If last week’s show served to set the finale’s stage, this one ensures it will be a bloody, rocky ride to the finish line. I have found that the episodes that hold my attention the most are the ones involving more characters, and this episode contained at least five story arcs. So let’s dive right in.
This episode, for starters, marked the return of Barbara, who has been AWOL for the past several weeks. Here, she becomes the Ogre’s new crush. While this new dark, vampy Barbara is more interesting than her original personality, which was as intriguing as drying paint, it still carries with it the same issues I’ve always had with her character: she doesn’t really do anything other than chew scenery.
Granted, not every character can be the center of attention all the time, but where exactly did Angry Barbara come from? Was it from being spurned by Jim Gordon and seeing him kiss Leslie? Maybe – but that doesn’t seem like that would be strong enough to cause her to do a complete 180; and if so, then Barbara is way more immature than I thought.
Likewise, Barbara tells the Ogre that if he found out what she was really like, he’d run away screaming. But why? What exactly has Barbara done that was so hideously awful? I mean, being a milquetoast isn’t all that bad.
Thus, my biggest problem with Barbara is that she’s vapid and has no clear motivations. She simply changes her personality as swiftly as her wardrobe without any defining catalyst or logical reason. From the start, she was annoyingly timid but now she’s annoyingly reckless. This isn’t the same as having, say, a cowardly character suddenly turn brave – there just has to be an obvious progression to that point. I don’t feel like her character has been given enough screen time to do that, so Barbara’s change is head-scratching and makes me feel like I missed something. (And I might have.) Plus, she’s just not likable and can be a catty jerk. But bless Jim Gordon’s soul for caring enough about Barbara to not want to see her harmed. At least one person in that relationship acts like a grown up.
Moving on to Ed Nygma, whose development this season has been anything but meteoric, but that’s actually a good thing as it’s given us time to get acquainted with the future Riddler and determine what sort of person he is and what drives him. Based on what we’ve seen so far (excluding this episode for a moment), he’s an eccentric young man who’s clever and intelligent but definitely not the life of the party at the GCPD. He’s been more of a background figure, sometimes with nary a word spoken in an episode, or he provides the occasional dose of comic relief. But Ed wants to be respected and appreciated for his genius, so during this season’s back half, he’s been coming into the foreground. And in this episode, Nygma proves his character is no longer a dark horse.
It’s been no secret that Ed has a crush on Kristen Kringle, who maintains the records room. But, try as he might, she’s just not into him. Nygma has seemed reluctantly content to take this all in stride until he uncovers evidence that Kristen’s new police beau is abusing her. So, Nygma deserves a rousing round of applause for calling him out and declaring that his actions are wrong.
His motives must be called into question here. On one hand, it seems he was trying to protect Kristen, albeit it leads him to murder. On the other hand, one could say that Nygma was driven by a certain obsession with Kristen and killed her abusive boyfriend to remove the competition. Personally, I lean towards a mixture of both motives: Nygma obviously cares for Kristen and doesn’t want to see her come to harm, but his actions towards her (if this was a real workplace) would be borderline harassment. I mean, exactly how flattered would you be if someone you worked with handed you a cupcake garnished with a bullet? Me, I’d be pretty freaked out. Though it’s important to note that Nygma’s actions towards Kristen were never with malicious intent – just geeky awkwardness.
In any case, the dying officer’s final proclamation of called Ed the “Riddle Man” and the torn look of horror and restrained glee on Nygma’s face were a perfect way to catapult his character from a background figure into a potentially major player. And kudos to Cory Michael Smith for having seriously wicked fun with this character as this episode showcased some of his best acting thus far.
Another interesting arc is the budding relationship between Bruce and Selina. While I like the fact it’s not been a saccharine “romance” (as these characters are, after all, minors), I do like some of the wink-wink moments the season has delivered. Such as when Alfred drops a comment about noticing Selina’s like for leather. (Can you say Easter egg?)
I’ve already expressed my appreciation for this pairing many times, so I won’t repeat myself here. But sometimes the best match-ups are the ones with two dissimilar characters. And you can’t get more dissimilar than Bruce, who plays by the rules, and Selina, who tosses civility and worthless punks right out the window. As Bruce tells her, “There is a line and I will never cross it,” meaning he’ll do his darndest to not fight fire with fire, so to speak. But Selina avows that she would cross that line every time if given the chance. To me, her actions are more about survival as opposed to cold-blooded murder or thievery. While that doesn’t put a stamp of approval on stealing or killing, it does provide a better backdrop for her character’s morality. Contrary to what Selina might think, she does live by an ethical code: it’s not as stringent as Bruce’s, but it does prevent her from going all serial killer on us.
Speaking of serial killers, I have to say that, at first, I thought this whole Ogre plot would be a dud. But I’m actually digging how this is going, especially in terms of this character’s development. In this episode, we’re given a glimpse as to why the Ogre seduces and kills women all in the name of “love.” Apparently, he had a fantasy childhood where his adoptive mother concocted some crazy story about how he was this super-special, beloved rich kid when in reality he was a deformed child who was probably just your average boy.
In truth, she didn’t love him. Before she died, she confessed the sham; thus, the Ogre learned that women can’t be trusted and unconditional love is a lie. Neither assumption is true, of course, but those are the untruths he has believed. In order to redeem himself, so to speak, the Ogre had plastic surgery to fix his face so he has the perfect weapon for snagging more women so he can put them in their place. But even though the Ogre tries to be suave and puts on a good front, his attempts to repair his outside can’t fix what’s wrong on the inside as “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt” (Jeremiah 17:9).
That brings me to say one thing about the villains, collectively, this season – most of them (with a few exceptions) are not cardboard cutouts. They are not just bad because they’re supposed to be – they possess depth and a sense of realism as past or present circumstances helped make them the way they are. This holds true for the canon villains, such as Penguin and Riddler, as well as newcomers like the Ogre. Something has happened to them that was bad, but when given the choice as to how to respond, they react in a less than scrupulous fashion. This creates a better villain in that it humanizes them as it’s their choices that determine how far down the rabbit hole of badness they fall, not the fact that they tout the villain label alone.
The last plot arc focused on Oswald’s scheme to eliminate Maroni, which gets even thornier when Maroni shows up at his club and starts making nice with Gertrude, Oswald’s mother. Obviously, his ploy is to get under Oswald’s skin by attacking Oswald’s character (or lack thereof) in front of his mom.
Naturally, Gertrude thinks her son is the greatest and believes he’s a cut above the rest. In a blink-or-miss-it moment, she explains to Maroni that the reason no other kids wanted to play with Oswald when he was growing up was that he thought he was too good for them. (Sometimes I think Gertrude really needs her rose-colored glasses checked.) Maroni, however, doesn’t buy her over-the-top compliments about her son nor does he care. He knows the truth about Oswald’s character and uses that to mentally (and physically) torment Gertrude. The further Maroni pushes with his questioning of how well she really knows her son, the more she breaks. In the end, she’s left unharmed but embedded with doubts about what Oswald is really up to.
In my character study where I compared Oswald Cobblepot to Scarface‘s Tony Montana, I explored the relationship of each character to his mom. While Tony’s mother quickly suspected her son was up to no good, Gertrude has been trying to hope the best about Oswald. Now she’s starting to have doubts. Their confrontation at the end was an emotionally charged scene and I sense this tiny rift between her and Oswald will have damaging consequences. She no longer seems quick to believe that he is “just a nightclub owner” though she doesn’t denounce him as vehemently as Mrs. Montana does to Tony.
In the end, Oswald makes a split-second decision to either tell the truth or lie and insist he’s a nightclub owner, nothing more. I have to hand it to Robin Lord Taylor as he makes this decision look genuinely tough. For a moment, I wondered if Oswald, in his distraught state, just might tell the truth this time; but in true Penguin fashion, he refrains and tells a half-truth instead. In my Oswald/Tony post, I explored some theories as to why Oswald keeps his mother in the dark. The first is that he fears losing his mother’s support as she is his one and only ally (Jim Gordon notwithstanding). The other reason may be to protect her, as the more she knows, the bigger of a target she becomes. We saw evidence of that here where Maroni ponders if Gertrude’s ignorance is all an act. When she proves it isn’t, he leaves her be. But imagine what might have happened if it was an act and she really did know about her son’s dealings? Oswald isn’t stupid, so I think he would prefer to wear the target. Whatever his reason, this makes for some awesome character dynamic and newly-forged tension between mother and son; so it will be interesting to see how long Gertrude remains in the dark before she sees the truth for herself or how far she might go to see exactly how honest Oswald is being with her. I’ll give her credit for this – Gertrude might be a delusional mom who thinks her son can do no wrong but she’s far from being a dunderhead.
Along these lines, an interesting theme that I picked up throughout this episode was protecting the ones you love. This was witnessed in different scenarios and in varying degrees: Jim strives to ensure Leslie is safe from the Ogre’s clutches as well as hoping to keep Barbara out of them (though she seems eager to jump right in); Oswald uses lies to protect his mother from his enemies and his personal dealings; and Ed protects Kristen by killing her good-for-nothing abuser. Thus, one take-away message is that the people you love are worth protecting at any cost, though every action and reaction have a consequence (which we might see in future episodes, either now or in next season).
In closing, and in all seriousness, I want to add a special thanks to the “Gotham” writers for shedding a tiny bit of light on domestic abuse. In an age where 50 Shades of Gray and other seemingly pro-intimate partner violence media have assumed a place outside the backwaters of popular culture, there are mixed messages floating about that abusive actions in “romantic” relationships are okay, even “sexy.” But in this episode, as brief and maybe as unintended as it was, Ed Nygma takes a stand in declaring Kristen’s boyfriend’s treatment of her as not deserved nor an expression of “love.” Though Nygma’s ultimate actions go to the extreme for the sake of drama, I appreciated the fact that domestic abuse is not a joke in Gotham.
Until later, fellow Gothamites!