Gotham Review: “Under the Knife”

(Episode 1.20)

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<i>Gotham</i> Review: &#8220;Under the Knife&#8221;

From early on in its inaugural season, Gotham seemed to have an eye on the endgame. It often appeared as a show beholden to network demands, adopting the crime-procedural commonality of weekly villains, that desperately wanted to break free and tell a larger story. The promising part about the dichotomy was that it felt as though the writers had a handle on the bigger picture, deliberately unraveling it so that it would stretch to the finale. Now, just three episodes from closing the door on Season One, that isn’t the case.

While it has been fun to watch Gordon and Bullock investigate a worthy adversary in the Ogre (Milo Ventimiglia), the overall premise of the character is admittedly staid. A serial killer who preys on young women, particularly cops who endeavor to investigate him, is another in a, frustratingly growing list of examples of Gotham’s lack of inventiveness. I have not been quiet about the show’s inability to create something new out of the, mostly, untouched subject matter it lives in, in part because that was the great hope for the show to succeed. And while the Ogre is technically a new invention for the show (or, rather, a re-appropriation of a name seen in the pages of DC comics) it is one that fails to induce any sort of excitement. This is not to say that the entire storyline has been worthless. Ventimiglia has turned in a nice performance as the dastardly villain, and it is interesting to see the show approach an antagonist with a multi-week storyline. While Gotham played with format numerous times this season, it was mostly a non-factor as single-episode villains stretched over two weeks, but not much further. The Ogre is different. There has been a clear focus from the beginning of the arc that he is here to stay (for a while) and it has considerably changed the dynamic of the investigation. Last week served primarily as set-up, and this week saw Gordon and Bullock dig deeper into the background of their serial killer. While “Under the Knife” had few fireworks (in regard to the Ogre, at least), the storyline already feels more rewarding than many this season, given the depth the writers are able to explore with the expanded timeframe. This longer form of storytelling is something I, well, longed for for most of the season. It certainly hasn’t solved any of the show’s core problems, but it has alleviated some pacing and “over-stuffed” issues that hampered previous episodes. But, there is still time, and one of Gotham’s largest problems throughout this first season has been its inability to stick the landing.

Another gripe that has continually nagged me, and these reviews, is Gotham’s utter lack of consequence. While not a show to shy away from gruesome violence and murder, it is one to do so for any character that matters. With the end near, you might expect that reality to change, but thus far the only “major” character in danger is Barbara Kean. Without sounding overtly insensitive, I think it’s safe to surmise that Barbara is not a character that will weigh on the hearts of viewers if she becomes a victim of the Ogre. In fact, I imagine most viewers are rooting for it. As I mentioned last week, though, the producers are promising a bloody final stretch, but Gotham has never lacked in blood, it has lacked in consequence.

With the Ogre storyline taking front and center, much of what Gotham has been working toward the entire season has been relegated to the backseat. While it seemed, at first, that the primary season story would revolve around Penguin’s rise within Gotham’s mob hierarchy, that has now been reduced to a plot to kill Sal Maroni. By “Penguin’s Umbrella,” the season’s best episode, the writers had maneuvered the show into a position that would bring a destructive mob war. Now, that seems unlikely. Whether the writers ditched their initial plan, or had always planned to bring a larger villain on for the end of the season, is unknown (to me, at least), but it does feel a bit like jumping ship. “Under the Knife” did bring significant change for one character, however. We’ve known that Season One would bring some sort of snapping point for Edward Nygma, and that point came last night, unsurprisingly driven by his affection for Kristen Kringle. I have not been a fan of the show’s depiction of Nygma, more oddball nerd with a penchant for riddles than the wickedly, dangerously intelligent and, seemingly, in control villain in my favorite adaptations. The Riddler I love sees the world, and those that inhabit it, as beneath him for lacking his intelligence. Gotham’s version is a far cry from that, though we are just at the starting gate. The scene in which Nygma finally crossed the line, plunging a knife into Ms. Kringle’s cop boyfriend was, unsurprisingly, rather graceless. Never a show for subtlety, the moment included literal flashes of light with each successive stab. Now that the inevitable has been dealt with, a world of opportunity opens for Cory Michael Smith and his Riddler. Where they go from here, and how quickly, is an interesting plot point for Season Two.

Gotham has struggled to find its footing for most of the season, and if it weren’t for Ventimiglia’s Ogre, it very well could have ended year one on its knees. That storyline, while lacking in creativity, is working fairly well to this point and will hopefully bring much-needed action, and consequence, the next few weeks (perhaps further). Save for the bizarre island storyline, which was absent last night, there isn’t much to be excited for in the final weeks, and so there is much riding on the conclusion of the Ogre storyline. Surprises have been promised by Bruno Heller and the producers, but Gotham is no stranger to the let down.

Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.