By Robert Tiemstra ‘16
“I can start a war or end one. I can give you the strength of heroes, or leave you powerless. I might be snared with a glance, but no force can compel me to stay. What am I?”
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to opposite land – where trees grow from the sky, Warner Brothers doesn’t fire the directors from their most promising projects, and Gotham manages to defy our cynical predictions from last week! Not only is this continuation of the “Ogre Saga” a tense and generally entertaining episode of television, it proves that Gotham’s writers have the ability to create episodes that are not more thematically disparate than a Nicholas Sparks adaptation directed by Clint Eastwood.
This episode continues, as implied by our opening paragraph, with the continuing investigation of the serial killer known as “The Ogre” (guest star Milo Ventimiglia), who kills women while searching for his true love. And while the GCPD tracking down the world’s most clingy nightclub hookup sounds about as exciting as watching them hunt down “Pooh Bear” Manson, what sets this apart is why the GCPD have a tendency to let this case slide – Any cop who investigates the Ogre has their loved ones brutally murdered by him. This raises quite a few questions, including: How in the dozen years since this guy has been active, has no cop ever continued the case for the sake of vengeance? While we do not presume to know the inner workings of every detective’s mind, it stands to reason that a murdered wife might be at least a little bit of an incentive to catch the man who killed her. Although, we are in Gotham City, so we must presume that every policeman is a complete and utter coward until proven otherwise.
Another plot hole this episode fails to answer is how The Ogre figures out which detectives are investigating his murder. This and the previous episode have made it abundantly clear that the case has not yet reached the public, so the Ogre either checks in on his victims in the morgue with truly baffling regularity, or he reads the script of each episode beforehand and cleverly deduces that Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is the protagonist, and therefore has to be the one investigating his murders. Very poorly thought through setup notwithstanding, this investigation plays out better than any investigation this show has yet to offer. Gotham’s murder mysteries are reliably boneheaded, but this episode earns points for effectively managing to use the case as a through line for the cluster of subplots this episode contains (excepting The Penguin’s, but we will get back to that). Since we are already familiar with the face of the murderer, the show doesn’t need to try and imitate Sherlock to get our attention – all the main questions about the case are answered for the audience ahead of time, and we’re just watching to see the Police connect the dots and catch up with us.
And that brings us to a fun part of the Ogre investigation. Resident piece of cardboard Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) has come back to Gotham, and finds herself seduced by the ogre himself. Despite the irony that Barbara returns to the show only to become a damsel in distress again, writer John Stephens manages to make one thing that Barbara has ever done in this show – be a victim – fresh by putting her into a scenario in which she has a degree of control with this clingy Incubus. Given the cliffhanger this episode ends on (Christian Grey’s red room of pain is nothing compared to this guy’s closet), this subplot could either go to new and interesting places in next week’s episode, or crash and burn in another anticlimax (as a show, Gotham is far too practiced at those).
For the past 20 episodes (or at least what feels like 20 episodes), Edward Nigma (Cory Michael Smith) has been flirting on the edges of disaster with a painfully cliched subplot involving his crush on co-worker Kristen Kringle (Chelsea Spack). However, we finally learn where this subplot was heading in “Under the Knife” as Nigma learns that Ms. Kringle was beaten by a GCPD officer she is dating. His first confrontation with the officer may be the most effective use of the character so far, because his use of riddles allows for the sort of subtext the writers of this show only dream of, and is heartbreakingly inappropriate for the situation. His second confrontation is predictable, but unsettling, and one of the few scenes in this episode that remind us we’re getting to the end of the season, so even the side characters should have some crucial character moments thrown in as a nod to the character’s future potential. What connects this subplot to The Ogre is a none to subtle theme of misplaced love (or rather, violent infatuation) that causes men like Nigma and The Ogre to murder when they cannot find the love they want.
Unfortunately, the one subplot that goes nowhere in this episode is Bruce Wayne’s own investigation of Wayne Enterprises. A fundraising ball held by the company provides a glamorous setting for our various plots to intersect, and David Mazouz, Sean Pertwee, and Camren Bicondova continue to acquit themselves admirably, but the plot itself is apropos of nothing. More fertile is Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) and his impending plan to murder Don Maroni (David Zayas). Director TJ Scott wrings some genuine tension out of an unexpected guest in Cobblepot’s club, who torments Oswald’s mother (Carol Kane) in the simplest way possible – by just telling her who her son really is. We’re all just spinning our wheels until the finale at this point (where we will presumably learn if Gotham’s writing staff has the guts to kill off characters from the comics), but this episode makes the Cobblepot holding pattern a visceral roller coaster.
In the end, “Under the Knife” does not excuse Gotham’s regular flaws – the dialogue still comes off as stilted at points, despite the actors best efforts, and the show still feels too overstuffed for its own good – but it is an episode that proves Gotham can be more than just a show entirely composed of Batman fanservice and gorgeous visuals. With only two episodes left, can this show prove anything else?
Episode Grade: B+