‘Gotham’ Premiere Roars Back with Big Changes

Ben McKenzie - Jim Gordon on Gotham
Nicole Rivelli/FOX

Spoiler Alert! Don’t read this if you haven’t watched tonight’s Season 2 premiere of Gotham.

Between the assassination at close range, the suddenly sober Bullock (Donal Logue), the kitchen-knife decapitating and bat-guano crazy Barbara freakin’ Kean (Erin Richards), we’re 500 percent inclined to believe what Captain Essen (Zabryna Guevara) said to the newly re-instated Det. Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie): It is indeed a new day in Gotham.

If you just finished watching the Season 2 premiere of Fox’s pre-Batman drama, you may have also noticed a few changes amid the hour’s crazy action. Like, say, all of the crazy action. Less bleak and more graphic novel-y than last year, this season’s “Rise of the Villains” storyline seems to have brought a zippier pace, bolder direction choices and a sassier attitude that is more in keeping with its comic-book DNA. So why the changes?

Ben McKenzie - Jim Gordon on Gotham

Ben McKenzie as Jim Gordon

“There were serious conversations,” reveals star Ben McKenzie during a visit to the show’s mammoth Brooklyn sound stage. In fact, the tweaks we’ll be seeing on the show going forward have apparently been in discussion as far back as the middle of last season, he adds. “But a show this big is like an oil tanker: You can’t just turn it around. You can change it five degrees at a time [until] you get to where you’re heading, dock, unload, and then re-load. That is where we’re at, and I am so, so thrilled about where we’re heading.”

Much of that thrill is, no doubt, due to the fact that the usually upstanding Gordon is now—thanks to what we just saw him do to a gangster on Penguin’s hit list—as troubled as his beloved but “morally complicated” hometown. “Gordon was a little bit of a pain in the ass,” agrees the actor. “He always had to say things like, ‘I’m going to get you! I’m the good guy!’ But when he becomes morally compromised in this first episode, all of a sudden, I have so many more colors to play.” And we have so many more reasons to invest in where Gordon goes from here, and whether his insanely hot girlfriend, Lee (Morena Baccarin) realizes that he now has blood on his hands.

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“Since we’re resetting everything, one of the things we’re trying to focus on is the complexity of the relationships,” McKenzie continues. “So the fact that you don’t now the answer to that is a great thing. Before, we would have beat you over the head with a hammer and told you. When Lee says, ‘I hope it was worth it,” what does that mean? We’ll find out!”

James Frain - Theo Galavan on Gotham

James Frain as Theo Galavan

In the weeks to come, we’ll also learn more about James Frain’s newly introduced baddie Theo Galavan, his leather-clad sister (Jessica Lucas) and the future of ginger creepster Jerome (Cameron Monaghan), as well as what’s up with the man in the mirror taunting poor Ed Nygma (Cory Michael Smith). And even though McKenzie is all about the show’s amped-up energy—“every single character has this adrenaline shot injected to their veins”—he warns that “Rise of the Villains” doesn’t mean all evildoers all the time. “Part of what was happening last year was, there was such a pressure, I think, because everyone felt that the fans wanted to see every character in every episode. You can’t do that in a 45-minute show. It’s impossible.” Instead, he says the writers and producers have made “some hard decisions” to use “[characters] when we know what we’re doing with them, and to not be afraid to have them step away for an episode or two.”

And honestly, having seen the carnage that goes down in the next two episodes, it might be a lot safer for some of these folks to get out of Gotham now and then.