Inspired by the success of Garfield Minus Garfield, Fox once again brings us Batman Minus Batman.
Okay, that came across as more of an insult than I meant it to. I’m still pretty on board with this show as of this episode. It’s showing some bits of improvement over the pilot, but it also has still got a ways to go to really get there. At the same time, it has enough positives to keep me watching in the meantime, so there’s that.
This time around, things feel a bit more focused than last week. This is somewhat to be expected now that they don’t have to introduce everyone and everything, but it also does help here. Thanks to that extra focus, I feel like this week does a better job at conveying just how flawed the powers that be within Gotham really are.
And what better way to show that than through mass child endangerment? This week’s procedural side sends Gordon and Bullock to investigate a series of kidnappings of local homeless youths. The reactions from the various levels of Gotham’s power struggle are all tellingly self-serving: the captain in charge (Zabryna Guevara) wants the case kept on the down-low so the police don’t look bad, and the mayor (an unabashedly two-faced Richard Kind) is only really concerned about the media-friendly kids and will gladly sweep the rest under the rug- so long as it’s in a fashion that doesn’t make the city look bad. Though there are a few people in his corner – primarily Barbara, Selina, and a very reluctant Bullock, Gordon is still learning the hard way that his ethics are really out of place in the current state of Gotham.
While this is going on, we check back in on the other plots from last week in much smaller doses. In Fish’s case, it’s definitely not as memorable as last time, though the tradeoff comes with some better development, particularly with regard to her relationship to Carmine Falcone (John Doman.) For as fun as her over the top moments are, it’s the meeting she has with Falcone this week that’s arguably been her best moment on the series so far – we know she’s plotting against him, and though he won’t act on it, it’s clear he knows it. The unspoken hostility is what makes the moment work, even more than the ending in which Falcone gives Fish a violent reminder of why he’s not to be crossed lightly. Meanwhile, Oswald’s return from the ‘dead’ has taken an appropriately nightmarish turn this week. Without giving too much away, let’s just say the dead fisherman from last week was just a primer for what stands to be a disturbing de-evolution into the man who will
be known as The Penguin. I said it last week and I’ll say it again here, I’m actually really liking Robin Lord Taylor’s take on probably one of the more underutilized of the main Batman villains here. Especially this week, where he gets a few creepy moments and he nails them well.
Like last time, the weak link in the stories award goes to Bruce Wayne’s plotline. This is a shame since I will admit here and now, I actually don’t think the kid playing young Bruce is that bad. Likewise, while he’s not who I would have first imagined, I’m getting to like Sean Pertwee’s take on Alfred. The problem is, their storyline feels just so detached from the rest of what’s going on. They make a few decent attempts to make things relevant – Bruce offers some of the Wayne Foundation’s money to support Gotham’s homeless children, as well as playing on the fact Selina witnessed the murder of Bruce’s parents, but for the most part, it still feels disconnected from everything. Even the idea of Bruce acting as a sort of conscience/goalpost for Gordon, while interesting on paper, hasn’t really found any footing here yet. Maybe when they actually decide to make good on the whole big secret behind his parents’ murder, it will work better. As it is right now though, if I didn’t know he was going to grow into Batman, I’d be looking at this kid and wondering “What the Hell are you still doing here?”
As far as how the A-plot this week plays out, it’s a decent piece of procedural work. There are three elements in particular that wind up working well for it. The first is the titular Selina and her involvement in the storyline. As far as this week is concerned, she’s in a similar moral spot to Gordon, but not as bound by any sense of procedure, which leads to her being justifiably frustrated with how the whole mess is handled. In terms of the younger cast members in the show, right now Bicondova is the more memorable of the two major players, and this episode shows why. How they’re going to keep her relevant for the overall show, I can’t say with any certainty, but she’s an interesting take on another character who has been reinvented several times now for live action. The next major standout is with regards to this week’s antagonists.
After last week’s peek into the violent side of Gotham’s underworld, this week skews into a more unsettling area care of the two main kidnappers, Lili Taylor and Frank Whaley playing a bizarre mix of soccer parent sweetness and cold-blooded ruthlessness (best embodied in a scene where Taylor calmly assures a blinded cohort that he’ll be going to a hospital just before disposing of him herself.) One of the really interesting things I’ll give the show is the fact that we’re ultimately kept in the dark on the motive for the kidnappings. The only actual tell is the fact a few scenes namedrop The Dollmaker (and anyone familiar with DC lore can now fill in the gaps with the uncomfortable implications THAT brings to the table about the fate of these children.) It’s a fairly minor bit of loose end, but one I actually found pretty fascinating, especially since it leaves the door open for this to come back in the future as well.
Finally, the best part of this series is still Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. If there’s one problem I have with this show overall right now, it’s that the representative forces of good in the GCPD are all pretty flat. McKenzie’s trying with the moral conflict, but he’s still expected to be the good cop and take everything calm and professional. Meanwhile, much as I love the fact the show is giving us Rene Montoya and Crispus Allen (Victoria Cartagena and Andrew Stewart-Jones), they spend this week just giving us a bit more background on Oswald and are otherwise kept out of the main plotline.
By comparison, Bullock is shaping up to be the big draw to keep me coming back back week after week. With the possible exception of the somewhat creepy, but otherwise marginalized Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) he’s the one member of the police that really makes an impression, even more so this week now that he and Gordon have established their dynamic. It’s a bit of an old ‘good cop, bad cop,’ but Logue embraces it and makes it work – especially when he finds himself having to act as a begrudging buffer between Gordon and the rest of the Gotham power structure. This week we even see some signs of Gordon giving back and acknowledging some of Bullock’s methods – on some level I get the sense he knows Bullock’s not actually a bad cop, just one who’s accepted the corrupted system as it is. If the show decides to dive more into their back and forth dynamic, it has potential to make for some interesting exchanges in the future.
All in all, it’s a good follow-up to last week. The show’s still ironing out some problems: its faces of goodness being on the blander side, and the dialogue, (while a bit better) is still not exactly a strong suit, but it’s getting there. We’re getting more peeks at the greater lore and some interesting spins on familiar faces out of it. If the show continues to find its footing, this could actually help really secure DC’s foothold on the television scene.
But, we’re still only on episode two, so time will tell, really.
We’ll see how things go next week with The Balloonman.
-Donal Logue is the Harvey Bullock we both need and deserve
-Oswald’s storyline is turning into an interesting side dish of horror for the show
-Dialogue’s getting better, but still not out of the woods yet
-If he wants to justify his screentime, Bruce Wayne’s gonna need to bring something a bit more to the story beyond “I’m Batman (…sometime in the unforeseen future)”