NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Gotham are present in this review
Gotham is overall an entertaining series, but it definitely had some issues to work out by the end of Season One. Whether it was the tonal confusion, the weird writing or the over-dependence on the legacy of Batman lore to sustain itself, the series needs to be more refined, and more consistent in its second season. So, was it? Well, somewhat.
On the bright side, “Damned if You Do…”, which kicked off Season Two with a heavily advertised ‘Rise of the Villains’ arc for the series, showed some decent promise that Gotham is making some needed improvements for its second season. Sure, there’s still some kinks, namely a handful of conspicuous silly moments, and a continued inability to decide whether the show wants to be a grounded detective serial or a more comic book-flavoured thriller series, but for the most part, the second season started off right. It didn’t start off brilliantly by any means, but it mostly started off right.
The episode and the season begin with Bruce and Alfred walking further into the mysterious passage they discover, and coming upon a sealed door. Well, so much for that tease. Fast-forward a month later, and Bruce is still tormented by the fact that he can’t get in to the secret room.
The perspective mainly shifts to Gordon however, who has been demoted as promised to traffic duty, after the Season One finale. Luckily, a psychopath who drank a rather suspicious liquid comes around to declare that he’s a deranged LARP-flavoured god thing, and shoots a gun around a bit. Gordon manages to subdue the man, with his comically overweight, oblivious new partner being of no help, and yet, this clean arrest with zero injuries and fatalities leads to Gordon getting summoned for a reprimand by Commissioner Loeb. Yes, Gordon has a new partner, because Bullock apparently quit the GCPD between seasons, after being angry at Gordon’s demotion. Bullock now works as a bartender, and ironically, is over a month sober from his Season One alcohol problem.
Anyway, Loeb, because he’s a ridiculously corrupt Gotham City law enforcer, fires Gordon with no cause (if it was that easy, why didn’t he just do it before?), but this comes to the relief of Leslie Tompkins, who is still in a committed romantic relationship with Gordon (moving Gordon in to her own place at long last to boot), and believes that the GCPD was getting in his way too much. Nonetheless, Gordon finds himself desperate to continue his mission to clean up Gotham City, and this leads him straight back to Penguin, now living large as a crime boss after the Season One finale that saw Falcone retiring, and both Sal Maroni and Fish Mooney being killed. Even Selina Kyle has apparently started working for Penguin, so it seems that most of the mobsters in Gotham City are rallying under Penguin exclusively for now. It’s a bit of a cliche at this point, but, guess what, Gordon tries to ask Penguin for a favour. Initially however, when Penguin brings up the inevitable condition that comes with the favour, Gordon changes his mind.
Gordon then goes to Bruce to, again, say that he can’t fulfill his promise to solve the murder of Bruce’s parents, because even in Season Two, Gotham’s tropes need to be tropin’. Bruce forgives him, but then launches into a spiel about how Gordon’s morality has become a source of pride and vanity, and that he may have to compromise his values to achieve a greater good. Alfred shushes the boy, but Gordon takes the advice to heart, and leaves, then agreeing to take Penguin’s favour, in exchange for Penguin and Zsasz paying a visit to Loeb.
The controversy that results from this decision is done well. Gordon has to try and collect a debt for Penguin, which leads into a fight, forcing Gordon to try and flee the very police force that he was fired from. When Gordon ends up getting cornered by his mark, he shoots the man dead without a second thought, and then slips away. This was very powerful, since, Bruce kind of has a point about Gordon. His inability to compromise does make him vain to a point, and seeing him kill a criminal was both a way to prove that he’s not so simple a man, and also prove that he’s not infallible at the same time. Gordon has a dark side, and when push comes to shove, he will do what he has to in order to fulfill his mission to save Gotham City, even if that means bending both the law and his moral obligations. Adding to this drama nicely is the reveal that Penguin intentionally sent Gordon after a man that would try and kill him, effectively proving in turn that Gordon is no better than any other GCPD cop in the heavily corrupt city when it comes down to it. This should hopefully be a great challenge for Gordon to overcome in Season Two, and one that hopefully makes this new, younger version of the character more interesting.
Further benefiting this plot turn is Penguin actually keeping his word, and paying a visit to Loeb at night, further muddying the waters of Gotham City morality. Zsasz appears ready to shoot Loeb dead at any second, and seeing Penguin toy with Loeb was delightfully twisted, and a great reminder of why Robin Lord Taylor often owns this character! Penguin manages to convince Loeb not only to reinstate Gordon, but also to step down as GCPD commissioner, paving the way for Captain Essen to take his place. The ceremony is also attended by one philanthropist, Theo Galavan, who clearly has big plans for Gotham City.
Shock of all shocks, Theo is a bad guy, and is the one responsible for giving the loon at the start of the episode the mysterious concoction. This leads to the crazy LARP-obsessed fellow getting dumped at Arkham, where Barbara Kean has since taken up residence after apparently checking herself in.
Oh, that’s right, I should really talk about that, shouldn’t I? Apparently, the showrunners simply gave up on trying to redeem Barbara’s character at all, after so many fans reacted to her with such hatred in Season One, so they simply decided to run with her being an evil, crazy woman in Gotham, even though it flies in the face of Barbara’s role in DC lore. The sad thing is, it actually works too! Seeing a deranged Barbara interact with Arkham’s ‘finest’, complete with playing off of kind of-sort of-proto-Joker, Jerome from Season One (remember him from “The Blind Fortune Teller”?), actually makes for great material. This is especially true when Barbara gets in with Richard Sionis (again, remember him from “The Mask”?), then gets a cellphone, simply so she can fail to reconnect with Gordon, before leaving a message on the machine for Leslie saying, “I hope you die screaming, bitch!” Well, that was… Colourful.
Regardless, the crazy guy announces himself to the inmates, who just ignore him (in all honesty, this was a well-executed funny moment), before the guy collapses, and brings us a little slice of DC Universe weirdness when his unconscious, possibly dead form belches out a blue mist that somehow knocks everyone out. What the hell?! How did Theo even come up with that plan, much less find a way to execute it, and succeed! Even on a less grounded DC television series like The Flash, this would be absolutely absurd!
Well, regardless, Theo gathers up Barbara, Jerome, Sionis, and a handful of other inmates. He tells them that he wants to assemble them as his own private team of enforcers for his mission to change Gotham City, leading to some sass from Barbara, some jokes from Jerome, and Sionis refusing the job. Theo’s sexy sister, Tabitha (who is supposed to be an all-new rendition of DC villain, Tigress) then takes the liberty of yanking Sionis with a bullwhip and literally ripping him apart in front of the other inmates! Boy, that escalated quickly! At least it wasted no time cementing the Galavan siblings as a dangerous threat for Season Two though, especially when the rest of the inmates inevitably decide not to protest afterward.
With Gordon reinstated, the Galavan siblings making their first move, and Penguin still kicking it in style, all that was left was for Bruce to finally blow open the sealed door with a bomb that Alfred helped him build (I know the boy is stubborn, but damn, Alfred! Childrens’ Aid has stepped in for far less!), and find a letter from his father that urges him to choose happiness over the truth, unless of course he feels, ahem, “A true calling.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know. He’s going to be Batman someday. Thank you for reminding us for the zillionth time, Gotham!
As much as some of the silly tropes and weird writing occasionally came up again however, “Damned if You Do…” still succeeded more often than it stumbled. It moved the appropriate plot threads into motion for Season Two, and did so in a way that felt engaging and smart. The show still has improvements to make before it fully achieves its potential, but this season premiere showed that it’s at least headed in the right direction. Now, we just need to hope that it keeps to it.
- Gordon's morality is strained to breaking point
- Barbara as an Arkham inmate works astonishingly well
- The Galavan siblings quickly become imposing threats
- Still a few questionable script decisions
- Theo's plot to kidnap the inmates is way too bizarre