[This is a review of Gotham season 3, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
Gotham is certainly going all-in on Mad Hatter this season. After a brief break to focus on Penguin's (Robin Lord Taylor) mission to quell the Red Hood Gang's reign of terror, the show is right back on top of Jervis Tetch's (Benedict Samuel) vengeance against Gordon (Ben McKenzie). Luckily for fans, Tetch is perhaps the strongest new villain to hit the show since Hugo Strange arrived on the scene in mid-season 2. Yet, even with his storyline continuing to drive the show forward, it's not like Penguin and his new chief of staff, Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), were sitting this one out.
In fact, the pair -- both among our favorite Gotham baddies -- were actually the center of what may be one of the biggest changes the show has made so far to the comic book mythos. Last week's final moments essentially hinted at the prospect of romance between Penguin and Nygma, but this episode -- titled "Follow the White Rabbit" -- dispels any possibility that this story thread would be left unexplored. Instead, the show leaned into it in a way that is likely to surprise many fans, taking Penguin in a new direction that is sure to have a lasting impact on the character and, perhaps, the series itself. So much to discuss... Let's begin.
As soon as that newly married couple emerged from a wedding party, any self-respecting Gotham viewer should have known to expect tragedy ahead. That being said, Jervis Tetch -- and his "mustn't be late" reference to Alice in Wonderland -- kicked off the episode with a bang. Sure, the scenario in which a sadistic villain forces a heroic figure to make a deadly choice of who save has been done to death (pun intended), but the ferocity and off-handed sense of humor with which Samuel plays the character really sold it. He poses such an interesting psychological threat to Gordon that it's hard to argue with the show's decision to devote so many episodes to his story. Mad Hatter -- as the whole "Mad City" subtitle implies -- has truly emerged as the Big Bad of this first half of season 3.
Still, the show's decision to (once again!) reiterate the lingering darkness within Gordon is getting old. Tetch's misguided quest for revenge is one thing, but Gotham has been harping on Gordon-as-anti-hero for so long that it's really starting to smack of desperation on the part of the writers. After all, this journey took up much of Gordon's screen time last season, with Barbara (Erin Richards) as the catalyst then. Season 3 had begun with Gordon, for the time being, settling with being a bounty hunter/private detective. He had found a temporary place in the world, and this aspect of the Tetch storyline feels like a tremendous step back.
Lee (Morena Baccarin) herself even pointed out that she's been in a similar situation before. Tetch's Saw-esque games are fun to watch, but we need more of a bottom line to them all than just to prove to Gordon that "you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." We've heard it before and told in better ways. Also, there's no way in hell that Gordon has already developed feelings for Valerie (Jamie Chung) that rival the torch he's still carrying for Lee. Expect that to unravel in the weeks ahead. We can only imagine that Mario (James Carpinello) will be none too pleased about that, perhaps even enough to call on his father.
PENGUIN IN LOVE
So Penguin has developed romantic feelings for Nygma. His affection for Nygma has always seemed a bit more devoted than simply a friendship, but considering that Penguin so rarely finds a kindred spirit, that connection could have easily been chocked up to his joy at finding someone he could actually count on. In any case, it's a bold choice for the show to take Penguin in this direction, seeing as it diverges so sharply from the comics. Purists may harp on the change, but chances are that Gotham has already infuriated them beyond repair with its barrage of anti-canon plot points.
Back when Penguin debuted in the comics in 1941, putting a gay character in the mainstream superhero world would be unheard of. So the logic that fans would decry this change based on some strict adherence to the material lacks much weight. The only way that this mythology can grow is for those in charge to take some risks with the storytelling. Exploring the possibility of a Penguin/Nygma coupling is an interesting way to take the former out of his to-date asexual status and give him even more definition. Unfortunately for Penguin, it doesn't seem like Nygma will reciprocate his love, especially now that he has inexplicably run into a doppelganger of Kristen Kringle (Chelsea Spack). If we had to guess, Nygma will reject Penguin, and Penguin will end up offing Isabella in a jealous rage. For now, however, it's nice to have Spack back.
ELSEWHERE IN GOTHAM
With so much screen time devoted to the Jervis Tetch storyline (and some table-setting for the developing drama between Penguin and Nygma), this episode of Gotham didn't leave a whole lot of room for a C plot. Even Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) was left out this time around. Yet, Barnes' (Michael Chiklis) story is inching forward. While interrogating a suspect, the GCPD captain lost his cool and found himself imbued with super-strength. At this point, it's hard to guess if he is developing into a known character from the comics or not, since Barnes is an original creation.
In addition, Carmine Falcone (John Doman) apparently wants to throw an engagement party for Mario and Lee. That sounds like the seeds of a future episode right there, likely after Gordon and Lee have had the chance to follow-up on his decision to have Tetch kill her. Luckily for Gordon, the Mad Hatter doesn't know him as well as viewers do, but we can only imagine the awkward conversations Gotham's leading man will have to take on when Valerie awakes because -- let's be real -- the show isn't done with her yet either. Whenever a party is thrown in Gotham, chaos ensues. The Mario/Lee engagement party seems like a disaster waiting to happen.
Gotham continues next Monday with 'Red Queen' at 8pm on FOX.