Gotham’s second episode, “Selina Kyle,” focuses less on teenage Catwoman and more on asking questions..

Even though the newest episode of Gotham is named after Catwoman’s alter-ego, very little of the episode focused on Selina Kyle, who prefers to go by “Cat” in this Batman universe. The thirteen year old was silent in the last episode, witnessing the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents and creeping along on the edge of the story. Unfortunately, she does a lot of that in this episode, too.

The title would imply that Cat should be a major part of the story, but the episode instead focuses on the mystery of the week: Who is kidnapping Gotham’s homeless youths? Sure, Cat is a kid without a family or home, so she gets involved, but the story is more about Gordon and Bullock solving the case and saving the kids. That would be fine, since Gordon is the lens through which we are supposed to view Gotham City, but the problem is that the show never actually resolves the conflict. We’re left with even more questions, which too many shows use as a cheap trick to get people to tune in next week.

In fact, significant screen time is dedicated to Gotham City’s underworld, particularly Cobblepot. Once again, this wouldn’t be a big issue if any of these other stories were connected to the main plot or other characters or if any of these side plots had some sort of resolution. Instead this episode serves to just build the world and its mysteries while giving us brief glimpses into Cat’s life. This is even more annoying considering the initial direction of her story seems fairly obvious and by the end of the episode, it becomes boring to watch the buildup.

Plot issues aside, Gotham still suffers from the same problems as the pilot. The cast is great, but their dialogue is all stuff we’ve heard a hundred times before. Fortunately, the delivery and reactions are fantastic, especially the humor between Gordon and Bullock, which usually follows the pattern of Bullock saying something ridiculous and Gordon staring at him in disbelief. Jada Pinkett Smith and Robin Lord Taylor are still vicious as crime boss Fish Mooney and the creepily violent Cobblepot, but in completely different ways.

In a lot of ways, I feel like Gotham’s biggest strength is in how it juxtaposes the tired cop-show dialogue with the outlandish villainy of its antagonists. Maybe the familiarity with the tropes of a corrupt police and a broken city is what makes the freaky stuff work.

At this point though, it has to be said that Gotham is failing hard in the continuity department, but I’m not talking about differences from Batman source material. Cat’s necklace drops straight to the ground but winds up a number of feet away from where she is hiding. A guard isn’t shown in a shot when a character is sneaking out of a doorway, but is right there when the camera cuts back. In last week’s premiere, why did Alfred show up to retrieve Bruce after the Waynes were murdered when no one knew who the victims were until a moment earlier? Nitpicky concerns maybe, but things like this can pull viewers out of the suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy this kind of fiction.

Gotham airs Monday nights at 8/7c on Fox. You can also catch the new episodes on Fox’s website and Hulu. The rest of this review will go into spoiler territory, but specifics about major plot points will be avoided where possible.

Selina Kyle remains the quiet witness for the first part of the episode, even when we would think the story would involve her more. Eventually finding herself captured among other children, we are first shown just how capable she is as she sneaks away and avoids being recaptured. Her viciousness is revealed as well, when a henchmen is found with his eyes literally clawed out by the thirteen-year-old. Otherwise, Cat is restrained to cheesy dialogue and attitude that doesn’t quite fit with the young age of the character. Her knowledge of the Wayne murders is revealed to Gordon and her connection to the rest of the cast becomes cemented. With Bruce’s stated concern over the population of homeless youths, Cat moving into the Wayne Estate is an obvious direction for the story and it’s frustrating when that point is dragged out for another episode.

Also frustrating is the lack of resolution to the episode’s central plot in which people are abducting homeless children. While this story was fantastic to show how messed up the police department actually is, it doesn’t have any closure. Both Captain Sarah Essen and the mayor (played by one of my favorite supporting actors, Richard Kind) are both aware of the police “bending” the rules in Gotham. “Bending” includes taking cash for protection, colluding with the criminal underworld, and beating suspects for information. The corruption of Gotham City may have not been stated strongly in the pilot, but it is better characterized now, if a little overwhelming with its tropes.

But that key mystery of the episode is never resolved. The kids are saved and the only antagonists we ever see are apprehended, but the person behind it all is never captured. The name “Dollmaker” is mentioned (a DC comics villain), but this episode does the same job as the pilot by just establishing more mysteries. Still, the antagonists have that creep factor Gotham does pretty well. The sweet, cheesy couple bringing food to the homeless turn out to be heartless murderers that drug and kidnap children.

Outside of Gotham City, the show does more work to establish the sinister nature of Cobblepot, who finds himself among a pair of standard frat guy types who mock him. What’s kind of heartbreaking is how well Cobblepot takes it. He takes the pranks and insults with a smile but turns violent when the duo mentions his resemblance to a penguin. Hilariously, Cobblepot attempts to ransom one of the boys, but he doesn’t get the response he would hope for from his mother. Throughout his scenes, Taylor plays the new interpretation of the character fantastically, equally disturbing, frightening, and pitiful. While it was frustrating that more screen time didn’t go to Cat or the main story of the episode, the establishment of the Penguin is shaping up to be one of the more enjoyable parts of the show.

The episode did, however, spend far too much time on Fish Mooney and Carmine Falcone — which is pronounced “Fowl-cone-ee,” I don’t care what Gotham says. Their scene just established what we already knew. Falcone knows Mooney isn’t totally trustworthy, he’s heartless, and she’s dangerously furious. Both Smith and John Doman play the characters fantastically, hiding the true intentions and emotions of their characters from each other and effortlessly switching attitudes when necessary. What works best about this dynamic for this cast is how nuanced their performances are. The audience can see what’s really going on in their heads, but it’s subtle enough that we can believe that the other characters are falling for their act.

The interaction still adds nothing thematically to the episode and has no effect on the plot, just like the scene with Montoya and Allen. They question Cobbepot’s mother, and while it provides background on why Cobblepot might be a little unbalanced, the scene feels more like a reminder that Montoya and Allen exist.

One thing I’m really liking about this show is how much of a jerk Alfred, the Wayne family butler, is. His attitude is particularly sharp in this episode as he doesn’t bother at all to hide his frustration with Bruce. He turns to Gordon for assistance, since Bruce respects the police officer for being honest and treating Bruce like an adult. Still, those who read Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman story “Dark Victory” may remember Alfred’s lamentations that he was not emotionally available for Bruce after the death of the Wayne parents — the butler blames himself for Bruce turning to crime-fighting. I love that Gotham has gone this direction with the character, rather than going for the Alfred audiences might be more familiar with.

Bottom Line: Gotham still struggles with poor dialogue and if every episode ends without closure, it could be hard to come back each week. Still, the stellar cast and the grim police drama contrasting with freaky, comic book style antagonists could be enough to keep the show going.

Recommendation: The show is a unique experience, for sure, but don’t go into this episode expecting anything resembling an answer to who Selina Kyle is. She’s a side plot to another week of building questions for the series to answer.

[rating=3.0]

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