“Gotham” – Episode Nine (S2) Review

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A Bitter Pill to Swallow
**Spoilers Throughout**

I want to preface this review by stating that it’s going to be a bit on the negative side – something I really haven’t done since watching “Gotham.” So if you’d rather peruse the more positive elements in this episode, please note that those remarks don’t appear until near the end. Overall, this was a hard review to write but I strive to keep my reviews honest. So below are my honest – and personal – opinions.

Is it just me or has “Gotham” started to lose a little steam? And you don’t know how much it pains me to say that because I loved the show during its first season and still mostly enjoy it, but my admiration has waned this season. I’ll explain a little more later on, so let’s proceed.

This episode introduces yet another baddie, and one I suspect we will never see again or only see one more time. Eduardo Flamingo is a canon character and according to Wikipedia he’s described as, “an emotionless, unfeeling killer” with “an impeccable kill record.” Kind of sounds like your run-of-the-mill hitman, right? Except Flamingo “has a tendency to eat his victim’s faces after he’s murdered them.”

And in case you were hoping “Gotham” might ignore the whole cannibalism thing…
ugh gross no way whoa surprised
No such luck. Just be glad he doesn’t get that much screen time.

Sad Jim
Sadly, Jim Gordon’s story arc this season has turned into a cul-de-sac where he’s placed in cyclical situations that possess momentum but ultimately don’t lead anywhere. First, he had to contend with outrageous death threats made by his former flame, Barbara, in the last episode; now he has to deal with a gang of assassins. It’s not that I dislike Jim – I don’t, and I think Ben McKenzie does an excellent job. It’s just that Jim hasn’t been given much to do other than moment-by-moment dilemmas to solve or threats to neutralize. In fact, that’s been my chief complaint this season – the principle cast isn’t given anything long-term to deal with. For instance, last season Jim dealt with whoever the baddie was for the week (the short-term arc) as well as try to find out who killed Bruce’s parents (the long-term arc). This formula applied to almost every other character last season, including Penguin: he had a minor victory or setback (the short-term arc) but kept his goal of ruling Gotham’s underworld in sight (the long-term arc).

Essentially, the only primary “plot” this season has been that Theo Galavan wants control of the city because of a centuries’ old dispute where his ancestor got caught cheatin’, got punished for it, got his hand chopped off, got ticked off, and vowed revenge.
Really critic huh
That’s not compelling – that’s just petty.

At least the first season’s mob war among Maroni, Falcone, Fish Mooney, and Penguin held more weight and had more merit. They were logical, cruel, determined folks who wanted power for power’s sake. Galavan just seems like a spoiled little rich kid who people were weally, weally mean to and now he’s out to take over the world. Again, I don’t find that enthralling, I find it annoying. I was willing to give Galavan time to develop as a baddie but he’s failed to make a strong impression on me as a villain. Yes, he’s sneaky, twisted, and evil; but right now he’s only a mustache and a top hat away from becoming a Snidely Whiplash-type of bad guy. That worked for “Duddley Do-Right” but it doesn’t work for “Gotham.”

[Sidebar – if Galavan ever ties some poor lass to a train track, I’ll flip.]
Snidely Whiplash Dudley D-Right train help bad guy

This season, it seems as if the characters are aiming strictly for short-term goals and I think they are starting to run on fumes because of it. Such as in this episode with Jim and Barnes. I gave Barnes a chance to be a unique character but, ultimately, I’ve relegated him to the tough cop trope character bin. Any attempt to even extend to him a story arc (such as what happens here when he gives Jim a morality lesson – kind of) is essentially discarded airtime. He’s a background figure and nothing more, which disappoints me because I was looking forward to Chiklis becoming a part of the cast as I had heard great things about his work on FX’s “The Shield.” Sadly, I suspect Barnes might become yet another red shirt character before the season closes out.

As far as Jim is concerned, his character deserves to be given something long-term to do rather than weekly installment story arcs. Granted, I grasp why Tabitha wants him dead, but to have Jim’s entire story arc be about how he evades – and miraculously fights off – multiple assassins felt like dead weight. It doesn’t move the story forward; does nothing to develop the season’s overall plot (what little there is); and feels like padding. In short, Jim and other characters need to stop telling us how dark and bad he is when, at the end of the day, Jim usually does the right thing. That doesn’t qualify a character to be “dark” and “monstrous,” in my opinion. By way of comparison, Jim is in no way akin to “24”‘s Jack Bauer, a good man who did some dark stuff and genuinely suffered for it. And, oddly enough, viewers weren’t constantly reminded via exposition scenes about how “bad” and “dark” Jack was becoming – we saw it for ourselves.

Essentially, the whole let’s-kill-Jim/Jim-escapes story arc was yet another…
Pointless moment no bad ugh
And “Gotham” is starting to rack a bunch of these up, not just in isolated scenes but in whole episodes where, when you sit back and think about it, there wasn’t much of a point to it at all. If you eliminated everything in this episode that didn’t add to a character’s growth, then most of Jim’s storyline – the principle plot, mind you – would be gone and only Ed and Penguin’s arc would stand (more on that below – that was the good part!). As I stated in my review of the previous episode, the writing is starting to get sloppy and that’s not good.

To put it bluntly…
Bored meh
Again, you have no idea how hard it is for me to say that. I started off loving the show and I still love its lead characters but am saddened by the quality of their stories. There is a great deal of talent here, especially from the villain camp, and I hope whenever “Gotham” closes up shop that this won’t be the last we see of them. Taylor, Smith, and Bicondova are a joy to watch, no matter what the script calls for them to do, so I hope this is just the start of a long career for each of them. Likewise, I think the stories can be solid and have been in the past (as season one’s “Penguin’s Umbrella” stands out as one of the show’s all-time high points). But for now, I feel like there is no new territory to explore even though there is the whole fictional city of Gotham to play in.

My sentiments towards “Gotham” are akin to how I felt about the now-defunct, early 2000s “Star Trek” series “Enterprise.” “Enterprise” had a ton to work with because it was a prequel, and while the show did take advantage of the expansive “Trek” canon, it eventually started to either repeat itself in terms of story or devote too much time to non-canon events and characters. (Such as the Xindi. Really? You have the whole spectrum of “Trek” aliens, characters, and history to work with and the writers chose to invent an alien race called the Xindi? Not to mention the whole Temporal Cold War thing. You can see how and why “Enterprise” got canceled, right?) Unless a massive sucker punch comes before the fall finale, I fear “Gotham” might be moving in a similar direction. It has the potential to be great – and it has had its shining moments – but in the past few episodes, it has fallen slightly from grace for me. Again, it really, really pains me to say that. But I strive to keep my reviews truthful, so I’m just being honest here.

I also have to say something about the level of violence this season. Yes, I expect “Gotham” to be violent as it is, first and foremost, a police drama. Yes, I believe violence can be a necessary element if it’s used to show either a). a recreation of actual/historical events or b). how violence is a mark of a morally depraved, sin-infested soul or society. Hence, I’m not against violence in and of itself – it’s just all in how and why it’s used so the medium (i.e. the violence) doesn’t override the message (i.e. what’s meant to be communicated through it all). For instance, the movie Scarface is violent in order to emphasize the levels of callousness and depravity the drug lords will reach to “protect” their “business.” But in the end, these bloody means are shown as fruitless and ultimately acting violently turns against the ones who live that way (after all, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword” [Matthew 26:52]). Even a television program like “The Walking Dead” requires violence in order to show the fallen state of the characters’ world.

Not cool man headshake no way ugh
But “Gotham” is not “The Walking Dead,” yet some of its violence would feel right at home there.

For starters, and by way of comparison, while both shows are based on comic books, the viewership is entirely different: “The Walking Dead,” a cable program, boasts a TV-MA rating (meaning it’s for adults only) and airs at a later prime time slot. Thus, its content, while sometimes toeing the line, fits with the audience it’s intended for. In contrast, “Gotham” is a network prime time show that supposedly is intended for ages fourteen and up. (Though I, personally, wouldn’t allow a 14 year old to watch it.) While last season’s goriest moment was Fish Mooney’s extraction of her own eye with a spoon, the rest of the content was the usual shoot outs and an occasional stabbings that didn’t go too far. This season has grown, not so much more violent, but gorier, complete with more extracted eyes, severed heads, mutilated body parts, slit and bitten throats, and cannibalism. While similar moments on “The Walking Dead” can cause one to cringe or look away, they don’t feel out of place. On “Gotham,” it feels oddly disassociated with the rest of the show. After all, this is a Batman story, and while Batman has seen multiple incarnations, from colorful and campy to dark and sinister, I can’t recall anything reaching this level of goriness. It makes me wonder if Rick Grimes and Co. are suddenly slated to show up.

(Next season on “Gotham”: Daryl Dixon teaches Penguin how to use a crossbow….)
daryl crossbow twd
(Not true but still a funny mental image.)

Batman is known for its camp factor and “Gotham” retains a subtle campy tone that manages to be smart and clever, which I appreciate. Therefore, having abject gore on a show that doesn’t require it (as it’s a show intended for a teen and adult audience); isn’t designed around a violent premise (such as a zombie apocalypse); and possesses a subtle campy tone just doesn’t fit. Some reviewers remark that this step up in the gore department sets “Gotham” apart from other comic book-derived shows in a good way; and while I agree that “Gotham” possesses a darker tone that’s certainly fitting, the gory scenes are off-putting.

Such moments on “The Walking Dead,” don’t arrive as a surprise and come with the territory, so viewers are prepared for whatever might happen in a given episode, whether that’s Walkers feasting on some poor soul or just your run-of-the-mill shoot-and-run action. Similar gory moments on “Gotham” are like being splashed awake with a bucket of ice water. They’re a shock to the system and completely unnecessary. I’m not going to belabor the point, but I am disappointed that the show feels like it has to ramp up the gore factor when it doesn’t need that – unless a herd of Walkers suddenly descend upon the city.

Likewise, this season has expanded its sexual content to include subtle, wink-wink references to some racy topics – a bit too racy for a TV-14-rated program, if you ask me. First we have possible incest as the Galavan siblings seem a little too close albeit no such relationship has ever been confirmed (though Tabitha did once remark that Theo is a “monster” in bed). Secondly, there have been subtle allusions to bondage, mainly between Barbara and Tabitha. (You did notice what was on Barbara’s bed in the last episode, right? It wasn’t a teddy bear and a storybook, in case you’re asking – it was props more befitting 50 Shades of Gray). As if Barbara’s bisexual kick wasn’t annoying enough, this season ramps up the sex factor by, not so much showing us anything (other than Babs’ affections for both Tabitha and Theo), but implying it and rather openly at times. While it manages to avoid outright smut, “Gotham” is introducing some elements that are starting to not sit well with me as the content has no bearing on the story or characters. While I’m not forsaking the show at this point, I’m starting to take issue with some things and wonder how far the envelope will be pushed.

This review has been very negative thus far and I realize that. But seeing as we’re entering into fall sweeps, I’m hoping the show will offer something really cool and exciting in its last two episodes for 2015. (FYI: “Gotham” is slated to return February 29 and will finish out the remainder of its season with no breaks in between.) I still believe “Gotham” can be awesome as it has had its awesome moments.

Penguin and Riddler
Case in point here: the Ed Nygma and Penguin pairing (affectionately known as #Nygmobblepot). This provided the best story and acting of the night, and I was pleased to see these two future super-villains together again. (While they shared about a minute or two of screen time last season in a single episode, this marks the first time Riddler and Penguin are engaged in extended interaction.)

Ed takes it upon himself to bring Penguin back to his apartment where he can nurse his wounds and, later, his ego. Granted, Penguin is still reeling from his mother’s murder but the aftermath of his failed attempt on Galavan’s life seems to have had the opposite effect. Rather than being driven to avenge his mother’s death, Penguin falls into a funk and doesn’t seem to care about anything or see the sense in continuing with any of his plans. After all, what’s the point?

But leave it up to good ol’ Ed to bring him out of his slump. The fact Ed doesn’t kill Penguin (other than the fact that would be so far from the Batman canon even casual fans would riot) and nurses him back to health shows Ed still isn’t that far morally gone. After all, how easy would it have been to be rid of a wanted man or, at the very least, hand Penguin over to the police? But Ed doesn’t do that and, instead, tries to do the right thing, the word right being used very loosely.

What really struck me was the raw emotion Penguin expresses as his grief boils over and reaches its breaking point. He just doesn’t care anymore, sees no point in living, and even wishes to die. What a change between this man and the one who could get knocked down and come back up fighting. Now Penguin admits to Ed that the path of violence is one that “leads to nothing but destruction and pain.” We’ve never seen Penguin this emotionally low before and the devastation and heartache he feels bleeds through in a way that’s organic and respectful to the nature of grief. It truly causes this super-villain and crime lord to fall from his pedestal and show his frail, human side.

Ed’s attempts to usher Penguin out of his grief are a bit unorthodox but seem to do the trick. (That or slapping him across the face but, seriously, would you slap Penguin? I wouldn’t.) Rather than him seeking guidance from Penguin in How to Cope with Being a Killer 101, Ed gives Penguin a pep talk in stages. First, he captures one of Galavan’s lackeys and encourages Penguin to do as he wishes to the man. At first, Penguin accepts the knife from Ed’s hand but ultimately drops the weapon, claiming he’s done with it all and insists upon leaving Gotham.

So Ed’s attempt to appeal to Penguin’s killing, darker side don’t work and tries something else. In a second attempt, he plays a song he heard Penguin humming in his sleep (and as of this posting, I don’t know what it is). The tune, as Penguin reveals, was a song his mother sang to him every night when he was young. He explains how she was the only person who ever loved him and stood by his side. With her support no longer here, old insecurities are mounting up. While Ed’s intent is to get Penguin to see that holding on to memories won’t do him any good, Penguin instead says his memories are all he has but are a cold comfort and “daggers in my heart.” That’s two strikes against Ed but he’s not given up yet.

Ed has one final card up his sleeve. He argues with Penguin, claiming love isn’t a source of strength for men like them but a “crippling weakness” as it (in his mind) prevents them from realizing their full potential. For that, he claims they are “better off alone,” a trait common to many villains, from Darth Vader to Lord Voldemort. Such characters may have throngs of admirers or minions but no true friends or loved ones. The reason? They see love as a weakness because it requires humility and a casting aside of pretenses, something a villain, by nature, isn’t able to do. Thus, Ed asserts to Penguin that, “a man with nothing that he loves is a man that cannot be bargained, that cannot be betrayed. A man who answers to no one but himself. And that is the man that I see before me. A free man.” In other words, with no one to love him, Penguin is unencumbered and can operate selfishly without fear that he will be disappointing anyone. I do wonder if Ed isn’t also speaking about himself during this speech as the shoe certainly fits. But in the end, his words ignite a spark of determination in Penguin and, after breakfast, the two chaps decide to amuse themselves with Galavan’s lackey. (I’m guessing they didn’t save any bacon for him.)

Essentially, those were the best moments, and even though they encompassed the B story, they were still better and more emotionally charged than the principle plot. This was, by far, my least favorite episode this season and my least favorite overall to date.

And just when I didn’t think it could sink any lower, the cast of “Assassin’s Creed” (aka warriors from the Order of St. Dumas) shows up at Gotham’s docks….
What laughing no way critic huh can't believe it funny
I know this is supposed to be all dark and serious but, I’m sorry, I couldn’t keep a straight face any longer. This is getting too ridiculous, even for me, and I have a high tolerance for ridiculousness (just check out my use of gifs!).

I know this review has been harsh, and I certainly don’t mean to come across as petty or hateful. I just feel like “Gotham” has lost some of its thunder and that saddens me. Can it get it back? Absolutely, but it will take a big storm to shake things up.

wave goodbye minions so long over bye
Ta ta for now, Gothamites!

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