I’m convinced the Gotham writing staff is playing some kind of contest to come up with the most baffling character names possible. This week: our menacing corporate villain, who may just be responsible for the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne… Sid Bunderslaw (Michael Potts).
(And yes, the name Bunderslaw was spoken- well, screamed, by Reg- last week, but we first see the guy in “Under the Knife” and Bruce can’t go thirty seconds without launching his name out there. Also, no, there have been no “Bunderslaw’s” in DC Comicdom. This is all Gotham).
Sid. Bunderslaw. Not a name anyone can, or ever will say and be taken seriously. If Bunderslaw actually put out the hit on young Brucie’s parents, it’s going to be the funniest damn thing ever. Can you imagine an adult Batman saying that word? Christian Bale barking out a BUNDERSLAW in his I-chew-gravel Batman voice? Incredible.
Yet there’s more to Gotham’s latest hour than just those sweet syllables. “Under the Knife” is one of those impossible-to-predict Gotham upswings, when the series goes from being a drag to being impossibly, unpredictably exciting. They always seem to happen when I feel like I’m going to hit a Gotham breaking point.
“Under the Knife” is a straight-up continuation from everything we saw last week- the Ogre case, Nygma’s quest to win Ms. Kringle’s heart, Penguin’s quest to ice Sal Maroni, Bruce and Selina’s quest for the elusive (*snicker*) Bunderslaw. In some cases, it even draws those arcs into the same room (the Wayne Enterprises charity ball) and lets them ping off each other, just the slightest bit. Such a well-plotted episode. And no Fish Mooney, which at this point I’m considering a very solid mark in the “win” column.
Let’s start with the Ogre. We’re introducing two very large question marks into the Ogre’s life. The first: backstory. Gotham plays its sinewy, cobwebbed gothic card to give the Ogre a suitably traumatic past. He has, as all good serial killers should, mommy issues (the Ogre is quickly forming into some kind of Norman Bates/Christian Grey hybrid). Deluded into thinking he was the son of a wealthy heiress, Constance Von Groot (clearly another product of that name-contest. Can you picture anything but a ten-foot tree in a shawl and a greying wig?) until the wool was yanked from his eyes so hard he snapped, murdered Mrs. Von Groot and spent a decade taking his mommy issues out on innocent women.
There’s also the Ogre’s fungus-y, callous-y facial deformity, which finally explains why he was named after a character who looks like a veiny thumb with fangs. Of course, how would the GCPD know to nickname him the Ogre if no one ever knew he used to be deformed? Makes no sense, but this is Gotham, people. Remember the spoon-eye-gouge? (also included on the list of wait, what? this week: Bullock not noticing the smell of a decaying corpse as soon as he walked into that room, Gordon and Bullock casually jogging towards the Von Groot butler as he dangling from a noose).
And of course, Barbara. Gotham gave us as close to zero inklings as possible that Gordon’s ex was secretly a supervillain at heart, and all it took to free the beast within her was a meet-cute with a psycho killer. But it happened. Also, it’s amazing. Partly because who could have seen this coming? and partly because Evil Barbara is entirely Gotham’s invention. The only Barbara Keans anyone’s known before now are disposable background characters. Who could have seen it coming?
Barb wasn’t much more than a name and a face before “Batman: Year One” (the Frank Miller/David Mazzucchelli comic that Gotham liberally samples from). Sporadic appearances, just to prove that Jim Gordon has a wife. When Miller and Mazzucchelli came around, they finally gave her something to do.
Well, not really. In “Year One,” Gordon cheats on Barbara with another detective, Sarah Essen. Barb decides to stay with him. That’s it. Future comic appearances show Barb leaving Gordon, coming back, leaving. At one point, implied to be dead. This is kind of her schtick. Although at one point, in the story arc “Skeleton Cases,” (“Detective Comics 871–872, 874–875”), James Gordon Jr. returns to Gotham City and begins a reign of terror (also: James Jr.’s a psycho killer). Eventually, he mutilates Barb using the Joker’s M.O., to try and draw attention away from himself. Although, when the DC comic universe rebooted with the New 52 in 2011, Barb was kidnapped and tortured by the real Joker, too.
You get the idea: Barbara Kean’s comic history is as a whipping post or, if she’s lucky, window dressing. Her best incarnation was probably The Dark Knight’s Barb, who at least had the good sense to take the kids and leave after that whole incident where Gordon faked his death and Two-Face nearly executed their son. For once, Gotham is giving her a platform to stand up for herself. With supervillainy and killing, of course, but you can’t deny this is the most interesting Barbara Kean has ever been.
She’s not the only one taking the leap into full-fledged supervillainy. Finally, after a season of being that weird guy who’s probably a little too into corpses (also, riddles), Ed Nygma graduates to the next step: doing something truly, legitimately evil. This is Gotham at the top of its game. Genuinely unnerving, when that shrieking metal of the knife blends into the shriek from the train tracks above. And somehow, still worth a stupid giggle, when Kristina Kringle’s boyfriend Tom dies with his favorite phrase on his lips: “Riddle Man.” Poor Tom. Abuser, sure. Jackass, definitely. But with “Riddle Man,” that wink-and-click, the way he says “girly fit” and about a thousand other reasons, he was such a perfect font of bizarre humor.
Penguin, too, is getting a supervillain upgrade (kind of a theme here, which makes sense with only two Gothams left this season). His plan to take down Maroni is surprisingly terrible, as far as Penguin schemes go. Doesn’t Penguin pull quadruple-crosses on the regular? Here, he just walks up to the best stab’n’shooter in town and asks him to kill Maroni. After all the trouble he went through to secure that bar last week, you’d think it would factor in somehow. Nope. He just hired a hit man. In his original bar.
Not surprising, then, that Maroni one-ups him in every way possible. Still, you’d have to think- doesn’t Maroni know Penguin is only hanging onto his sanity by a few scraps? And making a pass at Penguin’s mom, then ruining him in her eyes is a one-way ticket to crazy town? But again, this is Gotham. And we’re back to the rabid Penguin from the very first episodes, who just went around stabbing people with little real reason to do so. This is a major plus (also, given the shelf life of a character like Maroni and a character like Penguin, it spells almost certain doom for that old Italian stereotype).
I’m almost hesitant to jinx Gotham’s last two episodes by praising this one too much, because hoping for too many good Gothams in a row clearly sends this extremely temperamental series into a tailspin. So I’ll just say this: “Under the Knife” was a blast to watch. And I would be perfectly fine if the series let Fish Mooney’s storyline end where it currently stands. Fish was shot! Her helicopter is crashing! Is she ok? *shrugs*