A Look at Gotham- Season 2, Episode 2: “Rise of the Villains: Knock, Knock”

Color me surprised.  An interesting episode of Gotham with almost no filler?  Still some tone issues, but hey, this one managed to hold my attention.  Continuing with the “Rise of the Villains” storyline, let’s jump into “Knock, Knock.”

Knock, Knock- Theo speaks with Mayor James about his vision for Gotham

The episode begins with Theo having a conversation with Mayor James, who has a box covering his face.  Describing himself to the mayor, Theo says that he is an ardent student of human nature.  Near the mayor is a glass jar with a spider inside of it.  In one minute, Theo will drop the spider in James’ box and then close it.  That’s option a.  Option b is that Mayor James tells his secretary that he’s run off with some woman and will send written instructions shortly.

Mayor James, naturally, picks option b.  To his relief, Theo never even had a spider.  James asks why Theo is doing this, and it’s all because the mayor is part of a great endeavor.  Monsters are coming to cleanse the city in blood and fire.

Knock, Knock- Bodies drop outside Gotham Gazette

Later, a head at the Gotham Gazette reads a supposed front page story about Mayor James going missing.  He doesn’t buy it and wants the staffers to get to the bottom of this.  Problem is that the employees are too distracted by falling bodies.

Knock, Knock- Maniax dropping bodies

Outside, Jerome, Arnold Dobkins, Aaron Helzinger, and Robert Greenwood are at work dropping bodies off of the roof.  Six bodies fall to the ground with letters sprayed on their bodies to spell out “MANIAX.”  However, there’s still one more body.  Jerome spray paints an exclamation point on the body and it’s then tossed over.

Knock, Knock- Maniax bodies

It helps to add punctuation.

Knock, Knock- Commissioner Essen briefs GCPD on the murders

Commissioner Essen briefs the department about a breakout at Arkham Asylum 48 hours ago.  Yesterday, four of the six released inmates broke into the Yellen Shipyard and kidnapped seven workers- the same people tossed off of the Gotham Gazette.  There are no leads yet on who led the breakout.

Knock, Knock- Jim's villains presentation

Jim runs through the targets and their crimes: Jerome Valeska- matricide.  Arnold Dobkins, played by Will Brill- schizophrenic, poisoner, rapist.  Aaron Helzinger, now played by Stink Fisher- killed his entire family with his bare hands.  Robert Greenwood, played by Dustin Ybarra- killed and then ate a dozen women.  Barbara Kean- murdered her parents.  Officers will work in groups of four- Alvarez will be serving as the coordinating officer.

Knock, Knock- Theo speaks with the Maniax men

Theo joins the men and congratulates them on a job well done.  It’s now time for the Maniax to make a grand entrance.  The body dropping was just the overture.  The audience is hushed for now.  The curtains must now rise for the Maniax to confront Gotham with its most primal fears.  They will take what the citizens of Gotham hold sacred, and then offer them a solution.  Theo wants the men to learn the art of stagecraft because they will be on television soon.

He has the men practice their presentation, with Jerome making a good impression.  He’s got a taste for the theatrical, my guess.  He is familiar with the circus.

Knock, Knock- Tabitha and Barbara join the rest of the Maniax

Then Tabitha and Barbara enter with Mayor James in tow.  They have fun screwing with him, but they’re still bored.  Why should the boys have all the fun?  Theo assures Barbara that their time is coming.  When?  Soon.  Right now, Theo wants to know about James Gordon.

Knock, Knock- Bruce and Alfred go over Thomas Wayne's computer

Over at Wayne Manor, Bruce and Alfred are still in amazement about Thomas Wayne’s hidden room.  Bruce is about to turn on his father’s computer, which he believes could have all of the research on Wayne Enterprises.  After all, Bruce needs a smoking gun and this could be it.  Alfred reminds Bruce that guns are for grown-ups, but Bruce turns it on regardless.

Knock, Knock- Alfred takes a hammer to Thomas Wayne's computer

So Alfred smashes it.  Not all of it, but enough to slow down the start-up process.  In Alfred’s defense, had he known what was down here, he never would have helped Bruce.  Hell, it’s possible that some of this is what got Thomas Wayne killed.  Alfred is just trying to keep Bruce safe.  But Bruce, having lost the possible key to his father’s work on exposing Wayne Enterprises, decides that it’s time for Alfred to leave and never come back.  You’re fired.

Knock, Knock- Theo comes between Jerome and Robert

The men of the Maniax browse through some weapons.  Jerome fancies a particular sword that Robert swipes, so Jerome grabs a chainsaw and the two prepare to duel when Theo enters.  He reminds them to work as a team.  But every team needs a captain.  Robert wants that honor.  After all, he’s terrorized the city.  Despite Jerome’s vision, ambition, and brains, all he’s done is kill his mother, but everyone has to start somewhere.

Knock, Knock- Russian Roulette

Luckily, there’s always Russian Roulette.  Theo pulls out a gun.  You know how this game goes.  Robert goes first and pulls the trigger.  Click.  On Jerome’s turn, he asks a question: what’s the secret to good comedy?  Click.  The answer?  Timing.  He pulls again.  Click.  Next question: what’s courage?  Click.  Grace under pressure.  So who’s the boss?

Winner: Jerome.

Knock, Knock- Scottie interrupts Harvey and Jim's talk

Jim pops by Bullock’s bar to talk about the case.  Before Jim can even ask, Scottie, who is now Bullock’s fiancé, figures it out: Jim wants Bullock to come back to the GCPD.  Jim doesn’t deny it.  He needs help.  Bullock shoots Jim down, but gives Jim a hand with a question: the people killed by the Maniax worked at the shipyard.  Why that location?

Knock, Knock- Jim fills Commissioner Essen in on Harvey's hunch

Back at the GCPD, Jim speaks with Commissioner Essen about Bullock’s potential question, which led to a breakthrough.  The Maniax stole a refinery truck from the shipyard.  It wasn’t reported because it was one of over 100 service vehicles, so it took time to locate the fleet, which was loaded with gasoline.  The GCPD has a description and license plate of the vehicle.

Essen, though, still can’t believe that Bullock is gone.  He was born to be a cop, she says, but not anymore.  Jim didn’t have it in him to push Bullock to consider returning.  Essen asks Jim if he ever considered walking away from the job.  His answer is no, but Essen did at one point.  She’s watched corrupt men buy their way into this job and waste it, but not her.  It’s a new day in Gotham.

Essen is awfully optimistic, having only been the commissioner for a short amount of time.

Knock, Knock- Alfred prepares to leave Wayne Manor

Alfred is all set to leave.  He only has one suitcase of belongings to his name.  He and Bruce say their goodbyes as the good butler leaves.  For now, anyway.

Knock, Knock- Maniax spy a yellow bus

On the streets of Gotham, our Maniax men wait in anticipation.  They soon spot a target in the form of a school bus filled with cheerleaders.

Knock, Knock- Nygma tries and fails to ask out Kristen Kringle

In the Records Annex of the GCPD, Nygma tries to plumb up the courage to ask Miss Kringle something, but all he manages to share is the fun fact about house flies hum in keys of F.

Knock, Knock- Dark Nygma

When Kringle leaves, Nygma talks with himself about how he agreed to think about asking her out.  Perhaps Evil Nygma would have better luck since he’s more confident.

Knock, Knock- Jerome sprays gasoline over the bus of cheerleaders

The Maniax cut off the school bus.  Jerome enters and cuffs everyone to their seats.  If anything, he says, this was a hard decision to make.  It came down to them or a senior citizens bingo party.  It was better to go younger.  He sprays them with gasoline while asking them to chant “O-N-O.”  You know what that spells.

Knock, Knock- Maniax fire on the GCPD

But Jerome’s lighter won’t work.  Arnold’s does, but then the GCPD arrives.  The Maniax aren’t concerned.  They know that the police won’t shoot at a bus.  Indeed, they don’t.  Three of the Maniax manage to escape on the truck, but Arnold remains and manages to start a light.  The fire starts, but Gordon rushes and punches out Arnold.  He boards the bus and drives it away from the flames just in time.  Now, I’m sure that the bus should be leaking gasoline, but sure, crisis averted.

Knock, Knock- Jim demands Arnold tell him who freed him from Arkham

Jim confronts Arnold and demands to know who freed him from Arkham Asylum, but he refuses to talk.  It doesn’t matter.  He’s shot and killed far off from a trained shot by Tabitha.

Knock, Knock- Bruce joins Alfred at the train station, apologizes

As Alfred awaits his departing train, Bruce joins him.  He now understands that Alfred only wanted to protect Bruce, but despite that, there’s nothing Alfred can do that will stop Bruce from carrying out his father’s work.  Alfred knows that now.  If Alfred stays, he’s either with or against Bruce.  Alfred is with Bruce, but still acknowledges that what Bruce is doing is tantamount to suicide.  Bruce is still too young and not ready.

So Bruce asks Alfred to make him ready.  Train him.  Now we’ve been down this road before, and Alfred knows this, but Bruce promises that this will be different.  He even promises to go back to school.  If Bruce agrees to this, he must do whatever Alfred says with no exceptions.  Now Alfred just needs to fix the computer.

Knock, Knock- Leslie Thompkins extracts the bullet from Arnold's body

Over at GCPD, Leslie extracts and examines the bullet from Arnold’s body.  Said bullet was high caliber and high velocity, but there’s no way to identify the gun as of now.  Essen wonders about the motivation for almost murdering the cheerleaders.  After all, they didn’t ask for a ransom.  Jim figures that it was about headlines and creating mass panic.

Knock, Knock- Alfred sits at a bar

At a club, Alfred joins a very familiar man for a drink.  Alfred introduces himself as Bruce Wayne’s guardian and it’s a funny coincidence that these two happened to meet each other.  He then talks about a fella he knew named Oslow on the Isle of Dogs in the East End of London.  He came up to Alfred to ask him for an iffy favor.  Alfred agreed, but if this Oslow fella let Alfred down, Alfred would tuck him up.

Knock, Knock- Lucius Fox speaks with Alfred about Bruce and trust

And then Oslow let Alfred down, so Alfred tucked him like a kipper- a smoked fish.  He’s learned that there are two type of people in the world: people you can trust and the ones you can’t.  So what kind is Mr. Lucius Fox?  Fox responds that both kinds of people would give the same answer.  The problem is that Alfred needs to confide in Lucius, but he needs to be able to trust him.

It’s too late for Lucius to back out since he already told Bruce that Thomas Wayne is stoic.  And Alfred has no one else to turn to, so if he can’t trust Lucius, then he’s a dead man.  Lucius has the best intentions for Bruce in mind, which is good, because Alfred needs his help at fixing computers.

Knock, Knock- Jim spots Barbara in the GCPD

As Jim tells Alvarez to inform ballistics that they have a red ball, he gets a call from his dear, sweet Barbara.  Jim tries to make small talk, saying that he can help Barbara, but she has no intention of going back to Arkham.  Jim calls her a kind woman, but right now, Barbara is focused on looking good.

Because there she is, right in the GCPD.  Does anyone recognize or try to stop her?  Somehow, no.  Jim follows her outside.  Back inside, though, two officers head in to talk with Commissioner Essen…

Knock, Knock- Jerome confronts Commissioner Essen

They just happen to be Jerome and Robert in disguise.  A massive shootout commences.

Knock, Knock- Barbara has Aaron beat Jim

Outside, Jim confronts Barbara in an alleyway.  She tells him that he was wrong about her, but he never listened.  She summons Arnold to beat the ever living hell out of Jim for a long period of time before Barbara calls it off.  She leaves Jim with some parting words: she’s not sick, she’s free.

Knock, Knock- Jerome stands before Essen

The massacre continues in the Gotham police department.  Jerome has Essen cornered.  Richard brings a camera for Essen’s close-up.  What do the Maniax want?  To rule the world, but they’ll settle for dead cops and good PR.  Whatever works.  Essen just calls them crazy.  Besides, Jerome will be dead soon.  The world will go on without him and no one will know his name.

Oh, but Jerome disagrees with Essen on that one. The Maniax are about to leave their mark on the city and watch it spread across the city like a virus.  Why?  Because nothing is more contagious than laughter.  Well, Richard says that, prompting Jerome to shoot and kill him for taking his line.  Never steal Jerome’s line.  Essen spits in Jerome’s face, but he finds it strangely pleasant.  Then she headbutts him.  Okay, his turn now.

Knock, Knock- Jim enters GCPD after the massacre

Jim comes to and struggles to make his way back inside the police department.  He finds a few signs of life with Leslie, Kristen, Nygma, and other unnamed officers.

Knock, Knock- Essen is dying

But Commissioner Essen, not so much.  Leslie and Jim find her bleeding from a deep wound.  She tells him once again that it’s a new day in Gotham before dying.

Knock, Knock- Lucius works on Thomas Wayne's computer

As Lucas begins work on repairing Thomas Wayne’s computer, Bruce has so many questions.  Did Thomas Wayne tell him everything?  No.  Thomas was a private man, but he had to be.  Lucius just helped with the technical resources.  He doesn’t know what’s on the computer and didn’t even want to.  HE can fix it, but it will take time.  Alfred then rushes down to find Bruce.

Knock, Knock- Bruce speaks to Jim at the police department after the massacre

The two head to GCPD in the aftermath of the massacre.  Bruce finds Jim and admits that he was hard on him last time.  He apologizes and calls Jim a good friend.

Knock, Knock- Harvey returns

After this moment, Jim enters the now empty commissioner’s office.  He hears a voice saying that Essen was a good woman, and it belongs to no other than Bullock, who isn’t in the mood to talk about this.  They are who they are.  No use fighting it.  Scottie will understand.

Knock, Knock- Jim and Harvey watch the GCPD report on the Maniax

Alvarez turns on the television.  In typical fashion, the report is right at the point where we need it to be.

Knock, Knock- Jerome tells the city to wake up

It plays the footage Jerome shot where he addresses Gotham City.  Jerome, the shot collar of his gang, is here to spread a message of wisdom and home.  The people of Gotham are prisoners.  What they call sanity is a prison in their minds to stop them from seeing that they’re just cogs in a giant, absurd machine.  It’s time to wake up.  Why be a cog when you can be free?  But don’t worry.  The Maniax will be back.  Gotham ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Well, I am impressed.  Too soon to tell whether this is an indication of the season quality as a whole, but “Knock, Knock” was quite the entertaining episode.  Maybe not since “Penguin’s Umbrella” has there been an episode where things kept moving forward with little to no time to breathe.  More than that, each scene had some level of importance to the scene before or after it, and the darker GCPD versus the Maniax storyline was complemented by the Bruce and Alfred dynamic, and just that.

Yes, Gotham still has tone issues and one of the biggest and most warranted criticisms has been inserting scenes or characters for the sake of just showcasing as many people in the show as possible.  Hell, even “Damned If You Do” had a pointless appearance by Selina Kyle.

Knock, Knock- Jim and Bruce hug

But here, we’re dealing with three factions and just that: Gotham’s finest, the Maniax, or Bruce and Alfred.  No interludes with Penguin or the mob at all.  And eventually, the Maniax spill into the GCPD and even the Bruce/Alfred moments end up intersecting with the police department, but not without reason.  Sure, the moment between Bruce and Jim was brief, but important to put them on good terms after Bruce suggested that Jim wasn’t willing to sacrifice his dignity for the greater good.

Knock, Knock- Alfred after bashing the computer

And this episode still dealt with those words in regards to the scenes at Wayne Manor.  Alfred doesn’t want Bruce to get too deep into his father’s business because he doesn’t want him to suffer the same fate.  He bashes the computer to protect Bruce from harm.  He knows that this move will endanger his relationship with Bruce, but he doesn’t care because he’s more interested in keeping the boy alive.  Alfred has seen combat and knows that the world is a dangerous place.

Hell, the man was stabbed last season and almost died.  Bruce has lost his parents, but Alfred came close to losing his life as a part of this investigation into Wayne Enterprises.  So by slowing Bruce down, Alfred hopes to make him understand that he can’t just charge in because his father left him these items.  Maybe there’s nothing Alfred can do to stop Bruce, but at least the two can come to terms on how to move forward.

Knock, Knock- Alfred and Bruce make up

And I’m glad that there’s some continuity from the first season with Bruce once again wanting Alfred to train him, and Alfred reminding him that he already wanted him to train him before, and that fell by the wayside when Bruce got deep into the Wayne Enterprises conspiracy.  Nice connection, and I do appreciate the follow-up to that plot point.

Knock, Knock- Maria Thayer reprises her role

The same goes for bringing back Maria Thayer to reprise her role as Scottie Mullen, who we last saw in “The Fearsome Dr. Crane.”  I buy this because Bullock did establish a rapport with Mullen, but it also helps that Bullock’s fiancé is a character we’ve already been introduced to because it helps solidify Mullen’s role here instead of it being a one-off character.

Continuity seems to be the big thing this season instead of a series of one-off plots and criminals from Season One, and for that, I’m grateful.  Now Season One did have various plot points and story elements that popped up again, but with some exceptions like the two-parter “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” and “The Scarecrow,” few episodes continued the plot established in the previous one.  You might have the start of one episode start where the previous episode ended, but that’s about it.

Knock, Knock- Jerome points a gun

But “Knock, Knock” follows up with the Maniax being freed and carrying out Theo Galavan’s plan to cause mass chaos.  It’s all very Dark Knight-esque, particularly with Jerome’s video message and the plan to burn a busload of cheerleaders.  I’ve gotta admit, that’s a pretty horrifying to think about and downright creepy image to visualize.  Sure, at the end of the day, Jerome’s bad luck and Gordon’s driving saved the day, but the mere idea of setting a bus full of people on fire is just insane.

Knock, Knock- Theo wants to know about James Gordon

Theo is the mastermind who wants to bring Gotham to its knees.  As the actual leader, he doesn’t need to get his hands dirty, so he has the Maniax do his bidding because they’re insane enough to do so.  Chaos is what they want.  Sure, Theo does have a grand vision to cleanse the city, but the Maniax are just looking to create widespread panic.  They seem to do that, but that’s one of my minor qualms of the episode.

Knock, Knock- Gazette staff watches bodies hit the ground

Aside from the GCPD, the Gazette staff, and the people on the bus, we don’t get to see a lot of reactions from the people of Gotham City yet.  The few incidents get a reaction out of the GCPD because it’s their job to protect the public.  Part of me wishes we’d seen the city thrown into a frenzy, but that’s very minor.  As Jerome pointed out, we haven’t seen anything yet, so maybe that’s coming later.

Knock, Knock- Jerome gambles

And at least we get scenes of the Maniax team interacting.  Keep in mind that Tabitha just happened to spring these six people from Arkham, even though there’s little that tied them together.  Here, we get moments of them hanging out and battling it out for leadership.  Again, Monaghan brings the energy with his performance, particularly the Russian Roulette scene.

Knock, Knock- Jerome addresses Gotham City

Some of his lines and mannerisms are a bit too on-the-nose to the point where Gotham may as well just call him the Joker, even though he isn’t, especially with the video message, but hey, he’s entertaining to watch on screen.

Knock, Knock- Barbara straddles Jim

Can’t believe I find myself saying this, but even Barbara managed to be more interesting in these past two episodes than she was in all of Season One now that they’ve turned her into a nut.  It’s still a strange journey to take, but making her maniacal is easier to stomach than making her annoying, jealous girlfriend.

Knock, Knock- Barbara in plain view

But I have two minor qualms: first off, the Gotham police department’s open door policy must be as liberal as Arkham Asylum’s revolving door because we’ve watched Penguin, Zsasz, and now Barbara, known criminals, waltz into the GCPD and no one makes a move.  Sure, Zsasz came to kill Gordon who, at that point, had few friends in the GCPD, so I get that the officers wouldn’t back him.  Here, Jim had a full presentation on the freed inmates with Barbara’s face shown, yet no one noticed or attempted to stop her except Jim.

Side-note on that presentation.  A little change made between the episode and the trailer.  The Red Band Maniax trailer included Richard Sionis, but since he’s dead, the episode omits Jim mentioning him.

Knock, Knock- Barbara wants more to do

Anyway, the other, smaller qualm I have is how fast Barbara has become involved with the Maniax, given how she said in the previous episode that she didn’t even have any sort of skills or abilities that made her special.  But hey, I suppose this is a way to keep her out of Arkham, and since Barbara probably won’t be shacking up with Montaya again anytime soon, there’s always Tabitha.

Knock, Knock- Aaron Helzinger, Barbara's muscle

In addition, like Poison Ivy and Talia al Ghul before her, as far as on-screen representations go, Barbara has a giant musclebound man to do her bidding and she can lay into Jim.

With Barbara out of Arkham, Jim now has even more motivation to go after the Maniax.  Here’s a woman who was once his fiancé, was abducted many times, and is now a crazy bitch.  And she’s part of a group that is out to terrorize Gotham City.  His reason for pursuing Barbara is to bring her to justice.  You know, that and she had a huge man beat the hell out of him.

Knock, Knock- Pushing bodies

The Maniax do manage to cause quite a lot of damage in a short amount of time.  Sure, it might have been easier to just set the bodies on the ground at night and let people find them the next day, but hey, dropping them from a high perch is certain to catch people’s attention and it’s another gruesome image.

Knock, Knock- Nygma wounded

Same goes for the massacre inside the GCPD.  We don’t know most of these people outside of Jim, Alvarez, Nygma, Leslie, Miss Kringle, and Commissioner Essen, so a lot of the casualties aren’t people we know.  That lessens the emotional impact, but it’s still a major surprise for the GCPD and it goes to show again that these police are not safe from criminals that just want to turn the city upside down.

This goes larger than the mob.  Penguin just wanted to climb the mob ladder, but Theo and his Maniax aim to change Gotham by cleansing it in blood and fire.

Knock, Knock- Optimistic Commissioner Essen

Again, Commissioner Essen was far too optimistic about this being a new day in Gotham, not long after she received this position.  So she’s gone.  Like Maroni, it’s a bit out of left field because we have an established, longstanding character in the Batman universe that you figure will be around for a while, but she’s knocked off like so many other officers.

Knock, Knock- Bullock returns

If anything, this gave Bullock the motivation he needed to return to the force as he and Gordon try to sort out this mess.

“Knock, Knock” was a strong episode with both action and drama through the two separate storylines.  Though Gotham’s tone is still an issue at times, I found the more intense moments with the Maniax and the GCPD were well-balanced by the slower scenes with Bruce and Alfred.  The stakes have been raised for Gotham’s finest with their numbers reduced by a group of lunatics.

Between this and the “Damned If You Do,” the “Rise of the Villains” arc is off to a much better start than the previous season for Gotham.  Now to see whether the momentum will continue.  After all, “Spirit of the Goat” and “Penguin’s Umbrella” were also both great episodes, and the show stepped back into mediocrity after that.  So I’m optimistic, but approaching with caution.  For what we’ve gotten with these two episodes, we’re good so far.

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