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.
In its defense, “Beasts of Prey,” like “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” before it, is the first part of multi-episode arc which seems to have been spaced out for no other reason than to fill a season order. So while maybe something interesting will happen with Milo Ventimiglia’s Don Juan Killer (also known as “The Ogre”) in next week’s episode (or the one after that), “Beasts of Prey” is stuck as the “setup” episode. Except it doesn’t really have anything to set up that couldn’t have been handled in the cold open of next week’s episode, so what’s the point?
I’ve tried in the past to articulate the objective problems with Gotham’s approach to storytelling, but it’s such a persistent issue, with each progressive lousy episode illuminating these problems in a new light (note: not every episode has been a lousy one. Just most of them). In the case of “Beasts of Prey,” it’s not just that there’s no stakes to the storytelling, it’s that hardly any of the characters even have to make a choice. There are no hard decisions with the characters to grapple with, that test or reinforce their identities and their beliefs and the foundations of what it is that makes them human. Simply put, they have no agency. Everything they do is because that’s just what they do, because that’s what the job (read: plot) demands. Their lives are as tedious as the most mindless office drone, only with better set dressing.
To demonstrate this, I’d like to recap this week’s storylines in bullet points, so that you can see the progress (or lack thereof):
GORDON / BULLOCK
- Gordon is asked by a bushy-eyed young cop (played endearingly by Brendan Griffin) to look into an unsolved murder. The victim was last seen at a speakeasy in town.
- Gordon and Bullock investigate. They find the speakeasy.
- Leslie Tompkins examines the corpse and finds that, although she had been missing for 4 months, the body was actually killed more recently than that.
- Nygma happens to find a piece of un-documented evidence that connects the killing back to a serial killer called the Ogre. Bullock delivers a whole of exposition that he just happens to know because it’s convenient, and explains all we need to know about the Ogre (that is, a handsome man of wealth and taste who likes to abduct and murder innocent young women and may or may not be Christian Grey).
- The bushy-eyed young cop turns out to be working for Commissioner Loeb, who had hoped that Gordon would re-open the case and get himself killed by the Ogre, because the Ogre kills every cop who investigates him!
This last beat comes straight from the M. Night Shyamalan School of Narrative, which teaches that a last-minute “twist” is a satisfactory stand-in for an actual story that’s compelling and substantial, where we care about people and what happens to them. If that’s your preferred narrative aesthetic, then by all means, have at it; I personally fall on the South Park side of that argument.
- Fish is now Dulmacher’s lieutenant. She’s nicer to the inmates than Dulmacher, or the late Manager, ever was.
- Fish meets with the inmates to plot an escape.
- Dulmacher catches Fish snooping around his office. She tells him that whenever their relationship comes to an end, she would rather die than be used as body parts for one of his Frankenstein experiments.
- Fish and inmates enact their escape plan—which unsurprisingly ends with most of the inmates getting screwed over and double-crossed, and Fish escaping on a helicopter (okay I guess the helicopter was new?).
- During her escape, Fish takes a bullet in the gut.
I enjoy Jada Smith’s scene-chewing performances. Really, I do. But the writing team this show has no idea what to do with her (especially now that she’s not coming back for Season 2). This whole “Island of Dr. Dulmacher” plot has been so weird. I get that he’s going to follow her back to Gotham City just in time for the season finale so that he can be involved in that somehow, but ugh, I don’t care. Fish’s storyline is the epitome of, “Well, we need this character to do something!” so they found her something to do and everything went exactly as expected.
Also there was snow in these scenes, and being that there’s still one spot of snow left in the backyard of my Boston home, it made me kind of angry.
- The Penguin wants to buy a bar from a woman named Lidia, for undisclosed reasons. Lidia agrees to sell—if the Penguin can get her daughter to stop dating some “silver-tongued guitar player.”
- The Penguin finds the guitar-playing boyfriend, with help from Gabe the Thug. They torture him and cut off his fingers.
- Lidia’s daughter is sad that her boyfriend is gone.
- Lidia sells the bar to the Penguin.
- The Penguin reveals his plans for the bar: that’s where he’s going to kill Maroni.
This similarly works in the “Ooh! Look! A twist!” kind of way. But discovering Penguin’s actual motivation for buying the bar doesn’t change the fact that, well, buying the bar wasn’t really that harrowing of a process. There was one bump in the road, which was solved rather expediently, and with little to no consequence because we don’t care about Lidia, her daughter, or her daughter’s silver-tongued, formerly-guitar-playing now-ex-boyfriend.
You know it’s bad when the most exciting part of your storyline is the Penguin unknowingly walking past Bruce Wayne (which, this being Gotham, is played as a whole big moment like the earlier Penguin/Riddler encounter). Speaking of which…
THE WAYNE MANOR CONTINGENT
- Alfred is home from the hospital and all up and walking around. He decides to go find his stabby friend Reggie.
- Oops! Alfred’s stitches popped (why didn’t they just leave him in the hospital for another episode?).
- Bruce goes to find Reggie instead, with the help of Selina Kyle.
- Selina and Bruce find Reggie in a drug den. Bruce does his best “WHERE IS HE?!” growly voice Batman impression, and Reggie gives him the names of the specific people who hired him to spy.
- Bruce is tempted to push Reggie out of a window, but doesn’t.
- Selina is tempted to push Reggie out of a window, and does.
That last beat there was the only interesting part of the show, and it was literally the last thing that happened (and even then, what are the actual consequences? Bruce and Selina part ways, and their lives go down different paths? Well sure. We know that’s going to happen).
Basically what you need to know here is that Milo Ventimiglia is a combination of Christian Grey and Patrick Bateman, whose kinks obviously make him a sociopathic killer. According to the previews for upcoming episodes, he’s going to ensnare Barbara into his lovenest, which I think is supposed to make us care even though I think the majority of the people who watch this show would be glad to see Barbara dismembered and left for dead. Hey, at least it’s better than makeover sleepover parties with adolescent girls?
The worst part about the Ogre’s non-storyline in this episode was the way it was delivered. Gordon and Bullock find the bar where the late Claire Fairchild was last seen. Somehow, the bartender remembers a single couple on a date from four months ago, and as she tells the cops about it, we see the actual date happening in a flashback (as indicated by the high exposure of the visuals). This is all well and good—the bartender is telling a story, and we’re seeing it happen. We’re essentially in her point of view.
But then the flashback continues, and it follows Ms Fairchild back to Milo Ventimiglia’s apartment. So it still feels like we’re seeing a memory from the bartender’s perspective, only there was no way the bartender could have been there at this point.
Throughout the episode, we end up getting more high-exposure flashback intercut with Bullock and Gordon’s investigation. Normally, I have no problem with this kind of juxtaposition, with dramatic irony or parallel storylines or any of those well-established narrative devices. But these scenes were literally exposition. Bullock and Gordon would be investigating something, and then there’d be a flashback to Claire and the Ogre which would contain information that neither Bullock nor Gordon could possibly know, except then they had that information, or else Bullock would infodump it all to Gordon. “Oh yeah I know all these things about the Ogre, because it’s convenient for me to know so right now.”
I get what the writer was trying to do—avoid infodump exposition by showing rather than telling—but this ultimately failed, because the flashbacks didn’t make any sense, and the two police detectives didn’t really do any policing or detecting that would earn them that information.
Man, this episode was so dull that I couldn’t even think of any good Heroes jokes to make.
Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. Thom enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey and robots). He is a graduate of Clarion Writer’s Workshop at UCSD, and he firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net