As Gotham approaches the end of its inaugural season, the show seems determined to go from guilty pleasure to interminable slog, Last night’s episode, “Under the Knife,” in particular is without mystery, without surprise, without fun, without artistry, and almost entirely without nuance.
Hell, it’s basically stopped adding Batman references, so we don’t even have those to look forward to anymore.
Maybe if Gotham were somehow telling a story while failing to provide all these things, we’d have some reason to be invested, but instead I can sum up the entirety of the episode with two statements and you really wouldn’t miss out on anything: The Ogre sets his sights on Barbara Kean, and Riddler stabs a dude. That’s it. Whatever else happened, it was merely busywork for Gotham’s myriad, non-advancing storylines. So rather than recap the garbage plot, I want to discuss where has gone so wrong — because something has to change if they want people to continue watching (besides self-loathing bloggers who are paid to).
There’s no mystery.
Gotham has seemingly completely abandoned the question of who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. Given the importance of this event in Batman’s life, this could easily have propelled the first season, if not the entire series. Now, there’s some shenanigans with the Wayne Enterprises board, but the show has given us no reason to suspect it’s anything other than a simple “evil corporation wants more money” story. It’s the most boring answer possible. But even the show’s procedural element has failed with the Ogre, as the audience is shown the villain, and then forced to watch as Gordon and Bullock slowly, slowly track him down. They get the Ogre’s name in “Under the Knife,” but since that leads them nowhere, it’s practically the same as learning the Ogre likes Chinese food.
There’s no surprise.
Almost everything is Gotham is mind-numbingly predictable. Edward Nygma’s murder of Ms. Kringle’s boyfriend Doughterty or whatever his name is — who, of course, is abusive because we’d hate for audiences to be too disapproving of a character who will end up becoming a supervillain — has been obvious from the very beginning, and the way the show has refused to deviate from this clichéd, unoriginal trope while stretching it out over the course of the entire first season is almost cruel. Meanwhile, there’s nothing about the Ogre’s backstory that is strikingly original or clever; the reveal that the Ogre’s mother figure’s corpse was kept is just a crappier version of Psycho, and one that doesn’t even make sense since the Ogre supposedly left the house eight years ago. Maybe the Bruce/Selina/Bunderslaw nonsense will have a surprise down the line, but in “Under the Knife,” Selina and Bruce merely grab a macguffin without incident.
There’s absolutely no artistry.
Even though Gotham’s female characters have ranged from mediocre to “oh my god this can’t actually be happening,” last night’s episode almost accidentally stumbled into a theme of how the main (male) characters’ relationships with the women in their lives that drive them, hinder them, challenge them and doom them. It’s not a particularly sophisticated idea, but some shows would have been able to tie these myriad storylines into something more thoughtful. Not Gotham. In Gotham, virtually all the female characters exist to let the male characters have things to do — e.g. rescue someone (Barbara), protect someone (Ma Copplepot), murder someone (Ms. Kringle). Cat’s murder of Reggie last episode exists mostly so that little Bruce can decide “Killing Is Bad” — a pivotal moment in Batman’s formation — and one that the show immediately abandons so Bruce and Selina can go macguffin-hunting. To repeat: Selina murders a dude. Bruce decides murdering a dude is the most morally reprehensible act possible. Then Bruce immediately gets over it, so he and Selina can steal a safe key from Wayne executive Bunderslaw. Yeah, that’s a deeply held conviction, all right.
There’s almost no nuance.
If the hilariously brief origin of Batman’s “no kill” policy wasn’t enough to convince you, Gotham continues to spell out every character’s thought and feeling. Witness Robin Lord Taylor as Penguin, after he lies to his mother about his criminal activities. Does he feel bad for deceiving his beloved mom? Perhaps the way he completely breaks down afterwards might give you a clue! Has the way Barbara Kean has been abandoned by every single person in her life bummed her out a little? Well, her announcement that “If a bus hit me tomorrow no one would care” may serve as a subtle hunt as to her feelings. Is Jim Gordon the GCPD’s rising star? Well, let’s just have someone say it aloud every four minutes or so, just in case people haven’t picked that up yet.
In all fairness, there were two moments in “Under the Knife” I did like, although I’m not at all convinced they’ll pay off in the show’s remaining two episodes: 1) Nygma, after stabbing Doughterty, is clearly in shock at his actions, but hints of a laugh peek through his freak-out. Is it merely part of his shock? Or has he discovered he kind of liked committing this act of violence? The show doesn’t tell us, and it become a subtle moment where we’re allowed to have our own thoughts about why his character will eventually become a costumed criminal.
The second is at the very end, when Barbara wanders into the Ogre’s Official 50 Shades of Gray Brand Sex-Torture Room (patent pending). The Ogre follows her in there, and as Barbara turns to him, we see the beginning of what might be a hint of a smile on her face. Is Barbara down with the BDSM? Has she actually found a soulmate in the villain, who was also shunned because of his monstrous appearance? Has Barbara been seduced by the dark side, has she been pushed there by her friends and family abandoning her, or has she only been looking for an opportunity and an excuse?
This is literally the first moment in Gotham that Barbara has been even slightly interesting, and I’d love to see her actually cast her lot in with the Ogre, because this villain has shown her a helluva lot more compassion than Gordon ever has. However, I fully expect the smile to be a misdirect, and her to turn into a completely standard damsel-in-distress next episode for Gordon to rescue and then ignore. I’d love to be wrong. But I don’t think I am.
We have only two more episodes left this season, which leaves no time for Gotham to fix any of this, really; I assume the last two episodes will continue the Ogre story and hopefully bring some kind of conclusion to the Penguin/Maroni/Fish Mooney triangle. All I’m hoping for now is that Gotham does something, anything, not completely obvious, in these final two episodes. Could I suggest Barbara scooping her own eye out with a spoon? It worked for Fish.
• Selina looked like she was dressed for the prom, and the fact that she was a half-head taller than Bruce completed the effect. It was actually kind of cute until I imagined adult Catwoman running around with Batman’s prom photo in her pocket.
• Nygma, to Doughterty: “Stop right there, buster!” Who on god’s green earth is writing this dialogue
• Selina, speaking for common sense when Gordon shows her a 10-year-old drawing of the Ogre, which looks for all intents and purposes like a drawing of a generic white man, and asks if Barbara left with the guy: “That’s kind of a crappy drawing.”
• My pal Sean T. Collins and I got into the #NextWeekonGotham nonsense again last night, and more people have joined in as well! It’s here for your perusal.
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