Wednesday, January 9, 2019

'Gotham' Recap: "Year Zero" (5x01)

Welcome back, Gothamites. It was a long hiatus between seasons—231 days to be exact—but the wait is over. Everyone's favorite (or, at least, my favorite) Batman prequel is back for its fifth and final season, Gotham: Legend of the Dark Knight.

If you need a refresher on what happened at the end of season four, click here for my recap of "No Man's Land."

The season kicked off on Thursday with episode "Year Zero." It's worth nothing that the title is a reference to two famous Batman origin stories: Year One by Frank Miller and Zero Year by Scott Snyder (not to be confused with Zack Snyder, who directed Batman v. Superman). 

While both comics tell about Batman's earliest days as a somewhat inexperience crime fighter, they are extremely different in tone and style. Year One is a gritty, realistic story that gives equal time to Bruce Wayne's development as a vigilante and Jim Gordon's moral dilemmas during his early days at the GCPD. 

Zero Year is a story from the New 52 reboot that focuses on Bruce operating first as a faceless and anonymous vigilante against a high-tech Red Hood Gang and then becoming Batman and taking on the Riddler. The story features the usual Gotham City fare—threats to poison the water supply, cryptic riddles and conspiracies, and plenty of incredible gadgets—while still focusing on Bruce's character development and even paying homage to Year One

Here's the funny thing, though: when you combine those two stories together, you get the recipe for Gotham itself: a mix of gritty realism, moral dilemmas, conspiracies and comic-book plots that focus on both Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne as they grow into their respective roles. Thusly, "Year Zero" is one of the most fitting episode titles ever used by the show. 

The episode itself focuses on two main plots: the competing efforts of Gordon, Penguin and Barbara to obtain supplies months after the bridge bombings, and the Riddler's latest mental breakdown. Warning: the following recap contains MASSIVE SPOILERS and a SUICIDAL TRIGGER. 

Plot A: The Purge - Gotham Edition

The episode opens with a flash-forward to day 391 since Jeremiah Valeska blew up Gotham's bridges and made the city into an island.

On day 391, the song "We'll Meet Again" plays on a record as the Riddler puts the finishing touches on his outfit . . . meaning that there will never be a better time to use this gifset:

The Riddler wears a fancy green suit and sets a playing card (an ace with a question mark on it) in his jacket pocket. He then dons his bowler hat and grabs a machine gun. 

Elsewhere, Penguin's minions finish up his makeup, give him red-tinted sunglasses, and hand him a knife and a machine gun (like he's starring in the world's most badass Maybelline commercial).

Detective Harvey Bullock, however, is looking considerably less glam as he drinks alone at a bar before grabbing his own badge.

At the precinct, Captain Jim Gordon grabs his own badge along with a gun.

And then, all four men—Riddler, Penguin, Harvey and Gordon—fall into line and join the rest of the GCPD atop a wall, where Gordon orders them to fire on tanks and soldiers below. In the midst of this chaos, he offers a single battle cry: "For Gotham!"

The show then cuts back to Day 87 since the bridges blew. 

On day 87, Gordon is at a radio, arguing with someone from the government. The person on the other end says that his men disobeyed evacuation orders, but he says that the officers had to stay because powerful criminals are claiming territory and taking over the city.

He explains to the government official that the situation is as follows:
  1. Penguin has taken over city hall, taken all the weapons from its armory, and repurposed a factory to create ammunition. He's practically untouchable.
  2. Barbara and the Sirens control the area around her club, which is the only place in the city with a generous supply of food and alcohol. Barbara trades in information, and men are only allowed on her turf if they buy small windows of time.
  3. Scarecrow is in the west.
  4. Mr. Freeze is in the North and is at war with Firefly.

      5. There have been no sightings of Jeremiah Valeska since the bridges blew.
      6. The GCPD controls a 10-block area around the precinct where they feed and protect 150           
      civilians, mainly poor and sick citizens who couldn't get out of the city in time. Several people 
      are still trapped in other parts of the city.

Gordon tells the official that the government has a duty to help, but the official insists that no one is allowed in or out of the city. Gordon insists that not everyone who stayed is a criminal, but the official retorts that those who remain are not the government's responsibility. 

Gordon keeps asking for help and points out that not only is the GCPD surrounded by hostile forces, but they also have children to protect. The voice tells him that a committee is being formed regarding Gotham, but Gordon says it's not enough. He asks for more supplies, but the official won't budge, and he realizes that the people of Gotham are on their own.

Meanwhile, at a Gotham clinic, a doctor tells Bruce that he needs to operate on Selina (who's still paralyzed) before her spine collapses upon itself. The doctor says she should've been evacuated, but Alfred says that, while he tried, they couldn't make it out in time. 

Bruce tells Selina that the doctors will have to operate here. She replies, "Fine, whatever," but a single tear rolls down her face and she fights to hold back more. Bruce then promises to stay at the clinic during the surgery.

Meanwhile, civilians yell at Harvey in the safe zone and claim that the cops are getting more to eat than anyone else. Lucius breaks up the fight and says that everyone gets the same ration amounts, but they don't believe him. Gordon steps in and tells the people that if they don't like the rules, they can always leave.

The crowd backs down and Lucius tells Gordon that they have a month of supplies at best, and it'll be shorter if refugees keep coming in. Gordon replies that the government still won't send any help or supplies. The news is especially frustrating to Harvey.

Gordon says Lucius to tell the people that the government will eventually come to its senses and take back the city, but Lucius points out that, at the moment, they're on their own. Gordon replies that they still have a responsibility to keep the people of the city alive, but Harvey says that the GCPD has reached the last of its ammo and can't protect anyone for much longer. 

That night, Gordon turns on the searchlight (to remind himself and the citizens of Gotham that there's still hope), and Bruce meets him on top of the GCPD roof.

Gordon tells Bruce about the government's refusal to help, and Bruce tells Gordon that he's given Lucius permission to raid Wayne Enterprises' R & D division for tech, which he's using to make night vision goggles for the GCPD. He then says that he has to leave because the doctor's about to operate on Selina since her condition is worsening. Gordon says to let him know how it goes and then asks Bruce a question: is he sorry he stayed? Bruce replies that he's not and asks Gordon the same query. "Hell no," Gordon replies.

Over at the Sirens Club, Mr. Penn barters with Barbara Kean on Penguin's behalf. (If you don't remember Penn, he ran Penguin's license program in season 4 but was working for Sofia Falcone all along. He was last seen in "The Sinking Ship, The Grand Applause.")  

Penn sets a bullet on her desk and says that Penguin is willing to trade ammunition for Grade-A steak. Barbara replies that Penguin just wants to get the good stuff for himself while his workers starve. Tabitha Galavan remarks that Penguin has been holed up in city hall since he killed Butch. 

Barbara then tells Penn that she's changing the deal from 1,000 rounds of ammunition to 2,000, since Tabitha is still upset about Butch. Tabitha, however, says they shouldn't be making deals with Penguin at all, but Barbara points out that they need the ammo to protect the women who come to them for safety. Tabitha responds by grabbing the bullet that Penn left on the desk and loading it into her gun. Barbara then tells Penn that the deal is now 3,000 rounds.

Elsewhere, a couple of cops stand watch over a wall. Through a window in the wall, one cop sees something move, but the other laughs and says it was probably just a shadow. Then the first cop gets sprayed with fear toxin by Scarecrow, who says that if the cop wants the pain to stop, he'll open the door. Unfortunately, the cop obeys . . .

. . . And Scarecrow kills him with a scythe five seconds later. He storms in with henchmen (who mostly seem to be dressed in cloaks and plague masks) and tells them to get what they came for and kill anyone who gets in the way.

Back at the precinct, Gordon tells Detective Vanessa Harper to reinforce the barriers near Penguin's turf. As he does so, the lights flicker off. Gordon tells Harper to have Lucius meet him at the generator.

At the same time, the lights go off in the clinic during Selina's operation. The backup generator kicks in seconds later, but it's not enough to reassure Bruce's nerves. Sure enough, a nurse reports that there are men in the basement stealing medicine, so Bruce heads out to stop it.

And, in doing so, breaks his promise to stay at Selina's side.

Over at the GCPD, Gordon sees that the generator (the same one Lucius repurposed in "No Man's Land") is out and turns around just in time to see Scarecrow attacking him. Scarecrow points out that Gordon's low on bullets, and Gordon agrees—before grabbing a lead pipe. Gordon surmises that Scarecrow's not there to steal the generator; he's there for the supplies. And, Scarecrow adds, he's there to kill Gordon.

You know, we've been missing the perfect show subtitle for five seasons. It should actually be:

"Gotham" AKA "Who Wants to Kill Jim Gordon This Week"--Source

Gordon manages to break off another pipe, which blasts Scarecrow in the face with steam. Scarecrow runs away—and elsewhere at the GCPD, Harvey reports that the minions have stolen the beans.

Back at the clinic, Bruce attacks the other Scarecrow minions while wearing night vision goggles, courtesy of Lucius Fox. (It also probably helps that plague doctor masks don't seem to have great peripheral vision.) He takes down most of them, but one turns on the lights, which blinds Bruce long enough for all of the minions to get away.

The GCPD is no better off, and Lucius tells Gordon that now they're down to a week of supplies. Gordon says to cut people down to half rations, but Lucius says they're already at half rations. Cutting them again only buys two weeks. Harvey insists that the government has to step in at this point, but Gordon isn't confident that they will. 

However, Bruce appears and offers a solution: he can use Wayne Enterprises's resources to fly in supplies. Gordon says they won't get permission to take off, but Bruce says he's not asking for permission and the chopper is ready to go, so they can have a supply truck at the GCPD in a matter of hours. 

Gordon says that it's a one-time solution and the government will find out, but Bruce says it's worth the trouble because Scarecrow's men stole medicine and left people in pain. Gordon agrees to the plan and tells Harvey to let the people know that help is on the way. Gordon then asks about Selina's condition. When Bruce is silent, Gordon tells him that it'll be alright; Selina's strong and she can pull through.

Once Bruce returns to the clinic, Selina tells him that the surgery was a success and her spine won't cave in. However, she'll still never be able walk again, and dryly remarks that it's "a bummer." Bruce replies that even though the medical supplies in Gotham are limited, there'll be hope once they rejoin the mainland. Selina, however, doesn't seem to believe him and grimly remarks that it's ironic that after all the things she's done, what ruined her life was being Bruce's friend. She then adds that she wishes Jeremiah had killed her.


As Bruce turns to leave, a nurse turns to him and says that regular doctors can't cure Selina; she needs to see "the Witch." 

Who's the Witch, you ask? Answer: I have no idea. During the premiere, a friend of mine speculated that it might be Leslie Tompkins taking on the role of a "witch doctor." My other best guess would be Poison Ivy—after all, she did use her botanical genius to revive Selina with herbal remedies in season 3 after she was pushed out of a window. It's not unbelievable that she might be using her skills for profit in the aftermath of the bombings.

But I digress; back to the show. Over at city hall, Penguin gets a bracer fitted to his bad leg and fits a knife into it. Mr. Penn then tells Penguin that the factory is suffering another shutdown because a worker passed out from hunger and fell into a hydraulic press. Penn says that they need to increase the employees' food allowance, but Penguin says that while he sympathizes with them, he can't give what he doesn't have.

 Of course, the reply would be more convincing if Penguin didn't give it while digging into a plateful of steak, mashed potatoes and green beans. But even that's not enough for him, apparently, as he yells that the meat isn't rare enough, and decides to feed it to his pet bulldog, Edward.

Penn also reports that quality is down at the factory and there have been several misfires. Penguin doesn't believe him and fires in the air to prove Penn wrong. The first shot goes off fine, but the second one scorches Penguin's hand. Before the men can discuss the misfire, Penguin tells Penn to hush because he hears something from outside: the whirring of chopper blades.

Meanwhile at the Sirens Club, Barbara says it's suicide to go after Penguin when he has his own army and fortress. Tabitha insists that Butch is only dead because Penguin was targeting her, so it's her duty to make it right—even if she's not sure she'll make it out alive. Barbara insists that she needs Tabitha, but their conversation is broken off by the sound of the chopper blades outside. 

Gordon and Bruce see the chopper approaching from the GCPD roof. Bruce radios the pilots and they agree to meet at the rendezvous point. But before the chopper can land, someone off-screen shoots it with an RPG.

It crashes in territory run by the "Lo Boyz Gang." On the ground, Gordon tells Harvey they'll have to fight their way in and out, despite their limited amount of ammo. Gordon then asks Alfred where Bruce went, since he'd figured that he would want to come with them. Alfred replies that Bruce must've thought Gordon wouldn't allow it (a reasonable assumption, given how badly Gordon freaked out in season 4 when Bruce tried to take on Jerome Valeska alone). Gordon then tells Alfred to keep an eye on the GCPD while he and the other officers go in.

The Lo Boyz are the first ones to arrive at the crash site, but Penguin quickly arrives behind them with armed men. When the Lo Boyz refuse to give over the chopper, he has them shot and orders his men to load all the supplies into his truck. 

The GCPD arrive shortly after this, and Penguin greets Gordon. Both men are unaware that Bruce is also sneaking around the scene. Gordon tells Penguin to get away from the chopper, but Penguin insists that he has "mouths to feed" (though he most likely only means himself and Edward the bulldog). 

Gordon says the GCPD needs the supplies to help families and children and adds that Penguin shouldn't have shot it down. Penguin, however, says he didn't shoot it down, because he had no idea it was coming. Gordon asks who else would have the necessary firepower to do the job. (For my money, the answer is Jeremiah Valeska. He's used RPGs before and would be smart enough to steal and/or build one.)

Penguin says that Gordon may be right about the weaponry, but if he'd shot the chopper down, he would just admit it, since there's no way Gordon can feasibly arrest him at this point. He tells Gordon to leave, and Harvey tells his partner that they might have to, since they're outgunned. Penguin agrees and says they should get out while they can.

Before either side can attack, however, Tabitha appears and shoots Penguin's men with a crossbow. She then presses a gun to his head, prepared to kill him and avenge Butch. She's especially angry that Butch thought of Penguin as a friend, but Penguin says they were friends and claims that Tabitha is really the one responsible for Butch's death, since she killed Penguin's mother and started the whole cycle of vengeance. Tabitha retorts that she doesn't care whether she survives or not; she just wants Penguin dead.

Penguin begs Gordon to stop Tabitha, insisting that Gotham needs him to provide stability. Tabitha tells Penguin to shut up and presses her gun to his chest and shoots—only for the bullet (one of Penguin's own) to misfire. 

Penguin then laughs, pulls the knife out of his leg brace, and tells Tabitha to say hello to Butch . . . before stabbing and killing her.

I'm pretty sure she'll stay dead, too. While Gotham does bring characters back from the dead from time to time, I don't think they'll do that with Tabitha for a few reasons:
  1. I think her death is meant to set the stakes for the season and show that anything can happen; no one's truly untouchable. If she comes back from the dead, the stakes won't be as high, and neither will be the character tensions.
  2. While Tabitha is the show's version of Tigress, she's never really used the title much. If she had been established consistently as a major comic book villain (in the same way that her brother was the show's Azrael and Jerome was the show's first Joker), I think the writers would be more likely to resurrect her. But Tabitha has always been more of a side character and second-in-command for other characters without her own separate ambitions and identity, so it doesn't make as much sense to go back on her death. When Jerome was brought back from the dead, he brought an energy to the show, and his resurrection paid off in that he got to face off against Bruce Wayne and create a Batman-Joker dynamic for the show. With Tabitha, there's not as much of a reason to justify bringing her back. She's not a bad character, don't get me wrong; she's just not essential to the show in the same way that the Joker was.
  3. If the show wants to set up Barbara and Penguin as enemies for good, Tabitha must remain dead.
But I'm digressing again. As Tabitha falls to the ground, Barbara rushes in and screams. She tries to shoot Penguin. Some of Penguin's men (those who weren't felled by the crossbow) fire back and the GCPD opens fire on them, but their bullets run out quickly. Penguin takes notice of the silence and begins to taunt Gordon.

Meanwhile, Bruce sneaks out of the crash site and approaches Penguin's armored car, where he takes out the guards and grabs boxes of ammo from the vehicle.

Back at the gunfight, Penguin shoots Barbara in the arm. As this happens, Bruce sneaks over to the GCPD and gives them the stolen ammo from Penguin's truck. Harvey, who might as well be Bruce's unofficial uncle at this point, says, "I could kiss you, kid."

Penguin doesn't see or hear this development, as he's got a gun on Barbara. He asks if there's any chance they can move past the whole "Tabitha-Butch chapter," but she fires back that she's going to feed his guts to the rats, which he takes as a no. 

Gordon steps in and offers Penguin a deal: he can keep half of what's in the chopper if he lets Barbara go. Barbara, however, doesn't want Penguin to leave the site alive, and Penguin offers his own counter-offer: he gets to kill Barbara and take all of the supplies, leaving the GCPD to walk away with only their lives. And he's confident that even if he Gordon says no and Penguin has to kill the officers, there won't be any consequences.

Penguin says Gordon has nothing to offer and no bullets left. The GCPD respond by shooting down Penguin's men, and Gordon himself shoots Penguin in the leg. Then Gordon and the other officers take the supplies from the chopper and bring them back to the GCPD.

Harvey asks if Penguin is gone for good, but Gordon says he'll only be down for a little while to lick his wounds. Harvey says that Gordon should've killed Penguin for good this time, and says they've passed the point of the rulebook; it's win-or-die at this point.

Bruce approaches Gordon and says he has to leave to check on Selina. Gordon says he'll get him an escort to the clinic. But before Bruce leaves, Gordon tells him that next time he wants to fight alongside them, all he has to do is ask.

That exchange is one of the episode's highlights for me. Gordon has spent five seasons trying to keep Bruce safe and treating him like a kid; it's incredibly satisfying to see him acknowledge how far Bruce has come and offer up genuine respect and affirmation of the young man's skills. In this iteration of the Batman mythos, Bruce no longer has to go behind Gordon's back to fight crime; they can do it side-by-side because they see each other as equals, despite of their differences in age and philosophy. And for me, that's truly heartwarming.

But all is not well that ends well. While Gordon is away from his desk, someone approaches it and looks over his map. That "someone" is none other than Ecco, Jeremiah's right-hand-woman, who's rocking some seriously Harley-Quinn-esque fashion.

I want that jacket so, so much.

As Ecco examines the map, she hears someone call for Gordon and disappears before she can be seen. Gordon hears the call and approaches the radio. He asks who's calling, and a female voice who only identifies herself as "a friend" tells Gordon that he has allies across the river who will find a way to help. Suddenly, Gordon hears a light jingle of bells and turns back towards the sound. On his desk, he sees that his map has been graffitied with an eerily familiar smile. 

(For more on the origin meaning of this graffiti motif, read my recap on "One Bad Day.")

Over in Sirens territory, Barbara gives Tabitha one final kiss before setting a cloth over her corpse. She then swears to kill Penguin.

Penguin, meanwhile, is having a bullet taken out of his leg and angrily tells Penn to put a bounty out: 10,000 rounds of ammo to whoever kills Jim Gordon. 

Back at the clinic, Selina is lying in a hospital bed when she spots a sharp medical instrument. She rolls over and reaches out to grab the blade, but because of her paralysis, she lands on the ground. From outside the room, Bruce hears her screaming. When he enters, medical staff are restraining her as she fights to get loose. They sedate her and lay her back down. Before passing out, Selina says they "should've let her do it." When Bruce asks what they meant, they tell him she tried to commit suicide and they'll need to put her in restraints to prevent another attempt. 

The nurse from earlier reappears and tells Bruce again that the Witch is the only one who can cure Selina. Bruce gives in and asks where he can find this Witch. 

Meanwhile, Gordon tells Harvey to question every new refugee to see if there have been any sightings of Jeremiah Valeska, and Lucius tells Gordon that they now have enough food to last six weeks. 

Suddenly, an officer brings a young boy to Gordon and says that he was on duty at the Thompson Street Barricade when the kid appeared and said he needed to see Gordon. The boy, who's dirty and looks quite ragged, says he came from across town because someone's been killing his siblings. Before he can say anymore, he collapses out of exhaustion. Gordon orders the officer to take the boy to the clinic before reminding his other fellow officers that their job, government or not, is to give the people hope that when they're in danger, someone will help them. He then orders them to "Suit up!"

Plot B: Riddle Me This, Riddle Me That—Why Is My Hair So Lifeless and Flat?

The Riddler (who was last seen in the care of Professor-slash-basically-necromancer Hugo Strange after he and Leslie Tompkins stabbed each other to death) wakes up on a ratty couch on a rooftop in Gotham. 

His hair is atrociously shaggy and emo, but thanks to that flash-forward, we know he'll get it cut by day 391 at the latest.

The show then cuts to the Riddler in a study of some kind. He has a map with thumbtacks marking various locations, and adds one more to the mix. He pulls out a handheld recorder and says aloud that, once again, he woke up in a random location with no memory of how he got there or what happened in the preceding hours. He then yells at himself in the mirror, telling Ed to show himself and confess. Nothing happens, and he concludes that his other self is a coward who's been controlling his body while he's asleep.

Later, toward the end of the episode, the Riddler wakes up in a dumpster, startling a hobo. He returns to his lair, only to angrily throw his map to the ground, yell for Ed Nygma to show himself and ask his own reflection what's happening to him. 

The Verdict

Plot A: While the main plot certainly wasn't lacking in action, it felt mainly like set up for what's to come. It set up conflict between Barbara and Penguin, conflict between Penguin and Gordon, partnership between Bruce and Gordon, and established the dark place that Selina's in. 

That being said, none of the set-up felt boring; on the contrary, it was all very engaging. It was the kind of episode where you can't look away from the screen for one second because you'll miss something important and exciting. I appreciated that. 

And as I said earlier, I appreciated the evolution of Bruce and Gordon's relationship. Also, Robin Lord Taylor also killed it as Penguin this episode; he stole the show every time he was on screen. Even when he was being a selfish jerk who hoarded food to himself, I couldn't help but root for him. He's just so fun to watch. 

The one downside to this plot may have been Selina's story. Since the trailers for this season have made it clear that she'll walk again, it was hard to feel worried or sad about her paralysis in this episode. I also think that while her suicide attempt wasn't necessarily out of character or unbelievable, the show should've spent more time building up the reasons for that attempt and showing Selina's thought process. This version of Selina Kyle has always been focused on her own survival, so there needs to be more explanation of why she's given up on that goal. It's also never fun to watch her be mad at Bruce, especially since Jeremiah shooting her isn't exactly his fault (at least, not directly).

Plot B: There isn't a whole lot to say about plot B, honestly. While I don't know enough about where the Riddler's storyline is going to say that I dislike it, it did feel like the least interesting part of the premiere. Also, since the Riddler's split personality has been a source of drama since the end of season one, I'm starting to worry that his inner conflict has become overused.

Hopefully I'm wrong and the writers will do something new that startles and impresses me. After all, I wasn't sure about their plans for him in season 4, but they kept him compelling and engaging for most of the season, even if his romance with Lee was . . . perhaps a bit rushed. 

Overall: A solid way to start the season, even if it's mostly set up. The stakes are high, anyone could die, and survival in No Man's Land is clearly no joke. I'd give it 4 stars out of 5.

Come back next week to read my recap of the next episode, "Trespassers." And until then, try to avoid psychopaths dressed up like scarecrows!


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