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GOTHAM Review: “Under the Knife”

It’s not always easy translating seventy-five year old comic book properties for contemporary audiences, even when the property in question is Gotham City. And on this week’s episode of Gotham, we learn just how easy it is to slip into outdated tropes, especially those involving the show’s female characters. Fish Mooney, the character with arguably the most agency, is nowhere to be seen in “Under the Knife,” and so we’re forced to confront and reevaluate the other women on Gotham. What we find isn’t exactly heartening.

Barbara, still the wounded party girl, last week met Milo Ventimiglia’s literal ladykiller, the Ogre. This week we learn his name is Jason, and we find her already taking him home. He’s prepared to murder her as soon as they walk in the door, but upon learning she doesn’t have a boyfriend, and so is no longer Jim Gordon’s beloved, he immediately loses interest and walks out the door. Jason then spends the bulk of “Under the Knife” spying on Gordon in an effort to discern if he has any loved ones he can slay. Gordon, for his part, investigates the serial killer and finds out he was born deformed, and raised as the son of a butler, before murdering the butler’s mistress when she refused to accept Jason as a son. Henceforth, he’s sought another mother figure, and slain those who don’t meet his standards. By episode’s end, he re-encounters Barbara at a Wayne Enterprises charity party, and decides that if he can’t use her to get Gordon off his back, he can at least see if she’s a suitable caretaker for him. He brings her to his home and she discovers his Red Room of Pain, er, dungeon, apparently finding it quite the turn on.

The Penguin’s mother fares even worse. Maroni decides to have a little fun with Oswald, who’s been planning to kill him, so he visits his club and flirts with Mrs. Cobblepot. Here she comes across as even more dimwitted than usual, and completely buys into his routine until he tells her about all the men her son has killed. The Penguin of course freaks out, doubly so when the crime boss later sends her flowers. He goes so far as to shatter the vase in which they arrive and use one of its broken shards to stab the delivery man to death. If there were any doubts as to what the Penguin’s major weakness could be, they’re eradicated here. But is it necessary to make his mother look so clueless in the process?

Stabbing also gives a big moment to Ed Nygma, who’s finally had enough of Ms. Kringle’s alpha-cop suitor upon finding out that he’s bruised her. Arriving at her home to intercept the brute, he stabs him. Initially disgusted with the action, he performs it repeatedly and almost comes to enjoy it. Though Ms. Kringle is saved, her assault is essentially a form of fridging to fuel the Riddler’s origin story. Yet as longtime comics fans know, the Riddler is known not for his coldblooded mania but for his twisted intellect. Cory Michael Smith has done some fine work with his character, so it’s a shame that the first crime we see him commit — his origin story — is so predictable.

The show’s other female characters are there to further define Gotham‘s men. Leslie, whom Gordon reveals his love to this week, gives him a vulnerable side. While his boss Essen is constantly portrayed as startled and befuddled in a bid to make Gordon look more intelligent. Even young Selina — who gets to wear heels and a dress in “Under the Knife” when she accompanies Bruce to his company’s fundraising event so the two can learn more about the Wayne Enterprises board’s attack on Alfred — is present primarily to help her smitten young suitor define the code of ethics he’ll employ when he comes of age and replaces Gordon as Gotham’s savior.

The show’s producers have already announced they’re working hard to find a new female character to replace Fish when Jada Pinkett Smith leaves at the end of this season, and they’ve said they’re seeking one with as much smarts and initiative. Here’s hoping. Because while the first part of this ongoing Ogre serial was fast-paced and suspenseful enough to make one forget Gotham‘s flaws, “Under the Knife” is just slow enough to illustrate one of its biggest problems.

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Rogue Ruminations

— The exact definition of Bruce and Alfred’s relationship continues to elude me. Sometimes Bruce gives the orders, sometimes Alfred. Here, the manservant reluctantly agrees to let his charge enter the nest of “vipers” with Ms. Kyle provided he’s permitted to wait in their car nearby.

— As much as I dread a full fridging of Barbara, I’m just as fearful of seeing the character continue into next season if she remains this vacuous. Gotham, you’re making my head hurt.

— Also worrying is how long the show will drag forth Nygma’s cop-killing story arc. But with just two episodes left, my fingers are crossed we’ll get some resolution soon.

Next week: The Penguin starts a gang war, while Bruce learns his father harbored some dark secrets, in…”The Anvil or the Hammer”.

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

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