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Thom Dunn

Unanswered Questions in Gotham: “The Anvil or the Hammer”

While I’m not sure what it had to do with anvils or hammers beyond its melodramatic title, “The Anvil or the Hammer” was still a pretty exciting and ultimately enjoyable episode—at least until the end, when Gotham remembered that its season finale is next week and so just kind of dropped everything that we’d spent the last three weeks on in order to setup the EPIC CLIMAX WHERE EVERYTHING CHANGES et cetera.

Granted my enjoyment began to waver once I sat back and thought about what actually happened. But “The Anvil or the Hammer” felt packed enough with action, drama, and stakes that as long as I was in the throes of it, I was too enthralled to question anything until the end. So that’s good?

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The Ogre is Groot: Gotham‘s “Under the Knife”

I suppose it makes sense that, for a show about Gotham City before the Batman, Bruce Wayne remains the most consistently engaging character. In fact, all of the subplots that moved forward in “Under the Knife” had their moments. But just as predicted, it was the Ogre / Don Juan Killer storyline that felt flat and padded out—probably because it was. Leave it to Gotham, a show which has dreadfully mishandled all of its female characters, to build up towards a “climactic finale” about a misogynistic serial killer—and make the audience actually wish that his latest victim would die and go away for good.

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50 Shades of Gotham: “Beasts of Prey”

When last we left our intrepid Bat-less heroes, Jim Gordon had finally gotten one up on the corrupt police Commissioner Loeb (thanks in part to one Oswald Cobblepot), and Alfred was attacked by his old war buddy, Reggie, who was hired by the (also corrupt) board of Wayne Enterprises to gather information on Bruce’s investigation into his parents’ murder. Oh, and some stuff happened between Fish Mooney and Dr. Dulmacher because FOX has Jada Pinkett Smith on contract and have to find something for her to do. After a brief hiatus, Gotham kicked it into high-gear with the first of four final episodes leading to the epic season finale.

Or at least, that’s what the all the promotional materials told me, anyway. In truth, “Beasts of Prey” was another lackluster spinning wheel. Literally the only thing of substance that occurred in the entire episode happened in the last 2 minutes.

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To Catch a Cop: Gotham, “Everyone Has a Cobblepot”

Two weeks in a row where an episode of Gotham features a mostly-logical sequence of events, and real consequences (well, maybe) for the actions of its characters? What is happening? For the most of the series so far, Gotham has tended to dote on its central conflicts, rather than progressing the story (whatever that story may be). “Everyone Has a Cobblepot” contained just about every interesting aspect of the police corruption plotline that we’ve been waiting to see, but which the show has thus far denied us, opting instead to spin its wheels and remind us every now and then that Gotham’s corrupt ’cause police n’ corruption n’ stuff.

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Gotham: Under “The Red Hood”

This week’s episode of Gotham is a thematic continuation of “The Blind Fortune Teller” in the way that it continually trolled the true identity of the Clown Prince of Crime. What makes “The Red Hood” stand out is that it had stakes, drama, subtlety, emotion, genuine character interactions, and plenty of surprises.

“The Red Hood” was so good that I didn’t even hate the Barbara scene (that much).

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The Killing Joke: Gotham, “The Blind Fortune Teller”

According to Gotham’s showrunners, this week’s episode “The Blind Fortune Teller” almost certainly did not not give us a possible definite origin for The Joker, maybe, and it may or may not probably involve the character of Jerome (played by Cameron Monaghan), who was featured in all of the previews clips and production stills, cackling wildly, almost like a crazy man laughing at a joke.

But this is all an obvious red herring, as evidenced by Jerome’s red hair—the real Joker would not be above such a delightful pun, and seeing as next week’s episode is titled “The Red Hood,” that means there’s only true answer to the identity of the Joker, and it’s been staring us in the face all along:

It’s Barbara, you guys. That explains everything.

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You Always Got to Wait: Constantine “Waiting for the Man”

If I hadn’t recognized the opening scene of “Waiting for the Man” as being pulled from the Hellblazer issue of the same name, I would have thought that this week’s Constantine episode was actually a leftover one-shot script from True Detective. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; like most episodes of Constantine, it’s still a blast, offering up some nice thrills and a few moments that inspired uncontrollable audible reactions. But as far as a season finale for a show that’s been waiting for its own cancellation announcement since before it ever aired, well, “Waiting for the Man” still leaves us waiting.

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There’s Nothing to Fear But a Terrible Episode of Gotham: “The Scarecrow”

On the bright side, “The Scarecrow” may have been the first Gotham to give us a full-on origin story for an established Bat-villain (as opposed to Selina Kyle, Penguin, and Nygma, whose arcs are clearly more spread out over time).

On the down side, “The Scarecrow” was so ploddingly atrocious and unnecessary that it almost made me long for “Balloonman” again. At least “Balloonman” was entertaining, and so ridiculously uneven that you could experience some form of schadenfreude as you suffered through it.

Watching a video of a snail crawling down your driveway for 43 minutes would be more compelling than “The Scarecrow.”

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Angels We Have Heard Get High: Constantine “Angels and Ministers of Grace”

There’s a lot going on in this week’s episode of Constantine, even if most seems unrelated to the whole Rising Darkness storyline that’s been simmering in the background all season. “Angels and Ministers of Grace” is ostensibly the Constantine crew’s take on a Very Special Episode of Grey’s Anatomy, and yet, even with all the head-vs-heart, light-vs-dark, angel-turns-mortal, addiction-second-chances thematic craziness going on, perhaps Manny’s greatest miracle is the fact this episode works.

It is a gripping hour of television that throws out way too many ideas without actually feeling overstuffed, with a strong emotional core and some wacky humor that somehow still fits the tone. The entire cast had a chance to shine, and I was even genuinely surprised with the villain reveal!

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Gotham Itself: “The Fearsome Dr. Crane”

Before anyone gets too excited, I just want to be clear that I’ve been snowed into my home for 2 days with minimal human contact and I might be going a little stir-crazy. It’s entirely possible that this case of cabin fever is affecting my judgment. But “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” was an overall enjoyable episode of Gotham. It wasn’t a huge game-changing blowout like “Lovecraft,” but it was still generally well done. It had stakes? And realistic dialogue? And a mostly logical series of events? And nice character moments? It was even tonally consistent, with just a dash of that trademark Gotham camp, evenly spaced and deftly handled.

I’m almost afraid to offer any serious criticisms, because we’ve seen what happens when the Gotham creative team tries too hard. But then, fear is the whole point of this week’s episode, so perhaps it’s appropriate that they were afraid to go as all-over-the-place as usual—but in this case, that fear may have paid off.

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Ritchie Returns: Constantine “A Whole World Out There” Recap

The title of this week’s episode made me think of “A Whole New World,” but the content was more like an ode to Nightmare on Elm Street, with a little more New Age pseudo-babble. But that’s okay, because we got the return of Ritchie Simpson (delightfully portrayed by Jeremy Davies), the resident technomage of the Newcastle crew, and we got to see Constantine partake in one of my favorite hobbies, which is sitting by fire drinking whiskey while listening to Warren Zevon and feeling sorry for yourself. Between that and the episode’s general creepiness (a continuing highpoint of the Constantine crew), I was more willing to overlook the shortcomings of “A Whole World Out There” and just go along for the ride.

But that’s what I love about Constantine: even when I’m watching with a critical eye, it’s hard not to enjoy myself.

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Surgically Removing The Onions: Gotham “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon”

“Welcome Back, Jim Gordon,” is an interesting title choice for this episode, but not in the way that “Selina Kyle” or “Harvey Dent” or “Lovecraft” were. “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” feels like almost a re-pilot for the entire Gotham series. It contains all of the show’s trademark elements, both good and bad, and presents them in a mostly adequate package. If you combined every single episode of Gotham up until this point and then divided to find the median, you’d probably end up with ‘Welcome Back, Jim Gordon.” In true Gotham fashion, the exposition re-hashes just about everything we already know about the world of the show, and even though it kind of does technically advance the overall plot, it also feels (with the exception of a few details) like it could have been slotted in at any point in the series, just to fill up space.

Still, it makes for a decent hour of procedural television—which, coming from me is some of the highest praise that I can offer this show.

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At Last! The Secret Origins of Chas are Revealed in Constantine: “Quid Pro Quo”

This week’s Constantine featured the on-screen debut of a classic DC villain, and gave us an in-depth look into the life of Chas, including the revelation around just why it is that he can’t seem to die. While the episode suffered in part from some muddled continuity—is this a flashback? Why is this plot so conveniently hinged around Brooklyn? Why is Chas’s ex-wife so two-dimensionally heinous?—it ultimately proved itself to be a satisfying hour of television, thanks in no small part to the heart and humanity of our ever-faithful cab drivin’ sidekick, Chas.

Did I mention that his name is actually “Francis”?

[Did not see that one coming.]

Do That Pazuzu That You Do So Well: Constantine, “The Saint of Last Resorts” (Part 2)

When last we left our curmudgeonly British anti-hero, he was dying in a Mexican sewer known as the “Friday 10pm time slot.” Will he survive the move to the 8pm Friday time slot, now that he is armed with the knowledge of the group behind the Rising Darkness?

Spoilers: of course he will, because he’s the title character, which kind of saps the dramatic tension out of an otherwise suitably creepy Exorcist homage.

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Always Wear Your Rubbers: Gotham, “What The Little Bird Told Him”

I’m starting to think that Gotham might be the best comic book adaptation to ever make it to the small screen. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good; I’ve still got my problems with it (then again, what do I know? It’s already been renewed for a second season). But ongoing serial superhero comics are all about the illusion of change, with Bold New Directions that circle right back to the beginning. At best, this allows our decades-old heroes to tip-toe forward in emotional and narrative progress, but in such a way that feels almost invisible to the reader.

By that assessment, Gotham is doing a remarkable of job of pretending like it’s going somewhere, or that its story is somehow progressing, when in fact, we’re just spinning our wheels. Or perhaps a more appropriate metaphor, given the topic of the episode, would be the Electric Slide, since we’re basically just shuffling left and right and then turning around in a square.

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Reopening the Time Loop: 12 Monkeys

I’ve been a fan of Terry Gilliam ever since the first time I watched Monty Python & the Holy Grail—which of course, was before I saw any of his post-Monty Python films. And of those wonderful, wonderful movies that he’s made in the intervening years, 12 Monkeys has always ranked at the top of my list of personal favorites. I’m a sucker for a good time travel flick, and the bleak determinism of 12 Monkeys has always appealed; how the film creates a complete and concise circle of cause and effect.

As such, upon hearing the news of the 12 Monkeys television adaptation on SyFy Channel, I found myself torn: on one hand, I love that story and universe so so so so so much that I was eager to see it explored in a new and modern context. On the other hand, my adoration of the original film (to say nothing of La Jetee) has a lot to do with the perfectness of its cyclical paradox. Going into the SyFy series, I couldn’t help but wonder: how is it even possible to extend such a perfectly structured time travel story into an ongoing series?

But then I watched the pilot episode and leaned back in my seat and thought, “Damn. All right. I’m in.”

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Orange is the New Gotham: “Rogues Gallery”

After an excellent mid-season finale, Gotham’s re-pilot episode picks up with a whole new set of problems, for the characters, and the return of some old problems, for the show. Plus a whole bunch of montages and tired asylum tropes and a 12-year-old passing for a phone sex operator and even a musical sequence and a gang of people with microcephaly chanting “Gabba Gabba! We accept you! One of us!”

Okay, so I’m lying about one of those things.

[But only one of them.]

Constantine Gets Back In The Habit With “The Saint of Last Resorts”

“No price is too high to save the innocent.”

The mid-season finale of Constantine’s officially-not-extended-past-the-initial-13-episode-order-but-not-explicitly-cancelled first season accomplishes a whole lot of things: it takes our hero down to Mexico, offers some solid insight into the whole “Rising Darkness” thing, revisits the disaster at Newcastle, and perhaps most importantly, writes a character out of the journey for in-story reasons that actually serve the plot! Also in general it was just a really solid episode of television, with a decent enough cliffhanger to hold it over until after the holiday break. Was it perfect? Nah. And as much as I enjoy the show, it still hasn’t quite become the “must-see-TV” of NBC’s catchphrase. But from the writing to the performances to the production values, “The Saint of Last Resorts” was still a high-point of this first season of Constantine and gave a good indication of what the show is capable of when it’s not trying too hard to exposit at every new audience member.

[I’m sorry for the nun pun in the subject line, but I couldn’t help myself so you’re just going to have to accept it]

Angels We Have Heard On High: Constantine “Blessed Are the Damned”

Remember how last week’s episode was actually the 2nd episode of the series, retroactively fitted into the sixth episode slot? Somehow, “Blessed are the Damned” made that work, picking right up with “Caliban”’s clumsy excuse for Zed’s convenient absence. And while Chas was once again shunted off the scenes with but a line (“making good with his daughter,” supposedly), “Blessed Are The Damned” turned the spotlight on another underutilized cast member—Manny the Angel, whose function thus far in the series has been mostly superfluous. But after a brief trip to the Christian Revival scene in Kentucky, it’s starting to look like this show might be going somewhere…

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