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GOTHAM Review: “All Happy Families Are Alike”

And so ends season 1 of Gotham. A season that brought more than a little frustration to longtime Batman fans, despite their understanding that, since the project was first announced, it would not be about Batman, but rather a young Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon. Yet Bruce doesn’t figure that much in “All Happy Families Are Alike” — which takes its title from the famed opening line of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Trying to get literary on us, Gotham?) Instead, this week’s season finale focuses on 1.) the gang war that erupted when the Penguin duped Maroni into believing that Falcone had ordered a hit on him, and 2.) Lee’s efforts to counsel a Barbara who’s clearly unhinged after her abduction by the Ogre and the subsequent slaying of her parents. Bruce, for his part, shows up in only two or three scenes with Alfred, in his father’s study at Wayne Manor, still troubled by his recent discovery that his father may not have been as squeaky clean as he’d remembered him.

As for that gang war… Gordon decides the only way to restore order to Gotham is by keeping Falcone on top, so he rescues the crime lord after he’s captured and on the brink of being slain by the Penguin. The Penguin, however, calls in the favor Gordon owes him; and, rather than leave him to be slain by his enemies, he and Bullock bring Oswald and Butch to one of Falcone’s warehouses. There they run afoul of Fish, who’s back in town with the minions she acquired on the Dollmaker’s island. She sports a new faux punk hairdo, which she’s also given to her latest recruit — Selina Kyle. (Who is, apparently, still looking for a mother figure after Barbara turned out to be more of an annoying older sister to her.) Fish strings up Gordon, Bullock, Oswald, and Falcone, and she’s about to kill all four of them, save Bullock, whom she still owes for getting her out of the city. But Maroni arrives, and the Penguin pulls a Tyrion Lannister, getting Fish and Maroni to squabble, which results in Fish shooting Maroni dead and the Gordon and co. freeing themselves. Faced with the choice of saving Penguin or Fish, Butch — wrestling with his brainwashing into obeying Oswald — shoots them both, but apparently only grazes the Penguin, who throws Fish off the top of the building into the water below. We’ve long known that Jada Pinkett Smith was leaving the show, so I was hoping for a little more resolution to her character’s arc in what could be her last ever episode. Since it’s difficult to believe anyone really dies in a superhero-based show unless we see their body (and even then it’s all too often dubious).

The guilty pleasure portion of “All Happy Families Are Alike” comes courtesy of Lee and Barbara. The GCPD medical examiner doesn’t count trauma counseling as one of her specialties, but at Barbara’s insistence she takes her home and listens to her explain how she found her experience with the Ogre “scary but thrilling.” We soon learn she’s leaning more heavily on the latter adjective — and that she looks to continue what the serial killer started — when she confesses to killing her parents herself, and attacks Lee, resulting in a catfight between two beautiful women that’s sure to incense those who’ve accused Gotham of misogyny. Speaking as a heterosexual male, I found the premise of the scene a little too outrageous to take it seriously. Weirdly, it seemed an almost logical extension of the trainwreck arc the show’s given Barbara. Since I’ve been saying for weeks now that Gotham would be better off without her, I plead guilty to hoping Lee would take her out for good when she kicked her ass. Dammit, Gotham, what have you reduced me to?!

There’s a lot of bookkeeping this episode tries to take care of before sending the show off to season 2, and not all of it is performed as, er, elegantly at the Lee-Barbara battle. Falcone, for example, announces out of left field that he’s retiring from his life of crime and moving south, leaving Gordon in charge. It’s a moment that’s supposed to clear the deck for the Penguin’s ascension to power, but it feels inconsistent with what we’ve known about Falcone — an intensely proud man convinced he’s the key to forging order out of Gotham’s chaos. (Has his life never been so threatened before? Doesn’t he want revenge against the Penguin?) Ditto the final Bruce scene, in which young Master Wayne finds the key to his father’s Batcave (?) in a book on stoicism, just because in the previous episode Lucius Fox described his father as a stoic. But then the show will do whatever it takes for us to return to it in the fall, even promise us we’ll see the Batman emerge more fully in the form of a twelve-year-old. But we know better now… Don’t we?

Gotham 2

Rogue Ruminations

— A bit of season 2 prep work is also done by having Edward Nygma get even crazier when Ms. Kringle tells him she’s found his name in the Dear John letter he wrote to her in her late boyfriend’s name after offing him. A schizophrenic side is revealed to the forensics scientist. But is the Riddler typically portrayed in comics as schizophrenic? Doesn’t he just have a severe form of OCD?

— “This war’s been bad for business.” Your business maybe, Bullock, but not mine. I’ll take mafia stories any day over repetitive police procedurals.

— An awful lot of people outrun bullets in this episode. Which is all the more impressive when one considers that no one in Gotham has any superpowers.

— The humor here is also out of left field. With scenes of a damaged Barbara attacking Lee crosscut with Gordon, Bullock, and Falcone boarding an elevator with a wacky old woman and her little dog. Or Bullock, upon finding Barbara knocked out by Lee, exclaiming, “I told him that woman was trouble!”

— Speaking of comedy, there were moments here where Erin Richards’ Barbara Kean reminded me of an unfunny version of Mad Men‘s Betty Draper. But it’s hard to imagine a scene in which Betty attacks Don Draper’s second wife Megan taking place anywhere other than on Saturday Night Live.

Next week: Make that next season. No more Gotham until the autumn, folks. We’ll see you then!

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).

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