Tonight’s Gotham tellingly confirms the show’s latent sexism while trying to address those same lady problems. “All Happy Families Are Alike” feels simultaneously conflicted and perfunctory in that sense, and not just with regard to wrapping up Barbara Kean’s and Fish Mooney’s respective stories. The big mob boss showdown that has been looming on the show’s horizon for months now is finally here, and it’s majorly anti-climactic. This again is partly because of Gotham’s trick central conceit: watch an alternative origin story for Bruce Wayne, and the people who will later define his double-life as Batman. Viewers go into tonight’s episode knowing that certain characters must survive, like Oswald Cobblepot and Edwardd Nygma. But everything tonight, from Nygma’s trite, schizophrenic monologue to Mooney’s sudden return, suggests that the show’s creators — particularly series creator/episode writer Bruno Heller and regular series director Danny Cannon — ran out of gas several episodes ago
Mooney’s revenge is a prime example of this. She returns to Gotham by night and quickly raises an army of hobos like Selina Kyle. Now, in an ideal world, this temporary allegiance wouldn’t smack of creative indecision. After all, Kyle and Mooney’s instantaneous partnership makes sense in light of how Kyle and Mooney have previously been presented. But if you start to think about these characters, the flimsy nature of tonight’s drama becomes that much more apparent.
Okay, so: Mooney is a leader, and Kyle is suspicious of most authority figures. But wait a minute: Mooney is approaching Kyle as an authority figure. And Mooney’s claim to leadership ultimately ended in her using inmates at an island prison as a distraction to cover up her own escape attempt. Granted, this last point shouldn’t matter in a situation where desperate people are being instantly recruited. But none of Mooney’s previous speeches were effective or especially memorable. So for viewers at home, Mooney’s skills as a motivational speaker are suspect, to say the least. And Jada Pinkett-Smith’s performance is still grating, especially when she hisses a line as ridiculous as “What did you do to that poor soul, you sadist?” (more on this in a moment). Never mind that Mooney’s gut-wound and stolen helicopter are simply not addressed. What rankles here is that Kyle bumps into Mooney and teams up with her because she thinks holding a gun for a lady-boss is the “coolest gig ever.”
Viewers are meant to understand characters’ motives based on previous personality traits/flaws. But Heller doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt anymore given how slapdash season one has been. To be fair: Kyle’s betrayal of Jim Gordon makes sense, and if you squint, you might be able to make sense of her affinity for Mooney. She was, after all, previously drawn to Kean, another character who hates being ignored by the men of Gotham, and is now out for blood. That would be an interesting thematic clothesline if mommy issues, and the brutalization of women, had not routinely been used to uncritically establish the weak nature of the show’s male characters. Heller wants us to think that female empowerment is a material sign of Gotham City’s changing times, but he doesn’t make a convincing case since Kean goes crazy, and Mooney gets dropped from a tall building. Only Kyle is left standing, and she has to be because Gotham needs its Catwoman.
Realistically, the sudden empowerment of supporting characters like Mooney and Kean wouldn’t be so bad if events that affected relatively major characters didn’t feel so rushed. Butch squirms when Mooney returns, but it’s unclear why since he’s never shown hesitation or inner conflict when it comes to serving Cobblepot. And Cobblepot doesn’t challenge Gordon when Gordon refuses to let Cobblepot torture Carmine Falcone, who, as Gordon says three times in tonight’s episode, is apparently the least troublesome mob boss since he keeps the city’s balance. That notion of Falcone as Gordon’s best bet seems to come out of nowhere. The “shooting war” that Essen alludes to just started last week, and Falcone’s regime is the one that initially spurred Gordon on to lead a war on crime. But apparently, when push comes to shove, shaky alliances have to be formed, even if they are completely unconvincing.
I focus on the inconsistent characterizations and rushed plot points that mar tonight’s episodes because they are, more than anything, what’s holding Gotham back from being a consistently enjoyable show. This is a show that seems to have been designed by committee, as we see in the scene where Butch shoots both Mooney and Cobblepot. This sequence has a cartoony, light touch to it, which should theoretically make it endearing. But if you stop and think about this scene in context, you realize that Butch’s actions don’t make sense, and that just brings us back to raving and/or nitpicking.
Gotham isn’t immediately involving enough to get away with its myriad creative inconsistencies. Nygma’s story is a prime example of this. Actor Cory Michael Smith deserves a better role — the one he’s stuck with really stinks. It’s hard to watch Kristen Kringle approach Nygma with tentative warmth because the events she’s responding to don’t warrant that kind of reaction. Put yourself in her shoes for a moment: After learning that your abusive boyfriend has left you, you discover that the note he’s given you implicates a painfully awkward rival suitor. You can either be flattered or run away screaming. Kringle goes with the former option, though it is, as usual, hard to tell what she’s feeling since she exists only to spur Nygma on to become the villain we all know him as. Not only do Kringle’s actions not make sense, but any chemistry or attraction she has with Smith is negligible.
Then Nygma goes crazy, berating himself for his inadequacies as if he were a garden-variety, testosterone-crazed psychopath. Gotham’s not only unambitious, it’s also really bad at nailing its most banal characterization. Heller and Cannon have a lot of work to do if this show’s going to go anywhere in its second season.
- Don Maroni: “Don’t call her babe, or toots. It’s a woman’s lib thing.” I can’t recall, but this seems to be a new wrinkle in Maroni’s character. Since when is he a sexist? This strikes me as a fan wank of a character trait since you could rationalize it if you thought enough about it (he’s from the old-school mob, is an entitled brat, etc.).
- Carmine Falcone: “The knife is a good friend when you have no others.” Is Heller even trying to make sense anymore?
- Is it just me or did the clues that Bruce followed to the Bat-Cave seem like they were fresh out of National Treasure? “It’s in this room! Room … rooms have rugs. Rugs have … have … furniture! Furniture with books! Bookshelves. Bookshelves have … books! God, I’m so blind not to see that … blind … none so blind! Marcus Aurelius! To the Bat-Cave, Alfred.”
- Gordon: “He’s a bad man, but he’s the best bad man we’ve got.” I wish I didn’t feel like that was also the best bad line this episode had …
- I did however enjoy hearing Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Knights” used when Bruce stumbles upon the Bat-Cave. That was fun.