An Uneven Close
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Gotham from its inception was going to be an inherently difficult task to accomplish and unfortunately that ideal was the one that the show lived up to the most. The title is in reference to a famed Leo Tolstoy quote from Anna Karenina that has become a principle in and of itself: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” There’s a profound meta-truth to that as it stands that can be and has been applied from literature to arithmetic to life itself. Gotham tries to tackle that phrase throughout the script from show runner Bruno Heller that largely fails to do Tolstoy’s majesty justice. Everyone on Gotham, I’ll give them this, is similar in the sense that they are all miserable and desperate in their own way. Fish Mooney is struggling to keep anything of her non-existent empire alive. Cobblepot manages to survive (as we know he does), but that doesn’t mitigate the extremities of his circumstances. Gordon is still reeling from the misery of his job and how his boss is still trying to get rid of him in the most permanent manner possible. Bruce is desperate to find some semblance of evidence that he could use against the Wayne Board of Enterprises, finding that his father was well aware of how corrupt that body is. Selena in desperation latches onto Fish, only to find that that doesn’t pay as many dividends as she thought it would. Dr. Leslie Thompkins finds herself saddled with the misery of Barbara, who remains as impressive as ever.
Perhaps the strongest application of Tolstoy’s thematic quote from his epic novel is in relation to the best storyline from the entirety of Gotham so far that never got the screen time it deserved. The underground aspect of Gotham’s universe has always been the most intricately crafted, but the entirety of it this week fails to capture the intensity required from it to truly function. Thematically, all of the pieces were present for the narrative to make its mark. If you look at each mobster and their respective henchmen and women as a family, the title works. Each of the mob families are alike in their dissatisfaction with their hierarchical stratification in the Gotham underworld and each is doing their best to topple those above and keep the ones below at bay. The inherent problem that Gotham has been struggling with all season in regards to its mobsters is that while individual sequences hit the mark and can be visceral and entertaining in and of themselves, they rarely add up to anything cohesive. For example, the entirety of the mob war, especially the obvious death of Maroni and the implied death of Fish, simply doesn’t have the emotional stakes necessary for involvement because the show has never put in the time and effort to make it work to begin with.
Fish being marooned on the Dollmaker’s island was fun at its initial stage but almost instantaneously became deafening. She had been missing from Gotham’s inner workings for so long that when she made her final stand of sorts this hour, it all seemed to happen within the span of twenty minutes and was underwhelming on a character level. The stakes were so low that even when Mooney was pointing her gun at Maroni’s face, you could easily have paused the episode for a bathroom break and then come back a few minutes later and not really be panicking that you’re losing out on the momentum. Gotham it seems was constructed less with the idea of season-long arcs than it was with going from episode to episode while incorporating every single character from the Batman mythos possible, regardless of whether or not they belonged there. That haphazard methodology of telling a story harmed Gotham significantly and it shows excruciatingly in the finale when the script attempts to wrap up several storylines in what resembles a cohesive fashion. There’s nothing wrong with last-minute inspirations, but when it feels like that most of your storylines were picked out of a lottery bucket, it simply doesn’t work. That lack of logical construction with time consideration hurts almost every storyline, now that I think about it.
All Happy Families Are Alike is a good finale, even if it exposes basically everything wrong with the show in a forty-five minute timespan that nevertheless feels simultaneously way too short and way too long. At the end of it, perhaps the most consequential plot development was Cobblepot’s rise to declaring himself the new King of Gotham but even that happened because Falcone inexplicably decided to “retire” and use his 401K. I’m joking about the last part, but that quick development simply didn’t make any sense and Falcone got reduced to a plot device that had to be removed to make way for the Penguin’s rise. But for all of its faults (and there are so many), there are a couple of things Gotham got right. The Wayne Enterprises developments never got the attention they deserved and needed, but I would be lying if I didn’t find them to be imminently intriguing. The art direction and production design is simply sublime and the world of Gotham has almost always felt germane and lived in, unlike a good majority of its characters. The score has improved and the cinematography is largely haunting, like the realization of twenty hours or so I spent on this season. I’m moving Gotham to the “end” section of the reviews for now and if season two is miles and kilometers better than what it is now (like having good writing), I’ll give it another shot, but frankly it doesn’t seem likely at all. Until then, thank you for your patience and sharing this broken road of a journey with me.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Fish, you mysterious, crazy, gorgeous, killer, you. I love ya.”
+“Please don’t call me ‘babes’.”
+I’m going to miss Jada Pinkett-Smith’s performance, even if the writing for her character was just awful.
+Nygma/Riddler’s duel personalities was fairly decently executed
+/-“Cat got your tongue?”
-Falcone: “You’re going to burn in Hell.”; Oswald: “I do worry about that. But you first, old friend. You first.”
-Jim: “You’re a disgrace, Loeb. I hope to see you behind bars very soon. Or dead. Whichever.”; Loeb: “Hope. It’s for losers… Jim.”
-The subplot with Dr. Thompkins and Barbara is one of the dumbest, misogynistic pieces of crap I have ever seen on screen. You know, because women always need to just talk about the men in their lives because they couldn’t possibly have lives of their own.
Title: All Happy Families Are Alike
Written By: Bruno Heller
Directed By: Danny Cannon
Image Courtesy: FOX