This review contains spoilers
Well, welcome back! The Dark Knight’s Returned. Nobody ever leaves Gotham for good – which is odd, really, since you’d think most people would have left for Nebraska or something after the Joker’s third gas attack – and now that Channel 5’s premier US import has made it back to our screens, it’s time to head back to the land of grit and capes. So, what’s changed?
Well, by the end of last series, Gordon had been booted out of the police force after angering Gotham’s corrupt leaders one time too many, and was forced into working security at Arkham Asylum. Penguin had established the beginnings of a gang, Fish Mooney was using her honeytrap Liza to weaken her own boss Don Falcone, Barbara’d left Gordon and Selina was back on the streets. And that’s not even all of what happened – there’s a LOT of subplots rattling around in this show.
As for this week, the main plot is that a mysterious villain’s lobotomizing Arkham inmates through experimental electroshock therapy. Gordon spends the first episode scrambling to find out who it is, with the help of one Dr. Leslie Thompkins, but the villain – the Electrocutioner – manages to escape the institution. The second episode is a hunt to track him down – if Gordon can do it in 24 hours, he’s back in the GCPD – with some mobster drama dominating the second half.
Technically, these episodes weren’t meant to be a two-parter, and were aired with a week’s divide in the US. Channel 5 bringing them together, however, was a good move – much of the first episode in particular consists of the show spinning its wheels and putting its myriad of pieces back in place. However, some plots just get cursory glances – Selina and Ivy are living together now, Barbara’s left Renee with precious little build-up and headed off to live with her rich parents. Probably the best of these was Edward Nygma’s – though his attempts to woo Kristen Kringle are still a bit out of place, they reinforce his position as social outcast, and the “riddle” of a bullet in a cupcake (love is sweet, but also deadly) was a nice touch.
Notably, some plots don’t make it in at all. Lil’ Wayne – and the overarching question of who killed HIS rich parents – is entirely absent from the episodes’ proceedings.
Instead, we get to hang around Arkham for a bit. We don’t get to see too much of the infamous Asylum, unfortunately. What we do see is a medical facility – somewhat dilapidated already, despite having just been re-opened – with some Gothic flourishes here and there, and some little indicators of the usual Gotham corruption (Electrocutioner steals a guard’s keys, which the guard tries to hide from Gordon because he doesn’t want to pay to replace them). And there’s inmates performing The Tempest, for some reason.
Our newest supporting character’s Dr. Leslie Thompkins. In the comics, she’s an old friend of Thomas Wayne and a future confidante and medic for Batman – here, she also serves as another potential love interest for Gordon. Hopefully, we’ll see more of her and the Asylum in future episodes – it’s likely, with Scarecrow as a confirmed villain for some point during this series.
And then there’s the Electrocutioner, with a design taken from his recent appearance in Arkham Origins and a fun, old-fashioned supervillain demeanour ripped from the Burton movies. (Also, sharp-eyed comics fans might have noticed Amygdala’s the hulking inmate he brings with him, but that’s just an incidental detail). He actually manages to exude a bit of menace – special mention goes to the opening shot of the second episode, as we follow a newspaper blowing down the streets as he stalks along, with a well-used Johnny Cash song crooning in the background. But then he’s ultimately beaten halfway through the second episode by Gordon spilling a drink on him, so never mind.
It’s the mob subplot, with Penguin and Falcone and Fish, that gets the most payoff and provides the highlight of the two episodes. In the first episode, Penguin winds up in prison after overstepping his own boundaries one time too many. But in the second, he exposes Fish’s scheme to Falcone. Falcone takes action, and after strangling Liza to death with his bare hands(!) he has Fish taken away by his psycho-for-hire, Victor Zsasz. Now Penguin’s inherited her gang and her nightclub – but since the limits of his power were highlighted so clearly in the first episode, it’ll be interesting to see how that one develops.
Overall, Gotham returns with a solid start, if not a particularly gripping one for the most part. Now that the status quo’s been restored for Gordon and the mobster subplot’s gathering speed, it’ll be interesting to see how things progress as the series carries on. Hopefully, the pace picks up from here.