'Gotham' recap: 'Under the Knife'
We're nearing the end of season 1, but tonight is all about beginnings.
This week’s Gotham is all about beginnings. Weird, right? We’re near the tail end of the Gotham’s troubled first season and midway through a villain arc that’s inexplicably stretched to three episodes, but “Under the Knife” is all about beginnings.
And for the most part, these beginnings are pretty subtle. Two villains are pushed to the limit, and a young hero discovers his own. Yes, a whole bunch of other stuff is happening in the background. Gotham continues down its predictable track using a cliché serial killer story, but the best moments happen completely outside this main plot, which begs the question if Gotham even needs this main plot at all.
Before talking about what did make the Gotham’s 45 minutes this week, let’s talk about what, or rather who, didn’t. Audiences last left Fish Mooney flying a helicopter away from Psycho-Island after just getting shot in the stomach, a situation the show insinuated through tense music and a grimacing Jada Pinkett-Smith to be pretty damn serious. And in this episode, she’s completely gone. Not even a single scene, mention, or anything. What happened to her? It was the main climatic element of the last episode, and now it’s just simply… gone. It’s like if writers followed up the “Who Shot J.R.” episode of Dallas with some filler about some other Ewing to start the next season. Pretty sure people would be like, “WTF?”
Now, I’m not one to complain about having less Fish Mooney in any episode of Gotham. Pinkett-Smith is a chronic over-actor and Mooney’s scenes are often the ones that make the least amount of sense, but it’s consistency that suffers. When next week Mooney does make it back to Gotham, a lot of that dramatic tension will be sucked dry from a two week hiatus. After all, if the show can’t even be bothered to include such a “life or death” moment in the next episode, how high are the stakes, really?
But let’s talk about what did happen this week. Strangely enough, Gotham’s writers have decided to take some considerable time focusing on the story of The Ogre. A scary serial killer to be sure, with a somewhat intriguing background that would make an episode of Law & Order: SVU mildly interesting. But when you are working with Batman mythology and some of the richest characters and villains in the entire DC Comics universe, it’s strange that you’d focus so much time on someone who’s pretty much a nobody. He’s not a big name like Mr. Freeze, Joker, Bane, Ras al Ghul. The list goes on and on.
So why would Gotham care to spend more time on The Ogre than any villain in the first season? It’s probably because the Ogre is here to finally bring Barbara Kean back into relevance. For far too long, Barbara, who anyone familiar with Gordon’s comic life knows is the actual love of his life, has gone completely off the rails. For a while, it seemed that Gotham was ready to write her off entirely. Jim Gordon was disinterested. The show was disinterested. Hell, even Barbara seemed to hate herself. Her ex-lover, Renee Montoya, wooed her away from Gordon early in the season, decided that was a bad idea, and was never seen again. She then went to her parents house where ??? Who knows. The show never tells us. The character is just unacceptably hollow for being this far along in the season.
NEXT: A dame to kill for
Last week, we learned that the Ogre kills the loved ones of whomever is investigating him. It’d be easy to think that this would put a target on Leslie Thompkins back, Gordon’s new beau. But instead, the killer shifts his gaze to Barbara Kean after looking at an old newspaper with her clinging to Gordon’s arm; Gordon, at the time, was just starting at the GCPD.
The Ogre sticks with his familiar modus operandi and picks up Barbara in a bar. When they go back to her place, he whips out a knife and slowly approaches Barbara as she’s pouring a drink. This is almost exactly like American Psycho but only less awesome. The Ogre is pretty much a rip-off (and not even a good one).
Anyway, he quickly learns that Barbara is no longer Gordon’s significant other and quickly hides the knife. So, in a sick way, the Ogre does have some sort of code and isn’t one to kill indiscriminately. As Gordon gets closer and closer to discovering who the Ogre actually is, by questioning older detectives who once investigated the case and also plastic surgeons who altered the Ogre’s once-horrific appearance, the killer calls Gordon and threatens that he will kill someone he loves. Deciding not to let fear get the best of him, Gordon delivers a terribly wooden speech saying that he’s going to catch the monster responsible, blah, blah, blah.
The Ogre gets pissed. He takes off the kid gloves and decides that Barbara Kean’s death will do in a pinch. We leave the Ogre and Barbara Kean in his creepy murder sex dungeon, a small smile curling on Barbara’s lips.
Close death experiences do crazy things to people, and it’s possible that this is the direction Gotham is moving in. Probably some line next week will read “When I thought I was going to lose you, I realized how much I care/love/miss you.” Or some variation. Is it the best way to bring Barbara back into the fold? Nah, not really. The Ogre isn’t a very compelling villain, relatively speaking, but at least she will hopefully become relevant to the show again instead of being on some multi-episode depression bender.
So in a sense, this is a new (and very disturbing) beginning for Barbara. But there are also three other character’s who begin to see life in a whole new light. First, let’s start with the criminal elements: Penguin and Riddler.
The Penguin continues his devious schemes to kill Sal Maroni. But as he strikes a deal with some hitmen, Maroni takes the opportunity to play some mind games of his own. Gotham has done a good job convincing us that the mother/son relationship that Cobblepot and momma Cobblepot have going on isn’t exactly, well, normal. It’s strangely and uncomfortably close, but it’s arguably Penguin’s only real weakness—and that’s exactly where Maroni strikes. He visits Penguin’s club and has a brief conversation with Penguin and his mother. Maroni tells Penguin’s mother that his baby boy is a murdering psychopath. Low blow, Maroni. True, but low blow. Let’s leave the mothers out of this.
But for penguin, this is a last straw. Maroni sends a delivery of flowers to Penguin’s mother after the stressful ordeal, and Penguin kills the messenger after telling his mother that he is, in fact, not a murdering psychopath. This seems a new beginning for Penguin, one fueled by rage rather than the careful calculation that Cobblepot is known for. It seems Maroni’s number is up and his death could be the main action of Gotham’s upcoming season finale.
NEXT: Riddle me this
Another villain also begins on a new path, except until this point he’s been a mild-mannered forensic scientist at the GCPD. Yep, we’re talking about Edward Nygma, a.k.a the Riddler. Nygma discovers that records keeper, Ms. Kringle, has once again fallen in with a suitor of ill repute, one who’s prone to violence. When Nygma sees the bruises on Kringle’s arm, he takes it upon himself to confront the dick cop dating Kringle. In what would be more fitting in some high school, shoved-into-your-locker drama, dick cop stares down Nygma into submission… or so he thinks.
Later, Nygma stakes out Kringle’s apartment and when dick cop shows up, he makes a move. After telling him to leave the city and the abusive BF eventually refusing, he plunges a knife into him over, and over, and over. What’s great is that his immediate reaction to his own grisly deed is met with both fear and exhilaration. You swear you can almost hear frantic laughing mixed in with heaving, dry sobs. Finally, the Riddler has arrived.
But there’s also one more beginning worth mentioning. Last week, Bruce Wayne watched Selina Kyle kill a man right in front of him. Sure, he kind of had it coming. He stabbed Alfred Pennyworth only a few episodes previous, but the moment is an important one for Bruce and also for Batman. It’s the creation of “The Line,” the absolute threshold that Bruce Wayne and Batman must never cross—taking a life. While at a Wayne Enterprise charity ball, where Bruce finally corners Bunderslaw (and lifts a key off him), Bruce is still clearly upset with Cat having thrown Reggie out of a four-story window. Bruce reiterates that he will never kill, a line said throughout Batman comics into infinity. Not killing is the core of Batman’s identity, and also its moral paradox. Would you kill one person if it meant possibly saving more people in the future? Batman, even though a vigilante, ultimately believes that he is not the one to make the decision of whether someone should live or die, and clearly those ideals were instilled within Bruce at an early age.
Gotham is struggling, and it’s more apparent now than ever. Spend some time watching Netflix’s Daredevil, or even the CW’s Arrow and Flash, and you’ll see superheroes done right—or at the very least—done interestingly. Gotham continues to feel like a mediocre cop drama with some name drop cred to keep fanboys interested. It can be so much more than that, and the potential is there. Whether we’ll ever see that potential on screen remains a mystery.