Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue
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Before Gotham went on hiatus, which was surely a result of its promotion to a 22-episode season, the show had built up some solid momentum by ditching its case-of-the-week structure and largely getting down to the details of what makes Gotham such a bad place to live and work. For the first time all season, it felt like the show understood that if you have a diverse (in terms of personality) cast of characters, all of whom are the product of this city, than it would be meaningful to dig into what it is about the city that produces such characters. By exploring how corruption has seeped into the GCPD through Commissioner Loeb, Gotham not only managed to use a smaller storyline to say something about the city in general, but also gave Jim Gordon a reason to continue his rise through the ranks. Up until that point, Gordon had no real motivation beyond a vague sense of “cleaning up Gotham”; Loeb represented the first tangible reason for Gordon’s outsized ambition.

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Now, through two episodes post-break, and with only two more to go, ­Gotham appears to be falling back into the pattern that’s defined most of this season, which involves convoluted storylines that stretch the characters (and audience’s patience) thin and rely far too much on exposition to move the plot along.

Admirably enough, Gotham seems to be giving some serious thought to longer narrative arcs, best represented by the continuing story of the Ogre (played by Milo Ventimiglia) in “Under The Knife.” Last week, we learned that the Ogre is a handsome bachelor who kidnaps women and forces them to live in his apartment before killing them weeks or months later. “Under The Knife” continues the story, taking the idea that the Ogre preys on the loved ones of the cops who come after him and using that as fuel for Gordon’s continuing investigation. Gordon and Bullock dig into the other dropped Ogre cases looking for missed opportunities, eventually finding a connection to an old, wealthy Gotham family. They establish that the Ogre is not the son of the long-dead matriarch of the family but rather the family’s butler, who hasn’t seen his son in years and wouldn’t recognize him anyways because the Ogre, who’s name is actually Jason, has had facial reconstructive surgery. The now-handsome son has been killing women for a decade, and now has his sights possibly set on Barbara. Remember when I said the show liked its convoluted storylines?

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On paper, this is the kind of story that serves Gotham well. It gives Gordon some motivation, introduces us to a villain that could potentially stick around for awhile, and allows the show to explore the inner-workings of Gotham’s elite, which seems to produce its fair share of evil people. “Under The Knife” spreads itself thin though, and the Ogre storyline is hardly the focus of the episode. Instead, there are a number of inconsequential storylines swirling around it. Bruce and Selina head to a charity ball in order to steal a key from Bunderslaw in the hopes of accessing a safe and finding out why he wanted Alfred killed. Cobblepot is stuck in his nightclub with Maroni, who’s wooing Mrs. Cobblepot in order to intimidate his once loyal follower, all while Cobblepot plots a way to kill Maroni. Then there’s Edward Nygma, who kills Mrs. Kringle’s meathead cop boyfriend after discovering that he’s a domestic abuser who’s been hitting Kringle. That’s far too much for a single episode of Gotham to handle, and it shows. Every storyline feels rushed, every plot beat merely a step towards an inevitable conclusion that still feels removed from everything else that is going on in the show. These storyline are in no way interconnected or meaningfully explored, and that means “Under The Knife,” and much of Gotham in general, feels like a series of vignettes that serve no larger purpose and aren’t even entertaining on their own.

The various disconnected storylines also underline the show’s serious problem with portraying female characters. The majority of the show’s female characters are there to be the catalyst for the male protagonists, to move them into action and inspire them to be heroic. Mrs. Kringle is suddenly an abused woman in this episode, and rather than flesh out that story, Gotham lays back on the battered woman trope, letting Nygma step in and be the knight in shining armor that dispatches her abuser. Then there’s Barbara, whose character motivations violently swing from one episode to the next, and Dr. Thompkins, as both tend to serve the purpose of motivating Gordon to be a better detective and man. Women are consistently victims on this show–even Mrs. Cobblepot is merely a dumb woman who can’t help but be seduced by a mobster–which is frustrating and offensive, especially considering that Dr. Leslie Thompkins has the potential to be an equal to Gordon, someone who acts like a partner in the same way Bullock does. The fact that young Selina Kyle is the closest thing Gotham has to a strong female character is evidence of the show’s reductive portrayal of women.

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“Under The Knife” is promising only in that it continues to move Gotham away from its misguided case-of-the-week structure; it offers little hope that this season will close on a strong note. There are still too many storylines, too many meaningless characters, too little nuance, and a pervasive mistreatment of female characters. The (very) slight promise Gotham showed before its break feels like a distant memory.

Stray observations:

  • Never Mind The Bullocks: Harvey lambasts the plastic surgeon who won’t cooperate in their investigation by saying, “I specialize in fake boobs, but I’ve got ethics; I need a warrant.”
  • First of all, thanks to Scott for filling in for me last week and keeping that grade average right where it should be.
  • When this show truly bores me, I like to imagine these actors are playing their characters from other shows. Milo Ventimiglia’s Ogre is just Gilmore Girls’ Jess all grown up, and Carol Kane’s Mama Cobblepot is only a few years away from escaping Gotham, moving to New York, and renting out a basement apartment to a man named Titus and a mole woman.
  • That shot where the “before” picture of Jason/the Ogre is superimposed over the current handsome version of his face is just one of many examples of how blunt this show can be.
  • I found that the exposition was particularly bad this week, with Bullock, Gordon, and Thompkins constantly recapping every detail of the investigation. This is what happens when you’re juggling too many convoluted storylines at once!
  • So Barbara kind of seems into Jason’s Patrick Bateman/Christian Grey abuse room. I’m sure that won’t be problematic at all as we head towards the finale.

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