This week, ‘Gotham’ makes a major change to one of its core characters. I don’t think it’s necessarily out of character or even unexpected, but it may nonetheless prove to be controversial.
I mentioned in my last recap that the hug Penguin gave Ed Nygma at the end of last week’s episode was weirdly homoerotic. Well, the show is going all-in with that. Oswald Cobblepot is officially gay. He opens the new episode determined to tell Ed that he’s in love with him. However, every time he tries to steel up the courage to do so, he chickens out and changes the subject.
As Penguin’s chief of staff, Ed conscientiously prepares two schedules for his boss – one for his duties as mayor and one as kingpin of the underworld. For the former, the mayor has to visit an elementary school. He’s amusingly awkward around children, until he sees one sad little boy sitting alone. Penguin advises him that if the other kids won’t play with him, he should push them down the stairs. Who says politicians aren’t good role models for children anymore?
Finally resolved to get the big secret off his chest, Penguin invites Ed to dinner at his mansion and practices what he will say. However, when Ed stops at a liquor store to pick up some wine, he meets a woman who’s a dead ringer for Miss Kringle, the girlfriend he murdered. She tells Ed that her name is Isabella and that, although she doesn’t know him, she feels inexplicably drawn toward him. The character’s blonde hairdo is a none-too-subtle reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’, which might indicate where this storyline is heading.
Mad About You
Unfortunately, the bulk of this week’s episode is dedicated to Jervis Tetch, the Mad Hatter. He starts the episode posing as a limousine chauffeur in order to kidnap a pair of young newlyweds just as soon as they exit the church. He tells them that their fates depend on James Gordon. A young boy also sits in the front seat next to him.
While at a diner, Jim is approached by a white-haired weirdo in a hypnotic trance, who recites a riddle message from Tetch. Jim follows him outdoors and is led to a ringing payphone. On the other end of the line, Tetch says that he wants revenge for his sister’s death and is determined to drive Jim mad. First, he directs him to look up toward a building roof, where he sees the newlyweds standing on the edge. Next, Jim looks down the street and sees the young boy step into the middle of the road. Tetch tells Jim that he must choose who to save, the couple or the boy. He can’t save both.
As a truck barrels down the road, Jim chooses the boy. He runs over and scoops him out of the way to safety. At the top of the building, the hypnotized newlyweds step off the roof and fall to their deaths.
By the time Harvey and Capt. Barnes arrive at the scene, Jim is already gone. They spot the albino weirdo and quickly realize that Tetch must be behind these deaths.
Jim follows Tetch’s clues to an apartment with a telescope and a telephone. Through the telescope, Jim sees Tetch some distance down the street. When Tetch calls, Jim enrages him by hanging up a couple times. He stops doing that when Tetch reveals that he’s holding Jim’s girlfriend Valerie hostage.
Later, Jim finds out that Tetch has kidnapped Lee as well. He’s drawn into a trap at the Gotham Water & Power plant, where Tetch has set up an elaborate game with two victims strapped to electric chairs. One is a doctor and the other a journalist, much like Lee and Valerie. Tetch has left Jim a gun. Speaking over TV monitors, he orders Jim to kill one of the captives or both will be electrocuted.
Barnes and Harvey follow Tetch’s trail to the same plant and find Jim, but they’re not able to cut the building’s power before Tetch electrocutes the two prisoners.
Tetch brings Lee and Valerie to Lee’s apartment and chains them together in the bathroom. Ever the reporter, Valerie attempts to use this time to interview Lee about Alice Tetch’s magic blood. Lee isn’t interested in talking.
Interpreting another clue the albino told him, Jim figures out where Tetch has gone. On the way, he grabs Lee’s fiancé, Mario, and brings him along. While Jim goes upstairs to the apartment, Mario slips into the basement and retrieves a pistol he has locked up there.
Jim goes into the apartment and finds that Tetch has set up a tea party scene. Valerie and Lee are sitting at the table while a pair of Tetch’s hypnotizes henchmen loom over them with shotguns. Tetch orders Jim to give up his gun and join them for tea. He then tells Jim that, “The woman you love is going to die.”
Mario tries to play hero by sneaking up behind Tetch with the gun, but Tetch had already found the gun and removed all the bullets. (Why didn’t Jim give him one of his own guns?) The henchmen drag Mario to another room.
Jim drives Tetch into a frenzy by telling him how much his sister Alice hated him. The furious Tetch forces Jim to choose which of the women will die. If he doesn’t choose, Tetch will shoot them both. He counts down from Three until Jim blurts out, “Kill Lee.” Tetch smiles and shoots Valerie in the stomach. Then he collects his henchmen and leaves.
Lee calls 911 and tries to stabilize Valerie. They rush her to the hospital. Jim dejectedly tells Harvey that Tetch won. Lee attempts to reassure Jim that Valerie will make it. She also tells him that she’s not upset by the choice he made in the moment. (And she shouldn’t be upset, because it seems pretty clear to me that Jim was playing reverse-psychology on Tetch knowing that he’d do the opposite of whatever Jim said. In other words, Jim knew he was really sacrificing Valerie.) All Jim can say to her is, “Not now.”
I don’t have a problem with Penguin being made gay, in itself. What’s problematic about this twist is that all of the gay characters on the show so far (Barbara and Tabitha being the others) are villains. That’s awfully dicey for the show from a political sense. In Penguin’s case, it also plays into stereotypes regarding his feelings of persecution and self-loathing. The series offers no representation for gay characters who are mentally stable and well-adjusted.
On the other hand, this show has hardly any mentally stable or well-adjusted characters of any type, so maybe that’s asking too much. Nonetheless, it’s not wise to tie them all to being evil.
I think I’ve made it clear in previous recaps that I don’t care for the Mad Hatter as a villain. It’s disappointing that so much of this episode is devoted to him. However, for a Mad Hatter-centric episode, this one is fairly tolerable. I liked the games he plays with Jim and the moral choices he forces him to make.
It occurs to me that, for a series that’s purported a Batman prequel, this episode has no Bruce Wayne in it at all. Given how dull Bruce’s storyline this season has been so far, perhaps that’s not a bad thing.