By Robert Tiemstra ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
“From here on, we’re playing my way.”
What genre does this show live in now? It is clear after 17 episodes that this is not a crime drama (as much as the wikipedia page would like you to believe). Let’s call Gotham what it really is: Noir-lite. This is film noir as made by focus groups: not exceptionally morally challenging or thought-provoking, merely there to turn the colored city streetlights up on crime scenes and bask in their glow. Almost every review we’ve done of Gotham has had to note the aesthetic brilliance of this show as something of an afterthought, as if to remind ourselves “But wait, the production values are stunning, no matter what you think of the writing!” But for the purposes of this review, every time we praise the cinematic choices, take it with a massive grain of salt (here represented by an asterisk*), because you cannot build a show on stylish visuals alone. Hannibal would have long ago sunk to the bottom of NBC’s cancelled show’s list if the creators hadn’t been smart enough to back the gorgeous visuals with equally sumptuous narrative structure. Unfortunately, Gotham is a show not made for artistic reasons, and as a cold, calculated, committee-mandated caper, it exists not as a fine meal, but rather as a colorful bit of candy – tasty perhaps at first, but with no lasting nutritional value or any real potential to satisfy hunger.
But let’s cut to the chase – what dense web of thematically disparate subplots have the writers whipped up for us this time? The title is most likely referencing the case recently-elected President of the Policemen’s Union Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is embroiled in, a cold-case served up to him by one of his co-workers about a serial killer who kills for love. This time, instead of attempting the halfhearted red herring foreplay, writer Ken Woodruff does away with any pretense of hiding the killer in plain sight and gives us flashbacks to the latest victim. These flashbacks, stylishly rendered in faux-film projection* give us one of the most ominous twists we’ve had on the cliche “white good looking serial killer” trope, where he says “What I’m looking for is unconditional love” in order to pick up a good looking woman he will end up murdering when she does not immediately fall for his charms. He is nicknamed “the Ogre” (presumably because “the world’s most clingy one-night stand” is too clunky a title), and the details surrounding his case unfold a predictable, but healthily twisted irony in how the case found its way to Gordon’s desk.
But more on that later. In the more prominent of the 3 B-Plots, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) desperately schemes to escape from the clutches of The Dollmaker (Colm Feore), who’s surgical skills would be more menacing if rendered with more convincing special effects (see the last episode). Fish Mooney’s scheming affords us some small scenes of faux-suspense as she manages to trick her way out of the facility using a strategy that only works because Dr. Dulmacher relies on only a single team of mercenaries to patrol the grounds. Fish’s departure from this facility seems quite convenient, since the production designers and cinematographers of Gotham appear to have run out of eerie imagery to use in this Doll’s house*.
Meanwhile, in another corner of Gotham, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) tries to track Reggie Payne (David O’Hara) down for the pain he caused Alfred 2 episodes ago. As is now customary, Alfred (Sean Pertwee) provides some of the most un-ironic heart in this episode with a few short minutes of screen time. The conclusion to Bruce and Selina’s search is supposed to signify a major growing point in Bruce as a character, but one can’t help but wonder where he has to go from here. We’ve seen one destination in the films, but it’s pretty clear that the series isn’t going that far, so how far will Bruce be able to go before he starts being a problem for the writers? While “become a caped crusader” is never the only choice, it seems Bruce is being brought up in a world consistent with that eventuality. He can’t just hole up in Wayne manor for the next few years while the rest of the show figures itself out. Well, he could, but it would be quite a dull show watching teenage Bruce Wayne read for 40 minutes a week, only pausing occasionally to sneak out and hook up with an older and sassier Selina Kyle.
Meanwhile, in the mob world, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) has been more successful at taking Fish Mooney’s place than he could have dreamed. He has not only taken over her role in the mob, but he has also taken over her role as the character who menaces people for the whole episode, makes a dramatic proclamation, then does bugger all in the grand scheme of things. In short, he not only took her job, but he took her holding pattern. In all honesty, a Penguin subplot freed from Mooney, Gordon, and Maroni is a dull subplot indeed. Its his role that proves most troublesome, because early season one of Gotham laid very interesting groundwork for his character, namely through his dynamic with Gordon, which freed him from any anchor imposed by comic book canon. Now, it is all going to waste, unless he is successful in his plan to kill Don Maroni, in which case, we are on track for diverging from the comics. Creator Bruno Heller made a point of saying that “just because a character lives in the comics, doesn’t mean we can’t kill them in this show.” It’d be good to see the show finally making good on that promise, if only to inject some life into the rest of the season.
And now, back to our Ogre. In this episode, Gordon discovers that the case was passed to him because every cop who has investigated The Ogre has found their loved ones brutally murdered. It turns out that Commissioner Loeb (Peter Scolari) was using this as revenge for Gordon playing him in the last episode. While it is exciting to see this sort of inter-departmental cat & mouse between the dirty Police Commissioner and clean Cop, it pulls Gordon back from the more morally complex decision he made at the end of the last episode to play along and use the corruption to his advantage. Instead of bending and negotiating his own values, Gordon has snapped back into place like a morally straitlaced bra strap. We’ll see where this goes in part 2, but for the moment it comes off as a little disappointing compared to the previous installment.
“She deserves justice.”
“Yeah? And I deserve a mute supermodel who likes pasty Irish guys and loves to cook.”
Episode Grade: C+