Every step forward Gotham took last year, it quickly followed with a backward leap. But things have been different in Season Two. The promises of a more serialized production have come true, paying dividends across the board, and the writers are finally taking some serious chances with their characters. After last week’s shocking death of Jerome who, until that point, had been advertised as a major player in Season Two’s “Rise of the Villains,” I hoped Gotham would use the momentum and hit the ground sprinting in episode four, starting a comfortable roll that would carry us to the winter break.
That’s not how things unfolded.
Last night’s “Strike Force” was a step back in every way for Gotham, and easily the worst entry of the second season. While all of the episodes this year have lacked fervor, a side effect of the show figuring out the quirks of its new storytelling structure, “Strike Force” was supremely boring. There were attempts at action but, in typical Gotham fashion, they were botched to the point of slapstick. There is simply nothing compelling about watching Victor Zsasz, who is a supposed master assassin capable of killing anyone and anything, stand up and calmly walk forward toward his enemy while unloading a clip. The thought process must be that he is unafraid, or even incapable, of death, but the result is pure drivel. It was also not a banner episode for the show’s writing which, scene to scene, could best be described as miserable. It’s difficult to watch actors with real talent be done little favor by poor dialogue. Few characters appear natural on Gotham week-to-week, and last night no one did. Everything in the episode felt false, rather than characters existing in their world. Lines were awkward, staging was unnatural, it was all a mess. I was excited for the inclusion of Michael Chiklis, a Golden Globe and Emmy award winner who, by mere inclusion, should raise the acting level of the entire show. But, even great actors can be made a fool by poor writing.
Though the nuts and bolts were mostly rusted, “Strike Force” did at least introduce a few interesting plot developments. The episode’s title refers to a team of young police officers fresh from the academy, hand selected by Gordon and Captain Barnes to be the Alpha Team of GCPD. I like the idea of Gordon having a team of his own, especially one that is young and malleable. Even with the show’s cast list still relatively high after the early season exits, I don’t mind a few more cop characters, provided the writers can turn Gordon’s team into something other than bullet sponges which, at this point, seems unlikely. We also saw Theo Galavan enforce his will, blackmailing Penguin to kill the mayoral candidates, leaving the field wide open for Theodore to swoop in and steal the crown. Having the Galavans knock Penguin down a peg is a good move, as the character had become quickly stale. Now, he’s once again in a position where he’ll need to scheme to get his way, which is where Oswald (and Robin Lord Taylor) is at his best. But the top storyline of the night came from Edward Nygma, who finally mustered the courage to ask Kristen Kringle on a date. Though I’m continually befuddled by the costuming choices on the show, particularly regarding Ed and Kristen, who are both outfitted in retro attire worth of a Portland thrift shop, seeing the two together was fun. I’ve been a fan of dual-personality Ed from the beginning, and was pleased to see it given more space in this hour.
The Bruce side of the episode I was less keen on. Last week, news broke that Gotham would add a love interest for Lil’ Wayne, a decision that seemed wholly unnecessary. If Bruce must be included in the show at all, I’d rather watch him fight for the truth about his family’s company and train with Alfred, than be awkward around a female classmate. I simply do not see the merit in forcing a love interest for a character that is still in middle school. Then again, Bruce has never been your average 12-year-old, so why not continue on the path already set.
?I have seldom come into a Monday night with high expectations. But, to Gotham’s credit, that has begun to change over the first weeks in Season Two. After last week’s momentous decision to kill Jerome, I could not wait to see what the new era of Gotham had in store as an encore. The result was far worse than anticipated. I thought “Strike Force” would, at least, be a middling hour with little excitement and halfway decent plot, like many of the episodes this year. What we got instead was something incomprehensibly bad, in nearly every facet of the show. You can only do so much with big picture story when the individual episode writing is so off-putting. The only ray of hope is that the season is still young and this disappointment came from high expectations rather than low. Episode five now has a huge weight to bear. It can either put the season back on a positive course and continue the overall improvement over the first season, or it can turn the downward stroke of “Strike Force” into an all out spiral.
Eric Walters is the Assistant Tech Editor for Paste and a regular contributor to the TV section. For more of his thoughts on comic book television, listen to his podcast.