[This is a review of Gotham season 3, episode 14. There will be SPOILERS.]
After the requisite holiday break, Gotham returned with a three-episode arc that largely focused on the return of proto-Joker Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan), as well as the culmination of Ed's (Cory Michael Smith) revenge plot against Penguin for claiming the life of his beloved Isabella. Following the official awakening of Jerome last week, the character really takes center stage in what has been dubbed in the marketing as the season's "winter finale." Indeed, winter has come for Gotham, as the city is plunged into darkness and a sense of madness that would only truly befit a Joker. Though the show has yet to confirm Jerome as that iconic villain, the way in which "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies" pits him against young Bruce (David Mazouz) certainly feels like the showrunners are heading in that direction.
Moreover, Ed and Penguin's friendship -- which was so key to the first half of the season -- now looks poised to develop into something far complicated, especially with the bloody way in which this week's episode wraps things up. While Penguin's perpetual rise and fall has long been a narrative trend for Gotham virtually every season, Ed's story feels like it's just beginning, with the character's true destiny now seemingly right around the corner. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's look at "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies" a bit closer before getting into any more specifics.
A RIVALRY IS BORN?
The episode picks up right where last week's wound up, with Gotham plunged into literal and figurative darkness. Apparently, since Jerome's last impulse was to kill Bruce, he is hellbent on seeing that through. The logic there -- as with so much on Gotham -- a bit sketchy, but if this is the excuse the show needs to have its early incarnations of Batman and the Joker battle it out, it's worth the narrative leap. Jerome's stealthy arrival at Wayne Manor and the ensuing battle of wits between he and Bruce was among the episode's most thrilling moments. Bruce has really begun to understand the criminal mind and continues to displays flashes of the cunning he'll wield as "the world's greatest detective." It's just disappointing that he gets to show off his abilities so fleetingly, and the show should have better developed his combat training over the season to pay off his skill in this episode.
Jerome's casual attitude toward violence and his deep, abiding love for anarchy are in full effect, and Monaghan delivers his dialogue with relish. Perhaps it's the reanimation process or simply the lack of a secure face, but his voice has seemed raspier since his return, sounding even more like Mark Hamill's performance than ever before. Fans of the Joker (and, seriously, who isn't?) should have a blast this week, between the blatant visual and narrative callbacks to his appearances in everything from the comics to The Dark Knight. With his stapled-on face in tow, Jerome embraced his circus upbringing (as revealed during season 1), and the show neatly set the stage for the character to either begin plastering his face with white makeup when he returns or finally tumble into a vat of chemicals old-school style.
However, for all the character development of both Bruce and Jerome that took place this week, the most noteworthy element has to be the fact that the future Batman has identified his first and most important rule: no killing. Of course, it would have been better if the show had built up a more personal reason for Bruce to reach the point of nearly taking Jerome's life, though at least this episode introduced the fact that he thought Jerome's goons had killed Alfred (Sean Pertwee). In any case, his pummeling of Jerome, with his bloody face barely hanging on and locked into a grin, was probably one of the best character moments we've seen for Bruce this season and a testament to how much more interesting Gotham is when it understands that viewers are tuning in to see Bruce's transformation into Batman, not Gordon (Ben McKenzie) wrestling with his inner demons yet again.
We all knew it was coming, and though it didn't play out like expected, the showdown between Ed and Penguin was just as satisfying as many viewers hoped. Penguin's slow realization that Ed was behind it all was priceless and underscored just how much blind faith he has in Ed's loyalty. The subsequent discussion -- in which Ed lays out how and why he did it - was riveting, as Penguin proclaims that Ed would have likely killed Isabella himself at some point (a fact in which Ed seems to see some truth). Smith and Taylor have long been two of the show's best performers and most memorable villains, and the evolution that their characters have experienced this season alone has easily been one of season 3's highlights.
A big reason for that is the way in which their stories tie back to their fascinating psychologies. Since both are murderous, horrible people, it's ironic that so many of their stories -- both together and individually -- hinge on love. Penguin's love for his mother, Ed's love for Kristen/Isabella, and Penguin's love for Ed have all been key arcs throughout these first three seasons. Now Ed's plan is ultimately revealed to be a test (so the cop that saved Penguin was in on it too, right?) to see if Penguin is even capable of loving someone else and sacrificing for that love. The way it turns out, the show appears to leave a question mark at the end of that exploration.
Even so, it all ends with a callback to the pilot with Penguin groveling for his life at the docks - only this time Ed shoots him instead of sparing him like Him did. Penguin's declaration that he sees Ed not only for who he is but who he could become seems like a pretty blatant hint towards the imminent arrival of the Riddler, and that final act of Ed seemingly killing Penguin feels like a turning point for both characters. Ed will soon don his signature green suit and take on his famous moniker at last. Meanwhile, there's no way the show really just killed off Penguin, and will certainly come up with some reason how he survived. Most likely, Ed's shot missed any vital organs on purpose, giving Penguin a chance to start over since he did pass his test after all. We'll find out when Gotham returns.
THE COURT MAKES ITS MOVE
With so much of time this week focused on Jerome/Bruce and Ed/Penguin (the titular "enemies" of the episode's title), the only true remaining focus was a brief return by the Court of Owls. James Remar debuts as Gordon's Uncle Frank, and by the looks of it, his character is deep in cahoots with the Court. Kathryn (Leslie Hendrix) warns him against his soft spot for Gordon and later reflects on the fact that Jerome's reign of terror nearly caused them to lose Gotham.
At this point, it's still unclear what the Court of Owls is hoping to accomplish, though it very clearly involves both Gordon -- whose uncle reaches out by episode's end, likely on behalf of the Court -- and Bruce himself. Yes, "emo Bruce" finally reappears, apparently having completed whatever training or preparation the Court had in involved in. After dragging out the Court of Owls storyline for so long, here's hoping that it all amounts to something worthwhile in the rest of season 3, because so far the story has been one of the sleepier aspects of the show.
Gotham continues on April 24, 2017 with ‘How the Riddler Got His Name’ at 8pm on FOX.