The theme of duality recurs frequently in the Batman universe. It’s inherent in Bruce Wayne himself, and surfaces in many of his friends and foes. But what works as a motif in stories can prove detrimental when it becomes a structure for stories. And even more so than it did in the pilot, the second episode of Gotham illustrates why the show’s writers must remain ever vigilant lest a schism develop between its youthful protagonists and its adult characters.
“Selina Kyle” is a somewhat odd name for this installment in that it doesn’t tell us much more about the young Catwoman than it does the increasingly vicious Oswald Cobblepot, here killing and torturing a couple of young bros while licking his wounds after being cast out of Gotham. But both Selina and Oswald have something in common – they’re separated from mothers who’ve played unusually large roles in their lives. Selina (reminiscent of the titular urchin in Annie) keeps a photo of her mom in a heart-shaped locket and insists she’s alive even after Gotham PD says she’s dead. Carol Kane is introduced as Oswald’s mother, who like her son is a Dickensian-style nutcase, reminiscent of Great Expectations‘ Miss Havisham with a touch of Norma Bates.
While Bruce’s connection to the main plot is slight – he sympathizes with the city’s orphans and uses his money to buy them new clothes – Selina’s involved more heavily. As a street kid, she’s one of the would-be victims of a mass child trafficking ring organized by the Dollmaker (a villain from DC’s New 52 continuity, who, in a reverse spin on Batman’s origin, is created when he witnesses the young Jim Gordon shoot his criminal father to death). At least that’s what we’re told by the Dollmaker’s two henchmen, played by character actors Frank Whaley and Lili Taylor (delivering performances just shy of camp). They capture their prey with the use of a poison pin, while posing as do-gooders from the mayor’s homeless outreach project. We’re offered our first true introduction to the mayor, who, like most every grownup in Gotham, is a bit of dick. Richard Kind erases all memories of his many comedic roles as an official who’s concerned far more about his public image than he is Gotham’s young people.
Fortunately, the show eases down on the fan service that featured so heavily in its pilot. And when such service is paid, it advances the narrative. Selina, for example, calls herself “Cat” in attempt to forge her own identity and steer clear of authority. And though she advises another child, “When you get in a fight, go for their eyes,” it foreshadows her self-defense several scenes later. Likewise, Oswald’s disdain for his “Penguin” nickname is the catalyst for his commandeering a means of transportation. The writers also refrain from making Edward Nygma present forensics info in the form of riddles again (here he merely makes Gordon and co. guess what he’s discovered), and he offers the series’ first mention of Arkham Asylum as the source of the antagonists’ poison. As a longtime comic fan, however, I’ll admit my favorite Easter egg has zero bearing on the story – as the camera pans across the Gotham skyline, we see, on the side of one building, for just a moment, the large illuminated green “Q” of Queen Consolidated.
The episode’s wisest move is to avoid presenting Selina and Bruce as the solution to the central dilemma. They offer support – and, in the case of Selina, take down a henchman – but, like any kids, they still need the adults in their lives in order to survive. Any fears that Bruce would transform into Wesley Crusher are, so far, unwarranted. There is, however, a bizarre revelation about the boy billionaire, when Alfred tells Gordon Bruce’s parents requested their son not be treated by psychologists in the event of their deaths. It wouldn’t surprise me if this bit of Bat lore was pulled from the comics (the Dark Knight’s origin story has been told more ways than I can count), but there’s no rationale given for why an educated physician like Dr. Wayne would oppose psychology to such a degree that he addresses it in his will.
One thing we do learn about Bruce’s family in this episode is that “the Waynes and the Falcones were pillars of the same house,” or so Carmine Falcone tells Fish Mooney. Again bringing duality to the table, and further motivating her to topple that sole remaining pillar.
For now, we’ll have to wait before she takes action. The Dollmaker is still at large (and so, it seems, is prim psycho Lili Taylor), and Selina is one bowl of milk away from telling Gordon who she saw murder the Waynes. But the biggest question remains how both her and Bruce will serve Gotham once the Wayne murder case is solved. For now, I’m intrigued enough to keep watching.
What do you think? Did this episode top the pilot? Where do you think the show is heading? Let us know in the comments below.