This week, I get to use one of my favorite words to describe Gotham. “Antepenultimate”. Yes, it’s the episode before the episode before the season finale. Thus, antepenultimate. But this isn’t the time to discuss words with multiple modifiers. We’ve got a serial killer on the loose, Nygma crossing the line, and Penguin vs. Maroni. It’s “Under the Knife”, and it’s a good one.
We start with a cool top-down shot of an alley. It’s like the shot from every episode of Alias, only instead of looking down at skyscrapers we’re looking down on Murder Row. (Not its real name.) A guy threatens Bruce, but Selina shows up and pulls a knife on him. He snorts and leaves, trying to make it look like he’s not afraid of a twelve-year old stabbing him. Selina confirms that Reggie’s dead and the cops are on the scene now. Bruce is upset and wants to know why she did it – she says she did it to protect them and she’d do it again. Finally, Bruce suggests that Bunderslaw, the Wayne executive who hired Reggie has a safe in his office and they may be able to steal the key at the big charity gala.
Cut to Nygma happily stabbing watermelons in the morgue. He’s taking it very seriously, which is great. Gordon rushes in, looking for Leslie. (Sigh. “Lee”.) Nygma tells him she went home after going on about how nice she is. There’s a quick shot of the Ogre pacing around and then we cut to Leslie’s house. She’s in the bath and misses Gordon’s call. There’s a noise that gets her out of the tub, but it turns out to be a cat. She doesn’t own a cat, it just came in through the window. Does that happen in big cities? I feel like you take that risk when you leave the windows open. Gordon shows up and explains the situation. Basically, he recaps last week’s episode. But there’s a nice moment where his telling Leslie that she’s in danger is the first time he says he loves her. Leslie says she’s not going to hide and she’s counting on Gordon to catch the guy.
And there’s the Ogre! He sits down at a bar with… Barbara. It’s really sad that Gordon didn’t even think of her, right? After the commercial, she brings him home. There’s a mention of the Wayne Charity Ball and some flirting. She gets mad when he implies she has a boyfriend, and when she turns away he pulls a knife. But she keeps berating him and when she says that nobody would care if she were hit by a bus, he puts the knife away. Barbara breaks my heart in this episode – I’m just warning you now. She goes on about how if he got to know her, he’d run way screaming. Then she kicks him out and he actually goes.
Over at Oswald’s, Peguin’s mother is trying to get him to dance to another musical act with limited appeal. At this point, the weirdness and sparse attendance of the club have to be intentional, right? It has to be a deliberate running joke. Anyway, Penguin has to finish some business. He’s brought in a thug from a 1940s political cartoon and offered him the hit on Maroni. Connor’s not interested, but then Penguin says that if he pulls it off, his crew will get first dibs on any jobs from Falcone, rather than Zsasz getting all the good ones. Also, this hit is totally unsanctioned by Falcone. This is not going to work out well. Anyway, Connor agrees to the job and makes an appointment to work out the details.
Gordon and Bullock bring in the first detective to investigate the Ogre – he backed off when the Ogre killed his wife. They appeal to his sense of justice to help stop the killings and ask for any info that might have been missing from the file. He finally tells them that the first victim worked for a plastic surgeon and gives them the address. When they leave the precinct, the Ogre is watching from his car.
Nygma goes to the records room where Officer Dougherty is hanging out with Kristen. When Dougherty leaves, Nygma notices bruises on her arm. He asks about them and Kristen gives him the “he didn’t mean to” answer. I have to say, I really like that Dougherty keeps calling him “Riddle Man”. So close!
Back at Stately Wayne Manor, Bruce researches Bunderslaw and lets Alfred know he’s going to the charity ball. Alfred seems much better, which is nice. Bruce asks Alfred about killing people in the army, and he said he only did it when it was necessary Also, Bruce tells Alfred that he has to stay home. Alfred doesn’t like it but agrees to wait in the car. He also has some dresses sent to Barbara’s apartment so Selina can pick one out.
Bullock and Gordon go to the surgeon’s office. The doctor isn’t willing to tell them anything without a warrant so they leave… and see that car again. The Ogre nearly runs them over getting away but now it’s clear that he knows who they are. They report back to Essen. And then the Ogre calls the precinct for Gordon. He tells him to back off and makes a reference to the “rising star of the GCPD”. The Ogre says it’s his only warning and so Gordon goes and holds a press conference.
Selina and Barbara hang out in the apartment and talk about the charity ball. Barbara doesn’t believe Selina is going with Bruce Wayne until the delivery people show up with a hilarious stack of boxes.
After a warrant, Bullock gets some info from the doctor. The first victim came to him by way of “Constance Van Groot”. It’s a wealthy Gotham family, so they go to investigate.
At the nightclub, Butch warns Oswald that Maroni is not only there, but he’s sitting with his mother. Penguin sits with them while Maroni turns on the charm.
Bruce shows up at Barbara’s apartment and realizes that this is Gordon’s place. He tries to be very polite to Barbara, but she doesn’t want to hear that name. They make a big deal over how elegant Selina looks, but it’s basically a prom dress. The great thing is that it’s exactly what kids would think is really fancy. Well played, wardrobe department!
The detectives show up at the Van Groot mansion where a butler is trying to hang himself. Yeah, that seems suspicious. They cut him down and cuff him, then they find Constance in her bed – she’s a desiccated corpse, clearly dead for years. And all over the place there are pictures but there’s a little boy whose face is scratched out in all of them.
Charity Ball! Bruce and Selina dance, and I kind of love it. It’s the Muppet Babies version of Dark Knight Rises. Back in the mansion, Bullock calls Essen with the information. He suspects the Ogre killed Constance and the butler, his father, pretended she was still alive so they could live off her money. They bring the butler in for questioning, and he insists that his son made only one mistake.
Back at the charity ball, they finally spot Bunderslaw and I’m pleased to see that he’s Michael Potts, who played Brother Mouzone on The Wire. Meanwhile, Nygma tells Dougherty to leave Kristen alone and that goes as well as you expect. It’s also clear that this wasn’t a one-time thing and he’s more of a “she was asking for it” type.
At the ball, the Ogre sidles up to Barbara and asks her to dance. Back at the precinct, the butler talks about how Constance raised the boy as her own son and then seems surprised that he could seduce anybody. He hands the detectives a picture, and we don’t see it right away but we can tell it’s not good. Gordon goes back to the surgeon and asks if he operated on the man in the picture. We finally get a look at it and half his face just looks melted. It’s really grim.
So many awkward and probably deadly conversations happening right now! At Oswald’s, Maroni suddenly drops the act and tells Mrs. Kabelput that her son is a monster. He tells her about the murders he’s committed and asks who could “plunge a knife into somebody over and over”. She faints and Penguin tells him he’s going to pay. Maroni gives him a great “maybe”.
Barbara and the Ogre make small talk and he indicates that he made a $10,000 donation just to get on the guest list and see her again. Nygma waits outside Kristen’s building in his car. Oh, Ed. This isn’t going to end well. The Ogre tells Barbara that he knows how she feels and it could destroy both of them. She’s scared but he keeps talking and seems to win her over.
Bruce introduces himself to Bunderslaw and makes awkward conversation about how he’s trying to meet everybody. Selina picks his pocket and makes an impression of the key, and I really like how Bunderslaw is trying so hard to get out of this conversation. It’s weird to meet the child you want dead. Selina notices Barbara with the Ogre, but since she doesn’t know what his deal is, she dismisses it.
Dougherty walks up to Kristen’s building and Nygma jumps out to confront him. Ed tells him to leave and the clearly drunk Dougherty punches him in the gut. And then Nygma pulls out a knice and stabs him over and over. He’s horrified when he realizes what he’s done and we’ve just seen the birth of a villain.
Oswald brings his mother home and she asks for the truth. He says he’s just a nightclub owner and it looks like she’s convincing herself to believe it. She heads to bed and then there’s a knock on the door. A guy with flowers saying they’re a delivery from Sal. He looks more like one of Maroni’s guys than an FTD deliveryman. Penguin throws the vase to the floor and tells the guy to tell Maroni that it’s over. The he decides he’ll tell Maroni himself and stabs the man to death.
Bullock and Gordon report back to Essen – they managed to get a police sketch of post-surgery Ogre, and it’s hilariously vague. Sort of like real police sketches, actually. It drives me nuts when it’s a perfect likeness, like on Flash where it was clearly a tracing of a photograph. Then Gordon remembers the “rising star” wording that Ogre used. That came from a newspaper article which was accompanied by a picture of him with Barbara.
Gordon races to Barbara’s apartment. She’s not there, but Selina agrees that the sketch could be the guy she saw her with at the ball.
And then we go to Ogre’s apartment. He shows Barbara his room of torture equipment and she… smiles? It’s very hard to read, but it’s fascinating!
That’s the end of the episode!
–There’s a lot to talk about, and I don’t want this recap to run into Doctor Who recap length, so I’ll hit the high points.
First off, Barbara. I feel like I need to keep emphasizing this point, but Erin Richards is great. She’s done the most she can with the little bit they’ve given her, and I think she’s fantastic in this episode. Her speech to the Ogre is really interesting. Clearly she’s depressed, but we don’t know enough about her to say whether she’s being overly dramatic or if she really feels like she’s so fundamentally broken that nobody could ever care about her. And the fact that we don’t know almost throws us into the same boat with, say, Gordon and her parents. I’m certain it wasn’t intentional, but it may be that the writers realized where they dropped the ball with her and just leaned into it for this episode.
She really made me sad this week. Like, I felt guilty for dismissing her and I didn’t have any choice because I’m just a viewer. And I can’t shake the feeling that she’s not going to survive this. As I’ve mentioned before, Barbara Kean is a continuity glitch who drops out of the story at some point. And now they’ve set her up to be the person that Gordon failed. It’s not a stretch to imagine, years from now, that he might name his daughter “Barbara” to remind himself to always be there for her.
I still don’t know what to make of her reaction at the end. Has she given up? Is it like every not-very-funny person on Twitter thought and she’s misinterpreting it as a Fifty Shades thing? I can’t get my head around it.
Just going by the people who are still around when Batman becomes Batman, Barbara and Fish Mooney should watch their backs. Meanwhile, Sal Maroni will probably survive long enough to throw acid in Harvey Dent’s face. Though I feel like they’re really setting him up to die in the season finale. Look. I don’t know everything.
I’m really enjoying the Bruce and Selina stuff, despite my oft-repeated misgivings about having them meet as kids. But the new wrinkle gives us a whole new reason why Batman and Catwoman remain on opposite sides of the law. A thief can be redeemed in Batman’s eyes. A murderer can’t. And on of the most exciting things about this show for me has been young Bruce. There really isn’t a precedent for this stage in Bruce’s life, and he is increasingly seeming like somebody who’s going to grow up to be Batman.
Now, there’s a lot of history against him, but I was still shocked that Nygma killed Dougherty. There’s this part of me that thought he was going to avoid his fate and just be an awkward genius who wanted to help. I mean, my favorite take on the Riddler is the version from about eight years ago where he gave up crime to be “Edward Nygma, Consulting Detective” and he helped solve crimes mostly for selfish reasons. Still, I’m liking this version a lot and I am interested to see where it goes from here. Something tells me he’ll be good at covering his tracks.
Everything with Penguin is great, which we expect. I like that Maroni emphasizes how he can’t conceive of somebody stabbing a man over and over and then both Cobblepot and Nygma do just that. It’s a little bit of a Dark Knight callback where Joker was much more stabby than shooty. I like the way they equate stabbing with true evil – it’s a reverse of usual Batman lore where “Guns are a tool of the enemy”, but since the heroes of this show literally have to use guns as part of their job, they have to dial that back.
–And in this week’s Recommended Reading, it’s a rare Riddler appearance outside the Batman books. In The Question #26, the faceless crimefighter meets the Riddler for a philosophical clash. It’s one of the issues that puts forth the idea that Riddler’s real name is “Edward Nashton” and he made up his origin and the “E. Nygma” name. The Question is one of my favorite series of all time, and this is one of the best issues.
Two episodes to go, and it looks like things are going to get bonkers. Fish Mooney returns to Gotham, Penguin’s got a machine gun, the Ogre’s on a rampage, Falcone vs. Maroni, Bruce vs. Wayne Enterprises. It’s going to be fun and probably really upsetting. Can’t wait!