(THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE GOTHAM EPISODE "MAD CITY: BETTER TO REIGN IN HELL")
Previously on Gotham ... Gordon quits the GCPD to find Lee, Bruce finds out Wayne Enterprises is run by some sort of shadow organization, Fish Mooney is back from the dead and can glamour people with her magical fish powers, and, oh yeah, an innnumerable amount of monsters have escaped from Indian Hill, including what appears to be a clone/twin/doppelganger of Bruce Wayne. So far his super power is "long hair."
So, yeah ... some things happened last season and, despite how it may sound, embracing complete insanity may have actually made Gotham, if not a good show, at least an extremely entertaining one.
Now on Gotham ... the question is, can the show stay compelling when it has to revert to slowly building stories again rather than tearing all of them down? And the answer is ... yeah, mostly. The Season 3 premiere lives and dies by its ability to juggle a whole new collection of balls in the air. And believe you me, there are a lot of balls in the air by the end of this episode. And since I've said it twice, let's just complete the rule of three and get it out of the way now, shall we: balls.
There. I feel better, don't you? Now, without further ado, play that plotty music, write boy.
- It's been six months since the Escape from Indian Hill (which sounds like a Hardy Boys novel or a Choose Your own Adventure Book), and the GCPD has been busy doing a pretty mediocre job of capturing all the new freaks, geeks and psycho killers so far. Enter Jim Gordon, who's still not back on the force but is, instead, operating as a bounty hunter. Why a bounty hunter? Well, since it turns out Lee already got herself a new man, Jim is now a loner and drinks and doesn't play well with others and did I mention he drinks? He has multiple drinking scenes this episode. Also, bounty hunters get paid $5k per capture, which I would bet is better than cop pay in Gotham.
- Penguin, who I guess the GCPD are allowing to just walk around these days, calls the cops out publicly for not hunting down the Indian Hill escapee's ring leader, Fish Mooney. Oswald is so afraid of Fish, in fact, that he's placed a $1 million reward on whoever can capture her, dead or alive. The only person who can calm Penguin down is a still-imprisoned Edward Nygma, who reminds Oswald that penguins eat fish. Yum. And speaking of Fish ...
- Yes, Fish Mooney is still back, bitch. And she is, indeed, leading the escapees. But their criminal activity is pointed: They're looking for immunosuppressants to deal with the fact that their new powers seem to be killing them. Fish's gang includes who I think is Manbat, Marv who eats people's life force until they die from old age, bondage gear Mileena from Mortal Kombat, a big guy with Godzilla back ridges, Selina Kyle for some reason, and a few random others.
- And then there's Valerie (don't call her "Vicki") Vale, a new reporter in Gotham. She's chasing down the elusive Fish Mooney, too, for a story by being really annoying to bounty hunter Jim Gordon, until he does all the investigating for her. But, turns out, Valerie's being played: her source on Fish's location is Fish herself, hoping Valerie will lead her to Ethel Peabody and a potential cure for Fish and her cohort's deadly condition. Valerie is also being played by Gordon, who figured Fish was trying to use him to find Ethel. He obliges, using Peabody as bait and getting her captured in the process.
- Poor Ethel. Her usefulness runs out when she reveals that only Hugo Strange can cure Fish, and so Marv sucks the life force out of Ethel and that's one of my favorite characters dead. Drag. Also, because she's very, very dumb, Ivy (hey, remember her?) follows Selina back to Fish's hideout, threatens to rat everyone out, and also seemingly gets soul-sucked by Marv. Except we know she isn't dead, just replaced with an older, sexier actor. Ho hum, who I guess we'll see next episode. Ho hum.
- Bruce Wayne is also back in town (did I mention there was a lot of plot in this episode because WOW is there) and he's back with purpose. Organizing a meeting of Wayne Enterprises' board, Bruce announces that he has evidence linking some of them to the mysterious Court of Owls and that, if he is not contacted within 24 hours to discuss terms, he'll go public with what he knows. Which is some pretty solid tough-guy talk that would mean a lot more if it didn't end in Alfred getting beat up by a goofy mime in a mask and Bruce being kidnapped.
- Oh, and also Barbara Kean and Tabitha Galavan are maybe dating now and somehow have their own lady club for ladies. Butch is heartbroken about Tabitha leaving him and sics a rival gang on them so he and Penguin can show up and save the day. That's how you win your sorta girlfriend back from another woman, right? Nah. Instead Barbara and Tabitha kill most of the rest of the rival gang just in case you forgot they're both completely psychotic.
- Also, also, Bruce's doppelganger is following Selina around and seems obsessed with understanding who Bruce is and who he himself is. His hair is still long.
Is that it? I think that's it. Wait, no, Captain Barnes is back on the job but seems like he's really sick and maybe dying. There. Now that's it. Holy jam-packed episode, Batman, that was a lot of plot.
So. What worked, what didn't, and how "oh, Gotham" does Season 3 get at its outset?
- The relationships between characters is stronger than it's ever been: Jim and Harvey, Bruce and Alfred, Barbara and Tabitha, Penguin and Butch, Penguin and Nygma, Penguin and basically anyone, but especially Nygma, who he is obviously in love with and I am so here for that relationship.
- It's gratifying to see the gang warfare finally working. Back in Season 1, that was the most boring element of the show, but now that it's Penguin vs. Fish and her merry band of maniacs, there's a fun and a chaotic nature to the bad guy vs. bad guy story that gives that plot more energy and excitement.
- I'm not sure I accept this whole "Jim Gordon: Bounty Hunter" riff because Gordon's usually a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, but I can't deny that the process to bringing him back to the GCPD is thus far a lot more fun than watching him fret over the consequences of every action he takes.
- Lucius Fox working for the GCPD may well be one of the best decisions Gotham makes this season. His sometimes stuffy attitude paired with devil-may-care Bullock is comedy gold already. I could watch a whole show just starring the two of them, honestly.
- Selina Kyle might be for this season what Bruce was for last. She's already getting so much dimension as the show's best-written (and -acted, frankly) anti-hero. Seeing her struggle with Bruce and Ivy, you get a sense of the maturity of the character. Selina knows how to play both sides in a way that no one else on Gotham does, and it's great to see a younger actor be given the chance to play such a meaty role.
- Valerie Vale, girl, you did not give a great first impression. But this is Gotham's problem, right? They don't really know how to do heroic women at all. Valerie continues that by being more obnoxious than heroic. She snarks at everyone, but she's not written smartly enough to make that work, so it just reads as irritating. Gordon literally says he needs to find a new bar because she won't stop pestering him. I get the sense I'm suppose to find her fun and plucky, but one episode in and she's just kind of a nuisance so far.
- And speaking of Gotham's woman problem, gosh is the Barbara and Tabitha situation a bit of a mixed bag. I want to like them having their own club. I suspect in time I will. But, in this first outing, while it's nice to see them finally under their own power without men dictating the rules (sucessfully, anyway), it's hard not to be disappointed that at the whole psycho lesbians thing they've got going. Queer representation would be a lot cooler if these two characters had more depth than laughing maniacally while hitting or stabbing people.
- And then there's Ivy. We haven't seen the new actor in the role yet, but gosh she's got to be better than the Ivy we've got now. It seems like the writers never knew how to write this current, younger version of her. There's a fine line between capturing immature childhood and making a teenager seem more like a toddler, and Ivy comes off as the latter repeatedly in this episode. At least they found a way to write a new actor in that sort of makes sense?
- They killed Ethel Peabody. How very dare you, Gotham? #EthelDeservedBetter
- I just want to put it out there that Jim Gordon tricks a Godzilla Guy into being hit by a truck and, just as it's about to happen, Jim gives him the bye-bye sign like we're watching an episode of Looney Tunes. Oh, Gotham ...
- It feels like the show wants me to see Valerie and Jim together, but it's Barbara who feels more than ever like his match. After beating a rival gang leader about the face, she makes fun of him because his swollen face forces him to say the word "club" as "cwub." She's the hyper-violent Bugs Bunny to Jim's equally wacky Daffy Duck, making the entire show more cartoonish than it's ever been. Oh, Gotham ...
- A costume question for you all to ponder: Does the Court of Owls lady ever take her mask off? It's gotta get itchy underneath that thing after a while, right? And speaking of costumes, can Fish Mooney take any of hers off? It's been six months since last season and she's still wearing the exact same thing. Did someone superglue the zipper shut? Gosh, I hope her super powers include an ability to super hold her bladder forever because dang. Oh, Gotham ...
- Alfred gets into this huge fight sequence with the Court of Owl's most deadly mime, but despite being only a few meters away, Bruce can't hear it? He just shows up, also doesn't hear the evil mime right behin him and gets kidnapped? Look, I'm just saying that there needs to be an episode dedicated to Bruce's visit to the ENT, that's all. Oh, Gotham...
So we're back, and there's already a lot to explore this season. Gotham proves it can be fun without tearing everything down all the time, and even the lower points still have the potential to become great as we dive further in.