If there’s one theme that emerges time and again throughout the Batman mythos, it’s that of duality, from the Joker and the Dark Knight to the latter and his own alter ego Bruce Wayne. The best scene in this week’s Gotham — and the most surefooted yet in the show’s first season — explores that theme as it exists between Bruce and Selina Kyle. The two youngsters have had the hardest time of any regular characters on the show, primarily because Gotham could exist quite comfortably without them. A brief appearance by Bruce after his parents’ murder in the pilot could have set Gordon down his path of justice without the need for repeat visits to Wayne Manor. And poor Selina, from her Michelle Pfeiffer Batman Returns hair to her Darwyn Cooke-era Catwoman goggles to her affinity for unnecessary gymnastics, has existed as little more than fan service. Paired, the two are not much better off. The scenes between them haven’t given much momentum to their relationship, and merely reinforce that, yes, they’re attracted to one another. In “Beasts of Prey,” however, the core of the Batman-Catwoman dynamic that’s compelled comic book fans for seventy-five years is illustrated on screen as clearly and efficiently as in print.
The two kids are investigating Reggie Payne, Alfred’s old army buddy, whom the board of Wayne Enterprises recruited to steal information from the young billionaire’s home. We learn that, after stabbing and almost killing Bruce’s friend and guardian, Reg has again fallen on hard times and is slowly drinking himself to death on the streets. After Selina snatches away his “medicine,” Bruce performs his first interrogation on the crook and learns who sent him. While it’s entertaining to watch the young man learn to perform tasks we’ve seen him do time and again as Batman (and actor David Mazouz immediately lets viewers in on Bruce’s thought processes with his always expressive eyes), things get much more intriguing when Bruce’s conscience steps in and prevents him from shoving Reg out a window — after he threatens to tell the board of Bruce’s inquiry and clumsily reaches out a window to the ledge on which Selina has dropped his poison. After seeing Bruce’s face a longing to rid himself of the problem Reg poses, Selina immediately sends Reg hurtling to his death. It’s an example of Gotham at its finest because it makes us want to see where these characters are heading next even as we know their fates. Plus it conjures up a variety of mixed feelings for both Bruce and Selina — sympathy, revulsion, pity, catharsis, and guilt.
The future Bat and Cat aren’t the only “beasts” featured this week. Fish Mooney has finally had enough of her island captivity at the hands of the Dollmaker, and arranges a prison break; happily setting up a few of her thuggish underlings so that the island’s maimed can escape. It’s one of the few glimmers of altruism we’ve seen in Fish. But there’s a price to pay — when her helicopter finally takes off she’s shot in the side by the island’s fearsome “Catcher.” Her future remains uncertain. But given that Jada Pinkett Smith has already announced she’s leaving the show at the end of this season, it’s unlikely to be a pleasant one.
The most predatory of all creatures is Jason Lennon, AKA “The Ogre” (played by Heroes‘ Milo Ventimiglia and very loosely based on a character that first appeared in 1996’s Batman #535). He’s a wealthy, handsome young serial killer searching for “unconditional love” and the perfect mate — and slaughtering his way through Gotham’s population of single attractive women in order to find one. GCPD has long been aware of his activities — and the broken heart symbol he leaves as a calling card — but given the Ogre’s penchant for revenge, targeting the loved ones of any policeman foolish enough to hunt him, the department has backed away. Yet the twisted Commissioner Loeb, still smarting from Gordon blackmailing himself into the role of President of the Policemen’s Union, sends a young cop to pique Gordon’s interest in the case, eventually causing him to fear the Ogre will target Lee. Cue the cliffhanger ending.
“Beasts of Prey” is the first episode of Gotham with an ending that’s had me riveted, and eager as all hell to see what happens next. While there’s a homicide case to be solved, the producers have been making good on their promise that 1.) new cases won’t arise every week, and 2.) when they do arise, they’ll directly affect the characters’ ongoing stories. Certainly Gordon now has as great a personal stake as he’s had in any case he’s worked this season. There’s also an arch timeliness to be admired in presenting Milo Ventimiglia’s suave psychopath as a much darker version of Fifty Shades of Grey‘s Christian Grey, complete with his secret room of pain. Ventimiglia is surprisingly perfect in the role, all memories of Peter Petrelli wiped away by his sharklike features and hateful sneer. I’m hoping he’s not brought to justice any time soon.
— Bruce is learning to lie. When he tells Gordon he doesn’t know who stabbed Alfred, he’s keeping a secret from his future partner for the very first time.
— “What can I say? You had me at homicide.” Oh, Lee, as much as it pains me to say this, you really are too good to last, aren’t you?
— The Penguin’s story is pretty minimal this week. He basically acquires a bar in which he plans to kill Sal Maroni. But he’s again reminiscent of Michael Corleone is the painstakingly careful preparations he makes for revenge, and an ascendency to the head of Gotham’s crime families. And there’s a wonderful twitch in Robin Lord Taylor’s nose when he almost meets Bruce Wayne for the first time.
— “Harvey, the victim deserves justice.” “Yeah, and I deserve a mute supermodel who likes pasty Irish guys and loves to cook. It’s not happening.”
Next week: A guilt-stricken Gordon goes after the Ogre, whose next target is Barbara Kean.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).