In Gotham, insanity is a virus, and the only cure is discipline.
So it’s no surprise that in this week’s episode, the show’s characters oscillate between madness and hard work with often thrilling results. And it all starts with the titular “Red Hood” gang. The dysfunctional bank robbing crew are perhaps the show’s strongest twist on crime and comic book tropes yet, waltzing onto the scene like a parody of Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight opening. When the youngest of the group opts to peakcock his way through their bank robbery with a homemade red mask, a combination of inflated confidence and dumb luck leave a mark on everyone involved.
More than a simple “Could this be the origin of the Joker?” setup like last week’s uneven outing, the gang hums with manic energy as they murder each other one-by-one for a chance to wear strange folk hero energy of the Hood. For the first time in its run, Gotham convincingly shows the way the psychotic call of supervillainy can spread through the populace. If this is the origin of the Joker, it’s not the story behind the man himself but the story behind his anarchist energy – how it turns some meek men into cackling killers and draws the attraction of mousey would-be Harley Quinns.
All that crazy is well balanced by Gordon and Bullock. For once, the series takes time and care in developing real shoe leather detective moments for the pair as they track the Red Hood gang with precision and caution. There’s little in the way of character development for either man, but the way they stand as a dam against a growing tide of public revolt offers another kind of development that the show has sorely missed until now.
Elsewhere in the episode, other characters flirt with strange madness without the safety of Gordon’s righteous do-gooder nature. At his faltering club, Oswald Cobblepot struggles to trust his former rival-turned-business partner Butch to track down the liquor that should be the establishment’s life blood. The entire premise of Butch’s conversion seems half baked (so was he brainwashed? bought off? tortured?), but as he finally delivers a truck full of booze with equal parts payoffs and craftiness, you can tell that Oswald is hearing the call of crazy that makes Gotham work.
On the other side of the street is Barbara’s unlikely friendship with her preteen house crashers Selina Kyle and Ivy. Once again, the show telegraphs its big ideas with the kind of blueprint that Wile E. Coyote would use (see, she’s an alcoholic because she drinks in every scene). But the way Babs’ care for the girls rides a line between big sister and sex predator adds an unsettling factor previously unimaginable in her D.O.A. storyline. That Selina rebuffs Barbara’s bizarre sexual advice can either be a hint of her own femme fatale nature to come or a confirmation that amongst all of Gotham’s rogues, the girl called cat won’t play the crazy game.
But one character that’s always been more than willing to chew scenery like a madwoman gets her biggest moment ever this week. Fish Mooney’s crossing swords with schlock genre TV’s all-time MVP Jeffrey Combs would be entertaining if it was only wheel-spinning on the way to meeting the organ steeling mastermind the Dollmaker. But just when it seems like Fish will be caught in another drawn out cat-and-mouse scenario, she stabs her own freaking eye out just to teach her captor a lesson. The moment is as gruesome, graphic and gratifying as anything Gotham has ever pulled off, so it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make one lick of sense in light of what we’ve been given so far. Bravo to the show for going full-on bizarre. Keep it up.
After the sight of Fish stepping on her own eyeball embraced the full madness of the show, its almost a letdown to consider that perhaps the major development of the hour came from Wayne Manor. But with the arrival of Alfred’s long lost Royal Airman buddy Reggie Payne (well-placed Departed alum David O’Hara), the story of young Bruce gets its best definition and its best twist yet. It’s not just the way that Reggie both unleashed the anger in the boy billionaire in a way that the show has never been able to accomplish before. Nor is it that the fighting lesson that let Bruce loose serves as the first real insight into Alfred as a reformed killer himself. It’s how all the pieces of Reggie’s all-too convenient appearance dovetail with the dragged on for too long story of Wayne Enterprise intrigue as he shivs poor Alfie in the gut. For once, who knows where Gotham is going next?
And that’s the real lesson of the dance of the Red Hood. For almost an entire season, the show has crammed down the audience’s throats the idea that the weak characters and flat dialogue it presents every month have to be the comic book characters fans know and love. That saps every last ounce of drama from the journey. But from Fish’s dead eye to the Hood’s inspirational effect to Bruce’s exposed state, the madness of the episode finally shattered the notion that everything in the series can be kept under control.
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