GOTHAM: BETTER TO REIGN
We go into Season Three of the Batman prequel Gotham with an episode that gave us a lot, set up stories for the season, and pretty much left it at that. Better to Reign in Hell... is not a bad episode, but not one for the ages.
It's six months after the events of Transference, where former Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) has had his heart broken upon going to find his love Dr. Lee Thompkins and found she has moved on. Now working as a bounty hunter, he targets the monsters unleashed by mad scientist Dr. Hugo Strange. His former partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) keeps pushing him to return, but Jim is a bit lost.
Enter Valerie Vale (Jamie Chung), reporter for the Gotham Gazette (and I suspect, mother to Vicki Vale). She's convinced that there is more to the spate of recent monsters than the GCPD is saying, and wants Gordon's help. He is noncommittal, until she gives him info. Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), has placed a million dollar bounty on his nemesis, Fish Mooney (guest star Jada Pinkett Smith). His fury and fear of her is unbound, going so far as to consult his frenemy Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), still locked up in Arkham Asylum, for help, advise, and perhaps a little sympathy. Nygma's words are simple: Penguin Eat Fish.
Meanwhile, both Fish and Pengy have managed to find lieutenants in their armies: Fish has Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), and Penguin has his old buddy Butch Gilzean (Drew Powell). Butch is still mourning the end of his romance with Tabitha Galavan (Jessica Lucas), who now has fully embraced the Sapphic love she shared with Bonkers Babs, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards). They've opened up a club, with the appropriate name of The Sirens. Penguin prods them to fall under his umbrella, but both remain noncommittal. As much as Tabby dismisses her erstwhile lover Butch, it is only Butch's thin hopes for romance that keeps her alive from Pengy's full fury.
For his part, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and his faithful manservant Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) are still pursuing the mysterious organization behind much of the nefarious works of Gotham. Bruce goes to the Wayne Enterprise board to confront whoever is their inside man, and they get more than they bargain for when a mysterious (or not so mysterious figure) breaks into Wayne Manor, knocks Alfred out and abducts Bruce.
What is that...his third abduction? Wayne Manor is seriously one of the worst protected places on Earth!
Gordon, after confronting Fish (no doubt intrigued by that million dollar bounty) agrees to help Valerie. That means using Bullock to unwittingly give him information to the whereabouts of the person Fish is after: Mrs. Peabody (Tonya Pinkins). Mrs. Peabody, Fish suspects, can find a way to stop her slow illness that is sapping her strength. Gordon and Vale either intentionally, accidentally, or both, lead Mooney's gang to a very frightened Peabody, who tells her the only way Fish can recover is to stop using the powers she gained (to control people's minds just by her touch). Mooney doesn't want that. Instead, she wants an army, one that only Strange can get her. With that, she gets another of her monsters to kill off Mrs. Peabody by draining her of life (a Fountain of Youth in reverse).
This killing, along with the attack and potential killing of her friend Ivy Pepper (Claire Foley) devastate and shock Selina. Peabody's abduction infuriates Captain Barnes (Michael Chiklis), who wants her back.
For his part, Penguin finds Butch's stubbornness on Tabby a major nuisance when Butch sends thugs to try and intimidate the Sirens. He wildly underestimated our crazy pair, as Tabitha is adept at killing and Barbara is just bonkers.
All these various threads are starting to collide, as more remains to be seen.
I cannot believe that the Mooney subplot will be going for long. First, Mooney has been a divisive character for Gothamites (some love her, some detest her, though I'm not in either camp). Second, I think JPS has no interest in returning given how she seemed pretty happy to leave at the end of Season One. Three, Fish appears to be dying, or at least suffering greatly due to her powers. All this, plus the fact that we've got bigger fish to fry (pun slightly intended) leads me to believe that Mooney is not long for Gotham.
The only thing to hope for is one last final, final battle between Fish Mooney and Oswald Cobblepot. These two deserve a major confrontation (though I'd be shocked if they dropped Pengy).
There are other things in Better to Reign In Hell... that are neither terrible or wonderful. The love triangle between Butch, Tabby, and Babs is one I hope isn't drawn out. Seeing Butch be forever lovelorn almost makes him look like the comic relief.
Moreover, why exactly did he go back to being Penguin's stooge?
However, there is much to admire about Better to Reign in Hell..., starting with the performances. Of particular note is Richards as Bonkers Babs (also known as Stabby Babs). Richards' ability to shift from almost victim to villainess has given the character a wild new lease of life. From a dull dishrag to a fierce combination of crazy and evil, Richards dominates her scenes. Guest star Chung also does well as the newest cast member, slowly carving out her space as the intrepid reporter determined to get the story. A final shout-out should go to Mazouz, who has double duty to play both Bruce Wayne and the mysterious doppelganger, adopting a different voice and manner to his second persona.
Whether she and Gordon begin a romance or keep it professional remains to be seen (though I hope it's the latter), so we're waiting and watching.
Ultimately, Better to Reign in Hell... is not a knockout opener. It left some characters a bit out (RLT and especially CMS had little to do, though with the former he made the most of it, showing Penguin can still be ruthless). However, we're not going to fault an episode for starting to set things up. Where or how it will end up is another matter. Given the positive track record Gotham has built up, I'm willing to see things through.
Next Episode: Burn the Witch