Not all villains come in spandex and catchy nicknames. Real, believable villains—sans superpowers—are often much more frightening. Gotham’s “Beasts of Prey” attempts to tap into that familiar pseudo-horror plot while the rest of the show’s disparate characters circle in orbit. But even with a one-month hiatus, Gotham’s is still fumbling around to find itself and this episode doesn’t impart overwhelming confidence that Fox’s troubled superhero/cop drama will end its first season on a strong note.
In what will ultimately feel, when it’s all said and done, like a bloated and overwrought first season, Gotham is winding down to its season one finale. The show seems focused on four characters: Bruce, Gordon, Penguin, Mooney. Everyone else can pretty much go to hell. Remember when Crispus Allen and Renee Montoya were in this show? Remember when they teased that they would actually be important? LOL.
Anyway, these are the characters we’re left with and almost all their stories have no connective tissue. Mooney is still on Dollmaker’s monster island, Penguin is still adapting to the club-owning life/plotting murder, Bruce is still trying to find his parents’ killers, and Gordon is off finding some new killer week after week after week. So unless something takes a serious turn for the weird, our characters seem pretty set on their own trajectories, which can sometimes make Gotham a pretty tiring watch.
And this episode is a pretty great example. In some parts, Gotham tries some new narrative tricks, but feel somewhat jarring from the show’s usually structure, and in others, the writers fall into predictable clichés. Like almost every episode of Gotham, there are enjoyable moments, but for some reason, they’re beginning to feel few and far between.
Mooney is still marooned in Dollmaker’s mansion of horrors, where men and women are torn apart and sewn back together like Frankensteinian monsters. Mooney is doing her absolute best maître d’ impression as she hobnobs with all the assholes (ahem) rich people who are paying for these torturous replacement body parts. Dollmaker remains, for the most part, a looming, offscreen threat. It’s still not really clear why he puts up with Mooney at all. All she’s ever really done is be insubordinate, but for the sake of plot she needs to stick around.
Speaking of Mooney’s habit for insurrection, all episode she busily plans an escape plan, but with two separate groups. First, with the tough and brawny prisoners, which she convinces are her best bet to make it to the docked boat. The second plan is to take the helicopter with everyone else. After Dollmaker catches her in his office, providing one of the episode’s better scenes where we see Dollmaker’s overwhelmingly terrifying influence, Mooney decides to GTFO.
Step 1: Brawny dudes run to the boat, thinking the outside gate has been unlocked. They quickly realize they’ve been duped when they find an unfortunate padlock and curse Mooney’s name. Step 2: While we hear the whizzing of bullets and screams from the brawny dudes, Mooney and the rest of the prisoners/organ donors cut across the lawn to the helicopter, while Dollmaker’s security is pre-occupied. Step 3 (and this is my favorite part): Mooney hops in the helicopter cockpit and takes off.
All things considered, not a terrible plan. They even got to beat the shit out of Dollmaker, who stupidly decided to confront Mooney in the basement with all the prisoners rather than, you know, anywhere else. But the fact Mooney that can fly a helicopter is maybe the most concrete reason why Gotham just doesn’t work. Why can she fly a helicopter? She is a crime boss that controls a very limited part of a city. We’ve never seen her leave Gotham. Hell, she’s never even mentioned her past at all. Why would a crime boss need to know how to fly a helicopter anyway? It’s this flagrant disregard for character development and instead just throwing stuff out there when it’s convenient that makes it near impossible to feel anything for these characters. In fact, Gotham even plays off the fact that Mooney can fly a helicopter as a joke.
The real story here is that maybe she’s being somewhat heroic to save those who can’t save themselves, she even sustains a battle wound to prove her valor. But when you don’t really care about a character, you certainly don’t care to watch her wrestle in the gray area of good and evil. It’s all kind of boring.
Where Mooney’s plot takes a turn in the wrong direction, Bruce and Penguin advance their stories in interesting ways at the very least. Both Bruce and Penguin’s stories center around obsession with the young Master Wayne being in ceaseless pursuit of Alfred’s attacker (from a couple episodes previous) and Penguin’s quest to terminate his working relationship with mob boss Don Maroni…permanently.
NEXT: Let’s focus on Bat-Mite for a second. [pagebreak]
Last we left Bruce, Alfred was in pretty bad shape after his old war “buddy,” Reggie, stabbed Alfred after discovering he was taking documents related to Bruce’s investigation in his parents’ murder. With Catwoman in tow, Bruce once again combs Gotham’s underground in search or Reggie. The pint-sized duo eventually corner him in a dilapidated building, strung out on some kind of narcotic, which he depressingly refers to as his “medicine.” After Cat and Bruce threaten to toss his medicine out the window (even though they started the whole conversation with “We’re not here to steal from you” but whatever), they finally get a name from Reggie—Bunderslaw. The man who’s so interested in knowing exactly what Bruce is up to. Unfortunately, Reggie makes the vague threat to warn Bunderslaw and Cat takes the opportunity to toss him out a window. It’s a well-known rule that Batman doesn’t kill, so watching Cat toss this dude out a window was, as you’d imagine, pretty shocking. It’d be like finding out that the person you’ve been crushing on for months and months is actually kind of okay with killing people. So yeah, Wayne’s jaw-on-the-floor moment is pretty predictable.
However, this moment also speaks to the dilemma of the superhero, and Batman in particular. How do you reconcile killing a person when you know they will harm others in the future. It’s a moral question that Batman famously wrestles with in Christopher Nolan’s gritty rendition of the caped crusader, but it’s a pseudo-demon that’s always nagged at Bruce Wayne. This is just a taste of that. At the best of times, Catwoman is an anti-hero, and at others, just a straight up villain. Bruce realizes the lengths Cat is willing to go to protect the ones she cares about, and if Bruce’s shocked face tells us anything, it’s that he’s unable to take that leap.
However, there are many, many other characters on Gotham more than willing to snuff out a few lives, and Penguin is definitely one of them, but this time he’s going big—he wants Sal Maroni. Episodes back when Sal Maroni discovered Penguin’s betrayal (one of many) he almost crushed him in a compactor. Instead of waiting for Maroni to finish the job, Penguin is hoping to deliver the first killing blow. Penguin’s entire plot thread centers around one bar, a rundown joint run by a disgruntled Eastern European woman. In classic mob style, she asks a favor in order for the Penguin to come by the bar, and he delivers—by breaking the fingers of her daughter’s boyfriend. Talk about some shitty in-laws.
Once penguin’s acquired this seedy establishment, he exclaims that this is the place where Sal Maroni will die. How exactly? Who knows, but probably lots and lots of guns will be involved, but for as minor a part as Penguin played in this episode, it’s nice to see Cobblepot on the offensive again.
The only part of “Beasts of Prey” that doesn’t draw on some pre-established story line is Gordon’s new serial killer case. The case comes out of nowhere with a rookie cop asking Gordon to look into an unsolved murder, saying Gordon is an inspiration to younger officers. And for a brief moment, forgetting that the GCPD is a cesspool of crooked cops and backstabbing, Gordon begins looking into the murders.
The bad guy’s name is the Don Juan Killer…or the Ogre…which don’t seem similar but okay. Essentially, the guy (Milo Ventimiglia) is Patrick Bateman crazy. He’s rich, good-looking, and psychotic. The Ogre fulfills a well-known stereotype. Crazy man preys on women in search of “love.” The women are understandably scared to death, fail to live up to his expectations, and quickly find themselves murdered.
But it’s not as important what the Ogre’s backstory is as how Gotham tells it. Gordon visits a bar where the murdered woman was last seen on a date. Gotham serves up a flashback from the bartenders POV…but then it doesn’t. It then follows the soon-to-be victim to the killer’s apartment. This….is weird and actually kind of frustrating. Wait a minute, you’re going to use flashbacks to flesh out this minor villain who won’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but won’t bother with flashbacks for major character development? Why is Barbara such a mess? Where does Gordon’s hero cop compulsion come from? Why can Mooney fly a damn helicopter? But instead you give the Ogre a flashback.
Anyway, as Gordon continues his search, Bullock notices a concerning piece of missing evidence—a heart smashed to pieces, the Ogre’s calling card. Turns out the Ogre kills the loved ones of anyone who investigates him. Remember when I said Gordon had a temporary lapse of judgment regarding his fellow officers? Now he’s relearning a hard lesson. This means Gordon’s love interest, Leslie Thompkins, could be targeted. Gordon quickly finds that professional dickbag, Commissioner Loeb, is behind it all and confronts him in the middle of the precinct. He’s pissed that Loeb put Thompkins in potential danger and swears to find the Ogre…which would directly put Thompkins in danger. That doesn’t make much sense either but okay.
The “Beasts of Prey” is a rare two-parter where we won’t see what becomes of Gordon’s new manhunt until next week, but its pretty easy to see what’s most likely going to happen. Leslie kidnapped, Gordon saves, killer thwarted. I hope Gotham proves me wrong, throws a curve ball, and maybe kills off a meaningful character or two to up the stakes for the finale. But after 19 episodes, I’m not expecting much.