Sunday, 12 July 2015

Gotham Episode 22 ‘All Happy Families are Alike’ Review

With gang war tearing apart the streets of Gotham City, Gordon finds himself desperately trying to hold the city together against ever increasing odds. Meanwhile Dr Thompkins is trying to council Barbara after her ordeal with the Ogre, but is her grief everything it appears to be? Away from the chaos of the city, Bruce tears apart his father’s office in search of the secret he took to the grave.

So this episode of ‘Gotham’ is a mixture of the best and worst the show has been so far. On one hand we have the excellent gang war, which pits the various crime bosses in direct combat and on the other we have the somewhat boring conversation scenes with Barbara and Dr Thompkins.

To start with the good points, the gang war is brilliantly handled. The return of Mooney brings a bit of the old ‘Gotham’ energy back to the show. Maroni, Falcone, Penguin and Fish are all brilliantly played and to have them share scenes is great. During the chaos of their meeting various factions take their turn at the top and it is genuinely unclear who will become the king of Gotham, well at least until the end. We have a fight scene to the death between Penguin and Fish, but with Fish being a show created villain and with The Penguin being The Penguin, it is pretty clear who will come out on top.

"King of Gotham"?...More like EMPEROR.....amiright?
A little bit more time would have been nice to establish the actual chaos in the city but letting the cast work their magic is certainly not something I would want to cut down. If only more of the episode could have been spent with the gang war and not with the Jim Gordon fan club coffee morning…

The scenes with Barbara and Leslie do not work that well. ‘Gotham’ has an issue, well it has a lot, but it particularly has an issue with dramatic irony. With dramatic irony the audience is made aware of a situation that the characters of the show are unaware of, this helps to build tension. ‘Gotham’ creates these situations but completely forgets that they should be building tension. For example, Barbara asks Dr Thompkins for private counselling but we as the audience assume this is to break her and Gordon up. Therefore we approach her mind games with Thompkins with relatively low stakes.
As it is later revealed, she was using the meeting as an opportunity to kill Thompkins. 

We did not know that until the final moment, so no tension was built, no pay off prepared. If we had known Barbara’s plan from the start these scenes would have added a lot to the episode. They would have been a nice parallel with the situation in Gotham with the gang tension waiting to boil over. These scenes feel slow and low stakes when they could have been very tense. It’s particularly weird because the reveal that Barbara is insane should have been shocking. As it was we established that she had gone crazy, just not how crazy, so it really felt anti-climactic.

Got that audition for 'The Cable Guy 2' in the bag!
The rest of the episode is mostly spent with Bruce searching his father’s office for the Batcave. Again ‘Gotham’ acts as if nobody watching knows anything about Batman so they act like the reveal will be surprising. In some ways this fresh attitude is a strength as they are willing to do new things with the characters but on the other we know The Penguin won’t die and we know that The Batcave is going to be hidden in that office.

What’s left of the episode is spent with Nygma as he goes even more insane. These scenes play out like a student psycho drama, complete with echoing voices and video to show insanity... Oh man, is it possible that the Riddler may become the Riddler? Wow!

So does ‘Gotham’ season 1 end on a bang or a whimper? Well both really. ‘All Happy Families are Alike’ may be the end for ‘Gotham’ creatively. The original pitch of a show focussing on the crime families of Gotham City is done and buried. From now on the city is being run by The Penguin and Season 2 is promising a whole load of new heroes and villains...

Whatever the future may bring to ‘Gotham’ this episode was really entertaining. It had some moments that didn’t work so well but those that did, such as the John Woo-esque hospital shootout, worked really well. I really hope that for season 2 they don’t turn the show into a psycho of the week crime procedural but I don’t hold out much hope. I have felt increasingly during this season that the good moments focussing on characters and intrigue were created accidentally while attempting to make a PG 13 version of the Adam West 1960’s Batman show. Hopefully with time to prepare the second season will avoid some of these creative pitfalls and at least retain part of what made the original pitch so interesting…. yeah I don’t think it will either but I intend to keep watching so it must be doing something right!

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