Thursday, September 7, 2017

Gotham: These Delicate and Dark Obsessions Review


These Delicate and Dark Obsessions is the directorial debut of Gotham star Ben McKenzie.  By and large, whenever an actor decides to 'direct' an episode we get many visual flourishes and little quality.  While this episode does not showcase McKenzie as an auteur, it does show he is shrewd enough not to wander too far from Gotham's formula, even if it is to its detriment.

Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) is BACK, and most definitely with a vengeance.  He wants to get back at all his enemies, so he gets his loyal aide-de-camp Gabe (Alex Corrado) to bring some men to begin his army.  Ivy Pepper (Maggie Geha) who has saved him and seems to have a soft spot for Pengy, insists something is amiss.  Penguin refuses to listen, and for once he comes across as flat-out stupid.  Gabe is not on his side, and now has taken Penguin but won't kill him right away.  Instead, he wants to auction him off to the highest bidder.

Penguin, in turns enraged and hurt, doesn't know how he'll get out of this.  Enter Ivy, who uses her herbal skills to get one of Gabe's henchmen to her side, and promptly Penguin kills them save for Gabe.  Pengy, he's a softy.

However, he learns thanks to Ivy's truth perfume that Gabe doesn't respect Penguin.  He now isn't even afraid of him, even though it was fear and not respect that kept people by Pengy's side.  Enraged, Oswald kills him in a fit of fury, later admitting that maybe he went overboard in his reaction.  As upset as he is about this, Ivy comes up with a better idea: an army of freaks, and she knows whom to find.

Meanwhile, Detective Jim Gordon (McKenzie) is still working to find what the Court of Owls is up to, and that means unfortunately calling on help from his ex, Barbara Kean aka Bonkers Babs (Erin Richards), who is now Queen of the Criminal Underworld.  Using her connections, she goes to the docks to find what is being brought in to Dock 9-C, and she and Tabitha (Jessica Lucas) come close, until a ninja assassin comes at them.

There is something there, something from Indian Hill, which can't be good.  Gordon also has to deal with his Uncle Frank (James Remar), who is playing a dangerous game with the Court.  Which side will Frank and Jim go to, and will the Court ever be none the wiser?

Finally, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) continues his strange esoteric training with 'The Shaman' (Raymond J. Barry), who continues to guide Bruce beyond his fears while speaking in gobbledygook.

These Delicate and Dark Obsessions has a major focus the story of Penguin, or at least that was the part I thought worked best.  I think it helps when you have RLT playing it.  I don't think Penguin could have been better cast as Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, aka Pengy.  He makes Penguin in turns sympathetic and brutal, someone you want to take care of and someone you're terrified of.

Whether he's being a jerk to Ivy, who is being perfectly sensible, even pleasant, or murdering in uncontrolled wrath and fury, Taylor never hits a wrong note (and in last week's episode, never hits a wrong note musically either).  He's frightening and fierce, but also oddly endearing.

Meha too has done wonders with the revamped Ivy Pepper, who lets the little girl she is slip through the vixen she appears to be.  She's clever with the plants, but she also has an exuberance that is also endearing.

Speaking of vamps, Richards is so delightfully wicked as Barbara, so much better and beloved than when she was the blank, boring girlfriend to Gordon.  Her scenes, whether aware she is being asked for a favor or torturing the dock worker, show off the evil and delight she takes from it.  Fortunately, Richards (and McKenzie here) never let her be so over-the-top that she loses her actually rational planning and plotting.

There were aspects I wasn't thrilled about.  While the Wayne subplot worked well, I do tire of shamans and gurus speaking in what I call 'Wisdom-speak', all these rather grand esoteric phrases that at times sound almost daft.

Then comes the violence.  I congratulate McKenzie for having some wonderful visual moments and not going overboard (no spinning cameras as is the want of many a first-time actor/director).  However, the beheading of the dock worker was simply way too graphic. It veers dangerously close to an ISIS video in my view.  Violence, especially the graphic nature of it, has always been an issue between Gotham and myself, and while McKenzie at least wasn't graphic with Uncle Frank's end other parts went too far or up to the line.

Penguin's offing of Gabe wasn't too bad, leaving more to the imagination though not by much.  However, the beheading was simply way too much, up there with the man literally exploding.  That, granted, might never be topped or equaled (and I don't want it to be topped or equaled).  I just was pretty shocked at seeing his neck sliced and then his head roll off.

Not good, Ben.  Not good.

McKenzie proved himself a competent director, though to by fair I think the production staff wasn't going to let him go very far in what he could do.  I trust the actors to do their job and they did it remarkably well.  I wish he had taken the opportunity to be more subtle about the violence on Gotham.  Apart from that, These Delicate and Dark Obsessions sets things up for more thrills on what has been a most excellent season.


Next Episode: The Primal Riddle

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