“Are you not sacrificing the greater good for the sake of your dignity and self-esteem?”– Bruce Wayne
If you’re looking for a light-hearted (mostly) take on DC superheroes, go check out The Flash. If you’re looking for a creative reimagining of Batman’s origins with humor, panache, and deep meanings that just might critique our society today, then tune in to FOX’s Gotham.
In an explosive premiere and followup, Bruno Heller’s series focused in on the villains in a way that even the first season had not. Marketed as “Rise of the Villains,” it’s clear that we’ll see a wider variety of villain from the Batman canon … and elsewhere. Notably, we see a broader, deeper view of Jerome (Cameron Monaghan, first introduced in “The Blind Fortune Teller”), whose laugh is a dead giveaway as the introduction to Batman Enemy Number One, The Joker. But there’s also an original brother-and-sister combo, Theo (James Frain) and Tabitha Galavan (Jessica Lucas), who intimidate their way into running a violent crew parallel to Oswald Cobblepot’s (Robin Lord Taylor) mob, enforced by Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan). Deeper and darker than even the first season proposed, this growing mass of depravity stands against any future hope of Jim Gordon’s (Ben McKenzie) fair city.
Somehow, the show tends to highlight the irregularities and issues of its villains even more intensely than it regularly shows the goodness of its protagonists. It feeds on the mentality of those who see doing evil and ‘making a mark that people will remember’ as the course of their own legacy. They are not evil because they are sick or because they hurt; they are evil because they choose to find pleasure in it. This is a mark of the latest batch of shows like True Detective but it doesn’t have to be all that there is to highlight the line between good and evil.
To provide a better balance, the creative team has introduced a second layer to Bruce Wayne’s (David Mazouz) mansion, and twisted the decision making that both Wayne and Gordon will take in this second season. Will they choose goodness at the expense of stopping evil, or will they wade into muddy waters at the risk of getting dirty themselves? And will they rally people to their cause, like Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee), Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), and Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk)?
While the most captivating scenes are dedicated to Jerome’s twistedness (throwing a series of bodies off of the top of a building to spell a clue) or Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) slowly losing his mind, I’m drawn back to the show because of the internal/occasionally external dialogues that Wayne and Gordon bring to the show. How far would they go for truth, justice, or revenge? What does their ‘word’ really mean? What does it mean to be called to something, and what does that call cost?
In Matthew 10:16, Jesus sends his disciples out with the injunction that “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” There’s a certain degree of subterfuge, of playing the game but yet being above the game, that seems laced in these words. Ultimately, the way that each character responds seems based on what their nature really is. Jerome is doing what he thinks he’s supposed to; Bullock returns to the force because “there’s no use fighting who you are.”
While Christians continue to argue about whether they should be in the world, out of the world, or above the world, the reality is that if we are going to create a world where the kingdom of heaven is a reality, we will have to wade into the dirty water of real life. But it’s only in those same waters that baptism occurs, right? It’s only by the purity of heart, by having faith in what is ultimately true, that salvation happens.
For Gotham, true salvation – not that version offered by the Galavans – will only occur when the pure of heart wade in the water.
Gotham airs on Monday nights at 8 p.m. on FOX.