MR FREEZE – 5/10.
When Gotham was first announced it was hyped as a gritty adaptation of the Jim Gordon sections of Batman: Year One. It would tell the story of Gordon’s first years as an idealistic young detective, dealing with corruption at the GCPD and a mob turf war on the streets of Gotham. Sadly that’s not exactly what we ended up with, instead Gotham turned out to be a Muppet Babies version of Batman. The Gordon that appears on our screens is a total non-entity of a character, playing second fiddle to a never ending array of Bat-villain origin stories. The show is essentially a poorly delivered, knowing wink to the viewer, like an obnoxious friend who ruins films by saying “hey, you know who that is, right?” every time a new character appears on screen.
Unless you haven’t noticed I don’t really like Gotham. But I continue to watch it as it carries the Bat-brand and I am a fan boy to my geeky core. That said there was considerable improvement in the first half of the show’s second season. The writing was still inconsistent, the dialogue unfathomable and the performances largely unwatchable, but there were moments where it was almost enjoyable. Of course none of those moments involved Jim Gordon but beggars can’t be choosers. So now Gotham has returned for the second half of season 2 and while the midseason premiere featured not one but two villain origin stories, they actually worked very well within the context of the show. That’s right I just said something nice about Gotham, go figure.
We pick up with the black hole of charisma that is Ben McKenzie’s Gordon. Having gone full Dirty Harry on Theo Galavan, Gordon now faces a tribunal where he pretty much blames the murder on Penguin and gets reinstated. Remember all those corrupt cops that Jim was going to battle against? Well he’s one of them now. Speaking of Penguin he is still the subject of a city wide manhunt, having been dethroned as the king of Gotham and replaced by Butch of all people. The manhunt lasts all of ten minutes until Chief Barnes finds Penguin hiding out with some hobos and brings him in. Penguin accepts the wrap for Galavan’s murder, perhaps out of a sense of gratitude for Gordon’s help in avenging his mother, and is promptly shipped off to Arkham after casually claiming to be insane.
With Gordon in the clear, he and Bullock are assigned to investigate the murder of a beat cop who was found frozen solid. The cop was the unfortunate victim of a freeze gun wielding scientist named Victor Fries (House of Cards’ Nathan Darrow). Fries’ wife, Nora, is dying and he works tirelessly to develop a way to safely freeze her until a cure has been found, although it’s the unfreezing part that is proving problematic. While Nora thinks that her husband has been experimenting on mice the truth is rather more gruesome. Victor’s lab is filled with his frozen test subjects, abducted Gothamites who end up as slushies when he attempts to thaw them out. With Nora’s time running out Victor is forced to take his experiments to new, extreme levels.
Meanwhile, Penguin’s attempt to fly over the cuckoo’s nest backfires massively when he discovers that his fellow inmates aren’t intimidated by him. But they are intimidated by Arkham’s new warden, Dr Hugo Strange. Strange is wise to Penguin’s game and his promise to cure Oswald of his ‘sickness’ is little more than a thinly veiled threat. Penguin later witnesses the effects of the good doctor’s treatment when a fellow inmate rips out his own eyes following Strange’s suggestion that he “see no evil, do no evil.” Things aren’t going much better for Victor, Gordon and Bullock easily track him down after he uses his freeze gun on an obnoxious chemist. They arrive just as Nora discovers Victor’s lab and the cold truth about just how far her husband is willing to go to save her.
With Nora in custody, Victor decides to turn himself in to the police. However before this can happen the chemist thaws out at the police station without going all Herr Toht (Google it). Realising that he may have found the solution to his problems Fries makes a quick exit before Gordon can apprehend him. But the papers now know his face and have somewhat ubiquitously dubbed him, Mr Freeze. The police aren’t the only ones interested in locating Mr Freeze; it seems Hugo Strange has plans for Victor, plans that involve the nightmarish Indian Hill facility that that we glimpsed at the start of season 2. Whatever it is that Strange is up to it definitely doesn’t look good for Penguin, Victor or the rest of Gotham for that matter.
My problem with Gotham has never been the liberties it takes with the Bat-canon, it’s an Elseworlds story that exists within its own continuity, my problem has always been with its poor delivery. But this episode really wasn’t that bad, mostly because it featured less Gordon and no Bruce Wayne, who along with the awful Fish Mooney, have always been the weakest links in the show. In the past it has been frustrating to see young versions of established villains introduced when the narrative of the show can never take the story to its logical conclusion; them versus Batman. Also most of these villains exist as a reaction to the Dark Knight, but both Hugo Strange and Mr Freeze have backstories that predate Batman, so they can potentially be engaging in their own right.
While Ben Mckenzie continues to portray Gordon as a constipated duck, Nathan Darrow and BD Wong were both solid in their respective roles as Freeze and Strange. I often criticise the acting in Gotham but truthfully it is a pantomime and the performances often reflect that. Sometimes it works (Penguin), and sometimes it makes me want to set fire to my eyeballs (Fish Mooney). The episode hinted at several narrative threads including Ed Nigma’s descent into villainy, Tabitha Galivan’s attempt to partner up with Butch, Barne’s mistrust of Gordon, and Bullock’s knack for names, but it managed to stay focussed on the two main stories; Freeze/Nora and Penguin/Strange. Focus is something Gotham has always lacked but I doubt that it will last beyond this episode.
POINTS OF INTEREST
- How did Butch manage to seize control of Penguin’s empire with such ease? Also, surely a drill hand isn’t the most practical prosthetic in the world.
- The special effects in this episode were very impressive, particularly the melting corpses. Say what you like about Gotham (I certainly do), but they’ve never been stingy with the gore.
- Interesting that after admitting his previous sins to Lea, Gordon has chosen to lie to her about Galavan. I would never lie to Morena Baccarin… because I love her.
- What is Strange doing in that basement? Whatever it is it sounds like Firefly is having a particularly rough time down there.