[This is a review of Gotham season 3, episode 15. There will be SPOILERS.]
After a few months away, Gotham is back with a vengeance, as a longtime cast member finally adopts his infamous moniker. No, not Cameron Monaghan's Jerome. After wreaking havoc on the city before the break, the maybe-Joker has been put back on ice -- metaphorically, not literally (we think) -- to make room for an episode largely centered on Edward Nygma. After joining the show as the GCPD's socially awkward forensic scientist (not unlike Barry Allen over on The Flash), Ed has slowly evolved into one of the most fascinating villains on Gotham. Cory Michael Smith has long had a blast in the role, but this week, we finally get our first true taste of the show's version of one of Batman's signature roles.
As the title suggests, 'How the Riddler Got His Name' (now bearing the season 3, part 2 designation Heroes Rise) sees Nygma don a green suit, litter Gotham with question marks and fully embrace his obsession with puzzles. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. So, as the fate of Gotham hangs in the balance, let's take a closer look at the show's spring premiere and what it means for the rest of the season.
MEET THE RIDDLER
Right from the start, Ed is in the midst of a killing spree. The idea of someone as intelligent and insane as the Riddler offing intellectuals he deems unworthy of his "test" for an equal feels like something straight out of a comic book, and Gotham is always at its best when it drops the pretenses of normalcy and embraces its campy weirdness. Thankfully, Smith's gleefully over-the-top performance -- over-the-top but wisely not unhinged in the same way as Jerome -- brings it home. The actor has always been a standout, and his work here is predictably fun as hell.
On a deeper note, the emotional motivation behind his killing spree -- namely, his search for a new identity, now that Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) is gone -- adds that level of complexity that has always separated Ed from the more straightforward villains on the show. Like Penguin, he's always had shades of grey amidst his incredibly black heart. Plagued by guilt, he's self-medicating and hallucinating a mocking Penguin. Not only does this ensure that Taylor (still the series' VIP) maintains solid screen time but builds off of Ed's split personalities from his early days on the show.
What a relief that Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk) ended up being the character to go head-to-head with Ed in this episode. Ben McKenzie's Gordon is fine, though unspectacular, as a central hero, but he so often outshines actors like Chalk and Donal Logue that it's a refreshing change of pace to see someone else face off against whichever of the show's many villains is up to his or her old tricks this time. Moreover, Lucius is a more fitting intellectual match for Ed than Gordon, let's be honest. Except for his failed attempts to appeal to Ed's humanity, Lucius does a capable job of standing toe to toe with Ed, even calling out his riddles for their subjective nature at one point.
Now that Ed has finally claimed his villainous identity, let's retire "Ed" from now on. Smith is now essentially playing "Riddler" going forward. Let's just hope Riddler is ready for Penguin's revenge, as improbable as his survival is anyway.
A TALE OF TWO BRUCES
While Ed becomes Riddler, emo Bruce (David Mazouz) -- we're still sticking with that until the show gives him a different name -- looks to have become young Master B himself. Having memorized all the details of his life and mastered his mannerisms, emo Bruce infiltrates Wayne Manor by episode's end, though it's unclear what the Court of Owls' endgame is with him. One has to imagine it has something to do with controlling industry in Wayne Enterprises, but with any luck, we won't end up trapped in a series of bland boardroom scenes as a result (ahem, Iron Fist).
In any case, Bruce's brief training scene with Alfred (Sean Pertwee) (is that essentially a proto-batarang we saw?) is enough to convince us that we need way more of that storyline on the show, especially if this teenaged boy is ever going to become the Dark Knight. Gotham has been good about showing flickers of the hero within the adolescent since last season, but perhaps the imminent introduction of Ra's al Ghul means that the show is truly committing to this direction. As silly as it is for Bruce to believe that Selina (Camren Bicondova) would send him a note to meet her -- that was a predictable twist, considering how out of character that would be for her -- it does reveal even more so that Bruce has yet to master his emotions and is easily manipulated by them.
GORDON AND THE OWLS
And the weakest part of the show is once again Gordon. It's ironic that Gotham's ostensible leading man has developed increasingly into its Achilles' heel, but it's definitely the case. McKenzie serves his purpose well in the role; the character just isn't interesting enough to lead the series. At this point, Bullock would be a more fun, more complicated lead. As it is, this episode sees Gordon attempting to wring the truth from his long-lost uncle (James Remar), who claims that he has turned against the Court of Owls despite being a longtime member of the secret organization.
Naturally, we the viewers are left pondering whether good ol' Uncle Frank is playing his nephew or Kathryn (Leslie Hendrix). Maybe if Frank was a character we were invested in, we would care one way or another, but since he miraculously turned up an episode ago, it's a far reach for the show to expect viewers to be invested in Gordon's tenuous relationship with his uncle, regardless of where his allegiance may lie. Certainly, we'll figure all that out in the weeks ahead, but the Court of Owls storyline needs to gain steam quickly if it's supposed to be the crux of the big climax at the end of season 3. Who else is hoping that Bruce wakes up in the care of the League of Shadows? It definitely looks like that may be the case.
Gotham returns next Monday with ‘These Delicate and Dark Obsessions’ at 8pm on FOX.