Proving once again that you don’t need Batman himself to have a successful Batman-themed TV show, Gotham reaches its third season after teasing us with various villains, new cast members and potential plot-points.
Entitled “Mad City”, this first half of the season picks up where the last one left off, with Hugo Strange’s experiments roaming the streets of Gotham following the takedown of his shady Arkham laboratory and Jim Gordon working as a bounty hunter after leaving the GCPD. We briefly follow Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) as she uses her nifty, yet limited super-powers to track down Strange. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne meets a doppelgänger who may or may not be trustworthy and his investigation into The Court Of Owls comes to a sudden stop when he is kidnapped by the mysterious organisation.
From the very first episode, it’s clear that Season 3 is the most focused season yet as, even when we’re jumping back and forth between characters, it all blends together rather well. There are a few main stories going on at the same time but the show, perhaps finally learning from past mistakes, makes a genuine effort to give the season a coherent arc. Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) join forces so the former can run for mayor, borrowing quite a bit from Batman Returns, Dr. Lee Thompkins (Morena Baccarin) returns to Gotham just as Gordon starts a new relationship with reporter Valerie Vale (Jamie Chung), Ivy is turned into an adult by one of Pr. Strange’s “monsters” and we’re introduced to The Mad Hatter.
The best and most consistent element of this new season is, indeed, The Mad Hatter (aka Jervis Tetch) whose backstory and appearance may be different than in the comics and Batman: The Animated Series but who provides the show with a genuine threat for once. The combined efforts of Theo Galavan and Hugo Strange last season having been mostly anti-climactic. This Hatter is probably madder than you’d expect and Benedict Samuel’s portrayal is the darkest we’ve seen so far so this allows for some surprisingly creepy moments and cruel emotional tests for Gordon and others. Big changes come this season as Captain Barnes’ (Michael Chiklis) devotion to justice is tested to its limits, Penguin comes to a surprising revelation about Nygma and a romance finally develops between Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova).
But for every interesting change, there’s a stagnating character or plot thread we don’t need. The likes of Barbara, Tabitha and Butch have officially overstayed their welcome yet the show tries constantly to make them make sense instead of giving them a worthy send-off. Erin Richards was obviously instructed to ham it up big time, perhaps in order to build Barbara up as the new Harley Quinn somehow, and it’s frankly grating. It’s unclear what Gotham has in store for these characters but I, for one, couldn’t possibly care any less. Luckily, there’s The Mad Hatter, Nygma and other cool characters to follow, with The Joker coming back soon I hear, so there’s enough potential here to guarantee a compelling, perhaps even explosive second half to the season.
Gotham is starting to learn from its missteps but very slowly: the show still needs to think more about what the stories actually need rather than what it can thoughtlessly cram into them. At its best, this new season is cool, dark and edgy; at its worst, it’s an over-the-top cartoon or a bad example of fan-fiction. The core cast is solid enough to keep it going, as is the source material and even if Gotham loses its footing at times, it seems to be moving in the right direction. It might be time to take a page out of The Walking Dead and lose some of its favourite characters, albeit not in such a brutal way as in that show, but Mad City is a wilder, moodier ride and if you’ve made it this far, chances are you’ll have a decent time with this new season.
Gotham will return on January 16th on FOX.