“What the hell?” asks Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie, “Southland”), waking up to the sight of Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor, “The Walking Dead”) and Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith, “Carol”) singing together. In many ways, this reaction of disbelief sums up my thoughts on “Gotham” ’s second season. The show is insane, many times edging into headshaking ridiculousness, but there are moments where it becomes ridiculously entertaining, against anyone’s better judgment.
One of the biggest issues “Gotham” had in its first season was a failure to commit to a specific tone. As it tried to balance a gritty police procedural with over-the-top supervillain antics, “Gotham” became a muddled mess. However, in its second season, the series committed to the more exaggerated reality of its comic book origins while maintaining darker moments.
“Gotham” is still a mess, but at least now it’s a mess with some direction. Abandoning the incredibly dull (and often lazy) procedural aspects of its inaugural season, “Gotham” became far more serialized. Its sophomore attempt focuses on the vengeful machinations of the Galavan siblings, Theo (James Frain, “True Detective”) and Tabitha (Jessica Lucas, “Evil Dead”), against Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz, “Touch”).
The Galavans’ plans to gain influence in Gotham, from forming a team of psychotic criminals to recovering an antique knife, were deeply entrenched in their ancient feud with the Wayne family. However, this solid set of motivations suffered from struggles that have plagued “Gotham” since its beginning.
Issues like shallow characters continue to prevent several storylines from ever really distinguishing themselves. Theo never rose above his one-track mind for vengeance and became a relatively dull villain, even though Frain embraced the more flamboyant aspect of the show. Another new character, Captain Nathaniel Barnes (Michael Chiklis, “The Shield”), became a traditional incorruptible cop and not much else. Again, the strength of Chiklis’s acting elevated aspects of the character — but, like so many “Gotham” characters, he remained as flat as the comic pages that “Gotham” draws inspirations.
The lack of character development in places is a real shame, considering the incredible amount of depth and development that comprises the extensive Batman mythos on paper and film. Again, a lot of these issues spawn from “Gotham’’ ’s tendency to not commit. Characters always walk a line but hardly ever cross it. They appear to be locked in perilous personal crises until the writers acquiesce and pull them away from the edge.
Thankfully, the series at least makes some commitment in its finale with Gordon. “Gotham” has always hinted at Gordon needing to embrace a dark side in order to bring justice to the city he wants to protect. His twisted relationship with Cobblepot has been the main personification of this idea, as the two occasionally trade favors with each. Gordon’s willingness to dirty his hands contrasts with “Gotham” ’s earlier episodes when the show always stopped him from going too far instead of actually testing the metal of its usually righteous protagonist.
This time, “Gotham” ensures that Gordon will go all the way to stop Galavan. “You keep trying to kill yourself,” says Gordon’s girlfriend Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin, “Homeland”) as he prepares to join his few allies and Cobblepot’s thugs in an attempt to rescue Bruce. By having Gordon fully enter into an uneasy alliance with the future Penguin, the show finally puts Gordon at risk of losing his moral responsibility — something that becomes all too apparent in the episode’s final minutes.
“Gotham” still has some major problems, from characterization to absurd plot movements, but at least the ship has righted itself to a degree. The after-credits teaser again displays concerns about the shows ability to commit to major moves, including character deaths, but only time will tell if “Gotham” is on the right course or steering straight into an iceberg.