TV

"Damned If You Do...": 'Gotham' - Season 2, Episode 1

Liz Medendorp

This season premiere opens the door for Gotham to shake things up in the Caped Crusader's city, leaving viewers with exciting questions about the fates (which may not be set in stone) of these beloved characters.


Gotham

Airtime: Mondays, 8pm
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Robin Lord Taylor, Erin Richards, Zabryna Guevara, Sean Pertwee, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart-Jones, John Doman, Morena Baccarin, Nicholas D'Agosto
Subtitle: “Damned If You Do”
Network: Fox
Air date: 2015-09-21
Amazon

Season two of Fox’s Gotham has been titled “Rise of the Villains”, which bodes well for the direction the series will be going in coming episodes, but interestingly, the focus of the season premiere has very little to do with them. While Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) settles into his new role as king of the Gotham underworld, a growing madness begins to infect the city, and it’s not just the criminals who are starting to crack. In particular, the majority of the episode follows James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as this idealist starts to lose faith in the essential goodness of mankind and begins to waver from his moral compass.

Opening with a wordless sequence set to Lou Reed’s eerily off-kilter “Perfect Day”, we sense an impending disruption of the quasi-stability found at the end of the first season, Penguin having come out on top in the scramble for power among Falcone (John Doman), Maroni (David Zayas), and Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith). Even for the apparently happy couple, Jim and Leslie (Morena Baccarin), a seed of doubt seems to have been planted in their relationship. The unease grows as Penguin establishes his ruthlessness in executing a penitent croney and Barbara (Erin Richards) is eyed by her soon-to-be fellow inmates, yet eyes them back menacingly herself.

Gordon’s frustration with his inability to clean up Gotham comes to a head; when his anger gets the best of him, Commissioner Loeb (Peter Scolari) jumps at the chance to fire him from the GCPD. Even when stripped of his identity as a cop, Gordon realizes that his calling to protect and serve the people of Gotham remains, and he considers working outside of the law in order to fulfill that calling, even to the point of striking a deal with the Penguin to get himself reinstated.

The season premiere is promising in terms of developing more complicated, three-dimensional characters, particularly Jim and Bruce (David Mazouz). Even though we know Jim is supposed to someday become Commissioner Gordon, it’s exciting to see Gotham taking some liberties with his character, pushing him to his ethical limits. As he wrestles with his conscience and his decision to work with the Penguin, the advice he needs interestingly comes from Bruce, who is starting to show a kind of maturity and understanding of the way the world, particularly Gotham, works that the Bruce of Season 1 hadn’t quite yet reached.

Accusing Jim of sacrificing the greater good for his own sense of dignity, Bruce proposes the idea that “sometimes the right way is also the ugly way”, which is precisely the push moralist Jim Gordon needed to reveal himself as something of a badass as he collects a debt owed to the Penguin and takes down an entire crew of mobsters, killing a man in the process. While Gordon’s remorse is palpable in McKenzie’s powerful performance, the revelation that he is even capable of such an act propels this character into greater depth and complexity than would have been possible for the rookie detective we met in Season 1, particularly given that he has already violated Batman’s one rule: not to kill.

While Gordon’s moral dilemma is the primary focus of the episode, the glimpses into burgeoning madness in some of the other characters provide exciting prospects for where the rest of the season will go. Season 1 left Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) encountering a dark side of himself as his identity splits, and while we do touch base with Nygma’s confident, strangely seductive alter-ego, it’s only briefly; however, we’re sure to see more of him as the season progresses.

More attention has been paid to the results of Barbara Kean’s psychological break at the hands of Jason “The Ogre” Lennon (Milo Ventimiglia), which left her clearly disturbed and seemingly fragile at the end of last season. In the month that has passed since the season 1 finale, she has apparently tapped into a much more self-assured kind of insanity. In a way, her demeanor resembles that of the Joker or Harley Quinn, indicating her potential to go down the path toward a full-scale villain herself in this version of Batman’s story. Admitting that she just has “issues”, Barbara seems to have accepted or even embraced her fate as a woman with an irreparably broken psyche, and Richards plays her with a kind of playful ferocity that is irresistible both to the viewers and to her newfound criminal companions.

The most exciting performance, as usual, comes from Robin Lord Taylor in his chilling portrayal of Oswald Cobblepot, whose ruthlessness and delight in that ruthlessness reach greater heights in the season premiere. What is perhaps most sinister about Cobblepot as he transitions into the Penguin is his nonchalance. For example, in one of the most powerful scenes of the episode, in which Gotham seems to be embracing some classic horror tropes, Penguin infiltrates Commissioner Loeb’s home on a dark and stormy night, his visage illuminated only by flashes of lightning as he asks for peanut butter, of all things, preferably smooth, so he can make himself a sandwich. This cavalier attitude sends even more chills when Penguin’s favorite and most twisted henchman, Victor Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan), reveals the decapitated head of Loeb’s bodyguard and uses it as a puppet.

Yet Cobblepot’s presence in the episode is otherwise quite minimal, and although the last time we saw Fish Mooney, she had just joined the fishes, having been pushed by Cobblepot into the bay, her absence in this episode is distinctly felt. Hopefully it isn’t the last we’ve seen of that dangerously seductive and clever manipulator, especially given the explosive clash of wills that could arise if she were to return and confront Penguin, once her errand boy, now the self-proclaimed king of Gotham, and most importantly, her betrayer.

Gotham’s season 2 premiere skillfully picks up most of the narrative threads from last season and introduces exciting new directions for the characters, leaving viewers with many questions. This is impressive, given that, as seen to a certain extent in the first season, this show could easily be overshadowed by the well-known future of Gotham City. What’s so exciting about this series is its potential to shake things up, to tell a different version of the story, opening the characters up to different fates. Will Gordon continue down this dark path, abandon his morals, and succumb to the darkness of Gotham? Who is Theo Galavan, really, and will he push Barbara toward a villainous path? Will Fish Mooney reemerge from the depths to give Cobblepot his comeuppance? Will Alfred (Sean Pertwee) ever see Bruce as anything but a child?

The one question we know the answer to, though, is the one suggested by Bruce’s father in the note left for him in the pre-Batcave: Will Bruce seek the truth and thereby renounce personal happiness? As his father states, in Gotham, you can’t have both, and we know that both Bruce and Jim feel a calling toward the truth. In many ways, the season 2 premiere is about the parallels between Bruce and Jim, so in the final shot of the episode, when Gordon looks at his reflection in the mirror, what does he see? A cop, as has been his identity for so long? Or perhaps, in this version of the story, does he see something darker?

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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