I think Gotham, with Pinewood, has done more to push the idea that David Mazouz's Bruce Wayne will become the future Batman than most other episodes (certainly than last season, which while good did have an odd habit of bouncing around from story to story). Pinewood was a Bruce-centered story, deftly handled to where both the return of a great villain (Hello, Freeze!) enhanced the story and the absence of another (Pengy, where art thou?) didn't affect it.
Now that Bruce has become devoted to finding out the cause of his father's death, with a little help from Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk), he comes across something with the innocuous name of Pinewood. Like all things involving Wayne Enterprises, Pinewood is hardly benign. Instead, it is a freak factory: the genesis for the work of mad scientist Dr. Hugo Strange (B.D. Wong). Bruce, Lucius, and Bruce's valet Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) discover that before his murder Thomas Wayne was to meet with a Karen Jennings (Julia Taylor Ross). Bruce and Alfred track her down to be shocked to discover she has a claw as one of her hands.
They discover through Karen that Pinewood was begun to help people with genetic issues (she had suffered from a crippled arm). However, the altruistic elements of Pinewood soon degenerated into more nefarious endeavors thanks to Dr. Strange, who performed sinister experiments (hence, her claw hand). She has been on the lam since being convicted of murder, with Thomas protecting her by providing a hideout. They go to the remains of Pinewood, but Dr. Strange, having learned of the investigation, sends goons after them. They are captured and Karen is arrested. With some help from Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), Bruce and Alfred decide to break her free.
Gordon for his part has his own issues. At the top of that list is Bonkers Babs (Erin Richards), now out of Arkham Asylum. She's playing some sort of long game with her ex, attempting to convince him of her sanity and eagerness to help. He will have none of it, but as it turns out, she does help. Gordon is tracking down The Lady (Michelle Gomez, better known as the illegitimate version of The Master on Doctor Who). When he does track her down at the Artemis Club, he cannot get in due to it being a women's only facility. Babs sweeps in, offering to help. She keep shifting sides to where no one is sure where she stands, and though she does help get valuable information about who put the contract on the Waynes (a shadowy figure called "The Philosopher"), Gordon wants nothing to do with her.
The story stories now collide when Strange sends his newest weapon to go after Karen and stop her from giving more information. That new weapon is one Victor Fries aka Mr. Freeze (Nathan Darrow). Freeze is more than apt for his nefarious work, attacking the van that is carrying them and freezing Karen (who sacrifices herself to save Bruce, Gordon, and Alfred). Despite Strange's best efforts, in the end it does not help for Bruce discovers that a Dr. Hugo Strange, who was once Thomas Wayne's good friend, went by a particular nickname...the Philosopher.
That said Philosopher is too involved in the success of Patient 44, one of his many experiments that for once has worked. He has brought someone back to life, and that someone is none other than former Gotham Mayor Theo Galavan (James Frain).
Of particular note is Mazouz as Bruce. He is starting to be commanding as the future Dark Knight, one who is using his intelligence to track down Karen. He brings the sadness of seeing her die along with a great sense of self-confidence. We can see how this version of Bruce Wayne can indeed grow to become Batman. Guest star Ross similarly brings sympathy to Karen, and it's a shame she died within the hour.
Another simply extraordinary turn is Richards, who seems to have been unleashed from Season One. In that season, her Barbara Kean was the most hated figure, with many fans demanding she be let go. Now, as Stabby Babs (or as I call her, Bonkers Babs), Richards is making Barbara's insanity a frightening thing. Pinewood gave her the best script, as throughout the episode we can never really tell which side she's on, whether she's really crazy and evil, or maybe truly trying to help Gordon (and get in good with him) or maybe just playing a long game we can't quite put together.
As much as McKenzie's Gordon at times has been a bit one-note is his gruffness, Pinewood did what I thought wasn't going to happen: show him to go really dark in his pursuit of extra-legal justice. His interaction with Richards is some of his best work on the show.
I am so looking forward to more of Darrow as Mr. Freeze, who is becoming a personal favorite (second only to the absent Robin Lord Taylor as Penguin).
One final aspect I have to congratulate Pinewood for is on the craftsmanship. The cinematography continues to be among the best I've seen on television: as Karen talks about Thomas Wayne, she seems bathed in an almost heavenly light, and when Mr. Freeze comes upon them, the dark blues compliment him in an almost ice-like vision. The music too is really first-rate: when Bruce realizes Dr. Strange's connection to his parent's murder, it is almost Dark Knight sounding.
Pinewood is another example of how a more focused Gotham, with a longer story arc that allows for other stories to come in and out when necessary, makes for a better show. It seems like everyone has upped their game from Season One, and I for one am so thrilled about it.
Next Episode: Azrael