Last week, I called Gotham “still bizarre, still silly, and a lot better.” I would like to add something to my assessment of season two: Gotham is also horrifically, ludicrously violent. Arguably far more violent than a show where the criminals wear matching theme outfits has any right to be.
Gotham has always been simultaneously goofy and violent, but “Knock Knock” ricocheted from Batman ’66-level camp to Frank Miller-approved on-screen brutality over and over again, through the course of its 45 minutes. It was enough to give anyone tonal whiplash. The craziest part is that Gotham has still definitively improved over its first season: bringing in James Frain’s mysterious villain Theo and enlisting some of the first season’s villains as recurring foes has given Gotham a sense of purpose that was completely missing last year.
So even though the episode begins with the Arkham inmates Theo freed tossing people off the Gotham Gazette building so that their corpses spell “MANIAX” (with an exclamation point) on the ground, it’s exciting to see Jim face off against a foe we know he can’t possibly beat by the end of the episode. In fact, “Knock Knock” is mainly about the Maniax kicking Gotham’s collective ass in general and Gordon’s ass in particular, and the Gazette stunt is just the beginning.
The Maniax, led by Jerome (after Jerome impressively outcrazies the other Maniax while doing a truly wretched “bad Japanese movie dub” impersonation), have also stolen a fuel tanker. Once Jerome spies a school bus full of cheerleaders on a field trip somewhere, he pulls them over, sprays gasoline all over the terrified, trapped girls, and then gets ready to set them all on fire.
Here’s the thing: Jerome doesn’t manage to set two or so dozen high school cheerleaders on fire, only because he can’t get the lighter to flame on. Gordon and the cops arrive, there’s a big gunfight; Jerome and one of the other Maniax get away, but not before managing to set the gas aflame just far away enough that Gordon can run into the bus and drive it away—which seems to me problematic in that the bus would undoubtedly be leaking gas, and the fire would follow them, but I’m also glad I wasn’t forced to watch two dozen teens burn alive, so whatever.
There are two interesting things about this scene. The first is that I think that Gotham is suddenly taking its job of actually setting up something resembling a Bat-universe seriously. As both Theo and Jerome make clear, they don’t want money, they want fame and “headlines.” They want to be known, and feared, and to spread terror throughout Gotham, something that virtually all the major Bat-villains also desire. What’s cool about Gotham (!) is seeing Gordon, the new Commissioner Essen and the other GCPD cops slowly realize they’re dealing with a completely new type of criminal here, one that didn’t exist in the first season. Yes, Gotham has actually, finally shown us a major step towards the eventual future of Batman.
The second interesting thing is that if the Joker had set that schoolbus full of cheerleaders on fire, it wouldn’t have been the most violent thing that happened on this episode. It would have been tied with the brutal and systematic murder of what appears to be every single GCPD officer that wasn’t a main character.
The evil, infinitely more fun Barbara calls Gordon from inside the GCPD, tricking him into following her. While he’s out—and getting his face beaten in by the big/bald/dumb Maniac, because it was obviously a trap—Jerome and the other remaining Maniax enter GCPD in police uniforms and start gunning everyone down. Cop after cop is shot and killed; this includes Essen, who Jerome ties up and mocks for a bit before murdering. It’s crazy, and when Gordon eventually comes back, only he, Leslie (who hid in the morgue), Nygma and Kringle (because they’re major characters) stand alive among dozens and dozens of corpses. Like, so many cops are clearly dead that I don’t even know how Gotham has a police force anymore. It’s genuinely disturbing to see.
This wholesale annihilation of the police force forces Bullock out of retirement (to the seething ire of his fiancée, the girl from Strangers with Candy, who appeared last season). Will two police detectives, two medical examiners, and a file clerk be enough to stop the greatest, most homicidal threat Gotham City has ever known? I doubt it, but god help me if I’m not excited to watch them try.
• The B-story deal with Bruce and Alfred in the Dad-cave. Bruce is excited to turn on his pop’s computer to find out what the hell is wrong with Wayne Enterprises, and then Alfred suddenly beats the computer to hell and back. Bruce freaks out, understandably; Alfred says he did it to protect Bruce, in the sense that whatever’s on the computer almost certainly got his dad killed. As per usual, instead of discussing this with Bruce, Alfred’s first thought was to commit violence on an inanimate object.
• Bruce fires Alfred, but Gotham happily doesn’t pretend this is a lasting change; Bruce finds Alfred at the station and re-hires him in a scene that ends up with Bruce asking Alfred to train him, and Alfred agreeing to get the computer fixed.
• I was truly delighted when Gotham remembered that Bruce had asked Alfred to train him last season, and then never followed it up. When Bruce agrees to be trained, Alfred snaps “You said that last time!” It’s the little things, Gotham.
• Alfred enlists Lucius for help in rebuilding the computer, which means that someone has finally joined the Wayne Manor gang. Adding a third character should help these scenes considerably. Although it is weird for Lucius to get instant access into what will presumably eventually be the Batcave.
• Also weird: Lucius announcing to Bruce “I loved your father, and I’m sorry I never told him.” You’re going way out of the proper employer/employee relationship there, dude.
• Alfred pronounces Lucius as Lucious, and now I desperately want a Gotham/Empire crossover.
• Was I high, or did Alfred call Lucius “my young sausage” at one point?
• “That’s a metaphor, Alfred, not an argument.” Bruce with the logic burn!
• In case anyone doubt my belief that Gotham is a prequel to Batman ’66, the Maniax show up wearing matching outfits three different times. In the first scene they’re still in their striped prison outfits, and at the end they’re in disguise at cops, so maybe they don’t count. But during the cheerleader scene they’ve gone out of their way to put on identical straightjackets.
• Barbara enters the episode whipping the kidnapped Barbara with the Tigress. I think their burgeoning sexytime romance is totally gratuitous, but I’m still delighted that she is totally, unequivocally embracing evil.
• Next week on Gotham: Jerome terrorizes his dad—the blind fortuneteller of last season—and it appears that Jerome is holding Bruce hostage at one point? That seems… incredibly problematic for Bruce to meet the proto-Joker as a kid, but it should be interesting nonetheless.