“Gotham” Season 2 – A Slow Start, Great Villains and the Ending Doesn’t Work

Gotham Season 2

    “Gotham” Season 2 has moments that really stand out and could have made this season great overall if what we’d been shown and had been consistent and if the story had been more focused. There are so many threads that are brought out and I felt the end of the season didn’t really resolve many of them and only left us with more questions, which I hope Season 3 can answer but it hurts the overall performance of Season 2. There are some great characters though and those are the ones that keep this show good rather than okay or bad.

This review will contain SPOILERS

       This season’s arc involves the continuing mystery of who killed the Waynes and finding out who set up the killer to kill the Waynes along with Theo Galavan’s attempt to destroy Gotham and the plots of Hugo Strange in Arkham Asylum.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography continues to be great on this show. Certain shots are presented like a comic book panel and it gives it a great feel and makes the world feel lived in.

The World – The world is fantastic, the story doesn’t really work all the time…but the conspiracies, the crazy people and the characters who make this world possible is great to see. I like this world and it is really what keeps me coming back.

Blackgate Prison – At one point in the story Jim is sent to Blackgate Prison for a murder Nygma framed him for. It is really cool seeing him make friends with another innocent trapped in there and how dangerous it feels. There is a reason this is high security while Arkham is technically a hospital.

Arkham Asylum – Arkham is awesome in this. Whether is Hugo Strange (the best villain in this series so far) or the different people in Arkham being transformed into their later Batman counterparts…this is a place where so much is always happening, and Thomas Wayne was tied to it all. Even if he didn’t know about Indian Hill he must have known about Strange’s experiments.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of this series, even though there are more characters I’d only consider okay or cons than last season, the stronger characters really make up for it.

The Maniax – These are 7 Crazies that Theo Galavan breaks out of Arkham to cause chaos in Gotham so he’ll be elected Mayor. The most memorable one is the Jokeresque one who starts a movement when he dies as his laughter and Joker like look become a symbol of resistance in Gotham in the underground…the Maniax’s influence stays long after they are all defeated.

Nathaniel Barnes – Barnes is the new Commissioner after the Maniax kill the old one. He’s all business and militarizes the GPD. He also doesn’t trust Gordon but grows to respect him over time. Michael Chiklis really puts in an amazing performance.

Leslie Thompkins – Leslie is the stability for Gordon that he can’t accept because of his guilt. She is a fantastic character and it is sad when she eventually leaves to escape the war against Galavan. We learn she was pregnant but the child died. Baccerin continues to put some of the best performances in all she is in. I like how she is the clear headed one in the relationship  and a fighter in her own right.

Butch – Butch is back and hooks with one of the Galavan’s and breaks free of the mind control Penguin put on him. No idea where he is at the end of the season though after Fish Mooney is resurrected by Strange as he runs away after she knocks out Penguin.

Elijah van Dahl – Elijah is Penguin’s father and the actor who played him (Paul Reubens) played Penguin’s father in “Batman Returns.” He is a great character and he is there to help Penguin after Penguin’s reconditioning in Gotham and point him on a path to goodness. He is killed by his wife though when she tries to poison Penguin.

Miss Peabody – Miss Peabody is amazing! She is Strange’s second in command and is a threat, we see her take out people much larger or unhinger then herself and strike fear in them. She is the one who reminds Strange that maybe he shouldn’t take things so far as it could back to bite them…she is the calm to his recklessness.

Edward Nygma / The Riddler – Nygma becomes the Riddler this season as he kills his girlfriend when she finds out he killed her ex and becomes paranoid. This leads to him framing Gordon for her murder, though after Gordon breaks out of Blackgate he forces Nygma’s hand with Bullock to reveal the truth. After Nygma is in Arkham his intelligence is on full display as he manipulates the inmates into calmness. It is implied he escapes at the end when Mooney escapes in the bus carrying all the inmates. He also helps put Penguin back together after Galavan kills Mrs. Cobblepot in the first half of the season. I didn’t like Nygma all that much last season but I’m sold on the character after this season.

Oswald Cobblepot / Penguin – Penguin goes through the ringer this season. He is the King of Gotham, loses it all to Galavan including his mother and sanity. Riddler puts him back together, he gets sent to Arkham where he again loses his mind and has the violence conditioned out of him and ends up with his father and step-family…his step-family kills his father and he goes bad again. He then gets revenge on Galavan when Galavan is resurrected into Azrael and Fish Mooney gets revenge on him, leaving his future up in the air. This was his season, even more so than last season and his rise.

Hugo Strange – BD Wong’s Hugo Strange is the best character to come out of this show! From his mad scientist bent of messing with people’s minds to turn them into characters, to his outsmarting the Riddler and GPD and his insistence in releasing unstable people out into Gotham for the kicks. He’s mad but has empathy too as we see he cared about Thomas Wayne even though he called in the hit. This is a character with depth who I hope we see more of. He blows all the other villains out of the water and the full extent of what he knows will hopefully come to light next season. I’d love it if he takes out the Court of Owls as they make him look like a Saint.

Alfred – Sean Pertwee continues to be one of the best parts of the show! In this season we see him further teach Bruce Wayne as well as search for him at different points and see some of his former military skill in action. Seriously, I want to learn more about this character and his backstory.

Harvey Bullock – Bullock becomes Commissioner in this! His arc goes from working with Jim even when it is against the law Jim’s a fugitive…to leading the police after Azrael mortally wounds the Police Commissioner. This character really is fantastic and seeing him become responsible is a lot of fun.

Jim Gordon – Gordon continues to show why the show is based around him. He’s conflicted, corrupt (kills Galavan and goes rogue) and is the heart of the show as he’s very much a proto-Batman as guilt runs everything he does and it is getting through that guilt that brings us to the end of the Season so he can have a life outside of Gotham with Leslie (before getting pulled back in).

Okay: Mr. Freeze – When he puts on the suit he is good but before that and his resurrection he has too much of the crazy already. He is killing, which makes him unsympathetic. He should have stole not killed. He makes a great minion for Strange at least.

The Galavans – Theo is great when he becomes Azrael, but as the Mayor I just got tired of his plots. In regards to his sister and adopted daughter, I never got what they wanted so they were just kind of there.

Barbara Kean – She is okay, I thought I’d hate them bringing her back but her going from one of the Maniax to a somewhat ally is actually handled really well. I also like that she figures out Clayface is Gordon because she knows Gordon love Leslie.

Selena Kyle – Selena Kyle is okay but suffers from the same problem as Bruce. She like Bruce would work as “Batman: Year One” versions of themselves. Them being kids makes it so there aren’t any real stakes.

Bruce Wayne – Bruce Wayne is okay, he isn’t as bad as last season, but little kids solving mysteries doesn’t work well in anything not directed by Spielberg. He does alright with what he’s given but he’s Bruce Wayne and has to become Batman so lots of plot armor so no real stakes.

Okay/Con: The Ending – Fish is back which was a terrible narrative decision unless they do something interesting with it, Penguin is dead or knocked out and Strange is in prison. Seriously the most interesting villain is gone. Also a Bruce Wayne clone? gets out of the bus too.

The Cons: The van Dahls – I wish they hadn’t been blatant villains. There is nothing good about them. They are pointless violence and stupidity.

Firefly – This character is annoying. I hated the episodes and her family and nothing that is done with feels real. Her friendship with Selena feels contrived and her fighting Mr. Freeze at the end feels corny in all the wrong ways.

Fish Mooney – Fish is back and I wish she’d stayed dead. If she was going to be brought back it should have been related to Penguin and a civil war to take control of the gang. When she’s back the city is going back into chaos with all the inmates of Arkham freed and now her wants role seem moot. Did she kill Penguin, if she didn’t…why? Minus character popularity, bringing her back at the end serves zero purpose.

Cluttered Narrative – The narrative in both the first and second half of this season is really cluttered. First season had the Barbara, Galavan and Maniax storylines going on along with everything related to the Penguin and the Riddler…while the second season had Azrael, Hugo Strange, the hidden Council, Penguin, Riddler and bringing back Fish Mooney…where last season felt like it was leading to something…this narrative felt cluttered and unfocused.

  Hugo Strange is the biggest reason to watch this season. The Maniax are great in the first half and help make up for the sometimes weak Galavan narrative while Strange makes up for how uninteresting some of his minions are and how uninteresting the Council of Owls so far appears to be. Seriously, watch this show for the villains. Most of the heroes are okay, with the exception of Bullock and Alfred whose performances I’d consider great. The rest are either good or okay. I hated that this season ended with a cliffhanger and Strange in prison, but there isn’t much to be done along those lines. I plan to keep on watching as there is enough here to keep me coming back and this show is overall good. If you like the world of Batman and enjoyed the first season of “Gotham,” you will probably enjoy this season.

Final Score: 8 / 10 (would be rated lower if not for BD Wong as Hugo Strange).

Hugo Strange Gotham

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012): A Fantastic Film Exploring the Power of Ideas, Consequences of Lies and Finding Resolution

The Dark Knight Rises

     “The Dark Knight Rises” is the most controversial of “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” This is both because of how people see the villain and some of the story choices that were made in regards to the timeline leading up to the film and some story choices during the film. This is a movie that you’ll enjoy more if you fill in the blanks and take it from the logic of the past films. For this reason for me it is a favorite, though I understand why people hate it, while for me…I enjoy it more than “Batman Begins” as I found the structure for this a lot better and the emotional payoff much more rewarding. This is an ending and a great ending is hard to pull off and I believe this film does it, and I’m also biased in that I loved Bane as a villain…which I know many people did not. This film is about bringing some of the character arcs we have followed the last 2 films to a close and first and foremost it does that, and it does it well, even with all the flaws.

      The film was directed by Christopher Nolan who also wrote and produced it. Jonathan Nolan was one of the co-writers and the other producers were Emma Thomas and Charles Roven.

     The story takes place 8 years after the events of “The Dark Knight” and organized crime has been taken down by Batman (Bruce Wayne) and the Police Department through the Dent Act, formed after Harvey Dent’s death. A lie hides over the city though as the truth behind what Harvey became is hidden by retiring Police Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) as Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives in Gotham to destroy it forcing Batman out of hiding as he must deal with this new threat and others.

The Pros: Cinematography – Wally Pfister is once again great in casting shots. From the fights with Bane that contrast his strength and power, to the shadows that Batman fights from and Gotham Occupied with the snow showing us a dead city devoid of hope and embracing despair.

The Soundtrack – Zimmer once again creates an amazing score! From the chants of Bane’s theme to the beautiful piano piece for Catwoman that shows the mystery of the character. His score has always succeeded in elevating the story and this is no different as we see Bruce Wayne go from his lowest point of despair to rising beyond the identity of Batman.

Narrative and Pacing – Narrative and pacing are the best they have ever been in the Trilogy. The story never drags and there is a clear ending rather than a bunch of climaxes. The clear beginning, middle and end compliment the story and characters and create a fantastic resolution to the story.

The World – The World is fantastic! This is a world where I don’t believe Batman ever really fully retired…as long as organized crime was around he was fighting and he had to give something for the police to chase at the end of “The Dark Knight.” Just like the League of Shadows will never ever fully go away, neither will Batman as a character or identity others can adopt. Both of these things are ideas and this movie fully captures that. Any person can adopt ideas greater than themselves and use it for good (John Blake taking up the mantel of the Bat) or Bad (Talia and Bane seeking to destroy Gotham to end it’s corruption).

The Characters – The characters continue to be one of the richest parts of the series and what will keep me coming back and even finding inspiration in them for my own writing.

Daggett and Stryver – These two were meant to show the corrupt Business world and that even without organized crime that is with the black market and drugs, Gotham is still just as corrupt…it has just become White Collar. They are fun and they clearly had fun being bad guys and in these roles who were presented as mini-bosses but were just Bane’s patsies as he was the one with the real power all along. They were the ones rules by fear and money.

Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow – Crane is back and when Gotham breaks everyone out of Gotham and Arkham he becomes one of the judges in the Kangaroo Court. This guy is awesome and there is even the chance he escaped in the end. This character is a survivor who embraces the madness in himself and around him.

Lucius Fox – Freeman continues to own this role and is there to help Bruce Wayne heal, from his coming back as Batman to helping Batman save Gotham and giving him hints he survived at the end. Lucius is the stalwart ally who is always there and is the only person not to betray Bruce’s trust.

Alfred – Alfred loses Bruce and learns how important it is to face the truth. He shouldn’t have burned Rachel’s letter about her marrying Harvey Dent as it hit Bruce in the worst place, leading to his being asked to leave…only to return believing Bruce Wayne to be dead. Luckily he finds that Bruce does grow beyond his role as Batman which is what he always wanted. Michael Caine does a great job once again.

Miranda Tate / Talia Al Ghul – Marion Collitard does a good job as Talia. Bane is the great villain (Talia is just good) and I think this is largely because she is too much of the classic League of Shadows. She uses a clean energy generator as a weapon which has bringing people back to their base nature and back to nature…calling back to the eco-terrorist roots of Ra’s Al Ghul and his League. She breaks Batman’s heart too and we learn that she could have truly been a friend and lover and been changed had they met much before this movie. It is the death of her father and his rejection of Bane that inspire her quest and identity as Bane and her had been shown the worst of humanity and saw that in Gotham. It was the pit that needed to be cleaned.

James Gordon – Gordon like Alfred deals with the consequences of the lie in “The Dark Knight.” He loses the trust of his only ally on the police force (Blake) when it is revealed and we see that. He became corrupt and the consequence was Bane faced no resistance from the populace and the populace embraced his revolution to take Gotham apart. He finds resolution though when he learns that he inspired Bruce to become Batman and helped Bruce to heal when he needed it most. We also see him becoming a healer again at the end as he is one of the few leaders left in a city torn apart by war. Gary Oldman truly inhabited this role.

The Dark Knight Rises Catwoman

Selina Kyle / Catwoman – Hathaway is fantastic and is my favorite Catwoman! She is a character who does what she wants but also seeks to become more as she wants freedom which we see she never had due to her financial state and being trapped where she lived and in how she dealt with it by becoming  a thief. She shows virtue though as she comes back to save Gotham and saves Batman from Bane before Bane kills Batman. It is partially thanks to her that Gotham is saved. She becomes a hero and in it finds freedom.

The Dark Knight Rises Bane

Bane – Tom Hardy is awesome in this role! Bane is one of my favorite villains in this series along with Two-Face, the Joker and Scarecrow. He is threatening in both body and how he carries himself and psychologically. His arc is showing his ideals are true, that humanity will destroy itself and to fulfill the League’s quest to destroy Gotham. He gets this perspective from his time in prison and the price that was taken on him for saving Talia from the mob who killed her mother. He loses everything and is stronger for it as all he has to live for is Talia and the ideals of power. It takes Catwoman shooting him with the Batpod. I wanted to spend more time with this character. There is so much depth and threat to this guy and so much unknown, even with all we learn. Like the Joker there is mystery there…and it lends power to the character.

John Blake / Robin – John Blake is my favorite Robin (Robin is actually in his full birth name) he is the orphan who discovers Bruce Wayne is Batman when Bruce visits his orphanage as a kid. This inspires him to become a cop and we see that he is the one with Gordon fighting against the occupation by Bane and having the most success. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is awesome in this role and if more films had been made of him in the role as Batman or Nightwing working with Batman I’d have been there, or read them had they made comics about it. This character has depth and isn’t a punk but an idealist who loses the idealism and goes his own way, becoming the new Batman.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce Wayne’s arc is moving on from the loss of his parents and Rachel as the truth of both when he loses everything (his company, identity as Batman and being unstoppable, Alfred and Gotham) and after losing everything he finds Bruce again and is able to transcend the Batman identity and grow. Bane breaks him and it is in the breaking that he can heal from the scars he never addressed. The Pit is as much in his mind as it is a physical Pit and it is only in rising from both that he manages to save Gotham and himself. This is Christian Bale at his best as we see his full range of anger, despair, hope and content. This film is the much deserved resolution Bruce has been seeking since he lost his parents so long ago. Now he can be Batman and Bruce Wayne. The world is his and whatever he chooses to do it will no doubt be to help others as before but as a truly healed person, not the broken vigilante he was before.

The Breaking of Batman – This scene is powerful as Bane shows that he inhabits the idea of the League of Shadows and Batman better than Batman. He is the manipulator from the shadows who fights psychologically and physically. He breaks Batman totally and leaves him to suffer while Gotham is destroyed. It is powerful scene as he knows how small Bruce Wayne is in his identity in the end.

Climbing the Pit – The Pit is there to remind Bruce Wayne that he is more than Batman. He had gotten beyond fear and in doing so had nothing to live. In becoming an ideal he had trapped himself inside the ideal. It is only when he leaves room for fear to fail that he rises about it and finds Bruce Wayne again, which is the identity he lost the moment his parents were shot. Climbing the pit is healing both physically and mentally and becoming more than he ever was before.

What Desperation Can Breed / Revolution – Gotham is separated between the extreme rich and extreme poor. This leads to the revolution that Bane incites that leads to the easy occupation of the city and letting the city eat itself before it’s inevitable destruction.

The Cost of Batman’s Victory in “The Dark Knight” – The cost of victory is the occupation and death of Gotham. The mayor and all areas of authority get destroyed over the course of the war. Even though the city is saved from the bomb, the scars Bane left on the city will probably never be healed…which I think is something both Blake, Bruce and Selina realize, which is why they’ll be around to help. They have left the city, but everyone returns to Gotham.

Importance of Truth – Bane is able to so thoroughly break Batman and the city by revealing the truth of Harvey Dent which riles up the city against the rich and authority. There is only a small resistance and the mob turns on itself showing that the lie to save Gotham did nothing as eventually the city did turn on itself. The city’s base self was laid bare.

The Ending / The Power of Ideas and Growing Beyond Self – I felt this was done beautifully. Gordon realizes the child he comforted whose parents were shot (Bruce Wayne) became Batman, his friend and ally. Blake becomes the new Batman as he realizes the structures of Gotham are ones he can’t work with and he sees the corruption that Gordon saw but chose to work within to change and Selina and Bruce transcend their past identities becoming fully free…off the radar and the map and free to be whatever they want to be. Batman becomes Bruce Wayne which can hold both identities and more. Alfred get’s his happy ending finding that Bruce found happiness too.

Okay: The Writing – There are awkward dialogue moments and some extremes that shouldn’t have been in here (Batman having no cartilage in his legs, and his “retirement”), but the strengths of the characters and other moments like any moment with Alfred or the fight with Bane elevate it. So I’m putting it as okay.

The Cons: Talia’s Death – This wasn’t done well. She didn’t have to say anything…we knew her father’s dream was done if the bomb went off.

Dialogue Moments – There are some awkward dialogue moments in this…for example in the finale fight as Batman and Bane stare awkwardly at each other. It is stilted, but once they get fighting it is fine. There are other moments of wooden dialogue too, luckily they are only moments and not consistent.

   This is a film that ends the Trilogy really well. Batman moves on and at the very least becomes International. This film captures the idea behind “Batman Inc.” in many ways as we see him abroad but setting things up for Blake to inherent the mantel of the Bat. Bruce Wayne is both Batman (fixing the Bat Light) and Bruce Wayne (his living openly abroad). This is something he never had in any of the past films. Bruce Wayne was only Batman in the past films as he was unable to live beyond his obsession. It is only in realizing that Gotham will always have problems and need protecting but that can happen and he can live too. He takes Alfred’s advice and stays true to himself. In that way Batman dies so that Bruce Wayne who inhabits both identities can rise and there is something beautiful in that. I get why people hate it, but our heroes shouldn’t stay static. Let Bruce Wayne grow as all characters should so he can be more than just the traumatized child lost in fear. Bruce Wayne deserves better than that and this Trilogy is his story, his growth, his rising.

Final Score: 9.9 / 10