For starters, let’s take a look at the changes for the GCPD, which are sure to have their fair share of ramifications. This episode introduces us to Captain Barnes, played by Michael Chiklis (who is probably most known for his work on The Shield, so he seems right at home here). While I like his character – and his no-nonsense attitude – I fear he will become the tough cop trope if he doesn’t expand past these borders. I did admire his character’s purging of the GCPD though as his sentiments echo the ideas of Aristotle who taught that it’s okay to get angry. In fact, there are situations where righteous anger is necessary, and Barnes identifies that here. He shames the officers, telling them that anyone who isn’t embarrassed and angry about the Maniax’s attack on the GCPD should just resign. One thing I will say – he’s no lily-livered sissy and that’s always an admirable trait in a character.
To help clean up the city and the GCPD, Barnes decides to assemble a strike force of four fresh-faced police academy cadets. He selects young people on purpose because they are full of “faith and hope in the system” and haven’t been corrupted yet by outside influences or cynicism. The fact he places Jim Gordon in charge over them is a smart move. Looking a little more deeply into it, four is a number rife with symbolism and is probably most commonly tied to the four elements (i.e. earth, wind, water, and fire). If you count Jim among their number, that brings the total to five; and in keeping with the element connection here, five is seen as the “number” for spirit, the binding agent that keeps the elements, which are seen as in conflict, in line.
It is way too early to tell whether or not these recruits will branch out and become less than background cast or even assume characteristics redolent of the respective elements, but it’s easy to see how Jim will be the moral glue to bind them together – provided these aren’t just “red shirts” slated to be killed off in the weeks to come.
Some bad signs to me of this already are:
a). They don’t appear to be canon characters and
b). Do you even remember their names? I don’t. One dude kind of reminded me of Latin singer Prince Royce but not really.
However, as good as Barnes’ intentions are, they possess one subtle flaw. His aggressive nature, tactics, and mentality are all focused on justice and judgment. That’s good and there is nothing wrong with that. “Crime unpunished is a crime in and of itself,” Barnes says, which is certainly true. Yet his philosophy seems devoid of forgiveness or mercy. Just as believing that you won’t be held accountable and judged for your actions is a bad thing, so is believing that people don’t deserve mercy. Jim Gordon has proven he can be merciful (evident in the fact that he allowed Penguin to live), so I wonder if he isn’t being set up as a contrast to Barnes’ hell-fire and brimstone mentality.
Again, justice and judgment for wrongdoing are necessary and certainly have their place, but so do forgiveness and the willingness to extend a second chance. For example, rather than allowing the corrupted officers Barnes calls out to be given a chance to redeem themselves or ask for forgiveness, he kicks them to the curb. Was it the right move? Perhaps. But I sense the chink in Barnes’ armor will be this lack of compassion; so his parallel to Jim will be an interesting one.
In other news in this episode, Ed Nygma finally gets the nerve to ask Kristen out…with a little coaxing from Gollum-Ed (that’s my term for his “dark side.” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just check out my review of episode two.). Gollum-Ed insists that Kristen owes Ed because he saved her life and urges Ed to take what he “deserves.” If this hasn’t been evident before, it surely is now: Gollum-Ed is Ed’s inherently sinful self or his Id, if we were to evoke Freud. Deep down, Ed feels life is just about him yet his timid nature does him a favor by keeping this cocky side in check. I sense Ed doesn’t really want to act like a self-centered, demanding jerk, which is what Gollum-Ed is proposing, yet behaving opposite of what he has been all this time seems appealing.
It’s kind of like the Seinfeld episode “The Opposite” where George decides to do everything contrary to what he’s done before. “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right,” Jerry asserts. So George decides to give it a go: he openly approaches women, proudly admits he’s unemployed and lives with his parents, calls attention to his baldness, and even chews out a prospective employer – and every time he does the opposite, it seems to work.
I have always sensed this has been Ed’s inner dialogue with himself (normal Ed, not Gollum-Ed):
Ed wants to be liked by his co-workers, seen as a valued member of the GCPD, and doted on by Kristen. However, his life is the opposite of these hopes and dreams: his co-workers think he’s geeky and weird, he’s underappreciated, and Kristen holds him at arm’s length. So with Ed buying into what Gollum-Ed is telling him, he is behaving like George and doing the opposite of his natural inclinations. While in George’s case this was strictly for comedy (because we all know George was doomed to fail due to his own self-defeating mindset), Ed’s continuation with this philosophy will have grave consequences, both for himself and for Kristen and others. So we’ll see what happens as this inner battle continues.
So, at last, Kristen agrees to go out with Ed and the two enjoy dinner at Ed’s place…which is nicely illuminated by a very Riddler costume green-esque lighting (so props to that!). Things turn slightly sour though when Ed lets it drop that he’s glad Kristen’s abusive beau is dead, which seems to trigger suspicion from Kristen as she assumed the jerk simply skipped town. Ed tries to cover for his slip but it seems too late for that. Later, Ed apologizes and confesses, “I have this voice inside my head. A sort of stronger version of me that keeps me in line because I’m such a klutz.”
After this revelation, Kristen’s response, rather than run away like this…
she admits she understands. (Oh, no! Does that mean there is a Gollum-Kristen lurking about? I doubt it, but the thought frightens me.)
“I think we all have a voice like that,” she says. True enough – we all have voices that pull us in sundry directions. Not literal voices or manifestations (as in Ed’s case) but urges and nudges that tell us to go right, go left, sit tight, etc. Some of the stuff we hear in our heads is good, some is morally neutral, and some is not so good, or, at the very least, negative. Ed is wise enough to recognize there is another force within him that is at work, which is better than denial any day. But he seems to relish it because it gives him a license to behave in the opposite fashion. Since we all know he’s the future Riddler, time will tell when he makes that final step into villainy; but one thing is certain – he’s well on his way.
And someone who has already grasped the reigns of villainy and refuses to let go is Theo Galavan. While he’s not one of my favorite characters this season, his over-the-top mentality and desire to play the “hero” are entertaining because they’re built on a shaky, dualistic foundation. In his mind, to be a good guy, you have to do bad things. To clean up a mess, you first have to make one. And in order to rebuild Gotham, he first must destroy, not merely buildings but lives.
And he wishes for Penguin to be his “destroyer,” but Penguin, to his credit, insists that’s not his M.O. – he’s a “builder, a problem-solver,” meaning he approaches his villainy like a businessman – calculated, precise, and controlled. Sadly, Galavan doesn’t share his sentiments and reveals his next step in reclaiming Gotham – becoming mayor. This, for me, relegates Galavan to being a near-trope villain: sure he’s “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” but why? What pushed him over the edge? We might get answers later on, but for now he’s at the back of the bad guy pack for me. Trope characters have their place, which usually is not at the front of the line, but they’re not intended to be interesting. This has been my concern with Galavan and now Barnes – yes, they have their unique signatures, but beneath the surface there doesn’t seem to be much to explore at the moment. That could change though, as it so often does in Gotham.
To clear his path to candidacy, Galavan all but orders Penguin to eliminate the two current candidates plus take a shot at him (Galavan) to make it not look quite so staged. Penguin wouldn’t have obliged him on that alone as I think Oswald has a good sense of who is legit and who is a poser. Legit criminals, businessmen, and the like he can stomach and he’ll work with to achieve his own aims. But posers just waste his time.
Speaking of which, even with the shakeup at the GCPD, I thought this episode was commanded by Penguin and shows off what Robin Lord Taylor can do. (Not that if you’ve followed the series you haven’t witnessed his skills, but sometimes a good reminder never hurts.) My fear this season, judging by the first three episodes, was that Penguin would be relegated to a sideline character, occasionally roped in as a quasi-cameo here and there but never effectively used. But I love it when I’m proven wrong.
Galavan’s plan to become Gotham’s “savior” (term used loosely here) is, as stated, to be the one and only candidate for mayor. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, he enlists Penguin’s help. Not by asking politely, mind you, but by kidnapping Gertrude, Oswald’s mother. If there is anything Penguin holds near and dear to his heart, it’s his mother, whom I’ve always seen as his Achilles’ heel and I wondered when someone would try to use her to gain leverage over him. Galavan’s bargain is simple – help him clear the field and he’ll let Mama Penguin go.
In truth, Penguin does what anyone in a situation like that would do – he acts under duress and partially succeeds. But he knows that won’t be enough. His unbridled scream at the episode’s end was the perfect way to cap this episode. One thing you can say for Penguin – he is not a cardboard cutout character. He’s multi-faceted: cocky when he needs to be, compliant when the situation calls for it, but always with an aim for control. To see him at his most emotionally vulnerable truly makes him stand out among Gotham’s baddies. While Gertrude’s fate remains vague for now, it’s easy to see that Penguin is upset with himself that he’s failed and enraged at Galavan. After finally cutting himself free from being an underling, Oswald doesn’t relish the thought of going into that role again. He doesn’t like being seen as weak, but the fact he failed to save his mother (at least this time) proves he’s not infallible. One can only imagine what he has in store for the Galavans and how he’ll play these conniving twins.
Oddly enough, Penguin is the only principle cast member to be given scenes where he interacts with or even has a parent who’s a part of his on-screen life. (Barbara’s quick scenes with her folks in season one notwithstanding.) Granted, Bruce and Alfred could be counted as a family unit, but Alfred is presented as a paternal figure, not a fill-in father. Thus, the “Gotham” cast is a bit like a Disney movie plot – mom and/or pop are dead. So why does Penguin get singled out? It might be for nothing else but to add another layer to Penguin’s character: having a loved one present softens his edges, so to speak, and makes him more human. And if there is one thing I like to see in my villains, it’s a weak spot – not to be exploited but to remind us that they’re not entirely evil.
As stated before, Gertrude, his one and only true ally (excluding Jim Gordon), is the only person who loves Oswald unconditionally. Yes, Oswald has kept the truth from his mother in an effort to retain her love and protect her from the dangers he dabbles in (though I doubt she thinks he’s just a nightclub owner now!). But all in all, she means the world to him. Penguin might have been speaking prophetically towards another character in season one when he asserted that what a man loves becomes his greatest weakness. Or perhaps it’s been better stated as, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). In other words, what you value the most is what your care and concern will be focused on. In Oswald’s case, he loves power, but he’s willing to put that aside for the sake of protecting his mother. Hence, he loves his mother more than he loves to be in control, meaning she is his heart’s treasure.
Even when he’s drenching his hands in blood, his mother’s safety is what motivates him. When one of the candidates pleads for her life, saying she’s a mother, Oswald gives pause, as if seriously considering what he’s about to do. But he makes his choice and tells her that he, too, has a mother, before stabbing the candidate to death. Hence, it’s his love for his mother than causes him to choose, not the fact he has the power to take a life or not. All in all, this episode contains highlights of Taylor’s fine acting and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
In the end, the aftermath of this episode will prove most interesting, as well as thorny.
Until next time, fellow Gothamites! 🙂