Review: Gotham (“Selina Kyle”), Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D (“Heavy Is The Head”)

These reviews will be spoiler-free for that particular episode, but will not refrain from discussing details of past episodes.

Gotham – “Selina Kyle”

"You're quite the survivor Cat..."

“You’re quite the survivor Cat…”

Gordon investigates a spate of child abductions with Bullock, where the victims are all under the age of 16, while also being asked to intervene with a self-harming Bruce Wayne. Elsewhere, Cobblepot adjusts to life outside Gotham and the Falcone/Mooney tension escalates.

After a slightly iffy “Pilot”, Gotham now has to try and solidify its narrative and keep the initially hooked in audience with them. “Selina Kyle” is juggling several plot threads at once, and I wasn’t terribly convinced by the overall product.

Like the pilot, the nominal main plot loses much of the drama it should have because of the competing threads. The villains abducting children (Lili Taylor and Frank Whaley) are weird and creepy enough to be memorable, but what we don’t see about them – namely motivations for crime or a back-story – makes them rather ineffective as episodic antagonists. For an episode with her name on it, Kyle has precious little to offer in plot terms until the final minutes (including an uncomfortably violent and bloody moment near the very end) and the GCPD investigation felt clipped and rushed to me, with only a few decent moments of Gordon/Bullock interaction, overtaken by the base elements of the most bog standard procedural, just with a clunky added finale where the bad guys plan is put back into motion briefly.

Some of the sub-plots were better, most notably that revolving around Bruce Wayne. Brooding is to be expected, but Gotham is taking a more visceral direction with the young man, with opening scenes of him burning himself in the dark and later drawing disturbing art adding something very noteworthy to the evolution of the character. Gotham has the potential to be the most in-depth exploration of Batman’s genesis ever, and it makes sense that it should be a traumatic disturbed thing. Gordon’s continued connection to Bruce is well done, though I’m still unconvinced by Sean Pertwee’s Alfred.

Penguin’s transformation to Gotham mainstay continues apace, with his lashing out at the people who picked him up unexpected and in tune with the more obviously grim way Gotham is treating the character, though you wonder if they might be going just a little bit too psychopathic with him. Cobblepot strikes me as the kind of character the audience should actually sympathise with a little, and that won’t be possible if he continues the way he’s going. The Falcone/Mooney scene was a bit weird and contrived, seemingly included just to keep that sub-plot boiling over, and Pickett Smith’s overacting was less endearing in “Selina Kyle” than it was in “Pilot”.

Likes/Dislikes: I liked the opening, where the simple corruption of the GCPD was laid out clearly. I liked the scene with Bullock’s romantic advice for Gordon (they need more time with each other in episodes). I liked the very beginning of the hints that Bruce is headed down the Batman path, “testing” himself. I disliked the namedropping of a B-list Batman villain as the mastermind of the child abductions (that Arrow has already done, and recently). I disliked the random and confusing nature of the Falcone/Mooney interaction. I disliked the political angle to the main plot, which seemed to stretch the suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.

There’s also the Gordon/Sarah relationship moments and the MCU investigation to keep track of, which both get a scene here. Gotham, just two episodes in, seems like it is biting off more than it can reasonably chew when it comes to efficient narrative and compelling storytelling, with six separate plot lines vying for time. While it is still early in the shows run, I know which of those plots I would give more time too, and which I would drop.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D – “Heavy Is The Head”

"I need you because I can't be you, not anymore."

“I need you because I can’t be you, not anymore.”

S.H.I.E.L.D remains on the hunt for the “Absorbing Man” with Coulson struggling under the necessities of leadership. As well as that, mercenary recruit Lance Hunter’s allegiances are in serious question.

Going by that episode title (though it should be “Uneasy lies the head”, get your Henry IV, Part Two right!), this is a story about leadership, with Coulson starting to show the strain of being the neo-S.H.I.E.L.D director. He has to make hard choices about whether people live or die, what’s worth fighting for and who to trust, and isn’t in a position to give way to emotional solutions anymore. I thought “Heavy Is The Head” approached this topic well, culminating in Coulson’s reasonable justification for keeping slightly untrustworthy people around and a very important opening up to May.

That formed the backbone for another strong episode, with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D sticking to a firm serialisation format, with this one practically being a part two for “Shadows”. Crell – the Absorbing Man – remains the main problem, and the sequences with him tripped along nicely leading up to a simple but well choreographed finale, that tied in to both Coulson’s internal debate on the role of a leader and the Hunter uncertainty.

Hunter (Nick Blood) could well find a good niche in this show. With some of the other mercs eliminated already, he’s taking advantage of the room to grow as a character, showing a multifaceted personality and leaving the audience guessing on some crucial points. There’s even room for all the cast to get in some characterisation (minus Trip I suppose), between May’s remerging rebellious streak, Skye’s adjustment to being a S.H.I.E.L.D agent proper and Fitz’ struggle with his existing nature. I’m also liking Henry Simmons’ role as Mac, providing a nice cipher for the Fitz character. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D has introduced new characters, and I’m liking them.

The bigger picture is also getting filled out at a nice rate. The reappearance of Raina, one of the better aspects of S1, is to be welcomed, with Kyle MacLachan’s brief cameo promising greater intrigue as we move forward. S.H.I.E.L.D  vs HYDRA interminably would be rather boring: it’s good to get new players on the stage.

Likes/Dislikes: I liked the slow motion bullet shot on Absorbing Man. I liked the interaction between Fitz and hallucination Simmons, which others are catching on to. I liked the conversation between Hunter and Skye in Hartlet’s room. I disliked the way some plot elements of S1 were reintroduced without greater elaboration, basically a recap. I disliked the way the Trip character is being increasingly marginalised. I disliked some of the script contrivances, like the misinterpretation of Fitz’ “I didn’t solve this today”.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D continues its solid start in round two. The serious tone is being upheld, there’s more continuity between episodes and already a sense of mystery and intrigue – over the Obelisk, over HYDRA and over Raina’s new friend – unique to this season. It’s a welcome improvement on the beginning of season one, and I only hope that the ratings and interest reaffirm the decision to go in this direction.

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