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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Static Thoughts - 8 Questions About Gotham Season 3

Edited by Robert Beach

Gotham has now completed its second season and was it ever mixed. The slow development of the superhero landscape has not been kind to Fox’s Batman prequel series. While other shows like Supergirl or The Flash have been able to dive head first into crazy superhero concepts, Gotham plodded along through the muck of its own timeline and the restriction of its central hero, Bruce Wayne, still being a 12 year old.  

This has led the show to attempt many bizarre solutions like bringing in a radically reimagined Order of St. Dumas to target young Bruce Wayne and, more recently, setting up Hugo Strange as the true architect of all Batman’s villains. Batman villains really have become the key to Gotham’s attempts at crafting a larger, multi-season story arc much in the same way Spider-Man villains were the crux of Sony’s now defunct Amazing Spider-Man series.  Monday night’s finale took this to all new heights and has left me with 8 major questions about where Gotham is going in season 3. 

Fair warning, from here on out there be spoilers. If you haven’t seen the Gotham season 2 finale, read this at your own risk.  

I’ll start out more mild and get to the big stuff later, but a major dangling plot thread of season 2 is the whereabouts of Leslie Thompkins, Jim Gordon’s girlfriend and brief fiancĂ©e. Leslie was a major part of the 1st half of season 2 before dropping off the show in the early days of season 2’s 2016 run. The stated reason for her absence is her miscarriage of her child with Gordon as Gordon was in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Because of that, she went “someplace south” to get away from it all. 

That’s a pretty vague set-up. One that’s fairly ripe for storytelling potential. As much as Gotham set design manages a brilliant mimicry of Tim Burton’s Batman 1989, it’d be nice to get a change of scenery and see how the production handles a city that isn’t meant as a foreboding blend of hardboiled noir and imposing gothic horror. Actually following Jim Gordon on a road trip to find Leslie Thompkins would be a great way to do that, and it’s not like there aren’t any neat southern cities that could benefit from the Gotham team’s unique blend of unreal, atmosphere-driven set work. 

What’s more, there are plenty of Batman villains and supporting characters that could show up on a road trip if the show runners wanted to bring in someone cool. Folks like the Question, the Creeper, Manbat, El Sombrero, or Killer Croc could all work really well as one-off appearances in the midst of Jim’s search for Leslie. In a better world than the one we live in, “someplace south” would mean Argentina, and Jim would go team-up with El Gaucho, the Batman of Argentina. I doubt that’s going to happen. Speaking of missing characters, here's another one. 

One of the major twists of this season was the return of Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney, who had died at the end of season 1 when the Penguin threw her off a building.  Now, Fish is back and blander than ever.  Seriously, I don’t mean to hate on Smith’s character as she’s basically the first and last word on diversity in Gotham, but Fish Mooney is an absolutely terrible character. Her return sums up so many of her worst aspects.

In season 1, Fish was just a tedious, fairly simplistic, no frills, scheming mobster lieutenant made semi-interesting for her interactions with the small handful of superhuman aspects of season 1 like the Dollmaker. In season 2, her whole job seems to be to resist the interesting elements of the show like the introductions of legitimate Batman villains and the progression of the larger narrative concerning Hugo Strange, the death of the Waynes, and the Court of Owls. 

I don’t think the character is beyond saving as her newfound mind control powers are pretty interesting, but she needs a major overhaul to be anything more than a nuisance in season 3. The big problem with her character is she’s not a Batman villain, and I don’t just mean she’s not from the comics.  The definition of a “Batman villain” is pretty nebulous. What can often save a villain with weak motivations is a unique aesthetic that informs their overall story and designs. Folks like the Riddler or the Penguin have been through numerous character reworkings, yet people come back to them because they’re visually unique and worth reviving. 

Fish Mooney has no unifying visual aesthetic or character theme; she’s just some random mobster who now happens to have powers. She’s more like a Dick Tracy villain than a Batman one. In fairness, there are worse things to be than a Dick Tracy villain. Maybe if Gotham wants to revert to its more ‘50s noir meets ‘20s gangster fiction aesthetic from season 1, that’s the right way to go. Either way, Fish vs. Penguin in a new street war is undoubtedly on the way for season 3. I'm just curious about how interesting it’ll be. 

Gotham season 2 had a lot of problems, but B.D. Wong’s Hugo Strange was not one of them. Wong was more or less a perfect translation of Hugo Strange from the comics: ethereal, calculating, and much more of a threat than his appearance might imply. At the end of season 2, Strange isn’t dead, but he is in police custody with the newly revealed big bads, the Court of Owls, threatening to end him now that his experiments have all gone so horribly wrong. This leaves a pretty major cliffhanger over where he’ll end up in season 3. It’s possible Gotham will just squirrel Strange away for a rainy day. Given Wong’s relatively high profile as an actor, I’d like to think he could stick around a bit more on the show.

The big reason for them to keep Strange around next season is his connection to the Court of Owls. The Court has been maneuvered as the new central villains of the show, and Gotham’s latest attempt at crafting an epic, multi-part storyline in the vein of The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, or Marvel. With this and their connection to the death of Bruce’s parents, Strange is more or less the heroes’ only entry point into the group’s machinations. Add in the fact that the Court has vowed to kill him, which seems like a pretty big deal given Strange is actually a fairly key Batman villain. 

Gotham has split with continuity before, killing off characters that were key to continuity like Sal Maroni, the gangster who scars Harvey Dent and creates Two-Face. Strange is a much bigger deal than such a Batman mythos footnote. In the comics, Strange works out Batman’s secret identity as Bruce Wayne and was eventually so struck by Batman’s own nobility and history that he gave his life to defend that secret.  It’d be a shame if he just got killed off now for no real reason beyond raising the stakes for the Court of Owls. 

The Court of Owls is one of the newer Batman antagonists to be featured on Gotham and by far one of the least interesting and most tedious. I know a lot of folks really, really like the Court of Owls and their various comics. I won’t deny there are some things I like in there too. It’s a comic that features a scene where Batman uses a Hulkbuster-sized mech suit to fight an army of zombie ninjas, so it’s definitely doing something right.  
However, all the stuff that actually informs the Court of Owls is tedious and uninspired, a fairly simplistic rehash of the standard “evil manipulative cult” stuff. It also doesn’t help that the Court was introduced in the immediate wake of Grant Morrison’s Batman run, which featured an incredibly similar group of all-powerful scheming ultra-rich in the form of the Black Glove who are actually interesting and menacing. 

I don’t want to get too deep into comparing the two groups, but the basic breakdown is the Black Glove are a lot more conceptually subtle, which I get isn’t really Gotham’s forte. When the Court of Owls wanted to strike at Batman, they trapped him in a psychotropic maze and launched an assault of zombie ninjas whereas the Black Glove infiltrated his life at the most fundamental level to deconstruct his sense of self, identity, and purpose. My point is, I get why the Court of Owls is popular and why they work as essentially Batman’s version of Cobra if Ras Al Ghul isn’t around to pick-up the slack in that department. 

I’ve mentioned the Court’s army of zombie ninjas a few times in this section, and you can bet, dollars to donuts, that they’ll show up in Gotham. Referred to as ‘Talons’ (get it?), my guess is the Court will use Hugo Strange’s reanimation serum to create its zombie army. For what purpose exactly? We know the Court are desperate to bring someone back to life, but the "who" and the "why" are still fairly obtuse. My best guess would be Owlman; however, as we’ll get to later on, I’m fairly certain he’s already on the show, so I'm not sure who that actually leaves. Maybe it’ll turn out the Court is REALLY being led by Ras Al Ghul to compound the mediocrity. 

One of the major plot points dropped in the finale concerning the far-reaching powers of the Court of Owls is that they, somehow, control Wayne Enterprises. My guess is this is why Wayne Enterprises was not actively trying to take down season 2’s previous big bad Theo Galavan when he was trying to kill Bruce Wayne. It still doesn’t make a whole ton of sense and plays a lot like an attempt to ape Winter Soldier’s reveal that S.H.I.E.L.D. was secretly Hydra. It's a big deal none the less as it now raises the question of what happens to Wayne Enterprises? 

The idea of Bruce needing to somehow reclaim his father’s company (I.E. legacy) from unsavory elements within Wayne Enterprises is more or less standard fair for the Batmanverse. They did it in Batman Begins;, they did it in Long Halloween; they even did it in the Batman Animated Series tie-in comics. It’s like a rule of law that after the Waynes die, their company becomes selfish and egomaniacal. 

That's not really the case with Gotham as Wayne Enterprises isn’t just some greedy monolithic corporation. It’s an all-purpose front for an evil cabal of the super rich that secretly control all aspects of life in Gotham City with mysterious aims that involve zombies and genetic splicing. 

This puts a lot more impetus on Bruce and his allies to reclaim Wayne Enterprises than ever before, especially now the company is aware of Bruce’s meddling and his connection to Lucius Fox. I’m not exactly sure how Gotham season 3 will handle this. If they could find a way to wrap up the whole “Bruce Wayne feuds with his own company” thing sooner rather than later, I’d be pretty grateful.  

The fact of the matter is Bruce is more interesting and more threatening to the Court of Owls as the head of a multi-billion dollar corporations with a financial and political reach so long it blots out the sun.  Keeping Bruce and team Batman under the shadow of Wayne Enterprises handicaps their investigation and renders them more or less impotent to act on their findings. 

I’m aware that Gotham is a prequel show, but Jim Gordon has to become Commissioner Gordon. At the end of season 2, Jim is a private citizen, unconnected from the police force due to his guilt over failing to solve the Wayne murder and caught up in his desire to find Leslie Thompkins. While the Thompkins mystery persists, we’ve now solved most of the issues swirling around the Wayne murder, and we even saw Hugo Strange do some psycho-magic on Gordon to absolve him of his guilt over not solving that case. My point is, it’s far past time for Gordon to get off the bench and dive back into the GCPD.

It’s already a strange state of affairs that Gotham still doesn’t seem to have a police commissioner or a mayor for that matter.  Both characters were killed off and never replaced on screen. The show has been acting like Michael Chiklis’ Captain Barnes is also the new commissioner, but that’s never been established and is more of the show just trying to gloss over its own plot points.  

The complete breakdown of government within Gotham City would be a pretty interesting subject to explore in the third season of Gotham. I honestly doubt we’ll actually see it. Even though Bullock is acting captain (they specifically call him acting captain just in case you thought he was taking over as commissioner at the end of season 2), Captain Barnes is still alive and will probably be back in his old job by the time season 3 premieres. 

I really don’t know how Gordon could make his way back to the GCPD at this point. He probably should if he wants to do anything of significance. After all, the Court of Owls are framed as an infinitely powerful and incredibly well-connected cabal of high rollers, the likes of which Jim Gordon (private investigator) really can’t do anything against. 

In the same better world where Leslie Thompkins is hanging out with El Gaucho in Argentina, Bruce Wayne would just use his money to privatize the GCPD and drop Gordon into the robo-Bat suit that he was wearing in the "DC You" rebranding initiative. Alas, we don’t live in that world. 

The biggest question mark hovering over the end of Gotham season 2 is “what’s going to happen to all of Hugo Strange’s designer supervillains?” At the end of the season, Strange’s small army of superhuman maniacs are released upon Gotham City; each one programmed with some unique power and persona by the good doctor (another reason to keep him around for future seasons). Most likely, Gotham will try and milk this particular escape for all its worth in terms of single storylines for each of the escaped beings, but it’s possible they might just try and wrap them all up in one swift strike like The Flash did in its penultimate episode. 

I certainly hope it’s the former. I see how the latter could be achieved, given the Court of Owls hatred for Strange’s monster men.  Their presence seems like it’d certainly be a reason to keep Gordon in Gotham and maybe even drive him back to the police force after his absence. As for the actual Batman villains present in the horde, it’s a little hard to say who was there. The only two we know for certain are part of the mob are the Mad Hatter, who Strange referenced in an early episode, and the Joker, who has been confirmed to be a reanimated version of season 2’s breakout villain Jerome, played by Cameron Monaghan. I’m actually fine with Monaghan returning as the Joker as he had genuine promise in the role in a charmingly Silver Age-type manner that never got fully explored. 

As for who else is coming to Gotham that’s anyone’s guess. Mr. Freeze, Firefly, and Clayface have all already popped up already, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Killer Croc made it into Strange’s pet project list. I’m mainly inclined to suspect villains with some super-powered being at hand. Then again, Azrael didn’t have any super powers, so that could be off for grabs. 

My main guesses would be Scarecrow, Man-Bat, Killer Moth, Dr. Phosphorus, or Solomon Grundy.  They might pepper in a few more obscure baddies like King Tut, Nocturna, Double-X, or the Mad Monk but that seems pretty unlikely given Gotham’s fixation on getting as many recognizable Batman foes on screen as quickly as possible. There is one obscure bad guy we might see. 

At the very end of Gotham season 2, it was revealed that one of Hugo Strange’s experiments was an exact duplicate of Bruce Wayne with a really shaggy and lame-looking wig. Admittedly, as far as big twist reveals go, this is a unique one to end on. I’m betting a lot of folks have no idea what to make of this twist. 

While there’s obviously any number of possibilities (who knows, maybe Gotham is going to crossover with Flash, and this is the Bruce Wayne of Earth-2 or something), the most likely answer goes back to the Court of Owls’ story, and its most controversial revelation. 

At the end of the Court of Owls, it was revealed that the real villain who had been pressing them into battle against Bruce Wayne and forcing them out of the shadows was Owlman.  The concept of “Owlman” has floated around the DCU for a while. First, Owlman showed up in the Silver Age as Batman’s evil doppelganger from a parallel reality. I don’t think that is what's meant to be happening here. If it’s eventually revealed Hugo Strange built a transdimensional bridge to a parallel universe, well, at least it’d be a surprising turn for the show to take. 

No, what’s more likely is this Bruce Wayne duplicate is linked to the Court of Owls Owlman, who was, in reality, Bruce’s identical twin brother Thomas Wayne Jr.  Firstly yes, that head-tilting, heart-dropping, fist-clenching sense of “WTF?!” you’re feeling is completely natural and pretty much what every comic fan felt when this was revealed. 

It turns out, Bruce had a secret twin brother who suffered brain damage, so his parents consigned their second son to an asylum for treatment where he was left abandoned after their death.  It’s a dopey idea that goes all the way back to a forgotten Silver Age story and was, again, done much better by Grant Morrison (that’s par for the course with a disappointingly large amount of Scott Snyder’s Batman work.) 

While this is hardly a lock (maybe Bruce 2 is actually a clone?), it’s certainly the most likely possibility given the prevalence of the Court of Owls at the end of this season. I’m not sure how much of Thomas Wayne Jr.’s story Gotham will try to fit in with the Court of Owls as he’s really not involved with them in the books. It seems pretty certain that’s what’s coming in season 3. 
But hey, maybe we’ll get lucky, and it’ll turn out to be a young version of Lady Clayface or maybe some Biomac clone that would honestly be the better option at this point. 
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