This week on
Batman Minus Batman Gotham: self-harm! Child trafficking! Drunk driving! Lots of creepos being creepy! Metal m/ ! And an adolescent homeless girl who insists on calling herself “Cat.”
Our main storyline deals with a child trafficking ring in service of the Dollmaker. Patti and Doug are two squeaky-clean, uncomfortably friendly creeps who’ve come to Gotham to kidnap kids for their leader overseas. First pretending to be members of the mayor’s Homeless Outreach Project, they show up to and attack and sedate some runaway teens under the guise of charity—including Selina Kyle, aka That Girl From The First Episode Who Just Kind Of Slinked Around In The Background, aka “Cat.”
Gordon and Bullock get pulled into the investigation of the missing kids when they find the corpse of a homeless veteran whose unfortunate fate is quickly forgotten. Our Odd Couple Cops get along even worse than the last time we saw them, with Bullock holding Cobblepot’s murder over Gordon’s head and the two of them constantly tattling on the other to Commissioner Essen, who blatantly urges Gordon to get more crooked or “get broke.” She tells them to investigate the missing kids, but to keep the whole thing quiet from the press, because no one wants to deal with PR.
After some obligatory awkward creeping from E. Nygma, the search for the homeless kids brings Bullock and Gordon right back to Fish Mooney’s joint for information, where everyone pretends to be fine and dandy and happy friends after she tried to kill them last week. Gordon goes home to enjoy some nice Chinese takeout with Barbara, who interprets his internalized guilt over Gotham’s corruption as a sign that he himself is dirty. As if there wasn’t enough trouble in paradise, she then calls in an anonymous tip about the missing youths to the Gotham Gazette, much to Gordon’s dismay and borderline violent outrage.
Commissioner Essen is none-too-pleased about the press leak, for which she naturally blames Gordon, but he’s able to distract from the issue by actually finding a connection to a pharmaceutical company that manufactures the same sedative that Nygma found in the homeless vet’s blood. Bullock and Gordon show up with a warrant, and after a shoot-out with Patti and Doug, they find the kids locked up in the basement. Our Creepy Friendly Villains, however, manage to escape.
The Mayor holds a press conference, praising the police for finding the runaway youths, and uses the opportunity to address the larger issues of teen homelessness. He announces his new initiative to get kids off the street by sending them all off to a private institution upstate under the auspices of “helping” them. In private, we discover Gordon’s superpowers of righteous indignation and an utter inability to hold his tongue, as he reprimands the Mayor over a celebratory toast for essentially arresting innocent runaway teens without a trial. The situation is only diffused by a well-timed “L’chaim” from Bullock, for a little seasonal tie-in to the High Holidays.
Meanwhile, the kids get loaded onto a school bus to sent upstate, and
Selina Kyle Cat gets her first bit of dialogue, despite the fact that we’re 2/3 through her eponymous episode. She tries to negotiate with the Corrections Officer and asks if she can speak with James Gordon (even though they’ve never actually met). But alas, she’s denied her request, and forced to embark on the bus to the institution—which is swiftly commandeered by our dear friends, Patti and Doug!
The forced institutionalization of homeless youth is fine for PR, but the Mayor is livid that the teens have now been kidnapped again. So Bullock and Gordon are back on the case. After some swift justice delivered on an informant with a phone book, they’re off to a warehouse owned by Trident Shipping Company. Cat tries to escape from Patti and Doug on her own, even clawing open the face of one their lackeys (apparently she only scratches with three fingers; albeit, three very sharp fingers). Patti is about to shoot her when Bullock and Gordon arrive to save the day.
And by “save the day,” we of course mean, “ship the children back on track to the institution upstate.” Once again, Cat tries to negotiate with a Corrections Officer so she doesn’t have to go. After insisting that her dead mother is still alive, she tries again to speak with James Gordon, and when all else fails, she threatens to accuse the officer of sexual assault, which is enough to spook even the most corrupt Gotham Police officer. She and Gordon are finally formally introduced, and she pulls out her best bargaining tactics to stay out of juvie: she’s been keeping tabs on Gordon these past few weeks, and she not only knows that Mario Pepper was a patsy, but she also saw who really shot the Waynes. DUN DUN DUN!
Meanwhile, the episode also checks in with every single solitary subplot that was seeded in the pilot:
- Falcone pays a visit to Mooney at her club to let her know that Cobblepot told him about her plans to usurp his throne. He admits that the Falcones and Waynes were the two pillars that kept the city working, and that now there’s a power vacuum that some people will foolishly try to take advantage of. Then he proceeds to beat the living crap out of her boy-toy-lover, just to make his message clear.
- Cobblepot hitchhikes back to Gotham and gets picked up by some bro-dudes. They share a beer with him, then laugh about how his crooked leg makes him look like a penguin. So naturally, he flips out and stabs one of them with the beer bottle, then commandeers the car and holds the other one hostage for ransom. He rents out a cheap trailer next to a farm for $100 a week so he can stash the bodies, and then sets up one of those obligatory generic scrapbook walls of newspaper cutouts and string that all TV serial killers have to use.
- Young Bruce Wayne continues on his campaign of self-harm, this time holding his hand over a candle until he gets a second-degree-burn. He also doodles in his notebook with black pen and listens to black metal, in case we didn’t know he was angsty enough. He and Gordon have another nice conversation at the end of the episode after Alfred admits his own failings as a father figure. Bruce tries to donate money to the homeless teens, and Gordon explains that money can’t buy happiness, and that what those kids need is someone like Alfred to take care of them. Bruce figures he can at least buy them new sweaters or something.
- Allen and Montoya pay a visit to Mrs. Kapelput, the Penguin’s overbearing, vaguely-Eastern-European, and possibly-Oedipal mother. They’re investigating the her son’s murder (dramatic irony). When she realizes that they’re GCPD, Montoya makes sure to remind us, “But honest.”
Compared to last week’s overstuffed pilot, this week’s episode of Gotham was much more streamlined and less winky-nudgy-Batman-reference-y—with the exception of Cat / Selina Kyle, which was a bit overkill (what’s wrong with being named “Selina Kyle,” and just-so-happening to like cats?). And I understand the need to check in with your overarching season subplots that carry over from episode to episode, this still felt a little excessive—most shows will do an A and B plot, with one or two scenes touching on the other goings-on if the world, but this was more like an A plot with 16 D plots. Did we need to see Allen and Montoya with Mrs. Kapelput? Did Mooney need to commiserate with Butch? Did Bruce need to listen to black metal? Also, why didn’t the title character say or do anything for 2/3 of the episode? Where’s the thematic unity?
That being said, I really enjoyed this as a case-of-the-week episode. It was a nice contrast to last week’s big conspiracy-fueled mystery plot, and I hope that they can find a good balance between huge world-shattering conspiracies and simple missing persons cases. My criticisms mostly come because (a) that’s my job, and (b) I want to see more of the relationship between Bullock and Gordon. Right now the show is (understandably) leaning heavily on Ben McKenzie’s moral center, but Donal Logue is doing remarkable work with what is otherwise fairly flat writing of “corrupt jerk lazy cop.” The actor is likable enough that I would like to see the character written with a little more empathy.
Also on the note of Gordon and grey morality: I love the idea that his secret is NOT being corrupt. That everyone thinks they have some dirt on him, but the real scary secret is that they don’t. I’d love to see him use his subversive secret honesty more, instead of so blatantly yelling at the Mayor for his crookedness. Telling more lies in his pursuit of justice is the kind of complication I like to see. (I want like, Battlestar levels of moral greys)
I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed the camp creepiness of the episode, from Doug and Pattie’s wholesome ’50s horror to the skeevy Mrs. Kapelput. It’s definitely more Dick Tracy than The Dark Knight, but as long as they can own it (like Arrow owns its CW-ness), I’ll be down with it.
- Apparently the Waynes were planning on re-opening Arkham Asylum before they died—which, according to the latest trailer (below), might be a major season plot.
- I like how Cobblepot is a terrible negotiator when he’s trying to get the ransom money from the bro-dude’s mom.
- Were the 5678s playing at Fish Mooney’s club last night?
- Were Doug and Pattie working for the Dollmaker, or for Professor Pyg? My first thought was the latter, because we’ve seen him in the trailers, and because I’m a Morrisonite.
- I’m still uncomfortable with Bruce Wayne’s blatant cries for help. That might be a personal thing, but I can’t tell if the show is being genuinely evocative by depicting a suicidal adolescent onscreen, or if it’s cheap and exploitative. I don’t know enough about child psychology, but I think there’s a difference between depression and self-harm (though if they can pull off Bruce learning to refocus his feelings, I’d be impressed). Again, this could be personal.
- Also on personal things I’m reading too much into: Bullock talking about how the mere presence of a 6’2”, 260lb black teenager is frightening enough to make him guilty by default and deserving of suffering. Is this show that much on the pulse of current events, or did the writers just get lucky?
- It would be nice if Barbara Kean had a little more agency and soul than “half-hour in and we need another plot complication…hrmmm…oh yeah Babs you ain’t doin’ nothin’!”
- But wait really, is Harvey Bullock Jewish?
At the end of the episode, I realized that I didn’t notice any Joker cameos! Then I remembered Bullock stepping on the shoes of and getting in a fight with a purple-suited fellow at the police station, and how the whole moment felt unnecessary and weirdly slapstick. Then I smacked myself. Very nice.
Here’s a trailer of Things To Come!
Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. Thom enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey and robots). He is a graduate of Clarion Writer’s Workshop at UCSD, and he firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net.