Last week, I decried the imbalance between the cartoonishness and cop show elements that divide Gotham. This week, almost as a rebuttal, killer cartoons literally invade the cop show and the result is one of the best episodes of the series so far.
Buoyed by the stellar performance of Cameron Monaghan as maybe-Joker Jerome Valeska, the second episode of season two, "Knock Knock," centers on that laughter-prone criminal and his Maniax — the group of Arkham escapees funded by the mysterious Theo Galavan — as they begin a decidedly Joker-esque campaign of terror around Gotham. Meanwhile, Bruce and Alfred come into direct conflict over a computer.
From the bones of its plotline, it reads like it shouldn't deliver, but the framework actually showcases the actors in A and B plots that are both consistent in their tones and complimentary to one another. Considering my distaste for the show's often scattered image of itself, this seems like the way forward to me. Even if the A-plot chose to be more comical and fanciful, it stands in sharper contrast to Gordon; who will eventually be the last sane man in a city gasping to be insane.
Leading this more focused villainy is, of course, Monaghan. He is playing the hell out of Jerome; theatrical and menacing, funny and believably cruel all at once. The highlight was his hijacking of a bus full of cheerleaders. He hits all the right notes in the scene between encouraging the cheerleaders to cheer "Oh no!" and using a lighter that just refuses to light the bus on fire. He's also magnificent when the Maniax raid the GCPD later in the episode.
Also offering solid performances and storyline are Sean Pertwee's Alfred and David Mazouz's Bruce. I know some people aren't fond of Bruce, but I find his oddness on the show truly interesting. It suggests Bruce was always different and would've found a similar path even if his parents had not been killed. Mazouz plays Bruce's unnervingly mature front and the childish cracks in that facade well. Both are on display when he briefly fires Alfred.
Similarly, Pertwee plays Alfred with the gruff warmth we've come to expect from the character. It's tough to side with him when he breaks the nascent Batcomputer, but we ultimately understand why he did it. A subsequent scene with Chris Chalk's Lucius Fox shows both the charm and edge of Alfred. As the notion of a butler becomes increasingly outdated, providing reasons why Thomas Wayne would hire him to care for Bruce becomes more important. While the scene with Fox may not explain it, it certainly indicates Alfred was well-chosen.
It also occurs to me the music cues I'm not fond off also disappeared, even in this week's Nygma vs. Riddler scene. If cues are present, they meshed well with the overall tone of the episode and actually aided the story as opposed to calling out the tone problem.
While I know every episode of Gotham can't be like this, it certainly shows a creative leap. The episode was confident in its outlandish elements, allowing it to rule the day. Utilizing the strong actors in its troop, its flexing its muscles in a satisfying way.
If next week's episode is a similarly focused cop drama, Gotham's tone problem may finally be conquered.