Season 2, Episode 4 - "The Strike Force"
Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Robin Lord Taylor, Erin Richards, Zabryna Guevara, Sean Pertwee, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, James Frain, Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart-Jones, John Doman, Morena Baccarin, Nicholas D'Agosto
Regular airtime: Mondays, 8pm
US: 12 Oct 2015
Last week’s daring move in killing off one of the show’s most compelling characters offered Gotham the exciting opportunity to keep moving in bold new directions, but “The Strike Force” unfortunately fails to live up to that potential. Not much really happened in Gotham City this week, and even the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) has been reduced to a moping momma’s boy. While Robin Lord Taylor is still a powerhouse in terms of his portrayal of the Penguin, and the character has been long overdue for a reintegration into the main plot of the show, it doesn’t suit the King of Gotham well to be under Theo Galavan’s (James Frain) thumb, and his ability to stand up to this mysteriously and frustratingly calm and all-powerful new threat sadly quickly dwindles.
Little movement is made in Bruce’s (David Mazouz) storyline either, as he returns to school as an outsider, and Theo Galavan introduces him to his ward, Silver St. Cloud (Natalie Alyn Lind). Silver may be a new love interest for Bruce, as Alfred (Sean Pertwee) scares off Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), telling her to stay out of Bruce’s life for his own good. Young Master Wayne also begins his training somewhat hesitantly, which is surprising given his adamant request for Alfred’s mentorship last week.
It seems that this week’s episode was primarily designed to introduce the new GCPD captain and his “Strike Force” initiative. Captain Nathaniel Barnes (Michael Chiklis) is the stereotypical strict hardass who cracks down on corruption in the police force, immediately rooting out, firing, and subsequently arresting all the dirty cops under his command. Barnes also institutes a new “Strike Force”. The cadets recruited for “Unit Alpha” have all suffered at the hands of Gotham City’s wickedness, just like Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), but have not yet become as jaded as Jim. However, these fresh-faced newbies are introduced so hurriedly and mechanically with intercut snippets of their interviews for the Strike Force that they seem like expendable stock characters about whom viewers have very little reason to care.
Once again demonstrating his perceptiveness, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) shrewdly observes that the new captain wants to walk in straight lines, “but Gotham doesn’t have straight lines, it has twists and turns and dead ends”. Barnes may be an inspiring glimmer of hope and optimism for Jim Gordon, his caricaturistic idealism is both out of place in Gotham and frankly, quite boring. This hackneyed captain figure is also pulling Gordon away from the darkness that had been so fun to watch grow within him. Sure, one could argue that something does feel kind of “off” about Barnes, particularly because of his obsession with a militaristic kind of command and insistence on reminding Jim of the “soldier”, the “warrior” he once was, but Jim’s resistance to the past he has previously sought to forget is fleeting, and by the end of the episode, he seems to be drinking the Captain’s kool-aid—his flavorless, vapid, clichéd kool-aid.
Galavan continues to plot and scheme without ever really seeming like a real person. Instead, he always seems to be putting on an act, not just for the citizens of Gotham, but even for those closest to him, including his sister and now Barbara (Erin Richards), who is still patiently waiting (along with eager viewers) for her turn to take the stage. His next move is to become a seemingly hesitant candidate in the mayoral election, by popular demand rather than personal ambition, and eliminate the competition by once again constructing a villain to assassinate them so that he can emerge as the hero who saves Gotham from the murderous threat. It’s the same old game, just on a different platform, revealing a lack of inventiveness and variety.
He does push the Penguin, who has now fully embraced the previously despised name, to act, against his better judgment, as Galavan’s personal assassin, and Taylor again delivers a moving performance as the self-proclaimed “King of Gotham” cracks under the pressure of threats to his beloved mother’s life. Some humanity is returning to this villain, who had been on the path to becoming more animal than man, and his remarkably reasonable refusal to willingly support Galavan’s plan, which would entail the destruction of thousands of homes, and some surprisingly emotional exchanges between the Penguin and his henchman Butch (Drew Powell) reveal that of all of the potential threats to Gotham, Cobblepot is relatively sane by comparison.
We are also treated to a tiresome date between Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) and Kristen Kringle (Chelsea Spack), which Gotham has been building up to since early last season. It wasn’t worth the wait. In an almost carbon copy of the rom-com cliché, the two get along swimmingly until Nygma blunders by bringing up the uncomfortable topic of Kringle’s ex (whom she doesn’t know has been murdered—by Nygma). In the awkwardness that follows, the two cookie-cutter “nerds” reconnect, Nygma endearing himself to Kringle again by admitting his own insecurity and social ineptitude, which she finds adorable. When the two pause to chuckle at themselves as they remove their spectacles before kissing (because apparently glasses are an insurmountable obstacle), viewers can’t help but roll their eyes and yawn.
“The Strike Force” is a disappointingly uneventful letdown after last week’s exciting and bold developments. Some of the best moments were just that: brief, passing comments, such as the ever-eerie Victor Zsasz’s (Anthony Carrigan) chilling and mocking comments about his target’s “cool pins”, donning a “Hobbs for Mayor” pin before drawing his firearms on Hobbs (Michael Mulheren) himself. The vast majority of the episode is bland, slow-moving exposition, just background for what we can only hope will be more exciting developments in episodes to come.