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.
Yes, that’s right: the Ogre has set his sights on one Barbara Kean. As exposited to us last week, the Ogre likes to get revenge on any cop who dares investigate him, and the Ogre saw Barbara in a newspaper photo alongside Gordon (remember? That feature article about the rising star rookie cop that we never saw before or anything?). Of course, it takes Gordon a while to figure out this connection—he thinks the Ogre is after Lee(slie Tompkins), which prompts him to finally say the l-word to her. “It took a serial killer for you to say that,” she jests. This relationship is getting serious, you guys.
Meanwhile, Bullock and Gordon do some actual investigating into the Ogre’s identity, which would have interesting if it hadn’t been so drained of dramatic tension after last week’s info-dump about the guy. For instance: we learn that the Ogre (real name Jason van Groot) used to be hideously deformed before he had plastic surgery to look just like Peter Petrelli from Heroes (Bullock Line-of-the-Week: “I specialize in fake boobs, but I’ve got ethics; I need a warrant.”). Sure, this is an interesting character detail, but it doesn’t really matter when we, the audience, already know his identity and modus operandi. He’s a serial killer, and frankly at this point, it doesn’t matter if he was raised by a wealthy family and his father was their butler and he killed the rich woman but kept her corpse around so that he could keep living off her money, et cetera et cetera. We already know who he is, and who he is is an unrepentant killer. A tragic backstory doesn’t change that, even if it does aim to be a warped mirror version of Bruce Wayne.
But that’s just how things work on Gotham. The rare episode of exciting police work also happens to be entirely redundant. As engaging as it is to watch Bullock and Gordon hunt down the Ogre’s plastic surgeon, or interrogate his suicidal father about the eight-year-old corpse that he keeps in the living room, the fun is ruined because of Barbara Kean, who is at her most unstable here. Which I realize was probably the point of all her pointlessness, but still. The Ogre quickly figures out that Barbara is no longer with Gordon, and by the end of the episode, it seems that he’s either going to kill her, or recruit her as a sidekick, or else she’s just really into S&M. I wouldn’t put it past the Gotham writing team to connect that back to her bisexuality / addictions / general sociopathy, either because that’s how this show rolls.
For those keeping track at home, the best awful Barbara moment was when she brings the Ogre back to her apartment, allegedly for sexytimes, then calls out to Selina Kyle, her “kind of a roommate. She comes and goes.” You’d think that Barbara and Selina would work out some kind of sock-on-the-door arrangement by now. Even if I were a misogynistic serial killer, I’d probably be freaked out to find my victim-to-be rooming with two homeless adolescents. Also, where’s Ivy?
Speaking of Selina Kyle, she and Bruce have a few words about the ups and downs of pushing Reggie out of a window to his death. Bruce is kind of flipping out about it, but Badass Selina ain’t got no time for that. Without spilling the details, Bruce asks Alfred if it’s okay to kill someone, and Alfred explains that sometimes it’s necessary. It’s another great badass Alfred moment. It’s interesting to see the badasses that surround the young Wayne, while he himself is still so far from achieving such badassdom. But it’s fun to watch him heading down the path.
Of course, it would have been nice if there was follow-up to Bruce witnessing Selina’s first murder, like maybe if that informed his future decisions. But this is Gotham, so anything that might have a major emotional impact is immediately forgotten. (I’m trying to find things to appreciate here, really)
And so, in spite of her dangerous impulses, Bruce takes Selina as his date to the annual Wayne Enterprises Charity Ball, where they adorably dance and then cleverly steal a key from Bunderslaw, the executive whom Reggie fingered last week (side note: seriously? that name? COME ON!). I would have loved to watch even more of Bruce distracting people with small talk while Selina picks their pockets—but alas, it was not meant to be, because Barbara and the Ogre were also at the Charity Ball, so we have to spend time with them as well. It’s kind of funny seeing Selina and Barbara react to each others’ high-society dabblings.
“Under the Knife” also gives us a little more progress into Penguin’s revenge on Don Maroni, which is much more compelling than last week’s unnecessary let’s-buy-a-bar subplot. Don Maroni shows up at Penguin’s nightclub and flirts it up with Mrs. Kapelput. When Penguin shows up to put a stop their bonding, Maroni tells the truth to Penguin’s mother: her son is a killer, a crook, and a psychopath, and Don Maroni is going to kill him. Not to be outclassed, Don Maroni leaves a generous tip on his way out.
Afterward, the Penguin brings his mom back to her apartment (which is still way nicer than it should be), where he tries to convince her that she drank too much in order to make her forget about Maroni. But Mrs. Kapelput ain’t no fool. She can see what’s going on. “Lie to me now, and you will break my heart. Oswald: have you done anything you should not?” she asks him. Penguin insists that he’s nothing more than an innocent nightclub owner, but you can clearly see the pain on his face as he lies to and disappoints his mother once again. Things get even freakier when Don Maroni has flowers delivered to Mrs. Kapelput’s apartment, and Penguin murders the deliveryman right outside his mother’s door while she’s in the other room. This is the Penguin stuff I like to see!
Finally, there’s good ol’ Eddie Nygma, who uses his riddle-solving abilities to deduce that his not-so-secret crush, Kris Kringle, is being abused by her police boyfriend, Officer Dougherty. First Nygma tries to deliver a St. Crispin’s Riddle speech to Dougherty, but the tough cop calls his bluff. Nygma later finds Dougherty walking home drunk…and stabs him to death. While this did feel a little unearned, it was still an exciting moment. I was especially relieved to see that the show didn’t go the entirely predictable heartbroken-nerd-turned-psycho-killer route. Still, there are so many potential complexities that could be explored in this storyline, but Gotham always takes the overly simplistic path. Dougherty is a little flat as the generic-tough-guy-old-school-women-need-to-know-their-place type, and it’s unfortunate to see Kringle reduced to a victim with such ease in order to motivate a male character. But as we’ve established, Gotham already has a precedent for treating its female characters as little more than plot points for men (like the Hair Club for Men, but with more manfeels).
I think the biggest problem in the Gotham Writer’s Room is not the padding out of episodes (although this show could certainly use more plot where things actually happen). It’s that the writers seem to have come up with a list of exciting character beats—most of which are interesting, and which probably all made sense on paper—but then they forgot to flesh out everything in between that sticks these moments together. When you look at a character like Barbara or Nygma, a summary of their season-long character arcs might follow some semblance of emotional logic; unfortunately, when put into practice, the arc resembles more of a straight line that randomly zigs and zags before returning to a straight line again.
Next week: lots of exciting character development, I’m sure.
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