Gotham "S1E20 Under the Knife " - Review: a stronger effort as the finale approaches

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Gotham "S1E20 Under the Knife " - Review: a stronger effort as the finale approaches

Gotham certainly found itself under the knife after last week’s underwhelming return and this week, with a certain 2016 film teaser being dropped, it’s got its work cut out to make the headlines. Gotham arrives this week with its status fallen, but of course, young Masters, why do we fall? No, not to meet hot nurses, it's so that we can learn to get back up, and that is exactly what Gotham does this week with an episode that provides a much needed second wind in Gotham’s fight to keep up with its rivals.

Under the Knife – While Jim & Harvey investigate The Ogre, the serial killer himself lives up to his promise of going after their loved ones. Meanwhile, Bruce and Selina go undercover at a charity ball as they investigate the Wayne board, Penguin’s mom makes an unwelcome new friend and Edward Nigma finds an unexpected answer to the riddle of Miss Kringle.

One of the best themes of the recent Daredevil series saw its title hero reflecting on whether, even over villains, killing can actually be justified. It seems the population of Gotham have been binge-watching Netflix like the rest of us, as several Gotham faces examine the necessity and justification of killing this week. Watching Bruce and Selina kick a drunken Reg out the window wasn’t overly satisfying last week, but the immediate repercussions reflect very well on young Bruce’s mindset. It’s great character development to see him genuinely considering that although unwanted and unpleasant, sometimes a hero has no choice but to take a life. Even if we don’t agree with Selina’s opinion, we understand it from her street life survivalist perspective and bringing in Alfred’s war service adds some depth to the argument. Of course, Bruce’s ultimate decision could be perceived more rushing towards the cape and cowl, but this is one of Gotham’s better cases of Dark Knight origins material, showing how a young Bruce came to understand a principle character value rather than just parading the finished product. In the same way the moment at the ball of showing Selina’s clear opposing stance make a nice reference to the hero/villain divide that will ever complicate their romantic entanglement.

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The idea of being driven to kill ties in nicely to the central story of Jim Vs The Ogre as fearing his loved one are under threat returns him to a very singular manner of thinking. Even as the example, Jim is trying to be for the GCPD, we have no doubt he would kill The Ogre to save those he loved. Although in the greatest Shrek style, his damsel is in less distress than what he imagines. The early scenes in Leslie’s apartment are the episode’s best. While starting Leslie in the bath tub teeters on of horror movie clichés, it does heighten her appearance of vulnerability. Coupling it with some great tension as she investigates creates a good sense of genuine character peril. Yet the ultimate play out is far better than the expected kidnap as Leslie knocks her surprise non-attacker a good one before a touching bathroom exchange with Jim. Right from her debut, Leslie (under the skilled hands of the ever awesome Morena Baccarin) has become a wonderful strong female character, and her response to Jim’s runaway request defines her in a single moment. While their L-word exchange is touching, it has a worrying “marked for death” feel it. Sadly, we may not enjoy this character in season 2.

Although for the first time since God knows what episode, we might actually be okay with it because if this episode had a big shock ,it was making Barbara “Jim’s ex” Kean interesting again (who the hell saw that coming?). From the moment, The Ogre sets his eyes on Barbara and many will have cheered rather than gasped, but their story arc becomes ever more fascinating as the episode progresses. From their first meeting, Barbara unintentionally saves her own life by describing herself as the perfect serial killer victim, “If I got hit by a bus tomorrow nobody would care”. To the slow insights into her darker mindset that spark The Ogre’s curiosity for more. The surprise ending comes out of nowhere and leaves one resounding question. Has Barbara been chosen as a victim or a partner? Could we actually be heading towards a couple's showdown pitting Jim and Leslie against Ogre and Barbara. That would be an outstanding climax to the series with so many ways it could play out.

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Finally, there’s a riddle in the killing dilemma as Edward Nigma faces his own moment of fighting for love. For much of the series, the Nigma/Kringle relationship has felt quite unclear but now finds its context by building his affections towards her to the level of out of character actions. While his remorse and even terror about the end result makes it clear, we won’t be seeing him in green spandex any time soon, but it does serve as a good starting point. Hopefully (probably through series 2), we’ll see his character switch a positive association to the events via missing the thrill and adrenaline, seeping into more violent and less fruit based re-enactments in his day job before even that isn’t enough. The episode does well to make us cheer for Ed’s character. Even if his love rival didn’t quite deserve his fate, we’re under no doubts he’s an abusive douche as he tells his “firm hand approach”. Seeing him laugh off and dismiss Ed’s attempts to confront also do well to paint Ed as an underdog. Finally of course, Penguin will most definitely be killing for love or in this case love lost as Maroni cruelly targets his mommy weakness. While last week confirmed his “Maroni must die” intentions, these events do a great job of escalating the situation as Maroni lets the psycho out of the bag. It’s a fair bet that whatever Penguin had in store for his least favourite mob boss has changed from a murder to a modern art masterpiece. You also have to love his earlier fanboying over his contact killer’s recent work.

Not everything in the episode pans out. Jim and Harvey’s investigations into The Ogre get a bit over complex and their early visit to surgery spells out that twist way too early. The villainous “I’m watching you” moments complete with The Ogre mobile also don’t really add anything to the episode or The Ogre character. The episode also lets itself down a little on script duties. While the dialogue in many scenes ticks all the required story boxes, it frequently lacks the more fun and entertaining undertone that Gotham has frequently delivered well. Nigma still captures this perfectly and the reluctantly glammed up Selina with Bruce also has its charms, but in particular, the Jim/Harvey relationship feels quite flat.

From a series perspective, Gotham still feels precarious as with only two episodes to go, it still has a lot of loose ends to tie up. Under the Knife helps keep some degree of faith but make no mistake, the critical fate of Gotham hangs in these next two weeks.