NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Gotham are present in this review
Gotham took things down a notch this week with “Strike Force”, which is our first post-Jerome and post-Maniax episode of the season. We did however get to meet the new GCPD captain, Nathaniel Barnes, who immediately sets to work weeding out corrupt cops, and making Gordon his number-two man. Gordon is naturally over the moon to have a captain that is just as uncompromising on crime and corruption as he is, though Bullock is more distrusting, claiming that men like Barnes have come and gone from the GCPD several times already, and that Gotham City’s twisted, grey morality is not something that can be tackled in a straight line.
Already, it seems apparent that Barnes is going to be a key part of setting up why Gordon would ever accept Batman as a patrolling vigilante several years in the future. Barnes is an infectious new supporting cast member, with Michael Chiklis beautifully making use of his time headlining The Shield to give us a no-nonsense, infectiously charismatic and inspiring super-cop that plays by his own rules. Like Gordon, the audience will quickly get behind Barnes, who seems infallible for now, but if you think about it, he’s no doubt doomed in the long term. After all, if Barnes is able to clean up the city in any meaningful way, there would ultimately be no need for Batman in the future.
Barnes ends up proposing to Gordon that he has an idea of recruiting new cadets for a special GCPD strike force to be led exclusively by Gordon, with Gordon answering only to Barnes. There is some concern about green cops not being ready to take on Gotham City’s many dangerous criminals, but ultimately, the idea goes through, and the strike force is built, hence the title of the episode. Fortunately, this presents a promising chance for Gordon to prove his leadership skills, hopefully helping the character grow, and not exclusively feel like the only good cop in the GCPD, which gets repetitive after a while, even for Gotham City.
The strike force is about to have their work cut out for them as well, as two new candidates have emerged to succeed the missing Aubrey James as mayor of Gotham City, those being Janice Caulfield and Randall Hobbs. Naturally, Theo Galavan has designs on the mayor’s office, and comes to Penguin to enlist his assistance. Penguin initially refuses to work with Galavan, though he’s soon after coerced into doing so, when we see that Galavan has abducted Penguin’s mother, and is holding her hostage, threatening to kill her if Penguin doesn’t comply.
Penguin’s mother was sort of an odd character in Season One, but she’s actually used to good effect here. Penguin has been on top of the mob for all of Season Two so far, but he was hit home in a powerful way by the kidnapping of his mother, which brought him crashing back to Earth. Penguin’s tortured anguish is apparent after he’s forced to brutally stab Caulfield to death behind a window, which was another very visceral moment of visual directing for the increasingly savage style of the series, and the fact that Galavan didn’t release his mother by the end of the episode was actually a strong curveball. Penguin seized the entire power of the mob at the end of Season One, but even that wasn’t enough to give him any means of standing against Galavan. The episode ending with Penguin screaming in impotent rage at a fireplace was a superb way to end off, with his character about to face a whole new challenge, even after Fish Mooney’s supposed demise.
As for Hobbs, Penguin can’t stomach murdering both candidates with his bare hands, so it’s Zsasz that goes after Hobbs. This is the first chance for Gordon to break in the strike force, with the group managing to drive off Zsasz and save Hobbs, though one of the cops is shot in the process, fortunately being saved by a bulletproof vest. This was probably the best possible result for the show, since both the good and the bad of the strike force idea was displayed well. The candidate was saved, and there were no fatalities, but Zsasz also got away, and the shot cop could have easily been killed. It will be interesting to see how the strike force dynamic plays out, as Theo Galavan’s designs on the city become more and more ambitious, especially when Galavan announces his plans to run for mayor towards the end of the episode, no doubt not surprising anyone watching the show.
Beyond Penguin and Zsasz, Nygma also got some good, albeit erratic material this week, on the note of future Batman villains. He successfully gets a date with Kristen Kringle, who comes to his apartment. Nygma manages to keep it together enough to get a smooch, despite almost driving Kringle off, but while this is charming, it didn’t really mesh with the rest of the episode. Nygma’s clearly got some big plots coming up later in the season, but for now, his setup for future events feels a bit laboured. Cory Michael Smith has always played Nygma very well, and he isn’t hampered by the need to work with the new split personality in Season Two, but for now, the plots of the future Riddler feel too detached from the rest of what’s going on.
Fortunately, Bruce Wayne also had a great plot this week, now attending school, as he promised Alfred he would. This leads into a fantastic scene with Selina attempting to visit Bruce as he leaves school, before Alfred scares her off with a damning declaration that Bruce’s life will always be better without her in it. The scene where he slapped her over knowing she killed his military mate last season was also a great moment. God, Alfred is awesome on this show! The scene ends with Alfred forcing Bruce to jog home too, saying that he won’t go easy on the boy wanting to train to be a fighter. He’s a military man, alright, and if Bruce is going to be Batman someday, Alfred obviously isn’t going to start coddling him!
Bruce also meets with Theo Galavan later in the episode, to have a meal, and thank Galavan for appearing to save his life during the previous episode. It’s here that Bruce is introduced to a young Silver St. Cloud, one of Batman’s many love interests in DC lore, who happens to be the niece of Galavan. So, Theo and Tabitha have another sibling? Or, is Silver somehow Tabitha’s daughter? In any case, Bruce and Silver hit it off, and Silver actually helps Bruce finally start making friends at school. This is a strong way to set up for their relationship as adults later, and could potentially pave the way for a Silver/Selina rivalry over Bruce’s attention, since one has to realize that Selina won’t get out of Bruce’s life, even after Alfred’s threats. Even if she tries, we already know that Selina will always be a big part of Bruce’s existence, especially since she’ll one day become Catwoman, so Selina is bound not to stay away for too long on this series either.
The manic, violent energy of the Maniax is a bit missed, now that they’re largely gone, beyond Barbara (who didn’t really feature this week), but “Strike Force” was still a solid episode that helped lay the groundwork for the season’s future episodes. The show feels like it’s taking a breather for now, after all of the Maniax excitement, but, beyond the slightly disconnected Nygma material, the stories were still appealing, especially now that the GCPD has a hardcore new captain, and Penguin has been brought down several pegs.
- Chilkis' bold, inspiring Captain Barnes
- Galavan having Penguin over a barrel
- Bruce going back to school and meeting Silver St. Cloud
- Nygma story feels too disconnected