’ve been in any way invested in her character. She’s a character with some intriguing psychology, and the way she’s constantly navigating both the criminal underworld and Bruce’s aristocratic world is interesting, but she’s lacked any sense of direction for too long. It’s encouraging to see her with Tabitha here, honing her skills and just generally getting to be a more active character within the show.
- Bruce Wayne isn’t quite as interesting here though. All he really does is argue with Alfred about his purpose and training, and then take the Master List of criminal licenses from Penguin’s assistant.
- As always, this puts Gordon and Bruce on the same side. They’re the two actively fighting against Penguin’s legalized crime.
- I really hope that Nygma isn’t frozen for too long. He’s such a dynamic presence on the show, and acts as a welcome foil to Penguin’s mostly unchallenged authority.
- When the episode wraps up, Bruce is about to be arrested by the GCPD after his first bungling of a vigilante act, and Scarecrow is on the loose. They’re the two least interesting aspects of the premiere up until that point, but perhaps this is a signal that they’re about to get moving.