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Season 2.0: Rise of the Villains
Bruce and Alfred follow the stairs they discovered at the end of last season. Those stairs lead to a secret room, which takes awhile for them to open. When they do, Bruce finds a letter to him from his father, who had suspected he would be killed due to his own investigations into the shady practices of Wayne Enterprises. Bruce intends to carry on his father's investigations. Alfred tries to dissuade him from this, but when it becomes clear that nothing will stop Bruce, Alfred (a former soldier) agrees to begin training him to fight. They'll also receive some tech assistance from Lucius Fox. And Alfred gets Bruce to start attending prep school, rather than being home schooled.
Sometime between seasons, Commissioner Loeb had demoted both Gordon and Bullock, the latter of whom quit and is now a bartender. He's also engaged to a woman named Scottie Mullen (whom Bullock and Gordon had saved from a killer in one episode last season). In the season premiere, Loeb fires Gordon. Meanwhile, Penguin is apparently the undisputed mob boss of Gotham. Selina Kyle and Victor Zsasz are now working for him, and Butch is still on his side, too. At first I found it strange that everyone just accepted him, considering he's a relative newcomer, and up til now he was only accepted because of a small degree of authority granted him by either Falcone or Maroni. (Throughout the first season, he used both of them, but now they're both out of the picture, so... he really shouldn't have any power at all.) Anyway, Gordon reluctantly makes a deal with Penguin, so Penguin and Victor intimidate Loeb into reinstating Gordon as a detective, and resigning as Commissioner. He's replaced in that position by Captain Essen, which means Gordon's precinct will be getting a new captain, Nathaniel Barnes (Michael Chiklis). Barnes and Gordon recruit several cadets fresh out of the police academy, before they could be corrupted, and makes them into a new strike force. Meanwhile, Edward Nygma is still working at the GCPD, struggling to keep his recently acquired insanity in check. He starts dating Kristen Kringle, but eventually he reveals something to her that makes her decide to leave him, and in desperation, he accidentally kills her. This leads to his sanity finally snapping entirely.
But the main villain for the first half of season two is a billionaire named Theo Galavan (James Frain). He's assisted in his schemes by his very deadly sister, Tabitha. They orchestrate a breakout of inmates from Arkham, including Barbara and a young man named Jerome Valeska. (He was arrested last season, after killing his mother. He's also one of the possibilities to become the Joker.) If any of the other inmates had been seen before, I didn't remember them. The criminals Galavan has recruited call themselves the Maniax, and begin spreading terror through Gotham, including the killing of a bunch of cops in the precinct (Essen among them; so I have no idea who the new Commissioner will be). After Essen is killed, Bullock decides to return to the GCPD. (So Scottie leaves him.) However, Jerome is later killed by Galavan, to stop him from killing Bruce. In the end, I think Barbara is the only one of the Maniax left alive. So... that whole plan of Galavan's seems to have gone nowhere, except that it laid the groundwork for his real plans, which involve his running for mayor.
But he has even deeper plans than that, which involve acquiring Wayne Enterprises and killing Bruce, since Bruce's ancestors had wronged Galavan's ancestors. (Galavan's real family name is Dumas, and there's a secret society of monks called The Order of St. Dumas, led by someone named Father Creel, who apparently serve Galavan.) But first, he acts as a friend to Bruce. He also introduces Bruce to his niece and ward, Silver St. Cloud (Natalie Alyn Lind). Bruce and Silver become quite close, though Selina doesn't trust her. Meanwhile, Galavan kidnaps Penguin's mother, to force him to kill the other candidates for mayor (and to stage an attempt on Galavan's life, as well). Penguin goes to extreme measures to try to find his mother, and in the process, loses Butch's loyalty. He eventually does find his mother, but Galavan kills her, which makes Penguin obsessed with taking revenge on him. Anyway... Galavan does become Mayor, though Gordon doesn't trust him. And Bruce eventually learns that Silver can't be trusted, and he tricks her into revealing information she'd received from Galavan, that Bruce's parents had been killed by an M. Malone. Galavan kidnaps Bruce, but is stopped from killing him by the unlikely team of Gordon, Bullock, Alfred, and Penguin, who also receive help from Lucius Fox and Selina. Tabitha and Silver turn against Galavan, who is then captured by Penguin and Gordon, who kill him.
I also need to mention that beneath Arkham Asylum, there's a secret laboratory called Indian Hill. Various characters who have died (or nearly died) are sent there, including Fish Mooney, Jerome Valeska, Theo Galavan, and a friend of Selina's named Bridgit Pike. And I hope I'm not forgetting anything important.
Season 2.5: Wrath of the Villains
While Gordon was the one who actually killed Galavan, Penguin confesses the crime, and is sent to Arkham. Both Arkham and Indian Hill are run by Professor Hugo Strange (B.D. Wong), along with his right-hand woman, Ethel Peabody. (I guess she's a psychiatrist, but she's usually referred to as "Ms. Peabody.") Anyway, Strange puts Penguin through some rather dystopian, experimental "therapy," which ultimately makes him quite docile. So Strange releases him, and soon thereafter, Penguin quite unexpectedly meets his father, Elijah Van Dahl (Paul Reubens), whom he'd never known. Oswald goes to live with Elijah and his family, who are quite wealthy. But it's pretty obvious they care about Elijah's money far more than they do about Elijah. And they can't stand Oswald. Eventually, they try to poison him, but end up poisoning Elijah instead. Upon his death, they basically start treating Oswald like Cinderella, until he finds out what they'd done, and kills them all, to avenge his father. So, the brainwashing Strange had done is now undone, and Penguin will be a villain again, though we don't see much more of him this season. I guess he now lives alone in Elijah's mansion, and presumably inherited his fortune. (Though it's odd that he doesn't become a murder suspect; maybe nobody even missed the Van Dahls?)
Meanwhile, a scientist named Victor Fries is conducting experiments with freezing people, in the hopes of saving the life of his dying wife, Nora. Unfortunately, it takes awhile for him to get the process right, and most of his test subjects die. But Nora had no idea this was going on, and ultimately she kills herself to stop her husband from harming anyone else. He then tries to freeze himself, and everyone believes he dies. But in fact he ends up at Indian Hill, alive, but unable to survive outside a freezing environment. So he stays in a special cell Strange had prepared for him, and Strange later makes a suit that would allow him to leave the cell. (So he's now the villain Mr. Freeze, though I don't recall if he's actually been called that in the show, yet.)
Bruce continues to investigate his parents' murder, and finds the man who killed them, "Matches" Malone. (This seems both weird and neat to me, since I've seen other stories where Batman sometimes goes undercover, calling himself Matches Malone.) He wants to kill Malone, but ultimately decides not to. However, Malone then kills himself. But that's not the end of that storyline, because Bruce still needs to learn who had hired Malone to kill his parents. He eventually discovers that it was Hugo Strange, whom Thomas Wayne had tried to stop from conducting his mad experiments. And Bruce seeks help from Gordon in proving all of this.
Nygma becomes paranoid that Gordon suspects him of murdering Kristen, so he frames Gordon for the murder of another cop, and of Galavan. So Gordon is sent to Blackgate Penitentiary. While he's there, Lee leaves town. Later, Falcone briefly returns to help Bullock break Gordon out. They think he should leave town, maybe go find Lee. But he decides to stay. He eventually learns all that Nygma's been up to, and manages to convince Captain Barnes of that. So Nygma gets sent to Arkham. But Gordon isn't ready to be reinstated as a cop; he's got other things to do, first.
Throughout this half of the season, Professor Strange conducts numerous experiments, trying to bring people back to life. He eventually succeeds with Galavan, though Galavan has no memory of his past. So Strange decides to create an identity for him: Azrael, who I guess was a warrior from legends within the Dumas family. Strange sets him loose, with the mission of killing Gordon. (Incidentally, I'm vaguely aware of a character called Azrael in Batman comics. I don't think I've read any of them, so I don't know much about that character, but I think he's probably different from this incarnation.) Also, I want to mention that at one point, Bruce witnesses Azrael in action, and I really liked the look of fascination he had. Because Azrael had some pretty awesome moves, and of course someday, Bruce will be pretty much the same. I thought that was a nice, subtle touch. Anyway, Azrael eventually wounds Barnes pretty badly, so he'll be out of commission for awhile. In his absence, Bullock becomes the acting captain. And in the end, Azrael is killed by Penguin and Butch, who each have reason to want him dead.
Oh, yeah, Butch. In Penguin's absence, he had become the new gang boss in Gotham, though we don't see him doing much. But Tabitha stayed with him for awhile. Also, Barbara had been in a coma after falling from a cathedral or something, but she eventually woke up, and Strange later declared her sane and released her. And she ended up staying with Butch, too. He grew to really like Tabitha, which is why he was pissed when Azrael eventually stabbed her (even though she didn't actually die). Anyway, after that it looks like Penguin and Butch will continue to work together, despite their past differences.
Bruce convinces Selina to break into Indian Hill to get evidence against Strange. She agrees because he tells her that her friend Bridgit had been sent there. Selina finds Bridgit, but like Galavan, she has no memory, and has been given a new identity by Strange. She calls herself Firefly (as she uses flamethrowers as weapons, and is now impervious to fire). She doesn't remember Selina, and tries to kill her, but Selina persuades Firefly to let her become her servant. Meanwhile, Strange brings Fish Mooney back to life, but she does remember who she is. And she has developed the power to compel people to do her bidding, when she touches them. We also learn that Strange is actually working for a secret council that rules Gotham. They're not interested in his work so far, creating "monsters." They just want him to bring someone back with memories intact. So they give him one last chance, when they learn of his success with Mooney. (Apparently this council is called the Court of Owls, but I just learned that online, not from the show itself, so far. They exist in the comics, but I haven't heard of them before this.) Meanwhile, when Selina doesn't return from Indian Hill, Bruce gets Gordon and Fox to help him infiltrate the facility and look for her. But they're captured, and while Strange deals with Gordon himself, Bruce and Fox are handled by Nygma, on Strange's behalf. (There's also a subplot involving another of Strange's creations, Clayface, who assumes Gordon's identity outside Arkham, to convince Bullock Gordon had been wrong about Strange. But the less said about that, the better.) Also, the Court of Owls has instructed Strange to transfer the subjects of his experiments to another facility, and detonate a bomb that would destroy Indian Hill and Arkham. But Gordon and Fox manage to stop that, and the good guys all escape. Strange ends up being badly hurt in a crossfire between Mr. Freeze and Firefly. (At first it looked to me like he was killed, but it turns out he wasn't. He really should have been, I have no idea how he's alive. But at least he's been arrested.)
Gordon decides to leave Gotham to find Lee. Bruce decides to investigate the secret council Gordon had learned about from Strange. Meanwhile, the bus transporting Strange's test subjects had been hijacked by Mooney. However, Penguin thinks Strange is driving the bus, so he and Butch shoot it up to get revenge for what Strange had done to Penguin while he was a patient in Arkham. The bus flips over, and later some random woman on the street (probably homeless) opens the back door of the bus, not knowing it was full of monsters. So they all leave, and will presumably be a major threat next season. Only one of them stopped to thank the woman for freeing them: it was a boy who looked like Bruce (except with longer hair).
Anyway, the interesting thing about season two is that, after spending the whole first season doing his best to maintain his principles in a city that tried as hard as it could to break him, this season Jim Gordon finally lost that struggle. I don't think it really changed him; I still think he's one of the good guys, despite the fact that he's now technically a murderer. I've read a lot of A.V. Club episode reviews this season that lamented the fact that he never really had to face the consequences of his actions (aside from a brief stint in Blackgate). And that's true. But I still found it to be an interesting character arc, particularly with regard to how it affected his relationships with various people... people he mostly had to lie to. The one that chiefly stands out, for me, is Captain Barnes. He's a guy who is even more incorruptible than Jim. When he first showed up, he became a sort of beacon of hope for Jim, that things were finally going to change. But as the season progressed, Barnes frequently had reason to suspect Jim had broken the law. Sometimes he was right, sometimes not. But either way, the relationship changed quite a bit. And it was surely hard for Jim to have to lie to this man he respected so much; I think Barnes was sort of like a mirror in which it was painful for Jim to look at himself. Of course, it must have been even more painful for Jim to think about the way his actions affected his relationship with Lee. Whether or not she knew or even suspected what he had done, she certainly saw his ongoing crisis of conscience as he got further away from the man he wanted to be, and she tried her best to help him through that. But ultimately, and wisely, I think she came to realize she couldn't live with him if he couldn't live with himself. (And of course, his relationship with himself, or his idea of himself, was also profoundly affected by the things he'd done.) It's also interesting that even before he killed Galavan, we could see him starting down a darker path from the very start of the season, when Bruce encouraged him to set aside his principles for the greater good. (Volumes could probably be written analyzing the relationship between Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne/Batman and their respective moralities, in this and countless other incarnations.) And Barbara... oh, man, I don't even want to think about her idea that she and Jim are the same. They're definitely not... but it's scary to think that they're not nearly as different as they used to be. And... I guess that's all I can think to say, for now.