Gotham’s early life has been about expectations. When you’re connected to one of the most lucrative, and arguably best, comic book characters of all time, those expectations will fly higher than the Batplane.
After passing the first test last week with a solid pilot and, perhaps even more impressive, solid ratings against a gauntlet of other options including behemoths The Big Bang Theory and Monday Night Football, Gotham had even higher expectations coming into week two. It appeared that Bruno Heller’s Batman-less detective drama just might actually work. But it’s too early to call this the show we deserve, and the second episode was quick to remind us of that.
One might expect (back again at expectations) that an episode titled after a character would involve them in some significant way, perhaps entirely revolve around the person in question. “Selina Kyle,” however, doesn’t see its titular character even utter a word until minute 40, or so. And, really, that’s about all you need to know of Gotham’s second hour. One big, wasted opportunity.
Last week, I wrote that Gotham needed to revel in the weirdness that it’s particular world allowed. Thankfully, Heller appears to be of similar mind, and “Selina Kyle” provided the disturbingly creepy storyline that will hopefully become a staple of the show. The main plot centered on a pair of child kidnappers, played effectively by Frank Whaley and Lili Taylor, the latter especially shining in the darkest ways, working for a briefly-named DC villain (who never appears, but his mention shows the writers’ willingness to cull baddies from across Batman’s vast history). Detective shows can often live or die based on their bit players’ performances, and Gotham’s second episode had two captivating character actors that were ultimately underutilized, thanks to a terrible case of plot congestion.
In a pilot it’s understandable, cram as much in for people to look at and think about, in order to get them to come back for week two. Now that we’re here, it’s time for Gotham to slow down, tighten, and focus. This week was hampered due to the myriad of side-plots at work. From The Penguin’s plotting, to Fish Mooney’s feuding, to Bruce’s self-mutilation, there was too much happening. It took away from what could have been an enthralling main storyline. Instead, what he had was an episode that plodded, and lacked much-needed punch.
The neutered kidnapping plot meant that, once we came to the familiar warehouse showdown, almost no tension had mounted giving a payoff that was lackluster at best. Time was wasted immensely on Fish Mooney and her building rivalry with Carmine Falcone. Jada Pinkett Smith continues to be the weakest member of the cast, not at all helped with a storyline utterly vanilla, as far as comic book fare goes. It came to the point where an involuntary groan emitted from my body each time she appeared on screen. Things could turn, and the Mooney/Falcone story could provide dividends, especially once Mooney learns that Penguin is still waddling. But for now Gotham’s non-comic creation is merely a pest. Similarly, Bruce’s inclusion in the episode was alarming. I begged and pleaded, but the young Master Wayne seems here to stay, though the show would be better off allowing him to brood beneath Wayne Manor alone.
It would be a great disservice, after chastising the writers, not to mention the titular character of the episode myself. Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle, though she prefers to be called Cat, a fact I know because it was repeated precisely one million times in the last 20 minutes (Get it? Because she’s Catwoman, guys), is quite strong once given the opportunity to speak. Slick and conniving, she successfully embodies a young Selina much in the way I had envisioned, though there is certainly room for growth. The rest of the cast continued to build on the second half of the pilot, becoming evermore comfortable in their roles, save for the aforementioned Smith, the still befuddling Erin Richards as Barbara Kean, and (perhaps the most confusing casting choice in the entire show) Richard Kind as Mayor Aubrey James.
?The fact that a show one-episode-old felt so often encumbered by the number of stories it’s attempting to tell is more than worrisome. With so many possibilities, there was always a chance that Gotham would stretch too far and, if episode two is indication, it already has. Long-gestating storylines—the kind expected to stretch over 20-plus hours—can’t be allowed to stand in the way of an episode’s main plot. In order for a detective drama to succeed, there needs to be a sense of fear or dread, a belief in the back of your mind that maybe, just maybe, the children will die. There was never that fear in “Selina Kyle.” It’s been a criticism of Batman stories in the past, that tension is too often broken because The Dark Knight always saves the day, but there is no knight in Gotham. Not yet.
Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.