Gotham: 309 “The Executioner” Review
Reviewed by Charlie Pickard.
“It starts as a whisper. And then it grows louder and louder, till it becomes a roar. And just like that… you suddenly realise it’s your voice.”
Captain Barnes’ arc reached its natural conclusion in a very accomplished episode. While being a few strokes short of perfect, ‘The Executioner’ was a welcome return to form that succeeded in advancing and closing storylines. A triumvirate of tales set up the final two episodes before the mid-season break.
Barnes is now completely evil, listening to voices in his head that tell him to kill the three criminals at the beginning rather than bring them to trial. His character is the eponymous ‘Executioner’, an innovative twist for someone who once was so righteous. Following his battle with Jim Gordon, Barnes is captured by the GCPD and imprisoned based on faked evidence, courtesy of Lee. Her breaking of the law brought her on more amicable ground with Jim, but I fear her actions may come back to haunt her.
Michael Chiklis was excellent this week. I had a few qualms with his performance in the previous episode, namely that the role doesn’t allow him to demonstrate much range. That wasn’t a problem this time, however. Now that Barnes is truly unhinged, Chiklis was able to embrace the madness of the Captain.
The final scene reveals Barnes to be imprisoned in Arkham Asylum, uttering ‘Guilty’ to himself repeatedly. Such a prominent character turning insane shows that no-one is safe in Gotham. This was a brilliant cliff-hanger, as ever. Barnes thrived as the antagonist of the episode and hopefully will return eventually as a fully-fledged villain. There is a newfound darkness to the character that would be a shame not to explore further.
Ken Woodruff (Burn the Witch) was as skilful a writer as ever. He filled his script with rich themes and mature discussions about how far one can go when breaking the law in order to catch criminals. Gordon and Barnes served as counterpoints in this argument, with one being a former bounty hunter who nearly crossed the line, while the other has finally snapped and lost his mind. Tonally, ‘The Executioner’ was a very dark thriller, so Woodruff mixed in occasional moments of levity, displaying his natural flair for storytelling.
The Riddler’s story progressed considerably, with him realising that Isabella didn’t die in an accident but was in fact murdered. Cory Michael Smith was great here, portraying a more serious, vengeful side to Ed that wasn’t all smiles and laughs. You could almost find yourself rooting for him if he wasn’t evil, such is the amount of likeableness Smith imbues him with. When Riddler investigates the scene of Isabella’s death, Smith provides velvety voice work that creates a noir-style tone reminiscent of 1940s detective films. This shows the creative range Gotham is capable of when firing on all cylinders.
In contrast, the Penguin was detestable. He continues to manipulate the Riddler, providing a shoulder to cry on while he is grieving in the hope he will reciprocate his affection. His scheming pays off when Riddler thinks Butch has orchestrated Isabella’s murder. This was a welcome twist that benefitted Penguin, who thought Riddler knew he was the culprit. After laying low for a few weeks, it will be interesting to see Butch again when Riddler confronts him; he will potentially tell Riddler that Penguin killed Isabella. The duo will surely turn against each other by the mid-season finale and end their nefarious partnership.
Director John Behring, a stalwart of other DC shows such as Arrow, provided his usual compact style. He framed the action expertly, using an array of medium shots to showcase what was happening; as well as creating a fluid motion throughout the episode as his shots calmly interwove into each other. There may not be a sense of spectacle to Behring’s camerawork, nor any standout images of beauty, but he is adept at making a vibrant, fast-paced episode with a rollicking sense of fun.
Ivy finally returns this week and links up with Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. The trio find themselves chased by assassins (who could perhaps be working for the Court of Owls) when Ivy steals a necklace from an antiquities dealer. The assassins learn that Bruce has been helping Ivy, so will probably attack Wayne Manor next. More interesting is the key inside the necklace – why are they going to such lengths to get it? Is it connected to Jim Gordon’s father?
It’s strange that even though Ivy is still a young girl mentally, she is capable of seducing men because she has aged physically. This is fine with the comic-book character, a woman who has aged normally, but the way Gotham impatiently aged her creates a feeling of unease. If Ivy were to do anything mature while still being a young girl mentally, there would be a lot of controversy. The casting of Maggie Geha as the seductress typifies the objectification of women in Gotham: why does Ivy have no defining traits other than her sexuality?
Perhaps it would have been best for the writers to do a time jump in between seasons and then recast the young characters with older actors. This would have reduced the long wait we have for actors such as Mazouz to slowly grow older over the years. In a show such as Smallvillle, which ran for ten seasons, this wouldn’t be a problem; but Gotham may not reach that landmark, as the ratings have fallen over the past couple of years. A fresh injection of new actors and older characters could be just what the show needs for Season Four.
This episode was very strong, merging terrific writing, directing and acting (from Michael Chiklis in particular). A taut focus on the downfall of Barnes and the duping of the Riddler exemplified a well-balanced narrative. With Barnes incarcerated, the return of Butch will provide the next bout of drama for the citizens of Gotham.