Season One, Episode Two – “Selina Kyle”

By Matt Fleming. The second entry in Fox’s Gotham, “Selina Kyle,” takes off running and gives the viewer an idea of how dexterous the show is attempting to be. Juggling multiple storylines that are both episodic and seasonal arcs, this Batman prequel shows us that it is its own series. In this episode, the gritty realism gets highlighted by small bits of fantasy, reminding the audience of the world the show is inhabiting, and handles this with aplomb.

The primary story in this episode is the investigation into a homeless child-trafficking ring. The relationship between Detectives Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock is tested again, with Bullock showing no interest in the vagrant victims. The low profile case gets a boost when Gordon’s girlfriend, Barbara, calls the newspaper and spills the beans on the abductions. As GCPD’s odd couple work the case, the mayor (the terrific Richard Kind) plots to ship the orphans to Juvie. This doesn’t sit well with Selina Kyle, who prefers the nickname “Cat.” This young troubled girl has been slinking around, spying on Det. Gordon, and holding her cards close to her chest. She may prove to be a key witness in the investigation of the Wayne murders.

Meanwhile, the underworld is showing cracks following the disappearance (and faked death) of Oswald Cobblepot: Carmine Falcone shakes down Fish Mooney, having heard through Cobblepot of her plans to take out the Don. She escapes unharmed, but not without a hard lesson. Simultaneously, Oswald is working toward his comeback, slowly but with determination. We get a peek into how truly horrible he can be, as he plans his revenge from outside the city.

Again, this show is riding on some masterful performances, and this episode features many. Ben McKenzie’s Jim Gordon is showing some of the stress from his tricky induction into the GCPD, and his relationship with Donal Logue’s Bullock is still a shaky union at best. However, the actors’ chemistry together is wholly engaging, and it seems like a matter of time before these two finally exchange blows. Another stand out, albeit in less screentime in this episode, is the deliciously devilish Jada Pinkett-Smith as Fish Mooney. The woman’s struggle for power in the male dominated underworld is punctuated by the brief appearance of serious feelings which clear her night club. She is so good that I was able to make it through her scene with Falcone, played by a robot wearing John Doman’s skin and a cheap suit. His lack of a personality gives Jada plenty of room to continue her channeling of Eartha Kitt.

The highlight performance in this episode definitely belongs to Robin Taylor. Oswald Cobblepot continues his transition from sadistic mob thug to ruthless mastermind. His trembling delivery of dialogue that could sound stifled gives the show some real goosebumps. As he hatches his plan to return to Gotham, he shows the ruthlessness that will create the Penguin. Another blast off performer in this week’s turn is Camren Bicondova, the burgeoning Cat-girl. While she lurks in the shadows more often than not, when she does get to speak she is full of piss and vinegar. This character has a little influence from just about every iteration of the Catwoman, and you can see her playing both sides of the law for her own good.

Although they are vague about the man behind the child kidnappings, they give him a name familiar to fans, but hold back his face or motivations for a later time. That leaves the crimes in the hands of Frank Whaley and Lili Taylor, two of my favorite ‘90s actors. Their abductors are cold and cunning, soft spoken and ruthless. There are some problems with this storyline, but the performances make up the difference. Also, Bruce Wayne continues to push himself toward becoming a caped crusader, while Alfred has to keep him from burning down Wayne Manor. I’m warming up to Sean Pertwee’s Pennyworth, who is clearly in over his head with Bruce.

The second episode of an anticipated series can often make missteps, but fortunately for Gotham, most of those are balanced by the numerous positives. The characters are growing, and the overall story of Gotham’s underworld and the aftershocks of the Wayne murders is advancing. The show has enough sense to keep balls in the air with multiple subplots, so the show is rarely boring. The resolution of the abductors’ apprehension was lacking, but by that point the episode needed to be wrapped up and sent on. As long as the show’s leads keep delivering killer performances that keep me caring, it’ll keep me watching.

Passing thoughts:

-In addition to Frank Whaley and Lili Taylor, Carol Kane shows up as Oswald’s wacky mom! She sounds like a crazier version of her character from The Princess Bride.

-Oswald’s mom shows up because Renee and Crispus from Major Crimes keep digging to bury Jim Gordon. I’m interested in seeing how this all wraps up.

-Isn’t Mayor Richard Kind a smarmy sonuva-slimeball? He just wants to get rid of these dirty kids and finish his afternoon whiskey.

-Bruce Wayne is a self-harming, jaded little metal head. That’s really why they call him The Dark Knight.

-Arkham Asylum is reopening in the near future? Or was that just a clever bit of misdirection.

-Next week’s episode looks pretty interesting. Professor Pyg? As long as there’s more Penguin, it’ll be worth the wait.