Gotham – S2 E4 “Rise of the Villains: Strike Force”

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“Gotham doesn’t have straight lines; it twists and turns and has dead ends.”

This applies to Gotham the city, with the layers of crime, corruption and general nastiness, as well as Gotham the series in its storytelling, though this episode is more like a calming zone with speed bumps rather than a dead end. After the opening salvo of interconnected stories for the first three episodes, it seems things have gone back to status quo in episode four.

Penguin wants to end the chaotic lawlessness after Jerome’s rampage, Gordon wants to clean up the GCPD, Harvey is cynical, and Bruce returns to school after his near death experience. Through in a shootout between Gordon and Victor Zsasz and it all seems so – season one-ish.

What made the start of this season fresh was the casting aside of stand alone episodes in favour of a more serialized approach and in Strike Force we get a small sense of that, even if this feels like a filler episode.

That said, not every episode can be chock full of action, theatrics and dramatic death scenes (though Marvel’s Daredevil managed to succeed in that). For a 22 episode season there needs to be connective threads that set up ideas for future payoff, tease out character arcs and hold down the fort in between the more exciting episodes. The trick is to get these filler episodes right, lest the writers bore viewers who change the channel.

While this wasn’t a terrible episode, it wasn’t a particularly exciting one either, save for a solid performance of Robin Lord Taylor as Penguin who cuts loose emotionally and can, more than any other actor, say a lot with his cheekbones. Some good facial expressions here, first when Galavan shows Penguin he has mother Gertrude held captive, then at the end when Penguin’s men tell him they can find her. It even appears the Gordon/Penguin entente has run its course; a near end of episode meeting has the two fire warning shots over the bows, yet neither yield. We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks. 

Galavan’s plan is revealed in a little more detail – he plans to run for Mayor and needs inspiration from a drive by shooting attempt as well as taking out the competition, and I don’t mean for lunch. Penguin is forced to be Tonya Harding to the candidates’ Nancy Kerrigan, killing them to clear Galavan’s path to the big seat on city council unchallenged else dear mother Gertrude suffers. “We’ve been doing crazy stuff all day long,” muses Butch, and the episode seems to move along the same path.

The other main story involves new Captain Nathaniel Barnes (Michael Chiklis), a clichéd angry, ex-military man who assembles a team of uncorrupted Gotham PD cadets into a no-nonsense strike force who answer only to Gordon called, well – Strike Force. Barnes wants to clean up the police department and the city’s corruption, and spends his first minute on the job firing several corrupt cops and arresting one on the spot. “No one gets a free pass,” he says, which clearly makes Gordon’s shirt collar feel tighter than before.

But Barnes’ Eliot Ness-like plan to form The Untouchables is a bit of throwback jingoism, and the name Strike Force sounds like something from an ‘80s action show. An actor of Chiklis’ stature should give this character some needed depth; after all, he was Vic Mackey of The Shield.

Hopefully the Strike Force get more to do than strap on the guns and get involved in shootouts; perhaps they can break up the “Jim investigates” storylines that plagues season one.

Nygma gets a little more screen time in this episode; what seems at first to be another frustrating scene of Nygma arguing with Riddle while gathering the courage to ask Miss Kringle out turns the tables on the audience; he lets Riddle have his way and in doing so he succeeds in securing a date with her.  The date doesn’t go as planned, but ends in a kiss between Nygma and Miss Kringle, but more interesting is his tableware; beakers of various sizes substitute for glassware and a Bunsen burner is more efficient at cooking than a frying pan.

Bruce gets three scenes as well – the first gushing over Galavan as thanks for saving his life and meeting Galavan’s niece Silver St. Cloud, and the second seeing Silver at his school. Bruce the future bat is clearly a smitten cat here, and it appears Galvan is counting on it. A third brief scene sees his training with Alfred begin, and the first lesson is a six mile jog home from school. The introduction of Silver, plus Alfred’s lecture to Selina to stay away from Bruce, sets up a potential love triangle story for future episodes.

Hopefully Galavan has more to do soon; aside from killing Jerome, all we’ve seen him do is stand around, reveal plans and tell people what to do. Like Barbara, we’re all hoping for a little more excitement.